Two men sought to unravel the temporal mysteries of our world: Tony Newman and Doug Phillips. But the petty affairs of politics and finance threatened to destroy this monumental quest before it had even begun. Tony Newman had no real option but to prove his work valid, and he did so in the most dramatic and impetuous manner. Hurling himself into the Time Tunnel, with his friend Doug Phillips in tow, he made his point. The price was high. Despite numerous attempts to retrieve the two time travellers, they were forever flung from one end of time to another.
As New England disappeared they were once again cast into the swirling maze of past and future ages. For just one fraction of a second or an aeon, for it made no difference, they were tossed around and around by the turbulent winds that blew along the infinite corridors of time.
And then: light. Doug saw the sea far below, and a massive vessel cutting through the icy waters. It was the Titanic. Tony felt a sickening sense of incarceration as they plummeted toward the doomed ship and events that they had lived through before. But something changed: Tony saw before him two figures, whirling in the maelstrom. Then he saw their faces and realised that time was playing a strange trick, for the two figures were none other than Doug and himself, as they were at the start of their fantastic adventure. As their past selves fell towards the ship, Tony and Doug continued their own helpless tumble through the continuum.
This time they landed on hard, cold concrete, littered with broken glass and covered with fresh rainwater. Tony felt his hand brush the spiny tips of the glass and scrape along the ground. Doug had been more fortunate he had rolled through the debris and was dusting himself off when he saw Tony arrive. Quickly he wrapped his friend's hand in his handkerchief and helped him to his unsteady feet.
"It's a wasteland. I've never seen a city so utterly devastated - there isn't a building left untouched. It's just ruins."
Tony nodded slowly, almost tragically. He and Doug exchanged a fearful look.
"Do you think... World War III ?"
"I don't know Tony, I sincerely hope not, but we must think of ourselves. If the atmosphere is contaminated, we need to find shelter." Doug led Tony away from the crumbling street onto the shabby sidewalk: in the distance he could see a row of houses that appeared to be intact. As they cleared the shadow of the decimated tower block, they became increasingly aware of a low but insistent hum above them. When they were back on the open road, the source of the sound became shockingly apparent. A huge, sinister shape, the size of a city hung in the clear blue sky.
"Perhaps people no longer live on the ground," said Doug.
"Perhaps there are no people left alive," Tony
"Peace obviously does not suit you, Lydia," said Philip.
"On the contrary, I find the cease-fire very relaxing. But I fear that the actions of Elizabeth's young and impulsive lover may soon bring an end to the armistice." Mike Donovan, sitting across the conference table from Philip, his Visitor ally, grimaced.
"How bad is it, Philip ?" asked Donovan.
"The Leader was very popular back on the Homeworld, Mike. If indeed it was Kyle Bates - an Earthling - who caused his death..." Philip did not need to elaborate on the kind of reprisals that the Visitors could take on planet Earth.
"But Kyle may be innocent! Before he died, Lt, James claimed that Diana had planted a bomb on The Leader's shuttlecraft."
"The word of a traitor." sneered Lydia.
"Sadly what you call a death bed confession does not carry as much weight in my world as it does in yours, Mike. What we need is evidence," said Philip in a tired voice.
"Then let me talk to Diana. I'll get the truth out of her!" yelled Donovan.
"That's just not possible, and even if it were I doubt even you could make her confess to something that would result in her certain death."
"She should have been executed along with that traitor, James," said Lydia.
"Unfortunately, Diana's marriage to Charles has given her a certain amount of immunity. Now that she belongs to the House of Ramaan only The Leader can order her execution. She cannot be tried for her crimes until this crisis is over and a new Leader has been found."
"I wonder how her supporters would feel if they were told it was Diana who had murdered Charles," snarled Lydia.
"Enough, Lydia!" commanded Philip, his patience worn to the limit. "We are not here to air old grievances, but to begin a new-found period of peace and stability. Mike Donovan here is to be the representative for his people. He will oversee the safe return of those humans who are still in suspended animation on-board the Mother Ships. He is to be shown every courtesy, and nothing, repeat, nothing is off limits to him. Do I make myself clear?"
"Crystal clear, Philip," purred Lydia. "I will have suitable quarters prepared for our distinguished guest. It will be a pleasure to work with the redoubtable Mr. Donovan, and on the same side... for now." She turned and left the room.
Philip relaxed noticeably when she had gone. "I'm sorry about that, Mike. You have to understand, with The Leader missing and presumed dead, my people are feeling a bit edgy. Our Homeworld is in bad enough condition as it is without all this chaos. Rival factions vying for power - it could easily end in civil war on my planet." The Inspector General looked as tired and worried as Donovan himself felt.
"It seems the fate of both our worlds hangs
in the balance now," said Donovan. "Let's hope nothing happens to
tip that balance the wrong way."
"Keep your hands up in the air, nice and high, where I can see what's going on," said the voice. It came from the ruins of a once proud house towards which Doug and Tony had made their way looking for shelter.
"We mean you no harm," said Tony, staring into the shadows.
"He's telling the truth," added Doug. "We're new in town, what on Earth has happened here?"
Doug and Tony walked down the rubble strewn path and into the broken doorway of the house. Standing some way back inside the hall was a young girl holding a shotgun. Tony judged that she couldn't have been more than fifteen.
"Okay, nice and slow. I don't know if you two are lizards or lizard spies, and at the moment I don't care. If you behave, you might just live long enough to tell me everything you know."
Doug could see that behind the child's tough voice, she was very frightened.
"Can we at least sit down?" he asked. The girl waved her shotgun at the floor, which the men took as assent.
"Now who the heck are you?" she demanded.
"Travellers," replied Tony. "We don't know anything about what's going on here, we've just arrived. What caused this devastation?"
"Where have you two been for the last couple of years, Mars?"
"It's not so much a question of where as when," said Doug in the weary tone of a man who knew he would not be believed. "We're time-travellers."
"You must think I just walked out of a conversion-chamber or something," guffawed the girl, but her humour had an angry edge. She gestured to Tony's poorly bandaged fingers. "Hold out your hand, I want to see what colour you bleed." Tony did as he was commanded. She undid the handkerchief and examined the wound, which was still bleeding freely.
"Now you," she said to Doug, "show me your hand too, no tricks or I'll blow it off!" she fingered the gun nervously. Doug slowly extended his left hand for inspection. She pinched the palm firmly, and then stepped back again. "Well, you're both human at least."
"Of course we're human, what's the alternative?" said Doug.
"You could be a lizard, you know, the creatures that damn near wiped us off the face of our own planet and took away thousands of our friends and relatives for food."
"Are you saying that the Earth was invaded, again?"
"Again? How many times do you want it to be invaded?"
"We just came from somewhere that was under attack," explained Doug. "But this time it's different. The destruction, the ship up above - I presume that is a ship rather than a city?"
"It's Hell mister, Just above the ground rather than beneath it."
"Have you lost someone?" asked Tony. The girl visibly wilted at the question, almost dropping the shotgun as she answered.
"I've lost everyone: my parents; my brother; my friends..... so many people. We've all lost somebody. You really don't know what's happened do you?" Tony shook his head.
"What's your name?"
"Kate, Kate Hanson. Yours?"
"Tony Newman, and this is my friend, Doug Philips. "Now we've been introduced would you mind telling us about these 'Lizards'?"
"Alright, but not here. Too dangerous.
We may be at peace, but there are still plenty of lizards snooping around.
Ham thinks that they’re going to do something terrible before they leave.
We have to get back to our base, it isn’t far - then I can patch up that
wound." They emerged into the bright afternoon, breathing in the
moist air. The Visitors did not see them because they were not interested.
They had other things to attend to.
Donovan was being escorted to a shuttle by David, one of Philip's most trusted men. All seemed to be well with the cease-fire and this gave the long suffering people of Earth a good deal to be grateful for. But at the back of his mind, Donovan still worried about the instability inherent in the situation. God knows what damage Kyle could do to The Leader if his previous exploits were anything to go by - and this time he had lost the most important thing that had ever happened to him - Elizabeth. No news was good news, and the longer that Kyle stayed out of trouble, the more hope Donovan had for the safety of Elizabeth and the armistice.
"We should be at the first carrier ship within fifteen minutes, Mr. Donovan. If there are any questions that you have, please feel free to ask me. I am fully briefed on your, er, mission," said David.
"How many people are there still in suspended animation?"
"That term is not technically correct, the people are in fact still fully functional - just slowed down you might say. "
"Ah yes," said Donovan. " I remember your preference for live meals - it suited your purposes quite well to operate in that manner. "
"Mr. Donovan, do you eat meat?"
"Yeah, but dead and stupid meat. "
"The former, we can do little about - it is part of our biology to eat in his manner, and the latter, well, we were told that humans were little more than semi-sentient apes. Please do not hold past mistakes against us - we are trying to amend matters. "
"Right. How many people?"
"Approximately one hundred thousand in total - the first consignment. Of course there will be no second. Over 96% of those humans are in good condition. There are some casualties, I'm afraid."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Some of them were affected by the low temperatures before their bodies could adjust to the situation. They did not survive. But as I have stated, that is very much a minority."
You call four thousand people a minority, do you? I call it bloody murder. Those people were just snatched from Earth like so many snacks for your greedy refrigerators to devour!"
"It is most regrettable, " said David.
"What about the others?" Donovan snapped.
"Some of them have been revived, about a quarter, but we have only limited supplies with which to sustain your people, so some of them must wait until it is time to transport them back to Earth."
"When will you be ready to do that?"
"In seven of your days, they will all be back with their families. And then we will leave in peace and not return, unless the people of Earth decide that an association between our two worlds is now possible on an equitable basis. "
"I cannot speak for the five billion people of Earth, but I doubt we will see any kind of interstellar fan club being launched in our lifetimes. Still, you never know, once we have got our friends and relatives back, all may not be lost." David nodded sagely, although he had little idea of the human emotion of loss. The shuttle circled the mother ship and docked. David led the fuming Donovan to the first of the revived people, simultaneously listening to a voice in his head: " See that you guide Mr. Donovan toward those that have been revived, David. He has a very suspicious and astute mind. We do not want him to discover his peoples' modifications, shall we say. Not until they are all safely back on Earth."
David led Donovan into a massive accommodation unit, filled to capacity with pale and drawn people. Some of them stood limply in groups, some were huddled in corners, barely alive. Some were lying on rows of bunks that had been unceremoniously dumped on the floor by the Visitor guards.
"Why have you herded them all in like cattle? These people are sick - the last thing they need is to be crowded together like sheep in a pen."
"We are preparing many more new quarters as we speak. I will personally supervise the transfer of the weaker people. Allow me to show you the schedule for the return of the first group." David turned sharply on his heel, remembering his instructions. " I think that the Operations Room will be the best place to demonstrate the plan."
Donovan looked at the creature through narrowed eyes. Something was going on, he could feel it - something more than the innocent compliance with the cease-fire. That room seemed odd, but he could not say exactly why. All those people in there, sandwiched together surely there was more than enough accommodation on a ship the size of a city. No, there had to be another reason, a more sinister one; possibly they were trying to brainwash the vulnerable innocents that nothing had ever happened to them, or that the Visitors had chosen them to be their representatives on Earth.
"Take me to the others, David. Take me to those that have not been revived. I want to see that no harm has come to them." David froze in his tracks, trying to remain calm.
"They are being attended to at this moment. The temperature is far below the tolerance levels of a fully conscious human without the protection of the cryogenic substance that was administered to your people. "
"Well, give me a suit then, damn it! What are you hiding, David? Why were all those people really cramped together like that?"
"I told you, we are preparing new quarters."
"Could it be that you have done something to them en masse?"
"Now you are being ridiculously paranoid, Mr. Donovan. They are fine, and will soon be returned to Earth. The hold that we have put them in is the nearest to the shuttle bay that we have. In their condition, a long journey from one part of the ship to another could prove both harrowing and physically tiring. We merely want to get them back to Earth as quickly as possible." Donovan was far from convinced.
"I want to see the others, now!" David sighed heavily. His mistress' wrath would be considerable, but he had little option now but to go through with it.
"Follow me, Mr. Donovan, " said David sharply. They travelled far into the ship, so far that Donovan could not remember which direction led back to the bays. Eventually they reached a huge, dimly lit corridor, patrolled by more than a dozen guards. David approached one of them.
"Open the doors, on the orders of The Leader, in whose name I act."
"No one is allowed past on Diana's orders," said the guard. Donovan flinched as her name was mentioned. How could she still wield power after all that had happened?
"My authority supersedes Diana's. Open the doors or you will be arrested for treason. Diana is aware of the situation, in any case. "
"What does that mean, David?" said Donovan.
"You'll see," replied David, smiling for the first time, and entering the necessary code on the door panel. The great metallic slabs parted, and Donovan stepped through.
What he saw turned his blood to ice.
The entire hold was empty.
Katie Hanson weaved between the crumbling streets with a practised technique of dodging and looking around, even though there was no enemy left to avoid. The Visitors had withdrawn to the safety of their mother ships, leaving the fragmented and battered Resistance to lick their wounds and consider any further moves to be made. The majority of their supporters were happy to rejoice in the new peace between the two races, but seemed to forget how high the price had been to attain it. But to a few hardened and cynical groups, the armistice was just another clever ploy designed to weaken the human resolve to resist the alien onslaught.
And they did not come any harder or more cynical than Ham Tyler, to whom the words 'trust' and 'defeat' meant nothing. He knew that to disband the Resistance was the best chance the Visitors had of finally achieving their ends, and he for one was not going to allow either. Over the weeks of the cease-fire, Tyler had travelled the length and breadth of the States encouraging Resistance groups to remain intact and stay alert. He told them that the final battle would be an altogether more subtle and dangerous affair than the earlier out and out propaganda wars of the past, and that the precarious truce would be short lived. From Chicago to Boston and New York, he had rallied his troops, from Washington to Miami he had left a trail of uncomfortable mutterings in his wake. He made his way west across the Mexican border, cajoling, threatening and pleading with his people not to give up the struggle until every Visitor ship had left the solar system.
When he felt he could do no more, he headed up to Los Angeles, his face showing every weary journey and lost argument. He had managed, at least to persuade every member of the Resistance to remain on standby, ready to fight if needs dictated, and many groups had carried on as before, living in their securely hidden bunkers. The Los Angeles Resistance was a farce. Since peace had been declared there, it was the first place to fall victim to the euphoric atmosphere, and consequently, the most prone to Visitor attack. The large inter-dependant network had once again become just a few isolated mobs of frightened and lonely people living from hand to mouth in perpetual fear of their lives. But at least they were aware that the threat still existed. Ham was busy at his desk when Katie sent her standard Morse 'Mite' password down the line. He palmed a machine gun and approached the entrance to the basement headquarters.
"Yeah, it's me Ham, and I've brought two prisoners with me." Ham tightened his grip on the gun and drew back the door bolts. Katie prodded Tony Newman and Doug Philips into the murky stairway beyond. Ham looked them both up and down, closing the door behind him without averting his eyes from either of them.
"They're not lizards."
"No, but they are strange - keep going on about time. I thought that it was best to bring them and let you have a look at them."
"We're not exhibits in a zoo. My friend is injured and needs attention; so instead of waving your guns at us, why don't you help us?" Ham Tyler smiled.
"Because I don't know whose side you're on, that's why. There's only one way to find out in my experience. If you are collaborators, it's all over; if you are with us, then we will help you on your way."
"And what if we're just passing through?" said Tony.
"Then your wandering days are over, buddy, we can draft you in without any trouble. We need good men."
"What if we don't want to be drafted, either?" said Doug.
"Then it's back to option number one, my friend," snarled Ham, toying with his gun. "Take them to see Julie." Katie pushed them down towards the foot of the stairs, and marched them along a narrow passageway that ended at a large and brightly lit laboratory. They were made to sit down and wait.
"Gentlemen, please do not be alarmed. I am going to administer a drug that will make you tell the truth."
"Suppose you don't like the truth?" said Tony.
"Then you will be returned to the Visitor mother ship with our compliments. We are at peace you know - plus the fact that the Visitors still have many thousands of our people in their holds awaiting their return to Earth. We don't want to jeopardise their chances by assassinating a couple of spies, if that is really what you are."
"I don't think they are, Julie, but I've been fooled before, and with that crazy story of theirs about time travel - well."
"It is true. The U.S. Government spent billions of dollars on it over a number of years - what year is this?"
"Don't get cute - you know what year it is," said Katie. Julie injected them both with her standard sodium pentathol dosage and waited. Doug and Tony exchanged worried glances.
"I can assure you that it is completely safe,” said Julie. Ham Tyler entered the room, carrying a tape recorder, which he placed on the table before them. Julie got to work on Tony's hand.
"What are your names - you in the Norfolk suit first."
"My name is Doug Philips, I am a physicist working for the United States Government, I specialise in astrophysics and relativity science."
"What does that mean in plain English?"
"I experiment in time travel, effectively. Tony is the real expert, but I get by. We are the first two men to travel through time, even if it was somewhat forced upon us."
"Can you back this ludicrous story with official proof?" said Ham.
"There must be files on Project: Tic Toc in a number of US departments, although they are top secret, if they still exist, that is." Ham turned to Tony, who was still smarting from Julie's disinfectant swab.
"And you, what is your name and job?"
"Anthony Newman, research physicist with the Time Tunnel project. We were thrown here by the random activities of the time vortex. We are not spies or collaborators, or traitors, just two guys a long time from home: about fifty years by the look of things."
"When did you begin your, ah, experiments?"
"The system became operational when I entered the Time Tunnel, which was under threat of being de-commissioned in 1968."
"Try twenty years."
"Will you leave us alone now, we don't know anything about your Visitors, okay!" yelled Doug. Julie nodded slowly at Tyler.
"They're both telling the truth. Whether or not they are also deluded or brainwashed, I can't say. But they are definitely telling us what they consider to be the truth. How much that is worth, who can say?" Tyler considered the two men - they certainly didn't seem like collaborators - but they never did.
"Okay, you two can consider yourselves our captives. If you behave, you carry on living, but one false move, just one, and you two are history. Do I make myself clear?"
"Look, mister, we've told you the truth, now you can let us go. You have no right to hold us here against our - " Doug was interrupted by a swift blow across his face, Tyler standing above him.
"Don't tell me what rights I have. You and your friend are lucky to be alive - I've killed men who were far less suspect than you, so don't push your luck, Philips." Julie stepped between the two men.
"Ham, for God's sake, stop it. What's happened to you?"
" Nothing, and that's the way it's going to stay. Since you're so concerned, you can keep an eye on them. Any false moves, let them have it all. I'll be upstairs." He left the room.
"I'm sorry about Ham. He's under a lot of pressure, what with the cease-fire and the collapse of the Resistance. And now we've lost touch with our representative onboard the Visitors mother ship. He is supervising the return of the people that were taken prisoner during the hostilities, but he has not radioed in for two days."
"Is that bad?" said Tony.
"Of course it is. He could have discovered something that he wasn't supposed to, and been taken prisoner, or worse. I hope he's alright. I wish you guys really could travel in time - you could take back all the knowledge we have about the Visitors and drive them away before they even set foot on the Earth."
"Except it isn't that simple," said Tony. "We do not travel at will. We are stranded in time, sometimes we get close to our own time, and sometimes we end up at the other end of history. It takes an enormous amount of power to move us through time, and communication is fraught with difficulties."
"If you're so clever, why don't you zap yourselves outta here?” said Katie.
"Because we can't pick and choose our time of arrival or departure. If we could, I assure you that we would be out of here like greased lightning."
"The Visitors could probably construct something like that," said Katie, suspiciously. "I hope you aren't going to sell them your knowledge."
"Make your mind up - either believe us or not. All we want to do is get back to 1968. We don't want to see our own future spoilt by these Visitors - we would help you if you asked." Julie had an idea.
"There was a man - an outstanding physicist - who might have been able to help you. Before the Visitors arrived he was always in the media talking about time and string theory. Time magazine called him the next Einstein. Damn, what was his name?... Beckett, that’s it, Sam Beckett - like the playwright."
"Where is he?"
"He was working on the Star Bright project for NASA when the Visitors turned up. Being such a prominent scientist he was one of the first to be grabbed and taken up to a mother ship. I have no idea what happened to him - he may be dead now. If I could fix things with Tyler, would you go up there and look for him?"
"We might do," said Doug. "What's in it for you though? Letting two crazy spies go isn't good practice for a self-respecting resistance group is it?"
"I don't think you two are spies, I don't know what you are - but you seem like decent men to me, even if you are a little crazy. What I would ask you to do in return would be to find our contact, Mike Donovan, and get him out of there if he's in trouble. If you find Dr. Beckett into the bargain, and he can help you get back to your own time, so much the better."
"We'll do it if you can persuade that maniac to let us go," said Tony. The four of them remained silent for a moment as the intercom clicked.
"You can go,"' said Ham Tyler, " But I'm going with you."
Mike Donovan was slumped in the corner of a detention room, cursing Diana fluently and wondering how he was going to effect an escape this time. But he knew that his own life was unimportant in comparison to the thousands that had disappeared from the cargo holds. Somehow, he had to let his comrades know what had happened, he had to get the information off the ship, even if he could not leave.
The chances of breaking out of the high security detention area for the second time were slim. And it would require help from outside again, and none was forthcoming. The door slid silently open and two heavily armed guards entered, followed by Diana, who was smiling sweetly.
"So, I have you in my grasp again, Mr. Donovan. It is always a pleasure to deal with the most infamous of all the American guerrillas, especially when he has no chance of fighting back. You and I have much to discuss before I finally rid myself of your annoying interference into my career forever."
"I don't give a damn for your 'career', Diana. What have you done to the rest of our people? They were to be returned to Earth, according to the treaty between our two races."
"I took the liberty of amending that particular contract. The humans will be transported back to our home planet for breeding and... other purposes. You were not meant to discover that until much later, Mr. Donovan. Still, you may yet prove useful to me."
"I will tell you nothing, Diana, you know that."
"Come, come Michael. I know better than to try and torture anything out of you. That is not what I want in any case. At this moment, complex analysers are taking extremely accurate readings of your reactions, in addition to bodily dimensions and weight. We already have several samples of your genetic material. Once I am satisfied that we have all the pertinent statistics, that will be it."
"Someone is going to miss me pretty soon, Diana. And when Philip realises that you are free, he will put one and one together."
"Ah, Mr. Donovan, you disappoint me. By the time you are missed, there will be a perfect clone of Mike Donovan walking around, complete with a good deal of your memories and quite a few of your own personality traits. And as for Diana being missed, well, that's the whole point of it."
She carefully removed a portion of her artificial skin, revealing not the reptilian scales of the Visitors, but yet another false human face.
"Lydia!" Donovan growled.
"Of course. Do you think Diana would be clever enough to conceive a master plan like this? When I have finished, we will once again be the dominant species and victors. We have what we came for, perhaps not in such a great amount as we had hoped for, but enough to survive on, for now. In a few months, the human race will be extinct, and the natural resources of your fertile planet will be travelling across the galaxy in ships far greater than this one. And I will lead those ships."
"You're no different than Diana, and she failed miserably. "
"Oh but I am different. I am the greater warrior, the stronger mind, and I will succeed - with your help, of course. Except it won't be you. The new Mike Donovan is going to escort the 'first' consignment of human survivors back to Earth, urging the authorities to re-unite them with their families as quickly as is possible. We selected humans from a wide geographic base. For instance, in the hold that you were shown, there are people from all over your country. They are being returned to their loved ones this very night, and your double along with them."
"What have you done to them?"
"Nothing much. They are normal, healthy, human specimens that will pass any crude physiological test that your doctors may decide to run. Just one difference. They are my unwitting agents programmed to infiltrate what is left of human society and destroy it. In layman's terms, Mr. Donovan, they are clones. The originals are already on their way to the Homeworld." Donovan leapt at Lydia, who stepped nimbly aside and striking him down with a stun bar, one of her favourite toys.
"Guards!" The door quickly opened, and two helmeted Visitor soldiers marched into the cell. The first picked Donovan's unconscious body up and flung it into the corner of the room. She pointed at the first guard. "You, wait outside and guard the door."
"Yes Diana." Lydia smiled beneath her assumed face. The plan was working perfectly. When the first guard was gone, she turned to the other.
"I think that you know what to do," she whispered.
"Of course, Mistress," replied the muffled human voice, the guard drew back his visor to reveal the face of Mike Donovan. He levelled his blaster at the crumpled figure of his genetic twin and took careful aim, but Lydia stopped him as footsteps echoed in the corridor outside.
"Damn. I had better attend to whoever is out there. Keep your visor down, and if the opportunity arises, kill him." Lydia left the cell to find that it was David and another guard approaching.
"What is it, David?"
"There are three intruders aboard. One of them may be Ham Tyler. I thought that you would want to know, Diana."
"Quite right," said Lydia, her vocal simulator
reproducing Diana's deadly purr of satisfaction. There was a shot from
the cell. "Oh dear, it seems Mr. Donovan may have suffered an accident.
A fatal one."
Three men were running wildly along a passageway, pursued by well over a dozen guards. So far they had avoided capture, but only by the narrowest of margins. They ducked into a storage room and hid behind several containers, breathing heavily in the silent chamber.
"If it hadn't have been for you losing your nerve, they would never have suspected us," said Ham Tyler.
"I was sure that he could tell my voice was human And I didn't expect them to look like that - reptilian, I mean. It was a shock, that's all." Ham Tyler crawled over to the door arid put his ear to it, a pointless exercise given the density of the material from which it was made.
"You had to fall for the first lizard trick, Newman. Why would another lizard find the sight of a reptilian face so repulsive - unless he was a gutless scientist from Earth?" Tyler slid his visor down and activated the door release. The corridor echoed with fading sounds of pounding feet.
"Since you're the hero of the outfit, Tyler, what do you suggest we do? Fight our way out? We must only be outnumbered by about a hundred thousand to one - easy meat for a man like you I would have thought," said Tony.
"Funny, Newman. For your information, the best policy is to remain incognito and act normal - if you two freaks can manage that. Our first task is to get across to the detention area and find Donovan. If we have time, we can look for Dr. Beckett as well. Follow me, say nothing, and don't panic." Tyler hailed a transporter, which was empty. He deciphered the alien symbols and pressed what he hoped was the right panel.
"Why do you assume Donovan will be in the detention area, Tyler? Aren't we supposed to be at peace, with Donovan acting as an official observer?" said Doug.
"If I know that Gooder, he's stumbled onto something that was not intended for his eyes - he never could pass up the chance to snoop. And as for this peace you two keep going on about, let me tell you the only peace the Visitors are interested in is the one that follows the total annihilation of the human race. The armistice is merely a way to lull us into a false sense of security, and very effectively too, by all accounts."
"Why do you say that?" said Tony.
"Because most of the resistance bases I have visited resembled the Marie Celeste rather than the Bounty, all the groups have lost at least two-thirds of their people."
The transporter came to rest in the first row of detention units, and the doors hissed aside. The three men stepped out, ensuring their visors were down. Tyler went straight across to the information console on the security gate, which was unguarded.
"Something must have happened," said Tyler grimly. "They wouldn't have left this point unattended otherwise. He entered the name Donovan in the strange Visitor language and the computer belched out the numbers 2, 5, 134, and then erased the information quickly. "For security reasons, I suppose, come on."
"Where are we heading?" asked Doug.
"Block 2, Row 5, Cell 134," said Tyler, marching briskly towards toward the second block. So far they had not encountered any Visitors, but as they entered the second gate they were stopped.
"You three, halt!" said the Visitor guard.
" Just leave the talking to me," said Tyler.
"What do you want?" said the guard.
"We were ordered to report here, something about a disturbance."
"Yes, Cell 134 in row 5. The inmate attacked a guard and was shot. He's a big fish too. Mike Donovan."
"Are you sure? " said Tyler, feeling the cold fist of anger tighten about his throat. For all his sanctimonious faults, Donovan was a good man.
"Of course I'm sure - it's not every day I
get to meet one of the leaders of the human resistors, even if he is a
corpse. I could get promoted for this, you know."
"I doubt that, lizard," said Tyler, removing his visor. "This is your lucky day - two of us and I'm still alive. Allow me to present you with your promotion." He shot the guard before he could even move away. "Damn you and your kind!” spat Tyler, pushing the corpse to one side with a contemptuous kick.
They ran down to where Donovan's cell was situated, Tyler cautiously poked his head around the corner of the door. Donovan lay in the corner, stone dead, and next to him was Diana, equally still. The guard standing over her replaced his blaster into its holster and turned to leave, but he found himself dragged from the doorway and disarmed before he could do anything to resist.
"Okay lizard, before you die, tell me why you just killed Diana and my friend, not that I'm bothered about Diana, of course. What you do to further your own career is no business of mine."
"This Donovan was a friend, was he? " asked the guard, his voice synthesiser failing to conceal the man's amusement. Tyler grabbed the guard with both hands and pinned him to the wall.
"You bet he was, lizard! Before I avenge his death, tell me why you killed Diana as well, and I'll make sure you die real quick."
"Same old Ham, the ever compassionate human heart that beats beneath the hard exterior." Tyler looked at the guard, feeling awkward. "Yes, you do know me, Ham. In answer to your question, that's Lydia, not Diana, and I killed her because of what she did to the people that were supposed to be going back to Earth soon. They are at this moment heading for the Visitors' Homeworld, as they originally planned. And as for Donovan, well I never could stomach his pinko conscience." Tyler snatched away the visor, his face reflecting the astonishment that he felt when he saw the man's face.
"Nice of you to say all those kind words about me, Ham, I would never have guessed that you were so lyrical."
"Then who is that in the cell?"
"Lydia has perfected the cloning technique. It was a copy of me, but a very stupid one. It made the fatal mistake of turning its back on me."
"How do I know that you're the real Mike Donovan?"
"Ask me anything you like."
"Right,” said Tyler. "Nothing that the lizards would have been interested in programming into a copy. Do you remember how you introduced me to your group when we first teamed up?"
"Not exactly, " said Donovan. Tyler tightened his grip on the Visitor weapon and frowned.
"You better remember quick, otherwise I might
get to thinking that the real Donovan is lying in the cell with a hole
in his chest," he stepped back, pointing the blaster straight at Donovan.
"Just like you, Tyler. So Goddam trusting. Yeah, I remember now, I said something like 'Meet Ham Tyler, master of covert operations, communications and bad relations' and told them that 'you blew it up and I filmed it.' I also remember saying that if the world weren't so sick, then you'd starve to death. I see the worlds still a very sick place, Tyler."
"You better believe it, Gooder," said Tyler, lowering the blaster. "Lucky for you that you have a good memory for insults."
"Those weren't insults, they were accurate descriptions."
"Whatever. Come on, we've got to get
outta here before the lizard express arrives. By the way, these two crazies
are looking for a guy called Beckett - I don't suppose you know where he is? "
"No, but we can look him up in the lizards database." They made their way back to the first block as fast as they could without looking unduly suspicious. Tyler typed the name Dr. Sam Beckett on the security console, but the screen stayed blank. He entered the name again. The screen flickered and displayed one word 'DECEASED'.
"Looks like your expert on time ran out of it," said Tyler.
"And so have we," said Doug. Standing
between them and the transporter were several dozen Visitor stormtroopers.
Ham Tyler took a small canister from his pocket and hurled it at the group of storm troopers, who spread out as the thing impacted. The air was littered with blaster fire as Tyler continued to lob more of the grenades into the rapidly vanishing swarm of Visitor troops. The air turned a vivid red as he continued his assault, all the time working his way around the now flailing Visitors. By the time he had exhausted his supply of canisters, he had made a pathway to the transporter and hopefully, freedom.
"Come on, it might not work!"
"What is that?" yelled Tony.
"Red Dust - a new version, environmentally friendly but certainly not lizard friendly. Get in the transporter!"
The four men were away within seconds, and Donovan studied the route chart carefully. They couldn't go directly to the shuttle bays, as there were probably guards on every exit, just waiting for them.
"We'll have to get ourselves some backpacks and leave via the garbage system," said Tyler. Donovan looked less than happy.
"Oh no, not the shit chute again," he said.
Diana watched the entire proceedings from her personal console with satisfaction. Lydia was dead, and she had been killed by a human, which averted suspicion away from Diana completely. The fact that she had helped Lydia with the cloning project for her own ends had nothing to do with it. Lydia had assumed that the clones were her warriors, her persistent and deadly slaves to do with as she pleased, but they were in fact nothing so useful - there were definite limitations in the technique that would take years to overcome.
But they served Diana's purpose. Already, Donovan had killed his double and would undoubtedly rally the beleaguered forces of the resistance around himself to capture and destroy the clones. With Ham Tyler's help the resistance would eventually succeed, using all of their resources and time hunting down what looked like perfectly innocent survivors of the Visitor cargo holds. The relatives of these people would not allow the resistance to kill or take away their loved ones, and would certainly not believe the stories about them being little more than doppelgangers. Being human, weak and trusting, they would attribute the memory loss and lack of animation to the terrible ordeal that their relatives had undergone, and not to the actual truth.
With the rugged determination that characterised the resistance, they would hunt down every last clone, losing support from the relatives and the public in general. It might even finish the resistance in itself. And by the time they had discovered that it was all an elaborate smokescreen, and that the clones were short-lived, harmless replicas of their originals, it would be too late. The resistance focus all its attention to the clones and not notice the development and distribution of the real doomsday weapon.
"Fly away, Mr. Donovan and Mr. Tyler. Hunt
down your spies and alienate yourselves. It will keep you out of my way
for now, and you will be helpless to prevent your own annihilation this
time." She watched them on her monitor, even opening a few unyielding doors
for them and blinding the Mother Ship security cameras to their presence.
They reached the equipment stores, and found their rocket backpacks as
she had expected. When the four men threw themselves down the garbage
chute, she made sure that the scanner malfunctioned, and they plummeted
Juliet Parrish sealed the lid on the last of the dishes that contained various samples of Mike Donovan's genes. It had been at his own insistence that the tests be carried out, and Julie had done them under protest.
"The sixty four thousand dollar question is can you tell one of the lizards' clones from a normal human being?" said Tyler. "The body lying in the detention cell looked every bit like the one sat before us in the chair. How do we know?"
"I know this is Mike - they can't copy a man's soul or personality, Ham. That is what makes us what we are, not the body."
"Look Julie, I want scientific evidence, not some poetic lecture on the sanctity of a guy's soul. What makes you think they can't copy a man's behavioural patterns if they are capable of reproducing his body to perfection. Give me proof, dammit!" Julie did not answer, but her glistening eyes spoke volumes.
"Ham may not be tactful, Julie, but he is right," Mike said gently.
"I know he is Mike, that's what I find so annoying, but until we actually capture one of their genetic replicas, I have nothing to compare Mike with. I simply know Mike, and that is all I can say. If they did copy him, with all his faults and strengths, than there is no way that even a manufactured duplicate could harm us." Tyler raised his eyes heavenwards.
"If I had wanted to listen to a soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet, I would have gone to the theatre. Don't take this personally, Gooder, but you know that I can't risk letting you in on any of our tactical plans until I'm absolutely sure you're the real Mike Donovan." Mike nodded slowly, he had anticipated Tyler's distrust - it was what had kept him alive for so long in the face of danger.
"That's alright, Ham. If you had said anything different, I'd start worrying about you being the real Ham Tyler. What I suggest is that you make known the facts about the empty cargo holds and the cloned survivors, and leave me to do something that won't compromise resistance security. "
"What did you have in mind?"
"I will try and capture one of the replicas
and bring it back here for questioning/analysis. That may give us an insight
into what the visitors are planning and when. There is no need for
me to know about any resistance base other than this one - and there are
only a few dozen people here who could be out before the Visitors could
raid the place."
Donovan turned to Doug and Tony.
"I could use a little scientific help, and I understand that you two are physicists of some kind."
"Genetics isn't our field, Mr. Donovan, besides which, we have to find a way to get back to our own time, if only to alert mankind to the impending danger from the Visitors."
"You're not going to do that without research facilities and scientific equipment, are you?" said Tyler.
What are you getting at, Tyler?" said Doug.
"There isn't anywhere in the world with a decent laboratory left, not as comprehensively equipped as you need. The only place you two bozos are going to find the stuff you need is on a Mother Ship."
"We might not need to do anything," said Tony. "There is a problem with communication, that's all. Any second now, our friends back at the Time Tunnel complex could break through and contact us."
"I doubt that, Newman," sneered Tyler.
"Because I did a little reading up on your precious Time Tunnel. We have access to all official records via an UN-official computer. I doubt that your people will be pulling you out of this little escapade, so you'd better play ball with us."
"What makes you think that we won't be rescued, Tyler?" said Doug, with a sickening feeling in his stomach.
"Because your escape route no longer exists, Philips. It's all here in black and white." He opened a folder that he had placed on Julie's desk an hour before. "The Time Tunnel was destroyed by fire in 1968." Tony grabbed the folder from Tyler's hands. He skimmed through the pages his mouth agape. It was true. The entire complex had been destroyed on October 27th, 1968, seemingly caused by an initial explosion, which destroyed the Tunnel and spread fire across the rest of the base.
"He's right, Doug. We're trapped here forever."
Diana was stretched out on her bunk watching her personal monitor. The screen showed her crewmates scuttling about the ship like so many worker ants. She was still fatigued from the self-inflicted cosmetic remodelling of her human face. Wearing the artificial skin was uncomfortable enough but suddenly having to get used to a new one was positively abhorrent. Diana herself was as yet officially under suspicion of planting an explosive device on The Leader's shuttle, and as such, she was confined to quarters. The only exception to this order was when Philip allowed her to conduct her duties from the control room, and that was usually under his supervision.
She had doctored the surveillance cameras in her quarters, and carried on with her plans via her personal console much as before. She could monitor and amend any instructions or orders she pleased, in fact she wielded more power from that one small console than Philip and his Fifth Column cronies did throughout the entire ship. Lydia's body, still in the guise of Diana herself, had already been disposed of, following positive identification by one of the ship's medics. He had received a memo from the central computer telling him that the body was infected with Red Dust. He had been so nervous about the infection, that he only used visual monitors to confirm the identity of the body before having it destroyed.
So, Diana was in effect dead. She smiled at the thought as she prepared for Philip's inevitable arrival by overturning furniture about the room and tearing a ragged hole in the arm of her own uniform. Then, seeing Philip approaching on the monitor she quickly draped herself across her desk and feigned unconsciousness. Philip entered the cabin and froze at the sight of the wrecked furniture and the prone body. He ran over to the woman and carefully lifted her from the console. "Are you alright, Lydia? What happened here?" Diana slowly opened her eyes and let them focus on the Inspector General. Tentatively touching her head and straightening her now blonde hair, Diana replied in a perfect imitation of Lydia's pseudo-English accent.
"It was Diana - she went mad. I came here to confront her, Philip. She has disobeyed the conditions of the cease-fire and destroyed any chance of peace with the Humans. I tried to stop her, but she overpowered me and escaped. It's all my fault, Philip. I was responsible for her conduct, and now I am culpable." Philip helped her to the bunk.
"Take it easy, Lydia. I will decide who is to blame, and as far as I can see, you did everything in your power to stop her. The matter is purely academic now anyway."
"What do you mean?" said Diana, in a show of concern.
"Diana is dead, Lydia. It appears she murdered Mike Donovan and was then killed in turn by members of the Resistance who were reported to have been onboard."
"Damn the Resistance! Diana was no friend of mine, but to have been killed by those warm-blooded animals... "
"They had good reason, Lydia! I have just been informed of Diana's final act of treachery, the cargo holds are empty. The Humans have been sent to the Home World."
"I know," said Diana. "That's what I was going to tell you, but Diana got away. I assumed she would go back to the Home World and try to establish a power base there. "
"Do not fear, Lydia. Diana is not going to establish power anywhere ever again. You are hereby absolved of any part in Diana's crimes, furthermore, I appoint you my second-in-command forthwith."
"This is an unexpected honour, Philip.
I will do my best to live up to your faith in me." Diana could barely
contain herself. Philip had swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
She could control the ship from her rightful place on the Bridge again,
and when the fuss about ‘Diana's’ death had ceased, Philip would meet an
Within hours, Diana, now thought to be Lydia, was back in her laboratory perfecting her ultimate weapon. She had yet to convince Philip that the Resistance was a threat to the armistice, but he was coming round to her way of thinking nicely. Thanks to the Red Dust incident in the detention area, there was now a strong body of opinion within the Visitor ranks that Philip was too weak to assume the command of a Mother Ship. Nothing had been heard of the leader since Diana's bomb had exploded; he was presumed dead.
Diana had plans to fill this hiatus, but not yet. To obtain the leadership role would take time, and it must be backed by something more substantial than a few human bodies for breeding and food. To show her power, she must make her mark on a world. The humans had been useful as passive supporters at the very beginning of their conquest, but they had proved too clever to believe all the Visitor propaganda about universal friendship and harmony. Indeed, primitive as they were, they had come to within a hair's breadth of defeating the might of the Sirian forces. No, they had outlived their usefulness. She had enough of them to clone and breed now; enough to soon produce enough food for the hungry mouths on the home planet. Dissatisfied mouths. Mouths that would pay tribute to whoever could reverse their misfortunes. The old Leader had grown weak, indeed, it was odd, but nobody had even laid eyes on the man for a number of years.
The last time Diana had seen him, he had been on the other side of a screen, for all her lies about the physically intimate relationship she claimed they enjoyed. He must be close to death, susceptible to any slight disease carried by his visiting subjects.
Diana toyed with a small container, shaking the contents with pride. This time the humans would perish, and good riddance to them. She tapped a key on her monitor and waited. "David, how nice to see you."
"And you, Lydia. Congratulations on your promotion, by the way, I only hope you won't hold anything against me for the orders I carried out concerning the transportation of the humans. I only wanted to serve my superior to the best of my ability." Diana grinned wickedly.
"I prize loyalty very highly, David. I believe Diana even made you wear a surgically implanted radio receiver to further her ends. You must have thought a lot of her."
"I think more of you, Lydia." She smiled enchantingly at his ingratiating lie.
"Good, then you will not mind doing me a small favour?"
"Excellent. I want you to bring me one of the human clones, without anybody knowing about it, of course. A little experiment of mine, you might say."
"Fifteen minutes, Lydia. Your laboratory?"
"Thank you, I will not forget this, David. I have need of good leaders, especially those with talent and ambition. Who knows what we may be able to do for each other. Fifteen minutes then." Diana closed the connection with a flourish. David would be eating out of her hand before long. She studied the container again, laughing.
"Green Dust - the end of the humans and the
beginning of my greatness. Now we will see just how clever they are!"
Early next morning, one thousand people were transported back to Earth in Visitor shuttles, all apparently well and eager to get back to their families. There was a large press and television contingency to cover the happy occasion, as well as the family and friends of those being returned. Philip had been forced into lying about the countless thousands of remaining people still missing. Although they were on their way back to the home planet, Philip bought himself a little time when he addressed the press.
"And so, we return your people to their rightful place, in the hope than you can one day forgive us for the mistakes we have made. There will be a slight delay in returning the remainder of your loved ones due to accommodation difficulties, but rest assured that they will be back on Earth in the near future." There was applause and cheering, which grew to almost hysterical proportions when the spotlights fell dramatically on the first of the figures stepping out into the dawn light. A woman broke away from the rest of the crowd and ran to the man, hugging him ecstatically.
"Ron! I can't believe it's you!" said the woman, as a hundred cameras clicked and whined. The man seemed dazed, almost mechanical.
"Let's go home, honey," she said, leading the man away from the crowd of media people and policemen. The man stepped hesitantly into the car waiting for him, and the vehicle whizzed away surrounded by police escorts and television crews. Three men in the distance were watching the proceedings through more detached and circumspect eyes. They knew the true nature of the figures emerging from the Visitor shuttles and felt only sorrow and pity for the families who thought that they had got their beloved relatives back.
"They look perfectly normal," said Tony. "Visitor science must be incredibly sophisticated to achieve such feats of genetic engineering." Doug nodded in agreement.
"Absolutely incredible. Their scientific abilities must be awesome. You could never tell the difference."
"Let's hope the relatives feel the same way. The Visitors may be 'awesome' as you two fans put it, but they are mostly callous and viscious individuals out for themselves under a common banner."
"Sorry Mike, I didn't mean I approved of their behaviour."
"I know, I know. We all felt that sort of hope when they first arrived - you know, mutual benefit, our water for their knowledge. It's a dream that has turned into a bitter nightmare, a tragic shadow of what might have been a great bond of friendship. Philip, the one up there telling the lies, he was my friend. Even he seems to have turned against us, sending down the clones with a cheery smile, lying about the others in the holds. They're half way to Sirius, poor bastards, and he's promising their safe return a week next Wednesday on the Visitor economy class return flight."
They watched the endless procession of the curiously lifeless figures stomping away from the shuttle crafts, into the unknown arms of their friends and lovers. The dramatic lighting and slick public address system rekindled memories of the first balmy days of the Visitors' arrival. The same professional touch, the media coverage, it was as if they were trying to win over a planet that did not recall the atrocities of the past, and it would not work. Or would it?
"They are certainly making heroes of the clones, aren't they?" said Donovan. "I smell a rat. A bloody big rat. One with two legs and scaly skin called Diana."
"But Diana is dead," Doug reminded him.
"SO AM I!" yelled Donovan triumphantly. "Why should it have been Diana? It could have been another Visitor or even a clone. How could I be so dumb? Diana wouldn't die so foolishly, she was - is - far too wily for that. And what about our escape? Whoever heard of Visitor stormtroopers without oxygen masks? No, she's up there in that ship somewhere, and she's doing something sinister."
"The crowd is thinning out now. I suggest we follow the next likely candidate home and try and capture him or her. Whatever she has trained these replicas to do, it won't be party tricks. How about that one?" They spotted an old man shambling towards a police vehicle. There was nobody waiting for him, and the police vehicle drove away without an escort or tail. Donovan started the car and followed the black and white at a respectable distance.
"What happens if we're stopped?" asked Tony. "Simple, there's a video camera and mike in the trunk. You and Doug are reporters wanting to do an in-depth interview with the old guy for ABC, and I'm your driver. If we see any guards around his home, we'll wait for a while and see what happens, okay?" Doug and Tony nodded, although they both had misgivings about hanging around Visitor guards. As luck would have it, the old man lived in San Diego, and although Mike lost sight of the car a few times, he managed to pick up the trail again. They spent the night parked at a distance, taking turns to watch the old man's house for signs of Visitor activity, but the only things that moved were the stars in the deep blue of night and the crashing waves of the Pacific. A cool southerly breeze helped keep Mike awake, as it carried on toward the arid Mexican border.
Donovan watched the house with an almost hypnotic attention, straining his eyes for any sign of the Visitors. But there was nothing; just the quiet sanctity of the night, undisturbed by human - or inhuman - sounds. It was as if there had never been any Visitors; nor conflict. The planet was at peace with itself in its long-perfected dance of life - even if mankind was not. The ocean beat against the shore, pulled by the ever present moon, the moon and the Earth revolved about their common centre of gravity like some virtuoso dancing partnership, always returning to their original positions. And the Earth circled the sun in an eternal circuit, unknowingly dragged through space by the forces that caused the galaxy to invisibly swirl around its hyper-gravitational centre.
He thought back to his childhood, staring out into that same unchanging sky. The Earth was his universe then. It was the solid rock on which the rest of creation depended. He compared this innocent-halcyon image to his present tortured nightmare. The Visitors: They crossed a space that was unimaginable in order to plunder the Earth. It was no longer the solid foundation of the universe to him; just a vulnerable little garden floating like a spore in the immensity of space. Why did there have to be a war - they could have co-existed and shared. Was it that it was more than the resources? The victors would be erased from the universe, their genetic code forgotten, wasted. It was a war to find who was most suitable to progenate the galaxy, the stars, and beyond, a duel.
Mike knew he was falling into sleep, and shook his head, just in time to see a light go on and the silhouette of an old man cross the house. Either the clones did not sleep, or they committed their foul deeds by night, Donovan thought, and then laughed at this vampire-inspired idea.
"What's so funny Mike?" Tony asked.
"Everything. I think the whole universe is a punchline without the joke. Look, stay here for now. If I don't come back within an hour, you and your buddy take off and don't look back. Good luck to you, Tony."
"Where are you going, Mike?"
"To see a clone about a man," said Donovan, shutting the car door behind him and walking towards the beacon of the old man's window. He looked around and even above him for signs of an ambush, but the only sounds to be heard were the natural ones around him and his own feet compacting the grass and kicking up clouds of sand.
He approached the place from the back, the only thing beyond the tattered brick and rotting wood to be seen was the undulating surf of the Pacific. He checked the outlying vegetation, sparse though it was, but found nothing.
Eventually he tired of seeing shadows in the dark and knocked on the door, keeping a tight grip on the revolver that Tyler had issued him with. Typical of Tyler, thought Donovan. No goodbyes or good luck, just handed him a modified firearm. What else would you expect from a mercenary, a gold watch?
The door slowly opened, a man in his mid-seventies answering with a nervous look and trembling hands. "What do you want?"
"Excuse me, er, sir, can I talk to you? It's very important."
"It may affect the entire world, the future of mankind."
"Oh that. I suppose you'd better come in." He waved Donovan to a chair and poured himself a large shot of unlabelled whisky. So far, so good. No murder attempts, no Visitor guests. "Would you like a drink, Mr., Mr. - "
"Donovan. Mike Donovan. Does that name mean anything to you?"
"You ain't one of them are you?" the old man stammered.
"No sir, I'm not. What I have to talk to you about is disturbing. I must ask you some questions about the Visitors, about your memories of the Mother Ship." The man spat violently at the ground.
"You mean the lizards? Those evil bastards. Do you know at one time, before I was captured, I used to try and pot those slimy sons-of-bitches right out of the sky. Now, I just don't have the energy."
Donovan raised his eyebrows in surprise. The man was no robot, he had spirit, even if it was implanted, and showed no signs of Diana's indoctrination. Quite the reverse, in fact. "Can I ask you what you recall of your capture?"
"It's strange, I remember it perfectly, and yet it still feels like a dream, like I was an onlooker, somehow. They took me in L.A. I was having a great time out there - I reckon I must have notched up quite a few lizard skins by now. I moved into a camp there after my wife had died, filled with anger and hate. I suppose I caused them so many problems, they had to either kill me or catch me."
"How did your wife die?" The old man's eyes filled with tears.
"Do you know, son, I've been asking myself the same question. I can only remember patches of the past, and even then it seems unreal. Almost like I was watchin' a movie of someone else's life. Does that sound crazy to you? " Donovan shook his head sadly.
"No, I think it's perfectly understandable after all you've been through. It's a wonder you came through it all still sane."
"The doctor I saw said we were sufferin' from something called selective, er selective something or other."
"Yeah, some fancy word. But it feels different than that, almost like being born again. I felt completely different when I woke up. Perhaps a year in the fridge his freshened me up, eh?" Donovan grinned, but inwardly screamed. These clones weren't just robots, they were people in their own right, one of Diana's sick experiments, but people.
"I know this is asking a lot, but would you be prepared to come back to our base and undergo some tests? You won't be harmed, I promise. We think Diana may have, may have... done something to you all, and we want to find out what it is." The man frowned, looking around his untidy home.
"I haven't got a choice, really. Yeah, I'll go with you. Just let me get a few things together and I'll be there. Donovan waited outside, hoping that the old man would not turn nasty somewhere along the way. Not that it mattered. Somewhere along the line they were going to discover the truth. The old man appeared carrying a tatty suitcase, which Donovan carried to the car for him.
"Howdy fellas, Jake Burns is the name. You two with the Resistance as well are you?"
"You could say that we're recent recruits,"
said Doug. Mike started the car, and headed North, back to L.A.
He was uneasy: everything had gone well. Much too smoothly for his
liking; he had the feeling that the worst was yet to come.
David's finger hovered impatiently above a numbered switch, as he watched the dusty road through Jake Burns' eyes. The strip of pink was widening on their right as dawn approached, and Jake drifted into sleep once again.
"Stay awake you old fool! I want to see Donovan die for real, this time, " said David.
"Patience, dear," said Diana. "Wait until they are finally escorted to the Resistance base. I want these things to do as much damage as possible. We only have a thousand of them, so it is prudent to use a little self control." David removed his hand.
"You are quite right, Lydia. I just don't want to risk losing Donovan, that's all. He seems to lead a charmed life. With him out of the way, you can press on with your plans unhindered."
"Don't under-estimate them, David. There is
nothing the humans like more than a martyr to worship. It is a curious
trait, but one we should be careful of. They are at their most dangerous
when fighting against injustice. We must ensure that nothing rocks
the boat of apathy and boredom, until it is too late, of course."
Donovan parked the car to the side of the road and waited for Tyler's contact to make himself known. By the time this happened, it was mid-morning, and the four men were beginning to fret. Again, there were no Visitor patrols, no shuttle craft passing overhead, nothing but the ever present hum of the Mother Ship shading the morning sun from the city below.
"Hey, Mister. You got a match?" said a bum, passing Donovan's window, carefully surveying the car and its occupants. They were a pretty rough-looking bunch by this time.
"At last," said Donovan tersely. "We've been waiting all morning you know, out here in the scorching heat." The bum looked confused.
"Waiting all morning? Just to give me a match?"
"Cut the crap. I know Tyler sent you."
"Who's Tyler?" said the man, stumbling off into the distance.
"What was all that about?" said Tony.
"Nothing. It really was a bum." They waited another hour before real contact made himself known. He waved to them from a parked van.
"That thing's been parked there since we arrived," said Doug. "I may not like him, but Tyler is certainly professional." The van pulled out and turned into a side street, Donovan close behind.
"If I had a dime for every time I've heard people say that about Ham, I'd be a very rich man today. I'm afraid we're going to have to blindfold you, Jake. Nothing personal, but-"
"You don't have to explain these things to me, young man." Tony tied a piece of cloth around his head. The van weaved in and out of narrow streets and around buildings, to disorientate their guest/ captive. They stopped outside a disused fire station, the driver of the van holding his hand up to Donovan telling him to stay put. The man gave him the victory sign and screeched away.
"How long will we have to wait?" asked Tony.
"Not long Newman," said a voice beside him. " If you want to use the can, you'll have to wait for a couple of minutes. Okay Jim, check them out, and I mean them as well as the car." Ham's guard ran a probe around the vehicle, checking the wheel arches and underbody with great care. He made the four men step out of the car and waved the probe over them for several minutes.
"They're clean, Ham." Tyler held his nose theatrically.
"They don't smell clean, but at least they're not carrying explosives. Alright, bring the old man inside, and don't remove the blindfold until we're safely locked up. Search his case for anything suspicious."
Half an hour later, Jake was beginning to understand exactly what had happened on the Mother Ship, as Julie prodded and took various bodily samples from the old man. "They did something bad, didn't they?"
"I'm afraid they did, Jake." Julie looked at the man. It would be cruel to tell him the truth, but it would be unforgivable to lie. At first sight, the replicas seemed genetically identical to their originals, but Julie had run some tests under an electron microscope and she had spotted a consistent variation in the DNA materials. There was definite evidence that the reduplication of body cells was not possible. In particular, the red and white corpuscular system was renewable, and she had already spotted a build up of toxic materials in his blood stream.
"Listen, young lady, I can't remember anything, I can't do anything, my wife has gone and so has my will to live. Why don't you just tell me and get it off your chest." Julie hesitated, wondering if the truth would kill him there and then. She looked to Mike for moral support.
"The decision is yours, of course, but I would hazard a guess that Jake is as sick and tired of the Visitors lies as we are. Let's not start lying ourselves to cover up their iniquities."
"You tell her, boy. If I'm going to die, I deserve to know how. That's the least you can do for me, after I've let you virtually pull me to pieces." Julie nodded, sitting down and drawing her breath.
"It's like this Jake. The Visitors have found a way of making replicas of people, genetic copies. We don't know why, at least not yet, but all the people released from the Mother Ship are not the people that were taken aboard."
"And that includes me," he whispered.
"I'm sorry, Jake. For what it's worth, you seem to have all the characteristics of the original Jake Burns, with one difference. I can't be sure, but the evidence suggests that there is little or no regeneration of cellular structures around the body."
"You mean I'm a-goner?"
"I would say you could survive a few weeks, like the rest of them will but I could be wrong. You may live longer - the fault could correct itself, I may have just been studying some kind of initial toxic presence. I hope I am wrong, Jake."
"I don't. Damn. the lizards, damn them all to hell!" He slammed his trembling hands on the table, breathing heavily. Julie sat him down gently, taking his pulse.
"Jake, are you alright?"
On the Mother Ship, Diana stepped forward to the control panel. She keyed in Jake's number and spoke soothingly into the microphone at her side. "Tell her you want your pills, Jake." David smiled malevolently, watching his new superior at work.
"Brilliant, Lydia. It will look so natural."
"Of course it will, darling. I think
these things through."
"I have angina. My pills - in my case, quickly." Donovan ripped the case open and found the large bottle, handing it to Julie.
"No, let me do it, give me the bottle."
"Now smash the bottle, Jake," said Diana.
"Damn you, you filthy lizards!" The old man's
hand trembled, as if fighting an invisible enemy. Donovan tried to open
the bottle for him but he drew back. "No, don't let them op-"
"Override David! He's breaking free. Override the central nervous system, or we'll lose him. Smash the bottle, Jake!" Diana yelled. David upped the power to the electrodes at the base of Jake's brain, increasing Diana's control.
"That's as much as it will stand, Lydia."
"Damn you, lizards! I will not let you use me like this!" Jake was now shuddering, reacting to the contradictory messages from his brain. He held the bottle aloft, ready to bring it down in a wild arc, but at the last second tossed it onto the chair and spun around, now completely delirious.
"Grab the bottle! Don't let me touch it!" Donovan snatched the container, which was unmarked except for a few symbols on the lid. Jake straightened up with enormous effort, the electrical signals tearing through his brain. But he smiled. "I have beaten you, just like the real Jake Burns would," he slumped over the chair and stopped moving. Julie ran to his side, but it was too late.
"He's dead. It could have been a cardiac, but I think he was killed by some kind of control mechanism somewhere."
"He was a brave man, no matter if he was the
real Jake or not. There must be something pretty lethal in this bottle,
and I think I can guess what it is,” said Mike. Now they knew what the
clones were for, the Visitors would probably move their plans forward.
Julie's autopsy of Jake confirmed her suspicions about the control mechanism. It was situated at the base of the brain, inserted below the visual area. Various microscopic connections branched away from the unit, to the cerebral cortex and to the base of the spine. It was amazing that Jake had been able to withstand the sheer power of the command impulses. But the man's character had been stronger than the Visitor's will. Diana's experiment had backfired.
"I have been getting reports of similar incidents across the country," said Tyler, entering Julie's laboratory. "Some of the clones swallowed the contents of their containers, some actually handed them over to other Resistance personnel. There have been several dozen deaths as well, some of them completed their missions."
"It is definitely self-multiplying?" asked Julie.
"Yeah. Exactly the same as ours. Green Dust. Kills on contact, breeds in the air. If they release enough of it, we could be finished within days. We have to stop them from producing the stuff, if we're not already too late."
"Surely they have already done that," said Julie. "We must find an antidote, and fast."
"We already have people working on one, but they have made no progress whatsoever. The only other option we have is to raid the Mother Ship with every last person we have. I suspect the Green Dust originated on the L.A. ship, in which case, we have the responsibility of stopping them."
"By doing something that we have been planning
ever since the lizards arrived - capturing a Mother Ship."
Diana stood outside Philip's quarters, waiting for him to admit her. She harboured a secret dread that he had discovered her identity and was just playing along, but she dismissed the notion as paranoid. Had he wanted to arrest her, he would have done so after Lydia's death. The door swept aside.
"Lydia, please come in. I have to talk to you about an urgent and most grave matter. The Leader is dead, killed by what we will assume to be Diana's bomb. I have received reports that the Home World is in complete political and administrative disarray. I must go back and help establish a new government before there is revolution. I leave this ship in your hands - you are the only person qualified to command under these circumstances. I will be taking four thousand warriors and technicians from this ship and the same number from the Paris Mother Ship. They are both over-staffed, and it may be that we will have to restore civil order or repair existing damage when we arrive. Do you accept the command of this ship?" Diana almost yelled her acceptance, but managed to nod gravely instead.
"When will you be leaving?"
"The return ship has already arrived. We will depart tomorrow."
"And what of the humans? When they discover that we have been lying about the return of the people from the cargo holds, they may begin fighting again."
"Defensive action only, Lydia. No more
deaths. When the humans arrive at the Home World, I will send them
back. Clear?" Lydia nodded, but behind the face, Diana had other plans.
Ham Tyler called Tony and Doug into his office later on that day, his desk covered with coded reports, dismantled handguns and old coffee cups. He had been up the entire night and as the day wore on he felt his eyes beginning to blur and close with increasing regularity. "Sit down, if you can find a seat," he said to Doug. They managed to locate two chairs beneath the mass of papers that he had flung to one side.
"This is your out tray, is it?" said Tony.
"Kind of. I have something to ask you, take it or leave it. I need to get Julie out to Phoenix. There's a bunch of guys out there working on an antidote to the Green Dust. It's important that Julie works on the project because she has had so much experience with Visitor biology and science. I need two guys that I can trust to drive her out there."
"Why us? we're not trained bodyguards," said Doug.
"No, but you are scientists, and we need every brain available if we're going to crack this thing before the Visitors let us have it. What do you say? We'll give you all the weaponry we can spare and the fastest vehicle we can lay our hands on." Tony looked at Doug in resignation.
"Alright, we'll do it. Wasn't so long ago when you were calling us gutless scientists, was it? You seemed to have changed your mind pretty rapidly - I think you just want us out of the way for your raid on the Mother Ship," said Doug.
"Oh, come on. Isn't a guy even allowed a bad temper anymore? I wouldn't ask you to do it if I didn't trust you one hundred per cent. Julie's a good friend, believe it or not, so don't let's get paranoid here, okay?"
"When do you want us to leave?" said Tony.
"Within the hour. Julie has already packed her stuff away into a case, all you guys have to do is drive, and avoid the Visitors if possible."
"That's the real trick," said Doug. "Their power seems unlimited, they have spies all over the place and friends nearly everywhere."
"So did the Nazis, but it didn't do them much good, ultimately."
"We'll be ready in an hour," said Doug, standing up and replacing Tyler's paper mountain on the chair. "Have you thought about getting a secretary at all?" Tyler grinned.
"I have got a secretary, but she's leading one of the assault groups into the shuttle bays of the Mother Ship. She is an explosives expert, but also types sixty words per minute."
"Good luck to her, and you, Ham,” said Tony.
"See you in a week or in hell," he replied,
closing his door.
INTERLUDE, Project: Tic Toc, October, 1968
Sitting at her desk in Tunnel Control, Dr. Ann McGregor was still trying to locate Doug Philips and Tony Newman. She knew that some kind of time loop was established, and that a ghost image of the Titanic was the site of the split in the time continuum that was causing problems. But just why the loop had occurred was unclear. It seemed that there was magnetic interference of huge proportions emanating from Doug and Tony's current location, which had been last recorded as Los Angeles, in 1986. For no obvious reason, she picked up their signals suddenly, four days after the time travellers had arrived.
"General Kirk, I've found them: They are heading
Doug, Tony and Julie were heading east and they were not alone. A shuttle craft followed them at a distance, slowly closing in on the car as it got closer to its destination. Behind the pilot, Diana sat smiling at her good fortune. Philip had taken the Mother Ship out of the Earth's atmosphere for a while, and out of range of the scanners, Diana had decided to begin the first part of her final assault, and that was to destroy the humans' antidote research facilities.
"Follow them, but do not alert them to our presence," said Diana. The car sped on, with the sun setting behind them. Doug yawned and rubbed his face in an effort to remain alert. Mile after mile of road in the semi-light was beginning to take its toll.
"Why don't you pull over and let me drive for a while, Doug." Doug nodded and slowed the car to a crawl, pulling into the side of the dusty road. The shuttle pilot saw Doug slow down too late to avoid overshooting the car a mile above. Julie woke up to the familiar sound of a Visitor shuttle climbing above them.
"You fool!" Diana spat. "Now they suspect they are being followed. Draw back and this time stay further away from them!" The pilot circled around and brought his craft to hover several miles away above the cloud layer. Julie searched the skies with her binoculars.
"That was no patrol craft - they were tailing us, and we would have led them straight to the base. It was a good job you stopped, Doug. At least we can lead them astray, even if we can't actually lose them. Tony, will you reach behind you and pass me the laser rifle that Ham put in there." Tony lifted the weapon from the miniature arsenal that Tyler had presented them with. "If they get too close again, I'll give them something to worry about," said Julie.
"Where do we go from here, though? We can't go to the base in phoenix, and if we turn back, they'll know that we're aware of their presence and will probably attack us."
"Just keep going east. We can bypass the base and head for Dallas. We have more than enough fuel for the journey, and it seems more of a likely venue for a scientific centre than the middle of Arizona." Doug stepped out of the car to take a breath of air, the sky now apparently empty. Just in front of him, on the edge of the road, a patch of ground began to glow in the dusk.
"Doug, Tony, is that you? This is the Time Tunnel. We've been getting a lot of interference from your location. There's been some kind of split in the continuum. We think that it is possible to get you both back. Are you ready to be transferred?" Doug thought long and hard, turning to Tony.
"It's up to you, Tony. Whatever you decide I'll go along with."
"Thanks a bunch, Doug. We can't leave now, we have promised to help, and we can't break the trust that Tyler placed in us." Julie climbed out of the car and studied the glowing shaft of light.
"It's true! You really are from another time."
The Visitor shuttle had landed just two hundred yards away from the car, its hum drowned out by the sound of the Time Tunnel. Diana watched the proceedings in fascination.
"It would appear that the humans have managed to construct some form of matter transmitter. Pass me one of the electron detonators, quickly." The pilot handed her a small case, and Diana carried it to the cabin door.
"Let me out. I will be a few minutes. I was saving this for their base, but it seems we have stumbled upon a far more valuable target."
"Yes Lydia." The hatchway opened and Diana
stepped out, advancing on foot as quietly as she could.
"It’s alright, Tony. You can leave any time you wish. We didn't expect you to stay forever. You two go - I'll be fine. I have friends in Dallas, so don't worry about me." Doug was the first to shake his head.
"We can't leave now. If the Visitors succeed with the Green Dust, there will be no future for us to look forward to. We are staying here, but there is something that we can send back. Did you bring the sample of Green Dust with you?"
"Of course I did, but what use -" Julie stopped, realising what Doug was thinking. " Of course. If we send it back to nineteen sixty whenever they will have nearly twenty years to develop an antidote to the Green Dust, instead of hours or days, which is what we have."
"Exactly," said Tony. "Anne, we're going to send through a container that holds a lethal poison. There is no time to explain now, but it could destroy the whole of mankind if we cannot develop an antidote to it. Are you ready to receive, over?"
"Yes, we're ready," said General Kirk, now at the controls.
"We will try and get the antidote to you as soon as possible. But you know the problems we have with the Tunnel. We may have to send it the long way round."
"We can worry about that later, General. Here it comes." Doug carried the bottle over to the luminous strip of earth, unaware of what was about to happen. The container was placed in the centre of the light, and Doug stepped back.
"Ready," said Tony.
"I'm sure they are," said Diana, running forward and reaching for the Green Dust. Doug managed to trip her, and the container fell back into the light. Her strength was phenomenal, and she broke free of his grasp, spitting venom into his face. But it was too late for Diana to retrieve the Green Dust - it was already back in the Time Tunnel.
"Here's another Visitor gift for your friends," she said, sliding the case that held the electron bomb into the light. Julie managed to get a shot at Diana when she was clear of Doug, and she flew backwards from the impact, as the shell bit into her left shoulder.
"Anne, don't transfer anything else, it's a bomb." But the case had already disappeared, dragged back in the wake of the Green Dust. Diana herself crawled away from them, calling for help from her pilot. From the Time Tunnel, they could hear almost hysterical voices echoing across the immensity of the temporal corridors. General Kirk was the only man who seemed to remain calm.
"Ann, Ray, get out of here. Abandon the base as fast as you can." The sounds of frantic activity were the only ones now audible, followed by an explosion that almost blew Doug, Tony and Julie off their feet. The light disappeared, replaced by the whistling breeze and the hum of the Visitor shuttle, as it landed ahead of them. They saw Lydia struggling aboard, the hatchway closing behind her. Tony and Doug were too startled to do anything other than stare at the place where their one-time escape route had been. And now they were stranded permanently, their friends were dead, the Time Tunnel gone forever. But Julie opened fire on the shuttle, the bolts of intense laser light blowing large fragments out of the fuselage. She was filled with anger: a golden opportunity had been wasted to defeat the Visitors. The shuttle wobbled into the air, climbing and accelerating away at a great speed.
Julie continued firing into the empty night
sky, with great tears welling up in her eyes. They had been so very close...
Ham Tyler cursed fluently as the great bulk of the Mother Ship shrank to the size of an orange. Surely the Visitors could not have found out about the raid so quickly. He had told only a handful of trusted men to assemble their squads around the Los Angeles area. He hadn't even told them why they were being asked to do so. Unless... unless they had captured Julie and the two freaks and tortured it out of them.
Some hours later, however, one of his contacts radioed in a coded message. One of the Visitor fifth column men had informed him of the reason for the sudden withdrawal of the L.A. Mother Ship. It seemed that it was to enable their leader, Philip, to transfer several thousand men across to a homeward bound ship due to problems on the home planet. Tyler waited impatiently for several hours to see if the story was true. In the early hours of the morning, the massive disc of the craft returned to its original position. Thousands of people lined the streets to watch the event - the sky seemed strange after so many months of this unwelcome roof suddenly disappearing. It was a sparsely manned Mother Ship that now hovered over the murmuring L.A. streets.
Tyler smiled broadly, checking his ammunition and weapons. He passed out a message to all the groups gathered on the fringes of the city, all in all, around thirty groups, each at least a hundred strong, were waiting for his broadcast. The Morse coded message caused cheers across the city within those groups. "The party is on. See you under the chandelier."
He contacted his man from the Philadelphia group first, Ike Jordan. He was the man who would pilot the shuttle that they had liberated some months earlier. That would be the most dangerous part of the operation. They were relying on a fifth column agent to disconnect the entire ship's surveillance system, so that the shuttle could land unseen and the bays could be secured. After that, they would use the Visitors' shuttles to carry the resistance groups up to the Mother Ship, where they would repeat their first invasion of a Mother Ship by distributing the new Red Dust into the air supply once again.
Tyler's group pulled into a street that was the closest thing to being directly under the Mother Ship that they could calculate. Tyler scanned the streets for Don Cheung, his fifth column liaison. It was the kind of job Tyler knew he could never have performed himself. His dislike of the Visitors was far too intense to play any kind of diplomatic role, and he had in Don a man that could be trusted to say and do the right thing in any situation. A baker's van flashed its headlights as Tyler looked across the street. He crossed over and let himself in via the back doors. Don was wired into a pair of headphones, speaking in short, hushed tones.
"So the lights will be out until you can fit a new fuse, over?" Tyler recognised the hiss of static and muffled reply of a Visitor as a very low frequency transmission. Don nodded and switched the radio off. "Hello Ham. Thomas says the scanners on the Mother Ship will 'break down' at 02.03. That's when we must get to the ship and secure the bays. He reckoned that the damage will take about fifteen to twenty minutes to fix, so we'll have to be quick."
"Well done, that was good work Don. I didn't think we had any contacts left on the L.A. ship after the cease-fire was invoked. It seems that even the lizards have their share of gullible fools - they'll believe anything they're told if it sounds nice enough."
"There is an element of truth in that, but as usual, I must object to the way you said it. They are people, just like us. There is good and bad in their society as there is in ours."
"I'll take your word for that, Don. I just hope your fifth column man is on the line, because if he isn't, there's going to be a lot of unnecessary deaths this morning."
"Thomas is my most trusted contact in the Visitor ranks. He would not betray our mutual cause. It’s up to the rest of you now. I will try to relay information to you as I get it, although there is no guarantee that Thomas will be able to stay on air." Tyler opened the doors and stepped onto the street.
"Right. If you do hear anything, let me know. He crossed the street, still humming from the earlier Mother Ship manoeuvre. People were craning their necks to study the great disc of the ship and discussing the reasons for its temporary absence. This provided Tyler with the perfect cover to assemble his men around the area. It was 01.56 by his reckoning, and the scene was becoming increasingly confused. More and more groups poured into the street, brandishing hardware of all descriptions and yelling greetings to each other. So much for covert operations, thought Ham.
The hum of a Visitor shuttle elicited a few startled responses, but nobody could miss the luminous 'V's that had been sprayed on both sides of the shuttle as it floated in to land, Ike Jordan's huge figure clearly visible behind the controls. Tyler called over the explosives group, and bundled them into the shuttle quickly. A few sharpshooters were squeezed in behind them, but they were only for defensive purposes. If the Visitors had been alerted to the operation, they had no chance of succeeding, or even surviving if there was a welcoming committee in the shuttle bay.
Tyler turned to Ralph Anderson, his second-in-command. "Remember, if the shuttles don't show within ten minutes, get out of here."'
"Don't worry, We will. Good luck Ham."
"Yeah, see you in hell." Tyler closed the hatchway
behind him and searched in vane for a seat. Ike Jordan made the shuttle
climb slowly into the night sky. "Take it easy, Ike. It's 02.01, we have
another two minutes yet."
On the Mother Ship, the central complex reported an overload in the power system. David, who had been appointed as Lydia's second-in-command, ordered a team of technicians down to the complex to investigate. Thomas made his move. The overload had just been a diversion, and now three of his people were disconnecting the computer from the scanning equipment. They removed the interface components and then started a minor fire to give the impression of a malfunction.
The control room was in uproar. The Mother
Ship was temporarily blind, and this immediately panicked the officers
and crew who were already concerned about the lack of staff on board. They
were not actually defenceless, but very close to it.
Ham Tyler strapped himself into his combat jacket - the jackets had been designed to withstand moderate laser fire and were flame resistant, as were the trousers. Not that they would stop a Visitor stormtrooper, but they afforded some psychological protection if nothing else.
"Everyone ready?" They all nodded, some a little apprehensively. "Now remember, no heroics. If they're ready for us, Ike has got a wide spread laser that will give us time to withdraw. If I say pull back, you damn well pull back. If anyone disobeys this order, they will pay with their' lives because we're not going to wait for anyone. And that includes me, Ike," Tyler yelled to the cockpit.
"You’re the boss. Just give me a chance to fry a few goddam lizards first, that's all I ask. One for each friend I've lost should just about do it."
"Okay, hit the gas Ike, or whatever it is you
hit, and good luck to you all. Remember, if we fail, it could be
the end, and if we succeed, we might just drive the lizards back to Sirius
Julie, Doug and Tony finally arrived at the Phoenix base, exhausted and devastated. Doug and Tony especially so - they had been given the chance to go home and had refused it. Now there was no way to get back - they had skipped nearly two decades of history, to end up in a year when human history was in danger of being finished forever. Julie explained what had happened to the project leader, Susan Kepler.
"Do you mean that these guys are claiming that they can travel through time, Juliet? And you believed them too. I always thought you were such a sensible girl."
"Don't tease me, Sue. I saw it happen - we put a sample of the Green Dust into their transfer... well, beam I suppose you'd call it. There were voices from the other side, voices that were twenty years old, and then Lydia ruined it all...."
"Twenty year old voices, eh? They didn't say 'beam me up, Scotty' did they? These mysterious friends of yours?"
"Damn it, Sue! Don't treat me like a lunatic. If the Visitors can travel across eight light years of space - do you know how far that - is? I was told once. It is 48 million million miles - if someone had told you that was possible you'd believe them." Susan put her arms around Julie, who was shaking with anger and sheer fatigue.
"Come on, Juliet, I do believe you - you know my sense of humour - and boy do I need it right now. I have got the finest scientific minds working here, not just from the States, but a few are here from Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, Australia - they were part of the Red Dust project. You remember Voigtlander, don't you? Brilliant bacteriologist. He is here, working around the clock."
"I remember him, alright. Brilliant isn't the word. He was possibly the finest example of a modern day scientist in the world - dedicated, principled, masterly. He's here?" Julie felt incredibly lucky to be working on the same project.
"He is, and he has come up with exactly the same as the others. Nothing. This stuff is amazingly intricate. It could have been manufactured in any form: gas, liquid, solid. It would still retain its potency. The fact that it resembles our Red Dust is merely a sardonic gesture of revenge by the creator. It is some kind of genetic soup, attacks the structure of human DNA, and ONLY human DNA. It will ignore the very different carbon based configuration of the Visitors genetic material. It will even leave some of our lower animals and reptiles untouched. If they succeed in releasing it into the atmosphere, they will kill us and still have food and water to take back to Sirius."
"You mean unless Ham and his group take the L.A. Mother Ship, we've lost? It all rests on them?"
"I'm afraid so, Juliet. It's up to them now."
Mike Donovan re-read the scrap of paper that been passed onto him by Bill Young, an old friend from the New York Resistance. He hoped that he was not driving into a trap - it would be a stupid way to end a cautious record of avoiding Visitor ambushes and traps. All the note said was: 'Please meet me at the Newark base, N.Y. This is vital to our cause. You are one of the few men who can be trusted.' It was signed 'A friend.' Donovan hoped so. He waited patiently in the street, fingering the trigger of his semi-automatic.
Two figures approached. Donovan felt his palms sweating around the butt of the gun, the blood surging through his ears. They got closer. One of them was hooded. Donovan climbed out of the car, pointing his gun at the first figure.
"That's close enough, buddy. Let me see what kind of a face you have under that hood. Nice and slowly, now. I'm a very nervous guy."
"Aren't you always, Donovan? It's a wonder
you haven't had a breakdown yet," said the man, removing his hood.
His face was a mass of burns and dressings. His jaw had been severely displaced by an explosion or projectile of some kind, but he was still recognisable.
"Bill? Is that you - My God, what happened to you"
"Hello Mike. You should see the other guy. This is the lady that asked for you personally. Your reputation has reached legendary proportions in the Apple, you know. Take good care of her - it cost me a lot to get her back from the Visitors." Mike shook the other's hand and took the woman's medical case.
"Please be careful with it. You're holding our future there." Mike wished his injured friend farewell and gunned the car into reverse. "It's a pleasure to meet the famous Mike Donovan," said the woman.
"Glad to know you...?"
"My name is Ann McGregor."
Ike swooped into the shuttle bay like an eagle, landing two-thirds into the vast area and priming the wide-sweep laser. Tyler breathed an enormous sigh of relief. The bay was practically deserted, just a few Visitor technicians dotted around, and seemingly unconcerned about the shuttle that had landed in semi-shadow in the maintenance area. He reached into the large trunk that had been hauled aboard, removing several tanks and attached lengths of pipe, passing them along the ranks.
"These are high pressure units," he explained. "Efficient but very wasteful in terms of the amount of Red Dust they discharge They are only for combat use. The large stuff will come in if we can secure the bay. Plant your charges and get to the other shuttles as quickly as possible, and let's hope that we don't have to blow the ship if we can help it. As you know, these small nuclear units could destroy the entire craft, but the lizards will be as likely to crash land a damaged ship into the city below rather than try and escape."
"What happens if we do succeed, Ham?" asked Jenny Gallo, Tyler's one time secretary.
"Then we knock out all the electronics to the control room. The mistake we made last time was that we tried to storm the place with brute force and ignorance - this time we're going to transfer control of the ship to an auxiliary location. Any more questions?" The shuttle remained silent, a fearful tension settling over them. It had all been planned and said. Now they had to do it.
"Let's go." The hatchway opened, and Tyler stepped out gingerly. They were greeted by laser fire from all around. "Ambush! Use your laser Ike!" The shuttle spat a curtain of light at the oncoming troops. Evidently, one of them had spotted their graphic design and decided to attack. There was only a small group of the Visitor guards advancing though, and this gave Tyler some relief. Ike redirected the laser in their direction and fired. They fell immediately.
"Right, let's try again. In the distance he
could see Visitor stormtroopers entering the bay from the far exit.
The group were on their feet and running to their pre-arranged places.
"Reports of heavy fire in the bay, Lydia," said an assistant.
"How many stormtroopers do we have left following Philip's little trip with my army?" spat Diana. "Damn him! Why did he have to take my people? This ship is of vital importance to the fleet."
"We have six hundred and fifty men, Lydia. All the rest are technical staff, and they are all trying to do more than one job."
"Right. If they want to do this the hard way. . . David, I want you to release the contents of cargo hold number four into the atmosphere as soon as possible."
"I can't let you do that."
"What did you say?"
"Philip left orders that we were to defend ourselves, nothing more. If you disobey, I am to take over command of this ship." Diana smouldered behind her double mask. Now was the time. She reached across her face and peeled 'Lydia' away.
"You're Diana," he stammered.
"Oh, how astute you are David. That's why I always liked you. But you are no longer useful." David reached down and trained his blaster on Diana. The rest of the crew just stood back watching. Somebody was going to die, and the odds were against Diana.
"Stay perfectly still, Diana. I don't want to harm you." Diana smiled dangerously.
"As if I would try and shoot the finest marksman in the fleet. You underestimate me, David, I would not even attempt such a futile gesture. But think of me when you are gone David."
"You mean when you have gone, Diana."
"No, David. Think of me, think." David felt a throbbing in his head. The communication implant! Within moments he was paralysed, his head screaming with electrical signals. The blaster dropped away from his hand as the pounding in his ears increased.
"Headache, David? To think that you might have served me, David. When I have finished with the puny humans, I will return victorious to the Home World. You should never have listened to Philip's weak liberalism, David! It cost you your life!" David fell to his knees, his senses swimming, Diana's words the only thing left in his head.
"Goodbye David!" He lay on the ground, twitching helplessly as nerve impulses raced around his body wildly. Diana stood over him arrogantly. Retrieving his sidearm, she pulled the trigger and he was still.
"Now, when I issue an order, I expect it to be obeyed!" There were no arguments from her crew, who returned to their work. "Someone release the contents of cargo hold number four into the atmosphere, before they suffer a similar fate." Diana pointed to a terrified navigator. He was duly dismissed, leaving Diana to consider the Resistance.
"I want all available stormtroopers to go down
to the shuttle bay and wipe-out the Humans! I don't care how you
do it, just do it. They must not be allowed to destroy this ship!"
Tyler could see dozens of red figures pouring
into the bay, approaching quickly. Ike could not employ the wide-spread
laser for fear of hitting their own people. Tyler waited until they got
closer and hurled a Red Dust canister along the length of the bay. The
Visitors slowed, but continued through the haze, oxygen masks in place.
Jenny Gallo gave Tyler the thumbs up sign, and indicated to her group to pull back. Tyler had planned it so that they were in the middle of the rows of shuttles. Ike was ordered to fire the laser now that they were all clear. The Visitor group scattered as the beam ripped across the floor. Some of them were too slow, falling where they stood, but a group of them set up a counterstrike with a laser cannon. Their first shot ripped into the shuttle, destroying it and Ike Jordan.
"Bastards!" Tyler leapt sideways instinctively, letting off a stream of machine-gun fire and lobbing several grenades toward the stormtroopers. Several members of the group had already managed to get into the shuttles nearest to them and began to turn them around. But another one had been destroyed by the growing ranks of stormtroopers that were picking Ham's people off almost one by one.
Tyler managed to avoid the crossfire and get to a shuttle. Two of his group had already left the bay with several other people as passengers, but around him were several fallen comrades. He got to the controls of his shuttle and turned it side on to the Visitor troops, protecting the majority of his group, and enabling them to gain access to another four shuttles. But it seemed that nearly all the available soldiers had been used to drive Tyler's group away from the bay, as they continued to shower them with long range fire.
"Sloppy tactics, lizards, very sloppy." 'There were another five shuttles now clear of the ship and heading back down to earth. Tyler knew that the rest of the group would have trouble penetrating the bay whilst it was so heavily protected, and he had formulated a plan to deal with that eventuality. Turning the shuttle head on to the Visitors, he started to accelerate forwards.
Jenny Gallo caught a glimpse of what Tyler was doing, as her shuttle pulled clear of the bay. She fumbled with the communications console, desperate to stop him. Eventually she managed to contact him. "Ham, you can pull out, we've all left the bay. You can back off, we're all clear, damn it."'
"Yeah, but how are you going to get back in again?" said Tyler, as he hurtled towards the amassed Visitor forces. A laser bolt tore through the craft, throwing Tyler from the pilot's seat and damaging the engine. But it was too late. The forward momentum of the shuttle carried it into the sea of red uniforms, sending up clouds of smoke and dust as it made contact with the floor and exploded in a fireball of orange and yellow into the far end of the bay. Flames licked up the walls and across the deck as the remains of the craft fell back against the acrid flames.
Jenny heard the explosive impact and then her radio went dead, Tyler's words still ringing her ears: 'Remember, no heroics,' and yet he had broken his own order and paid the price. The smoke billowed out of the bay as she threw the craft into a violent dive, the G-force pressing back the tears from her eyes. "Damn it Tyler, why did you go and break your own rules?" She brought the craft up through a sharp 30 degree arc and set it down near the others. Confusion spread through the crowd of resistance fighters as she descended the stairway.
"Where's Tyler?" said Ralph Anderson to Jenny.
"He didn't make it," she cried. There was a long pause.
"Now what?" said one of the men behind him.
"What do you mean, 'Now what?' You get your
asses into the shuttles and finish the job he started, that's what buster!"
Donovan pulled his car into a field and waited. Five minutes later, a shuttle pulled in close by, huge 'V's sprayed on the side. Ann looked nervously across at Mike, wondering if she should run while she still had a chance.
"Relax, it's one of ours. We've got to get you to the research base as quickly as possible." He took the still shaking woman onto the rather scorched deck of the commandeered shuttle. "They're usually like this. Most of them were shot down and patched up by our people. It will get us there, though." The shuttle lurched uncomfortably into the air, throwing them-sideways.
"I think we should wait and see about that, Mr. Donovan," Ann grimaced. "Many of my friends and colleagues have been taken away in these things."
"I've lost count of the number of times I've been taken away in one of these things," said Mike. "What's in the case - is it a state secret or don't you trust me yet?"
"This is something I first began work on in 1968. It is the culmination of over fifteen years of sweat and tears. However, I would not wish to build your hopes up - it only works in theory and against small samples." Donovan's eyes widened. He thought that it was some possible test chemical having heard about the failure of the world's greatest brains.
"Do you mean it's the antidote to the Green Dust?"
"Could be, Mr. Donovan. It needs to be approved by Sue Kepler, because once it's released into the atmosphere, there will be no stopping it. It is based upon the self-replicating nature of the Visitors' Green Dust, and in effect cancels the destructive properties."
"Then what's the problem- why don't you just release it into the air right now?"
"Because if there is any fault in the chemical engineering, and I mean any, it may prove to be as harmful as their Green Dust, and it will reproduce considerably faster than their concoction."
"Without going into complicated cell division calculations, let us just say that it doubles every thirty seconds, and then that double amount of molecules doubles, then quadruples and so on." Donovan could hardly believe what he was hearing. It seemed too good to be true.
"Why, if it works, it wouldn’t take long before the entire planet was protected by the antidote."
"Less than a week, given the correct air currents. IF it works, Mr. Donovan, and that's a big if."
"E.T.A. Phoenix research base three minutes," said the pilot, fighting valiantly with the controls. I think we'll make it." The shuttle wobbled to a bumpy landing close to the underground facility some minutes later. Mike escorted Ann to the main laboratory as fast as he could.
The main lab was the size of a small concert hall, but there was no room to move when Ann and Robert Voigtlander were led onto the stage that had been hastily constructed. Sue Kepler appealed for quiet. A hush settled over he room as she began.
"As you are all aware, Dr. McGregor has brought a substance that has been tested successfully on small samples of Green Dust. I now call on Professor Voigtlander to announce his preliminary findings."
"Thanks Sue. I won't keep you in suspense,
people. In my opinion, and I will be inviting others, Dr. McGregor has
succeeded where we have all failed - I believe she has developed an antitoxin
to the Green Dust."
Jenny Gallo was at the head of the dozen-strong fleet of shuttles flying towards the still blind Mother Ship. She still felt the anger pulsing through her veins as she prepared to sweep into the smoking bay. She remembered what Tyler had once told her - 'never waste your anger, make it work for you.' If there was ever a time when that needs to be heeded, this is it, thought Jenny. "Is everyone ready?" she barked into her radio.
"One ready," said a voice.
"Two ready, as we'll ever be anyway." Jenny could not face a role call. The surveillance system could be reactivated any second.
"I am going to assume that the rest of you are prepared. Don't forget what Ham told you - we land in a crescent to provide cover for ourselves. You all know your own specific tasks - but the priority is to knock the control room out and transfer control to an auxiliary location. With any luck, there will be several fifth column people to help us out, so keep your eyes open for them. There is extensive damage to the far end of the bay, so be ready to blast your way through to the main part of the ship. Good luck." Jenny accelerated the shuttle into a controlled dive, her fingers on the weaponry, ready for Visitor crossfire. The actual landing was anti-climactic, no shots whatsoever threatened her approach, probably because visibility was extremely poor.
At the point where Tyler had crashed, thick layers of smoke were still billowing from the large hole where the shuttle had dented and partially destroyed part of the ship. There were very few red figures around, and when they could be seen, there seemed to be no coherent movement within their ranks. Their were Visitor bodies everywhere, many charred to their reptilian skins. Foam poured from the ceiling, but it seemed to be a case of too little too late. Jenny realised that it was probably only a back up system - the main alarm system was probably connected to the surveillance circuits.
The first group disembarked from the shuttles,
protected by the semicircular shape of their landing formation. They made
their way to the sides of the bay, where they could shoot from the relative
safety of the shadows and behind machinery. Jenny skilfully guided her
craft out of the murky bay, her miniature fleet in tow. Technical
staff on the Mother Ship were now transferred to the bay area to try and
bypass the damage caused by the crashed shuttle. There had been a network
of peripheral power lines that fed part of the engine systems, and keeping
the Mother Ship airborne in the gravity of a-hostile planet was of paramount
importance. The scanners would just have to wait.
Diana studied what instrumentation she had left. With the ship so undermanned, there was a good chance that the humans would be able to penetrate the meagre defences Still time to get to her own shuttle, situated at the other side of the ship. Cargo hold number four contained several metric tonnes of the green powder, which could easily be transferred into her shuttle. If she could release it into the atmosphere in the vicinity of the stolen shuttles, the battle would soon be over.
"You!" she snapped at a young Lieutenant, who stiffened with fear. "You are in charge here until I return. Seal off every vital section of the ship and if the humans reach this control area, you are to instigate the self destruct sequence. The relevant commands are here." She handed him a small clear disc.
"But Diana, you can't leave now."
"Fool! There will be no ship to leave if I
don't destroy the Humans. Now pull yourself together and do your
duty!" She strode away from the control room still cursing the name of
Mike Donovan. "I know you're mixed up in this somehow, Donovan. I
should have killed you while I had the opportunity."
The research centre was buzzing with excitement. Voigtlander had received confirmations of the effectiveness of Ann's anti-toxin, and all that remained now was the formality of releasing the substance into the Earth's atmosphere. Donovan sighed with relief when he heard the news. There was a long struggle to come with the Visitors. They still had many thousands of Humans hanging in their holds like so many steaks, and Resistance spies had reported that other Mother Ship commanders were beginning to disregard the terms of the armistice. But at least they had, a fighting chance now.
Congratulations, Dr. McGregor," he said, being pushed from every side by admiring scientists. "With your permission, I would like to release the antitoxin as close to the Los Angeles Mother Ship as I can. That's where I suspect they are keeping the green dust."
"I approve of the location, Mr. Donovan, and please do not misinterpret my motives when I say that it is I that must release the substance into the atmosphere. It was a promise that I made to some very dear, departed friends a long time ago. You can certainly chaperone me, though." Donovan shook his head in disapproval.
"It's too dangerous. The L.A. Mother Ship is at this moment under attack by our own forces. The skies will be ablaze with laser bolts and burning aircraft. We can't risk losing someone of your abilities in a dog fight. We need people like you because this won't be the last time the Visitors use bacteriological methods to wipe-out the human race."
"It had better be, Mr. Donovan," she said wearily.
"Why do you say that, Doctor?" asked Donovan.
"Because this time we were given twenty years that we had no right to have, and the means by which we obtained those years no longer exists. I’m no genius, Mike. Back in 1968 I worked on a highly secret project known as Tic-Toc. We were trying to perfect a working time machine... a Time Tunnel, which was destroyed when a sample of the Green Dust was sent to us from this era. It was followed by a highly explosive case that obliterated our doorway to the past and future. I escaped by virtue of the fact that the doors to the control area were constructed from thick high tensile alloys. I made it out just as the explosion ripped the Time Tunnel - and my friends to pieces. You see then, Mr. Donovan, there can be no next time. You must drive them away now. Now, Mr. Donovan." Two exhausted figures fought their way through the crowd.
"Ann, is that you? I can't believe it."' Doug embraced the greying woman with great affection, studying her timeworn face.
"Doug, Tony! I hadn’t dared to even hope that you were still alive! It's been a long -" she stopped herself from using the painful, word, staring at their fresh faces. "Still the same as the day you leapt into the Tunnel, Tony Newman. Let me look at you." Tony stepped coyly forward.
"You hardly look a day older, Ann."
"Ah, always the gentleman. I'm practically an old woman - that's one of the side-effects of going through time the long way round." She glanced at Donovan, who was shifting his weight uneasily from one foot to another.
"I'm quite ready, Mr. Donovan." Doug and Tony exchanged worried looks.
"Where are you going, Anne?"
"Mr. Donovan and I are going to de-activate the Green Dust believed to be on board the Los Angeles ship. Perhaps we'll talk again when we return." Doug stopped Donovan from walking away,
"Oh no you don't. If Ann's going, so am I. I lost her once, and that's more than enough."
"You can count me in too," said Tony. Donovan grabbed the case and marched out, with the three long-lost friends in tow. Whatever it cost, this time he wanted to deliver the ultimate body blow to the Visitors.
"Donovan,wait. Let me go with you," said Julie, running after them in the hallway. Donovan stopped dead in his tracks.
"Not this time Julie. Your job is to lead. There is no way that we can risk taking you in addition to the three passengers already included." Donovan kissed her gently. "Someday this mess will be over Julie, and when it is, I want you to be there to enjoy it." He turned away slowly, nodding to the two guards on the door.
"I'll be here, waiting for you. So don't do
anything stupid, Donovan! You'll have me to answer to!" she yelled after
them, but the doors had already swung closed.
Diana lifted the large perspex case into her
shuttle. It was tinted with a sickly green colour, the promise of death
reflecting out through the thin walls that separated her victory over the
simian race that had caused her so much anguish. The shuttle responded
perfectly to her skilful fingers. The commandeered shuttles would fall
away like dead leaves when she approached them. Such was her confidence.
The fire in the bay was raging now. The Visitors had pulled back into the main body of the Mother Ship, their numbers so heavily depleted that the ship was functioning almost completely on automatic programmes. Jenny Gallo had made six trips back down to the streets below, and although Visitor shuttles had finally managed to engage in some kind of combat, or so they had hoped. A line of deadly accurate bolts had cut the first Visitor shuttles down without any apparent effort. The Resistance ground forces had clearly done their homework, ignoring the dilapidated craft and striking down the hostile machines before they could even get their bearings. Deft hands guided the massive laser cannon into an identical trajectory of the Visitor shuttle it was tracking. A timely burst of fire, and the craft was blown into so many pieces that no shrapnel could fall onto the streets below.
"Take that, you bastards! For all the lives you've ruined, for all the broken dreams." The words, and the hands belonged to Katie Hanson. From the east came another shuttle from outside of the battle arena. As she saw it, she was following it across the inky black sky. Her thumbs were set to strike, but Don Cheung interrupted her by wailing down her headphones.
"Hold your fire - one of ours. Mike Donovan with some 'cough medicine'. I will inform Jenny Gallo." Katie nodded, thankful that she had had enough self control to wait for confirmation of target. It would not be long before the other Mother Ships became involved, as the skirmish became a full-blooded battle. Flames licked up the side of the bay now, and the ground forces feared for their friends trying to gain access to the main part of the craft. Donovan radioed over to Jenny Gallo, who was just hovering over the entrance of the bay, waiting for the injured or those who could not make it into the ship.
"Shuttle leader, this is Donovan. Have brought some penicillin for a sick lizard, okay. Any sign of the patient?"
"This is Gallo. No sign of any green snowfall, but could have been on any of the flies recently swatted. Suggest you immunise the clouds, over." Donovan turned to Ann, who was regretting her previous insistence about making the trip.
"How effective will it be if we dump it here?"
"It might be close enough. But if we could find the actual source, we could neutralise it in seconds." Donovan contacted Jenny Gallo once again.
"Negative on the cloud spraying, shuttle leader. We think we'll look for the flies for a while, over."
"Copy you. We'll watch your back, over."
"Where's Tyler, in the ship?" The line stayed silent for long seconds.
"Ham's dead." Donovan did not reply. He orbited the Mother Ship, searching for the enemy he knew was there. It had gone beyond hatred now. He was part of Diana's destiny now, and she part of his. He could sense her presence by the way events shaped themselves, by the style of an attack or occurrence. From nowhere, a gleaming shuttle shot out from behind the far side of the ship, dodging the laser cannon and releasing its own deadly cascade of fire. A Resistance shuttle was blown apart, this time falling in large segments to the streets below. There was an explosion several blocks away. Donovan hoped that those streets had been evacuated, but refused to think about it.
"That's her," said Donovan, his eyes intense.
"How can you tell?" said Doug.
"I can tell. That's Diana - alive and well, and I know what she's packing in that souped up shuttle. Green death. Are you satisfied, Ann? Do you trust me to deliver your antitoxin to its target?"
"Well of course I trust you, but -"
"Right," said Donovan, speaking through clenched teeth. He threw the shuttle into a dive that almost caused his passengers to black out. "Groundside, this is Donovan. Coming in to land."
"This is Cheung, Mike. We read you. Is there a problem, over."
"Yes, three of them, out." He set the shuttle down in the nocturnal shadow of the war-torn streets, turning to face Doug, Tony and Ann "Pass me the case, Ann."
"Give me the goddam case!" he yelled, punching the window. Ann nervously did so, stepping back quickly.
"Take it easy, Mike," said Tony.
"I will, just as soon as you three millstones get off my ship."
"We're here for the duration, Mike," said Tony.
"That's where you're wrong." Donovan drew his blaster from its holster. " I don't want you three on my conscience. I'll deliver the antitoxin to the right place - without you. Now get off, all of you!" They backed off slowly, leaving the shuttle reluctantly. Helping hands took them to the subway, the three of them looking back at Donovan, his face set in grim hatred.
"He's gone crazy," said Tony. The resistance man escorting them laughed loudly.
"Mister, that's what war is, and that's what it makes people!"
Donovan shot back into the sky, which was now streaked with light blue and crimson. He saw Diana's shuttle cutting its way through the Resistance wrecks like a knife through butter. She was baiting him.
"Ah, if it isn't the redoubtable Mike Donovan, coming to the aid of his inept friends. Soon be over, Mr. Donovan. Pity about you, though. I would have enjoyed torturing you to death. You would have given me so much pleasure." Donovan resisted the impulse to fire on her, for fear of hitting his own people.
"You're already dead, Diana - you just haven’t realised it yet." Diana opened fire on him, dropping down to pursue him. Donovan accelerated away westwards, taking Diana out of the battle. At least Gallo and her group would not have to tackle her.
"You think very highly of yourselves for these little dog-fights and a few fragments of elementary chemistry, Mr. Donovan. You have much to learn about the true nature of science." Donovan sneered, pulling his shuttle out of the shallow dive he had dummied in order to slow Diana down.
"Your precious Mother Ship is blind, undermanned, and burning, Diana. Your Green Dust will not work. The 'matter transmitter' as my friends heard you call it was a time machine. We were working on the antitoxin before you even created the Dust. The best thing your people can do is to leave Earth before we destroy your entire fleet."
"Oh we will leave the Earth, Mr. Donovan. We will leave it a barren desert, with all the water siphoned away and the atmosphere filled with deadly chemicals and radiation holes. But you will not live to see that day." She accelerated her superior craft to attack velocity, and her image grew from a grain of sand to the size of an orange within a few short moments. Donovan knew his moment had come. He drove his fist through the thin case that had housed Ann's antitoxin these long years.
"You will never outrun me, Mr. Donovan." The pursuing shuttle spat great bolts of deadly light that only narrowly missed blowing him into the Pacific ocean there and then. But Donovan was riding his luck. The luck he had earned by years of suffering, years of being hunted, being the ever-ready underdog for Diana's evil assaults. This time it was different. The prey had become the hunter - the fox trapped by the hounds with no option but to turn and fight - the elated sensation of having been scared for so long and then suddenly being set free from the chains of fear. Diana's shuttle grew steadily in the rear view monitors, and Donovan even smiled as her second burst of laser fire once again flew wide of the mark.
"It isn't very nice, is it Diana?"
"Damn you Donovan!" she screamed. "Die, damn you!"
"You can't shoot straight any more. That's what fear does to people. The entire human race feels the way you do right now, Diana. Utterly hopeless. You, the great warrior and scientist, cannot kill a simple man. You've tried so many times, and now you are afraid of me."
"Damn you!" she spat, ripping her human face as her jaw stretched in anguish, venom flying from her reptilian mouth. For the first time, she understood what it meant to be afraid. Her shuttle leapt forward, engine screaming. Donovan's words had hit the mark - she was acting purely on impulse now, her cool judgement like her false human facade was gone.
He waited until he could determine that her trajectory was a direct one. Slowly, deliberately, and with a war-cry that would have halted a battalion of paratroopers, he brought his shuttle round to face Diana's.
It was too late for her to pull out now. Any deviation from the bullet-like course she had chosen would tear the ship apart at he immense speed. Donovan locked the controls and waited. Diana sat frozen at the controls of her shuttle, unable to do anything now. Donovan merely smiled. Seconds later, the ground forces on the Los Angeles streets jumped with terror as the explosion ripped through the air like the wrath of the Gods themselves.
"What was that?" asked Doug Philips, still sheltering in the subway.
"That was Mike Donovan," said Don Cheung, removing his hissing head-phones. "They did it. Tyler and Donovan - the two great opposites - they won the war for us. Diana must be dead, not even she could have survived that."
He lifted his headphones back onto his weary head. It was past sunrise now, and from the blackened patch of sky where Donovan and Diana had staged their last battle, a beautiful purple haze, almost a cloud, spread eastwards, growing as it moved.
"That's the antitoxin," said Ann, with tears of sorrow rather than joy. "He promised us that he would deliver it to its target. He did not fail us. The world owes him a great deal." They watched the lilac mist beginning to cover the battered skyline. Don Cheung nodded as he received reports from the control room of the Mother Ship. The Visitors had not managed to initiate the self-destruct sequence, having surrendered peacefully, greatly outnumbered and overpowered. Earth had won its first interstellar spacecraft.
Cheung lost the hysterical shouting of victory as a higher powered signal broke through. It was the voice of a professional media man.
"Reports are flooding in from all over the world, from every major city. It is unbelievable, but none the less true. The Mother Ships are pulling away from the Earth! Radio monitoring sources have apparently intercepted a message from the New York Mother Ship to the Mother Ship over Peking. The Visitor home world has suffered a terrible disaster, one of their own making. They have lost over one hundred million citizens in an exchange of sub-nuclear warheads. Philip, once stationed here in the United States, and now the Sirian leader following a bloodless coup, has recalled all Visitor ships and personnel. The war is over. It seems almost ironic, after all the bitter fighting, the brave bands of resistance groups, the suffering, that the Visitors have in effect defeated themselves." There was a minute of unconscious silence around the Earth; not even the hum of a Mother Ship disturbed the unreal calm of the purple-hued sky.
Julie stared into the distance, saying nothing. From amidst the cheering crowds around her, Sue Kepler walked across to her, sad faced and tired. Julie held her hand up to the woman she knew what the message was.
Doug Philips and Tony Newman shook each others'
hands: they were free again, to live a normal life in the late twentieth
century. The L.A. Mother Ship broke the silence, Jenny Gallo's
voice ringing out from the gargantuan P.A. system.
"LONG LIVE THE RESISTANCE! LONG LIVE THE EARTH!"