Book: Under Foot



Under Foot

Under Foot

(Outside Context Problem: Book II)

Series Listing

Book One: Outside Context Problem

Book Two: Under Foot

Book Three: The Slightest Hope of Victory

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When the smoke cleared, the little steamer had reached the misty horizon, and Carrie was safe. But the Thunderchild had vanished forever, taking with her man's last hope of victory. The leaden sky was lit by green flashes, cylinder following cylinder, and no one and nothing was left now to fight them. The earth belonged to the Martians.


-Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds



Under Foot Cover Blurb


Earth has fallen...the United States and the Middle East have been occupied by alien forces, while the rest of the world is collapsing into chaos. And yet humanity is still fighting; the underground resistance fights a bitter insurgency against the aliens, with the population forced to choose between resistance and collaboration. The fight seems hopeless, yet humanity dares not lose. If the aliens win, resistance will not only be futile, but inconceivable.

Earth has fallen, but the battle is far from over.



Dear Reader


Under Foot is book two in a series that starts with Outside Context Problem, which is also available on Amazon Kindle. You can download a free sample of that book – and many others – from my site; if you this book, please consider rewarding me by posting a review on Amazon.

Book Three should be released, all being well, in February or March next year. Watch my blog or facebook page for updates.

As I am not the best editor in the world, please let me know about any spelling mistakes and suchlike. Drop me an email and I will reward you with a cameo in my later books.


Chris


Prologue


Yellowstone National Park, USA

Day 83


The small cabin was well hidden within the National Park, in a location marked as off-limits to both visitors and Park Rangers. The handful of Park Rangers who knew about the existence of the cabin believed that it was nothing more than the property of a slightly eccentric billionaire, who had paid out over a million dollars for an exclusive home. The truth was a little more sinister.

Stanley McIntyre stood on his front porch and stared up into the darkness. So far from civilisation, there were no lights to impede the stars from shining down – along with the hundreds of alien craft in orbit. He’d peered up at them through his telescope and noted their size and rough dimensions, many of them far larger than anything humanity had ever put in space. The internet – the parts of it that were working – claimed that the aliens were landing in sparsely-populated areas and settling their colonists down where they could establish their cities. After the United States military had been beaten so comprehensively, resistance was limited, apart from a single successful strike at the heart of alien power. A massive spacecraft, larger than even an aircraft carrier, had been brought down over Washington. The aliens had hundreds of other craft, but losing such a major vessel had to hurt. He hoped it hurt.

There was no one else nearby, apart from thousands of campers who had decided to hide out at Yellowstone. He couldn’t blame them for that, but they risked compromising his security – under the circumstances, KEEP OUT signs were likely to be ignored. They warned of landsides and other dangers, yet desperate men and women trying to hide from the aliens would be likely to run right into danger – or the land mines Stanley had placed around the perimeter. The closest possible help was miles away and if the cabin was attacked, he’d have no choice, but to hold out as long as possible. His superiors had believed that one man living alone would be less noticeable than a group of men – or even a mixed group – and he’d conceded the point. In hindsight, it had been a mistake. The Wrecking Crew were unusual in that they had female agents and one of them could easily have posed as his wife, or daughter. They’d done it before.

Carefully, as if his life depended upon it, he folded up the telescope and packed it away for another day. Anyone looking at it wouldn’t have found it anything out of the ordinary – thousands of telescopes had been purchased after the alien mothership had been detected, before the human race had found out that the aliens were far from friendly – but caution had kept him alive before and would keep him alive for many years in the future. He checked around the cabin – experience had taught him that remote sensors were never as effective as the designers claimed – before stepping back inside and closing the door behind him. The interior designers had done a fairly good job. If he ever had to entertain, as unlikely as that was, he could easily pass for an eccentric rich man, even under the cold gaze of the IRS. The real surprises lay buried under the cabin.

He glanced into one of the inner rooms and checked that everything was in place, even though no one, but he could have touched them. A stockpile of weapons, high explosives and other tools of the trade awaited his inspection, enough weapons to attract entirely the wrong kind of attention if anyone stumbled across them. The State Government would require a great deal of soothing and his superiors in the White House would be most displeased…not that either mattered any longer. The White House was a pile of rubble in burning Washington and the State Government was trying to cling on, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the aliens told them to collaborate – or else. His possession of the unregistered weapons was nice and legal now, although the aliens wouldn’t care. They’d probably suspect that he intended to wage his own private war against them. The irony was that they would be wrong.

Out of habit, he pulled the Geiger counter off its hook as he headed down to the basement. The security measures were extreme, yet he was chillingly aware of just how pitiful they would have been against a determined assault. The counter clicked reassuringly in his hand as he inspected the inner door, without stepping through. The nukes were still in place and, if God were kind, he’d never have to touch them before someone arrived to take his place. Even with the Federal Government largely destroyed, the Wrecking Crew survived, serving the President as they had done for the last thirty years.

Yellowstone National Park sat on a huge volcano. The last time it had erupted, modern humans hadn’t been around, although its effects were easy to see. The briefing had warned that a major eruption was expected to take place at any time, with disastrous results for America. The Federal Government – he had been amused to discover – had ignored the possibility, although it was hard to see what they could have done about it. If the eruption had been powerful enough, it could have exterminated the human race – indeed, he’d seen several bad movies and books concerning that very possibility. If terrorists had smuggled a nuke into Yellowstone and detonated it in the right place, it might have been the end of the United States…

It might still be the end of the world.

The orders had been clear. If humanity failed to win independence, or even equality, with the aliens, the nukes were to be emplaced in the right location and detonated. If the simulations were right – if, the briefing officer had explained, barely able to believe his own words – the resulting explosion would trigger the volcanic eruption to end all volcanic eruptions. If the aliens truly had nowhere else to go – another if – two races would die along with Earth, unless the aliens possessed some technology that could save their people from being choked by the ash, or frozen by the sudden cold. If, if, if…

He took one final look at the sealed door and climbed back up into the comforting light of the cabin. He’d volunteered for the mission against his better judgement and there were times when he wondered if Cabin Fever would get the better of him, or if his mind would fade and he’d go down into the basement and trigger the bombs without orders. The fate of the entire planet rested in his hands. If the Resistance failed to liberate the country, if the orders came from the President, if the aliens stumbled across the nuclear stockpile…

Earth would burn and they would all die together.


Chapter One


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 95


“They’re coming!”

Master Sergeant Edward Tanaka braced himself as the alien vehicles approached. Once upon a time, the Marines would have had orbital observation satellites and optical sensors to help them locate their targets, but now…now there was only the Mark I Eyeball. The Marines – and the survivors of America’s military – had stockpiled weapons and equipment all over the country, yet his superiors had decided that Chicago’s gang-based resistance movement didn’t need access to such technology. It wasn't a decision Ed could reasonably disagree with, but now he would have been grateful for anything he could get. They were about to strike their first blow against the enemy and they desperately needed to succeed.

Chicago had been his hometown, years ago. He’d pulled himself out of the ghetto to join the Marines and aim for a better life, but his superiors had decided that his talents would be better spent in assisting the gangs to become more practiced insurgents. It wasn't the standard work of Force Recon – it was something better left, he considered, to the more shadowy organisations – yet there was little choice. The resistance had to get organised before the aliens clamped down hard enough to make resistance impossible, even if humans wanted to fight back. The food and drink the aliens were handing out at their food stations might have been tasteless, yet for many in the area, it was the most they’d ever had. The gang leaders didn’t like it – their footsoldiers would be tempted away to join the alien collaborator forces – and they’d been plotting trouble for days. Ed had been quite happy to help them make life worse for the aliens.

They’d sealed off most of the city simply by landing outside it and forming a cordon around it – and having their little fighter craft sink any boat that attempted to flee over the water – and they’d occupied the administrative section of the city, but they hadn’t attempted to put boots on the ground everywhere. Ed hoped that meant that they had only limited resources, but he had a private suspicion that the aliens rated part of Chicago as useless and surplus to requirements. He couldn’t really blame them for that decision, but it was one he intended to make them regret. There were thousands of Special Forces soldiers scattered through the cities, preparing to make the aliens hurt, and with the gangs they had all the manpower they needed.

He didn’t trust the gang lords entirely though; that would be stupid. He’d visited some of the lords, demonstrated his abilities, and convinced them to send a handful of their best men to train with him. The AK-47s and other weapons – liberated from an arsenal that had been prepared for Middle Eastern soldiers – he’d brought had been carefully distributed, encouraging the gang members to be more loyal to him than their leaders. It wouldn’t last – many of them were already suffering from withdrawal as their supplies of drugs were cut off by the alien blockade – yet it would last long enough to keep them angry at the aliens. Many of them would have made good soldiers if they had had the courage to apply and leave the area forever, but that was the curse of the ghetto. No matter how you struggled, escaping was a bitch and few succeeded. And, even then, you carried the scars for the rest of your life.

“Get ready,” he muttered. “Wait until I give the word.”

He would have preferred a team of Marines by his side, but as far as he knew, he was the only Marine in the city. There were probably other soldiers working with the gangs as well, or laying surprises for the aliens, something that would have been kept from him. He had no illusions about the kind of treatment he could expect if the aliens caught him, not after what he’d seen in Antarctica. If the aliens had been willing and able to abduct thousands of innocent humans and dissect them for an unknown purpose, they wouldn’t hesitate to torture a captured soldier, if they needed to torture at all. For all he knew, they might have a mind-probe that could reach into his head and extract memories at will. Security was the watchword at all times.

It was ironic, but the life of the poor in America was better than the lives of the rich in some of the hellholes he’d seen in his life. The gang members might have been the products of broken homes, poor education – if they’d had any education at all – and the harsh school of the streets, yet they made better warriors than some trained soldiers he’d seen in the Middle East. At least they listened to him when he issued instructions, although it might have had something to do with the fact he was more than willing to kick ass if it was required. Teaching Arabs or Afghanis had never been so easy. And besides…

He’d sometimes speculated about returning to the ghetto with some of his fellow Marines and kicking the gangs out, reforming it by force. It might have made sense – the only reason the gangs were allowed to remain in the city was official indifference and political considerations – yet it wouldn’t have been easy. The gangs were composed of people who had no stake in American society, no interest in maintaining it and no real concern for their own lives, let alone anyone else’s life. The tactics he’d been teaching them would work even better against the American Government than they would against the aliens, assuming that they lasted long enough to see the government restored. The President was in hiding, no one had heard from the Vice President in weeks and the Mayor…was collaborating. The aliens hadn’t hesitated to take advantage of his decision to start putting the city back in order, their way.

There were seven alien vehicles, he saw. Two of them were the armoured cars they’d used in attacks on military bases across America; the others were heavy transports carrying supplies to their base at the heart of the city. At least they weren't pressing human vehicles into service as transports, he decided, even though human trucks were often more capable than the alien vehicles. It might have been a security precaution or perhaps they’d simply decided that they could rely on their own people now, but it hardly mattered. All that mattered was that there were no humans caught in the crossfire.

The resistance had carefully placed a small collection of oil barrels by the road three days ago and waited. Dozens of alien convoys had zoomed past without their escorting Warriors paying any attention to the barrels, much to his private amusement. They wouldn’t have lasted long in Iraq or Afghanistan, although the internet warned that they showed a remarkable capability for learning from experience. If they were a warrior caste, as seemed clear from their biology and the role they played in the alien society, perhaps they had the weaknesses of such a caste as well as the strengths. It would be very human of them.

A day ago, the resistance had returned to the barrels and replaced the contents with high explosive. If the aliens had checked out the barrels, they would have discovered nothing, but sand…until now. Now…

He reached for the detonator and smiled. “Goodbye,” he muttered, and pressed down hard on the trigger. The resulting explosion shook the building concealing him and part of the attack group, but it would be even worse for the aliens. The explosion would have devastated their convoy. He sprang to his feet, ignoring the plaster drifting down from the ceiling, and peered out of the window. The alien convoy looked as if it had been hit by the Hand of God. Four of the vehicles were burning wrecks, two were flipped over and badly damaged…and the seventh vehicle was nowhere to be seen. Alien Warriors were swarming out of the burning vehicles, swatting away at each other to put out the fires and trying to recover. Ed had no intention of giving them any time to recover.

“Hit them,” he snapped, and squeezed the trigger. A withering hail of fire poured down on the aliens from both sides of the road. The aliens reacted at lightning speed and dived for cover, but there was little cover to be found amid the ruined convoy. Ed silently counted off the seconds in his head as he targeted another alien and put a bullet through his head. It wouldn’t be long before the aliens responded in force to the imprudent humans who’d attacked their convoy.

His radio buzzed once. The aliens maintained a CAP over the city using their oddly-shaped fighters, the same craft that had shot their way through the USAF and established air superiority before the ground invasion and the Fall of Washington. The spotter had been primed to warn him when one or more of the alien craft broke away from the patrol pattern and headed inwards, towards the ambush site. There was no more time to delay. The alien craft moved at staggering speeds and could cross the entire country within minutes.

“Out, out now!”

The gang members didn’t hesitate. He’d warned them in lucid detail of what might happen when the aliens responded to the new threat. They couldn’t hope to stand up to the aliens in a straight-up battle, so they’d fade away and strike again another day. They ran down the stairs, two of them dropping their weapons as they fled. He made a mental note to drop both of them from the team after they slipped away from the aliens and returned to their base. They couldn’t risk losing weapons, or giving the aliens priceless clues they could use to hunt down the resistance. The Mayor’s collaboration meant that some of the police would be helping the aliens – after all, they needed to eat as well. He didn’t want to think of the police as quislings – actually, coming from his background, it was easy to think of them as merely serving the powerful – but it had to be faced. The war against the aliens would be a civil war as much as anything else.

A flash of blue-white light left him blinking as an alien warrior team opened fire, shooting down two of the gang members. Ed fired back madly and had the satisfaction of seeing one of their heads explode before running away from the building. The alien warriors seemed to be capable of taking an astonishing amount of damage without slowing down, but he’d never heard of one surviving a headshot before. If he’d been designing a warrior race, he would have built in a high degree of pain tolerance and multiple backup organs as well, although he perhaps wouldn’t have made them so ugly. The aliens would have had difficulty getting laid in a whorehouse with an unlimited credit card from the most famous bank in the world.

“Ed, what…?”

“Keep moving,” Ed snapped, as one of the gang members slowed. There was no time now. A shadow high overhead announced the presence of one of the alien fighters; a moment later, a shockwave knocked him to the ground as bright flashes of light shattered the surrounding buildings. The alien ROE seemed considerably less limited than the Marines had had in Iraq, he noted absently. They were willing to tear apart the entire area to get at the insurgents who’d dared to attack them. He hoped that their sensors weren't much better than human systems. Discovering that the aliens could track them effortlessly would really ruin their day. “Don’t stop for anything!”

Larger alien craft were orbiting overhead now, including a pair of transports. They were about the same size as C-5 Galaxy Transport aircraft and served a similar purpose, transporting troops and weapons into a deployment zone. Hundreds of alien warriors were swarming out of their holds now, jumping down to secure the area. If they reacted quickly enough, they might cut off the gang members before they could escape and capture – or kill – them. That couldn’t be allowed, even at the risk of his own life.

The bag was right where he’d left it, waiting by the entrance to the underground. He’d feared that someone would steal it – with the economic crash and the alien blockade, people were desperate – although once they opened the bag, they’d probably faint. The Stinger missile set had been configured to punch through the drive field of an alien craft, yet it had no other use, unless as an improvised antitank missile. There was no point in using it for that.

“Get everyone down into the basement and out of here,” he said, as the gang members ran past him. He’d started the day with thirty half-trained men. It looked as if he’d lost at least ten of them in the brief encounter. The alien craft were drifting over the area now, watching for signs of trouble. Bright flashes of light announced that they’d found a target and were pounding it from high above. The bastards might not even be shooting at insurgents, but civilians trying to hide from them. “Keep moving!”

“Yes, sir,” Vassar said. He was one of the more intelligent gang members and would have made a fine soldier, had he escaped the ghetto. He would probably end his days as a gang lord, if he didn’t get thrown into prison or killed first. The latter was looking more likely every day. “Good luck.”

I work for a living, Ed thought, as he hoisted the Stinger onto his shoulder and took aim at the nearest alien craft. The problem with using any kind of missile against the alien ships was that the missile had to pack enough punch to disrupt their drive fields and either destroy them or send them crashing to Earth. It wasn't something human designers had had to worry about before the aliens arrived and so they hadn’t produced handheld SAM missiles with enough punch. One of the independent nations might produce a new design soon enough, but they might never reach America. Don’t call me sir, damn it.

The seeker unit growled as it locked on to the target and he squeezed the trigger. The missile leapt from the tube and raced right towards its target. The alien craft had no time to react. It took them mere seconds to adjust their drive fields to move faster, yet no one could have reacted in time to escape. The missile struck the alien fighter amidships and sent it crashing down towards the ground. A moment later it crashed and a massive fireball rose up in the distance. It was hard to tell from his position, but it looked as if the alien craft had come down on their heads. It would definitely ruin their day.

He scooped up the bag and ran into the building, down the stairs and into the basement. A few days of hard work had opened a link between the basement and the vast network of sewers and underground tunnels below Chicago, allowing the gang members to come and go at will. It had astonished even him to learn just how many tunnels there were under the city, an odd mixture of used and disused sewers, old civil defence bunkers, underground transport links and a thousand other oddities. With care, they could avoid being caught for months, perhaps years. He doubted that even the aliens would be willing to flush the tunnels with troops to dig them out, although gas remained a more pressing concern. They had gas masks from the old civil defence stockpiles, but no MOPP suits. He took a moment to throw a switch and prime the bomb, before diving down into the tunnels. The darkness no longer threw him. It was an old friend.

“Sir?”

“I told you to run,” Ed snapped. Vassar remaining behind was a surprise, even though he supposed he should have expected it. “What would happen if we were both caught?”

“One of the others would take over,” Vassar said, unperturbed. Ed suspected that the only reason Vassar called him ‘sir’ was to annoy him. “You’re more important than any one of us.”

Ed shrugged. “Never mind that for now,” he said. A dull rumble in the distance suggested that the aliens were gathering to avenge the deaths of their fallen brethren. He was rather surprised it had taken them that long. “We need to get out of here.”

They ran down the slippery tunnel, heading towards one of the disused sections. It had once been a home for the homeless, somewhere where liberal eyes never visited or understood. The homeless hadn’t wanted charity, or pity, merely a place to lay their head and rest. Behind them, the ground shook. Ed had rigged up the building with enough explosive to bring it crashing down, burying their entrance under a pile of rubble. The aliens might dig down to locate the entrance, or they might give it up as a loss. There was no way to know how they’d react. The lights flickered once as the disruption shook the network, but didn’t fail. It was almost a relief.

“We hit them,” Vassar said, delighted. Ed recognised the post-battle rush from his own early days in the Marines. It was the joy of knowing that you were still alive, having tested yourself in the oldest game of all. “We hurt the bastards!”

Ed said nothing. The truth was that no one expected the gangs to do more than hurt the aliens from time to time. The blockade would make it difficult to smuggle in more weapons and ammunition from outside, while the aliens would tighten their grip on the city and encourage more collaborators to enter their service. There was a good chance that they would lose the war, yet their deaths would buy time for the rest of the resistance…

He smiled, grimly. Who knew? Perhaps the horse would learn to sing after all.




Chapter Two


Washington DC, USA (Occupied)

Day 95


“Karen,” a voice said, as she entered the room. “How nice to see you again!”

Karen Lawton blinked in surprise. She hadn’t expected to discover that the aliens knew who she was – indeed, after the war had begun, she’d tried hard to keep anyone from discovering her real identity. She’d detected the first signals from the alien mothership as it approached the Earth and some people had blamed her for the war, torching her house back home in California. Her dreams of fame and fortune – dulled by a growing awareness that the aliens were not all they seemed – had died then. They’d blamed her for the alien contact, yet she hadn’t even been the first human to discover the existence of alien life.

Three months ago, an alien craft had crash-landed outside a USAF base, revealing the existence of aliens to the government. They hadn’t told the people anything until after the aliens made open contact, yet by then it had been too late. The aliens had woven a tissue of lies around a kernel of truth and successfully split America from her allies, before launching a devastating invasion that had culminated in the Fall of Washington and the occupation of the entire country. Karen had witnessed the events from Washington, where she’d been staying along with her parents under Secret Service protection. The morons who’d blamed her for the invasion had had no idea that she was right under their noses and, after Washington had been occupied, she’d kept her head down until one of the alien collaborators had given her a note ordering her to attend a meeting in one of the buildings they’d taken over.

“Ah…Director,” she stammered. Daisy Fairchild had been the Director of SETI when the alien signal had been detected, yet Karen had lost contact with her in the chaos following the alien invasion. Somehow, she wasn’t surprised to discover that she’d landed on her feet. Daisy hadn’t been a dreamer, but a ruthlessly practical Director with a politician’s eye for opportunity. She’d turned the alien contact into a glittering opportunity for SETI, even though it had turned nasty after the aliens invaded. “I didn’t know that you were here!

“I’d have called for you earlier if I’d known that you were here, but our friends don’t have a complete register of everyone caught in the lockdown,” Daisy said, waving Karen to a sofa. “Would you like a drink? I have coffee, or perhaps something a little stronger…?”

“Coffee would be fine, thank you,” Karen said, feeling her senses reel. Coffee had become a rarity in Washington after the invasion – the aliens simply weren't letting anything through the blockade surrounding the city. The remaining cans were being hoarded by people who had no intention of giving them up for free. Karen had heard rumours that people were paying for goods and services with coffee rather than anything else, even sex. “How did you get it into the city?”

“It’s easy if you know the right people,” Daisy assured her. Her voice became rather snide. “One must embrace change and accept the new reality.”

“I see,” Karen said, although she didn’t. It was starting to sound as if Daisy was collaborating openly with the aliens. It would be just like her to attach herself to the most powerful force in the area and bend it to her will. “Why did you want me here?”

“The truth is that the war is lost,” Daisy said, simply. “Those of us who work with the People…”

“The People?”

“The aliens call themselves The People,” Daisy explained. “I don’t know if it’s merely a translation or something else, but…who are we to argue? They took America and they’ll take the entire world. They can call themselves whatever they like.”

With an understanding that we’re not People, Karen thought, coldly. Semantics had never been her thing, but she did understand from debating clubs that allowing your opponents to define the terms used for the debate ensured that you would lose. If Daisy was collaborating, the aliens would have a window into the human world they wouldn’t otherwise have, or perhaps they would. Daisy was right. The aliens looked strong and strength always attracted people who wanted to survive, or gain power for themselves, or exploit the aliens for their own purposes. Hell, there were still people who believed that the aliens had come to save the human race from itself.

“I’ve been working with them over the last week to assist them in their project,” Daisy continued. “I need an assistant and I was delighted when their system spat out your name. You’ve worked with me before and I’m sure that you could work with me again.”

That, Karen knew, was pushing it. She’d been a simple radio specialist at SETI and she’d rarely laid eyes on the Director, apart from annual events and parties. They’d been pushed together after the aliens had made contact, but Daisy had been trying to exploit her fame and the alien contact for SETI – and her own benefit. Karen had never trained as an assistant, never even thought about becoming an assistant…and then it occurred to her that it didn’t matter. The aliens would hardly need a three-year training course and a useless degree to hire her. They were already hiring thousands of collaborators and promising them better treatment, in exchange for loyal service.

“And there will be benefits for you as well,” Daisy continued. “You could rise high within their service, or have your own private access to food supplies and equipment without having to stand in line and wait for someone to feed you. You could…”

Karen listened with half an ear. She wanted to throw her offer back in Daisy’s face and tell her to get fucked, yet she didn’t quite dare. The aliens had taken people away before and probably wouldn’t hesitate to take Karen away as well, if Daisy told them that she was a threat to their security. They’d rounded up soldiers and policemen and sent them somewhere – no one knew where, even though there were horrifying rumours – and she didn’t want to join them. For all she knew, the aliens were using them for their sadistic experiments. She didn’t want to end her days being dissected by an alien scientist.

And it was an opportunity. If she was right at the heart of the collaborator machine, she could do a great deal of damage…

“I understand,” she said, finally. “I’ll be glad to join you.”

Daisy beamed. “Excellent,” she said. “You won’t regret it for a second.”

The next couple of hours passed in a blur. The collaborators had taken over a number of buildings and installed all the luxuries of home. Karen was given a suite to herself, with a massive bath and a chance to wash, before a pair of servants came in and gave her a complete makeover. She had never been particularly vain as a child, but the chance to dress up again – and wash the grime out of her body – was invigorating. It tempted her, even as she realised that it was a trap. The two weeks she’d spent in Washington under occupation, deprived of essential luxuries, had convinced her that anyone who wanted a simpler life was an idiot. The aliens could tempt people just by turning the power on and granting them coffee and better food. The joy of wearing clean clothes again was almost orgasmic.

“You’ll be attending the party later in the day,” one of the servants said. Karen had no idea that such people still existed in America. She’d never been so pampered in her life. It was easy to believe that someone treated like that for every day of their life would grow up into a spoiled brat. “What about this dress here? It would go well with your hair.”

“And show off everything I had to every eye in the room,” Karen said, still wondering about the party. Who would hold a party when half the city was starving? “Can you find something more demure?”

“Maybe this one,” the servant said, holding up a green dress. “It’s rather less revealing. It’ll just need a little bit of alteration and it will be suitable.”

“I suppose,” Karen said. A thought occurred to her and she leaned forward. “What’s your name?”

“Jasmine, Miss,” the girl said. “That’s Jessica over there. The one in the bathroom cleaning up the mess is Jennifer.”

Karen stared at her. She was tall and devastatingly pretty, with brown curly hair and a brilliant smile. She couldn’t be much older than eighteen – Jessica looked barely older than sixteen, with red hair in pigtails – yet what was she doing as a maid?

“We used to work for one of the very wealthy families,” Jasmine explained, when Karen asked. “We had to take care of all of their needs – and I mean all of them. It beat being out on the streets and trying to take care of ourselves, but when the Orcs landed they donated us to them as servants for their pet humans. You’re being nicer than most of them. There’s a spoiled brat two doors down who seems to think that she owns the world. Her daddy used to be a senator or something.”

There were a hundred questions Karen wanted to ask, but she didn’t know how to formulate the questions…and she wasn't really sure that she wanted the answers. It was a window into a whole other world, one where wealth equalled power and ensured that the lucky few could have whatever they wanted, without regard for the law or human decency. None of the servants appeared to be illegal immigrants, or other powerless humans, but ordinary girls from the streets of Washington. The hell of it was that they had a better life than many of their fellow citizens.

“You’ll understand at the party,” Jasmine said, as soon as she had finished working on Karen’s hair. She hadn’t stopped even while talking. “Wait until you see the people who have been gathered together to turn the country into an alien paradise.”

She closed her mouth as Daisy stepped into the room, without knocking. “It’s time to go,” she announced, as Karen came to her feet. She glanced briefly at the three maids. “You are dismissed.”

Jasmine bowed, a bow that exposed most of her cleavage, and they retreated from the suite, closing the door behind them. “They’re one of the luxuries for those who cooperate,” Daisy said, dryly. “It’s best to just ignore them and concentrate on keeping your eye on the ball.”

“Of course,” Karen said, slowly. The maids probably heard and saw everything. Befriending them would definitely serve her well. “Did you arrange a handsome prince to escort me to the ball?”

Daisy started, and then giggled nervously. “I’m afraid not,” she admitted. “There are plenty of handsome…well, attractive…well…men who will be at the party, but you won’t have time to take one home. After you’ve been presented to the People, we’ll get something to eat, perhaps a dance or two, and then we’ll be going straight to work.”

Karen frowned. “If that’s true,” she said, “why are we going to the party at all?”

“Because Ethos has insisted that we all be there and we cannot defy him,” Daisy explained. “Come along, my dear. There’s too much to be done.”

Karen followed her down the long corridor, looking from side to side as they passed rare paintings and statues. The hotel had once catered to the very wealthy alone and it would have cost her a year’s salary to even spend a day in the building, unless she worked as a maid. Now, it catered to collaborators and welcomed anyone who served the aliens, or even the aliens themselves. She found herself wondering what use, if any, the aliens made of the maids. The thought was so absurd that she almost giggled.

The scent of food – good food – touched her nostrils as soon as she stepped through the door. She was looking down a long flight of steps into a ballroom decorated in a style that screamed wealth, fame, and a complete lack of taste. Gold and silver decorations were scattered everywhere. The crowd below seemed primarily composed of fat men with poorly-fitting suits and women clinging onto their arms. A handful of women were on their own, clearly powers in their own right, but most of the women seemed to be little better than prostitutes, or desperate. A swimming pool, of all things, occupied one corner, filled with young men and women wearing tiny costumes, when they wore costumes at all. Karen found herself blushing and had to look away. She’d had her own sexual adventures when she’d matured, but nothing like the…orgy that was going on down below. It stunned her…

And yet there was something odd about it. There was a faint air of desperation in the air, a sense that the crowd knew that something was wrong, that the wolf was at the door…and that if they concentrated enough on the good things, the wolf would fade away through sheer ignorance. Karen followed Daisy as she led her down the steps and into the ballroom, where she was given a glass of bubbly by a maid wearing the briefest of outfits, trying to keep her face under control. The tables groaned under the sheer weight of food, food that was desperately needed by the people outside. Had Paris looked like this, she wondered, on the eve of the French Revolution?

“You must meet some of these people,” Daisy said, and led her from person to person. They all blurred together in Karen’s mind, a progression of businessmen, politicians and even a handful of foreign ambassadors. The latter seemed to take a certain amount of pleasure in watching the downfall, sharing smirks from time to time at America’s disgrace. The businessmen were more concerned with getting their people back to work and rebuilding the country. The politicians seemed concerned about their own power and position. None of them impressed her as much as President Chalk had impressed her, back when the world had made sense. “They’re all going to shape the new America.”

Karen kept her thoughts to herself as Daisy finally led her over to the buffet table. Her mouth was salivating in anticipation as a maid passed her a plate and invited her to help herself. There were little pieces of French bread, with sliced ham, beef, chicken and turkey, with salad and sauces. There were steaming pots of stew and curry, surrounded by smaller bowls of rice and other dishes. It was a feast unlike anything she’d seen before the invasion, yet…it was odd. Several of the guests were clearly making return trips to the food, but it never seemed to run out. A maid brought in a plate of tiny cakes and the guests gathered around her, taking as many as they could carry in their hands.

“Tell me something,” she said, slowly. “Where does all of this come from?”

“The food comes from warehouses and suchlike,” Daisy said, vaguely. “The People and their assistants requisitioned it for their own use and stored it until it was needed. In the long term, the farms will be pushed into producing much more food to keep the country going and feed our new population.”

Karen saw the implications at once. “They can eat our food?”

“Yes,” Daisy said. “They seem to have something of a problem with alcohol, but they can eat pretty much anything else. In fact…”

She broke off. “Look,” she added. “That’s one of the aliens in person.”

Karen followed her gaze. A single alien, inhumanly tall and thin, was making his – or her – way through the room. He was coming right towards her and, as he moved, the crowd seemed to shift around him as if they couldn’t stand to be too close to the alien. The horde of sycophants and collaborators seemed to be trying to talk to the alien, yet the alien was ignoring them, or so it seemed. The massive dark lidless eyes looked deep into hers and she felt dizzy. She had never been so close to an alien before.

“Welcome to our service,” the alien said. He had a faintly unpleasant voice, as if he was talking through water. “Your service will be richly rewarded.”

“Thank you,” Karen stammered. Her legs were unsteady and she would have collapsed if Daisy hadn’t put a hand on her arm. The alien had looked at her and left her feeling naked and vulnerable. “I live to serve.”

The alien seemed to take it at face value. “You have served us well already,” he informed her. “Your service in the future will be appreciated.” One inhuman hand made a motion towards the plate of food she carried. “Eat, drink, enjoy our bounty. Tomorrow, the real work begins.”

He departed, leaving Karen staring after it. “Why…?”

“Ethos wanted to meet you in person,” Daisy said. “That alien is the leader of their entire race.”

Karen stared at her, disbelieving. “Really?”

“Apparently,” Daisy said. “They don’t seem to think the same way we think.”

A bell rang before she could say anything else. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” a voice said. An alien stood on a podium at the head of the room. It seemed to be a different caste from Ethos, which meant…what? “I present to you the new leader of this country, President Jacob Thornton!”

Karen felt her mouth drop open and she closed it with a snap. Jacob Thornton had been the Vice President under Chalk, a man she’d never met. She couldn’t believe that Chalk had chosen a collaborator to serve under him, yet the evidence seemed unmistakable until he started to speak. His voice was flat and tired, as if he couldn’t even muster the energy to lie. He spoke as if he were speaking against his will.

My God, Karen thought. All around her, the collaborators were cheering their new leader. If they realised what had happened to him, they showed no sign of caring. What have they done to him?


Chapter Three


Mannington, Virginia, USA

Day 97


The bunker dated from the Cold War era. It was cramped, with barely enough room to swing a cat, decorated in a style that was oppressive at best and unpleasant at worst. The handful of modern computers and communications equipment that had been recently installed in the bunker only added to the sense of general depression and isolation. It was easy to believe, in the bunker, that the universe had shrunk down to the tiny complex and the real world only existed as a figment of imagination.

President Andrew Chalk found it maddening. After the flight from Washington – and the successful destruction of one of the massive alien command ships over Washington – the small party had eventually reached Mannington, a small town in Virginia. Mannington was, like many other small rural towns, intensely patriotic and conservative, populated by residents who muttered suspiciously when the government’s name was invoked. The President had grown up in a nearby town – he was the town’s most favourite son, according to the billboards – and in some ways coming to Mannington was like coming home. He’d never spent time in a bunker as a child, of course, and just knowing that his home town was nearby was somehow worse than being isolated. He could have walked home in a few hours, except that that would have risked exposure and captivity. The aliens would be keeping an eye on his home town, expecting him to show up.

Assuming, of course, that they care, he thought, studying the latest intelligence reports from Washington. The alien lockdown continued despite the crashed ship and the devastation strewn in its wake, leaving the handful of observers in the city dangerously exposed if they were captured. The aliens had handed out ID Cards as they registered the humans within the lockdown, organising them into work forces and deploying them at will. The reports suggested that more and more humans were turning to collaboration as a relief from serving the aliens in other ways. The President hated the thought of any American – any human – serving an alien power, yet he had to admit that it was more than likely. The UFO nuts had been telling people for years that, one day, powerful aliens would arrive to set the world to rights. They probably felt vindicated when the aliens crushed the military-industry complex and occupied Washington, believing that the aliens came in peace. The President couldn’t allow himself such delusions. In his nightmares, he remembered the first visit to the alien mothership and the alien leader’s quiet statement.

“We want your planet…”

The bunker itself was supposed to be completely off the books, although the President knew better than to take that for granted. It had been originally built during the Kennedy years as an emergency fallback position for some elements of the government and placed in the care of a very patriotic and loyal family. The only record of its existence lay with the Secret Service, who had kept it on a contingency plan that no one had ever expected to have to use. The bunker had internet access and enough stored food to last a handful of people a year, yet it wasn't a command bunker and it wasn't secure. Mannington was a small town. Even if everyone took arms, the aliens could still blow their way through the defences and capture him, if they knew that he was there. He had to assume that he was still Number One on their capture list. They’d want him to give a veneer of respectability to their conquest.

He looked down at the reports and winced. The aliens continued to land in America – and North Africa – and were expanding the area they directly controlled. Most of the major cities and population centres were in some kind of lockdown, with alien forces surrounding them and preventing people from leaving, often with lethal force. There were reports of thousands of skirmishes on the internet, with the aliens sometimes taking losses – sometimes even losing fights and allowing people to escape – but always sealing the gap and regaining control. Some of the reports were unbelievable, some were depressing and some…were just absurd. He doubted that the aliens were genuinely interested in kidnapping thousands of human women and transporting them to the mothership, not when they were working desperately to get as many aliens as they could off the mothership. Their willingness to get as many of their people down to Earth as possible, even at risk of human attack, suggested that they’d been telling the truth and their life support really had been pushed to the limit. They seemed to be willing to tolerate population densities that no human society would tolerate for long, yet they were still expanding the areas they were controlling directly and pushing humans out. It wouldn’t be long before they had vast swathes of Flyover Country permanently under their control.

The map told a chilling story. The aliens had established massive bases in Utah, Wyoming and North and South Dakota. They’d probably expand into the other thinly populated states over the next few months, even though they were apparently running into heavy human resistance. The Mormons in Salt Lake City were armed to the teeth and determined to resist the alien landings, even though the aliens had sealed off the city and barred any human from leaving. The fighting was spreading out of control, yet it would always be a low-level conflict, unless the human race somehow unlocked the secrets of alien technology and fought back. He remembered the hidden nuclear submarines, with their deadly cargos, waiting for targets. Even if they all fired on the alien settlements, the aliens would probably shoot down all the missiles before they could detonate. It was hard to remain optimistic in the bunker. His surroundings pushed at his mind, convincing him that there was no hope, not even a chance of escape into civilian life.

They’d told him that the President was a symbol, the Head of State as well as the Head of Government. The President’s word counted, they’d said; his orders to surrender would be accepted, if he issued such orders. He had no illusions about his treatment if he fell into alien hands, or his ability to resist. They’d have him ordering a surrender within a few days, unless he managed to kill himself first – of course, with their technology, they could probably create a virtual President and have him issue the order to surrender. The people probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference; hell, he wasn't sure if there was a difference. There were times when the President’s job consisted of little more than patting people on the head and promising them that it was all going to be fine. He knew better. It wasn't going to be fine at all.

The collaborators – the Quislings, an old word dusted off and put back into service – certainly felt that nothing was ever going to be the same again. There were reports of thousands of people serving the aliens now, from political leaders who probably felt that they had no choice, to people who could have walked away and done nothing. The aliens had put out an announcement, a day after their landings, and ordered all bureaucrats to return to service, with an implied or else. Thousands had gone back to work in the cities, trying to sort out the chaos caused by the landing…and, just incidentally, make it easier for the aliens to maintain control. The President had been flabbergasted to discover just how much information was held by the government on each and every citizen, even – perhaps especially – on those who were trying to remain unnoticed. The information had been ordered destroyed, but in the chaos of the final days of the war, it was quite possible that much of it remained intact. The aliens would be able to use it to find other collaborators, or resistance fighters. They might even be able to use it to find him!

There was no way to know for sure. The bunker should have been wiped from the records and the computer hard drives destroyed, but what if they hadn’t been? What if the aliens had captured the Pentagon records intact? There were several sets of duplicates stored within Washington DC and the aliens might have stumbled across them, or perhaps their Quislings might have pointed them in the right direction. They might even have located the network of bunkers, storage points and weapons dumps that had been established towards the end of the war. What if they were already on their way? He shook his head angrily. There was no point in worrying about what might be going on in alien minds. It was a sure route to madness.

He looked back down at the computer and sighed. The internet was still running, mercifully, but no one expected that to last. The main trunk lines over America and the rest of the world still worked, allowing him to send messages to the resistance, yet no matter how much he wished to do so, he couldn’t take direct command. How could he? The aliens might be able to use it to trace him back to the bunker, or round up the other insurgent groups. Semi-leaderless resistance was the only way forward, but he knew that coordinating thousands of different insurgent groups would be difficult, if not impossible. No insurgency had ever driven a determined occupation force out, ever. The key to winning an insurgency lay in breaking the enemy’s will to carry on the fighting and how could they do that to the aliens? The logic of the situation seemed inescapable. The aliens had nowhere else to go. They couldn’t break off and abandon Earth.

Bastards, he thought, tiredly. Pepper was running late and that was worrying. Only one person outside the small protective force knew that he was in Mannington, yet there were plenty of other things that could have happened to her. The irony gnawed at him. Once, he’d been an Army officer with a promising career ahead of him. Now, he lurked in a bunker, afraid to show his face. He was dependent upon her and he knew it. If it wasn't for her…

***

The residents of Mannington all seemed to wear the same solemn expression, Pepper noted, trying to ignore the glances that followed her as she walked back to the house. They made her nervous, not because they were lustful male glances, but because they were clearly wondering who the stranger was in their midst. Small towns tended to be more than a little clannish and suspicious of outsiders, even at the best of time. Three months ago, the residents might have been mistrustful of the Federal Government, even as they staunchly upheld the values of American civilisation. Now…now there were aliens in Washington and collaborators appearing everywhere. They would be fearful of anyone who might upset the balance and attract the aliens to their town.

In the distance, she knew, the residents had set up roadblocks, intent on keeping looters and refugees out of their town. The aliens might have put the main cities into lockdown, but tens of thousands of people had fled before the aliens landed, camping out in the countryside or hiring hotels in small towns. With money increasingly worthless and supplies at risk of running short, local towns and villages were taking desperate measures to protect themselves, even at risk of breaking the law. It had once been illegal to set up roadblocks without permission. She doubted that the aliens would care enough to force Mannington’s local defence force to take them down. In some ways, it helped – the last thing she wanted was an influx of people who might threaten the President’s safety. In other ways, it was a nuisance. If food and supplies really started to run short, she knew the visitors and guests would be the first to be evicted and sent out into the countryside to die.

She caught sight of Sheriff Chris French and waved at him, noting how enthusiastically he waved back. French’s family had been in secret government service for over sixty years – his grandfather had been a Secret Service agent – and they’d been entrusted with the secret of the bunker. He was the only person in Mannington who knew about the President’s presence and wouldn’t breathe a word to a soul. He was also organising the teenage males from the High School into a small army for when the aliens or their collaborators finally came to call, although Pepper suspected that they’d be wiser not to resist openly. The aliens had wiped the floor with the most formidable military force in history. They wouldn’t have any problems destroying Mannington and, without even knowing what they had done, killing the President. Perhaps they thought he was dead already. It might explain the absence of a concentrated search effort.



There was nothing particularly special about the house, save only that its door looked thicker than normal. A team of experts had designed it years ago and installed all kinds of concealed defences – Pepper had been astonished when she’d first read the briefing papers – and since then, it had been nothing more than a holiday home, at least on the surface. She stepped inside and, out of habit, went through the entire house before slipping down into the basement and through the secret door that led to the bunker. She pressed her fingertips against the sensor and smiled in relief as it accepted her identity. It wouldn’t have been the first time that a highly complex piece of software had failed for no apparent reason, or proven impossible to fix.

She frowned as she stepped into the bunker, feeling a gust of cold air brushing across her face. The entire system had one major weakness and that was that there was no escape tunnel. The engineers who’d built the whole complex – somehow without alerting the town to its existence – hadn’t been able to install one without risking all their hard labour. If the aliens ever occupied Mannington directly, they’d be able to trap and capture – or kill – the President. She wasn't happy about that at all, but unless they could move the President elsewhere without attracting attention, there was no other choice.

“Pepper,” the President said. He was seated at the computer, staring at the screen without seeing it. He looked tired and worn, even though he followed a rigorous exercise program every day. “Anything from the surface?”

“Nothing new,” Pepper said. She made a habit of walking around every day, just to get a feel for the area, even though it had risks. It drew attention to her and that was unwelcome. “There doesn’t seem to be any major change.”

There was a chime from the radio before the President could answer. The main media networks had gone down in the wake of the aliens shooting down the satellites, although streaming internet video and some other systems had kept some major players going. The BBC still broadcast from London. The US media had been largely replaced by the internet and talk radio, but both of them were somewhat unreliable. It made no real change.

“This is the Emergency Broadcasting System,” a voice said. “Please stand by for a message from the President.”

They exchanged puzzled glances. The aliens had used the EBS before to issue orders, but they had never broadcast a message from the President. How could they?

The voice on the airwaves was terrifyingly familiar. “My fellow Americans,” he said. Pepper recognised Jacob Thornton’s voice at once. “A major crisis has arisen in our affairs. We must adapt ourselves to the new realities that face us…”

Pepper saw the horrified look on the President’s face as his former Vice President continued to speak, the poisonous words rolling out one after the other, each one hitting Pepper in the heart. It distracted her from her principle, a lapse that her trainers would have reprimanded her for, yet she couldn’t help it. She had grown used to the idea of betrayal from people who were weak, or had no choice, but the Vice President…the war against the aliens had just become a civil war.

“All government employees are ordered to return to work at once,” Thornton concluded. “There will be further bulletins as events warrant.”

“Turn it off,” the President snarled, as the message began to repeat. “That’s not him.”

Pepper keyed the radio off. “That’s not him?”

The President’s mouth ground wordlessly. “That’s his voice, that’s his mouth, but it’s not him,” he snarled. “Jacob had no love for fucking fancy talking, any more than I had. He was always one to say just what he meant, to call it as he saw it.” His voice hardened. “We must adapt to the new realities facing us…that’s not Jacob’s way of speaking. Someone put those words in his mouth and made him say them.”

Pepper saw. “At gunpoint?”

“More likely with his family being held at gunpoint,” the President said, before shaking his head. “No…I don’t think he spoke those words of his free will at all. We never did figure out what they had in mind when they abducted humans and took them to their polar base, but learning how to control humans…yes, that would make sense. They captured him somehow, either by luck or careful planning, and took control of his mind. Shit!”

“My God,” Pepper said. It added a whole new dimension to the war. The collaborators…no one would know if they were acting of their own free will, or if the aliens had put them under control. “How many people are going to follow the Vice President if they think he’s working with the aliens?”

“The Vice President is normally about as useful as tits on a bull,” the President growled. “Now…now I don’t know.” For the first time since Pepper had known him, he looked old. “I don’t know at all.”


Chapter Four


Washington DC, USA (Occupied)

Day 98


I wonder if I’m making a mistake

General (Retired) Dave Howery stopped as he approached the heart of alien activity in Washington, a set of hotels that had been cleared of their guests – those who had remained in the city after the war began – and handed over to the collaborator government by the aliens. A set of alien warriors had sealed off the area and were denying access to anyone who didn’t have a specific ID Card or permission to enter the complex. It didn’t have the majesty of the White House or the Senate, but both of those buildings were nothing more than piles of rubble, at least until they could be rebuilt. Somehow, Dave doubted that the aliens would bother.

The message had been clear. He was ordered to present himself at the complex at a certain time. It hadn’t included any threats or dire warnings of what would happen if he refused, but it didn’t take a genius to know that if the aliens decided he’d refused to show up, they’d take it out on his family. They’d stockpiled food and drink before the panic set in, yet that wouldn’t last forever, even if the aliens left them alone. He’d made one mistake in not getting out of the city before it was too late and now…now he was a prisoner, as much as anyone else in Washington. The thought made him smile as the alien warriors ran a sensor over his body and checked his ID. The collaborators might think otherwise, but they were prisoners too. If they displeased their new masters, all they’d have to do is let them go and allow the humans on the outside to take care of them. Two days ago, a collaborator – a former social worker who’d been charged with distributing food supplies to the humans within the city – had been skinned alive by someone. No one knew if it was resistance activity or just a sadistic murderer, but everyone was on edge. The collaborators watched their backs with care. They knew that they could expect no mercy from their fellow humans.

A girl, barely out of her teens, was waiting for him as he was waved through the gate. She looked oddly familiar, although he couldn’t place her. She certainly looked cleaner than his own daughter, yet that was merely because she’d had unlimited access to hot running water, while everyone outside the collaborators had only limited access. Dave wasn't sure if the aliens were doing that because they wanted to encourage people to collaborate, or because they hadn’t fixed the water systems yet, or if they just didn’t care. The leader-aliens didn’t seem to have noses. They smelled terrible as well. The thought made him smile and he saw the girl flinch. She didn’t want to be where she was, any more than Dave did.

“Follow me,” she said, and turned to lead him up the stairs. “The Director is waiting for you.”

Something clicked in Dave’s mind. “You’re the girl who discovered the bastards!”

“And you’re the General who wanted to invade Canada,” the girl said. Her name was…Karen, if he recalled correctly. He was so pleased with remembering that he almost missed her next words. “I wish you’d fled Washington with the rest of them.”

“Me too,” Dave said. “Which Director wants to see me?”

“The Director of Human Resources,” Karen said. “Follow me.”

The interior of the hotel was a striking look at how the rich and famous lived. He hadn’t seen so much gold and gilt since he’d been in Baghdad and occupied one of Saddam’s famous palaces, built while millions of his own people had starved to death. Hundreds of humans milled about, some clearly collaborators, some clearly servants…and some, like Karen, who didn’t look happy to be there. They passed a line of naked girls as they descended the stairs, heading down to…where? It made no sense at all.

“Jesus,” he muttered, barely loud enough for Karen to hear. “It’s like they’re having an orgy.”

“They are having an orgy,” Karen said. Her voice was very soft, but he could hear an underlying current of bitterness. “The defenders of the new order need their entertainment after a hard day’s work. Those girls…it’s work on their backs, or be blazed. Not much of a choice.”

Dave said nothing as they reached a massive set of doors. At a guess, it was one of the suites for the very rich and famous, although if he’d been rich and famous, he wouldn’t have wanted to strut around in Washington, not when he could have retired to somewhere well away from the remainder of the human race. It opened at Karen’s touch, revealing an alien leader and a pair of workers. Dave stared, unable to help himself. It was the first time he’d seen an alien in person and the massive dark eyes captivated him. The alien seemed to be looking deep into his very soul, before it made a slight inclination of its great head and strode off, followed by the two workers.

It was suddenly a struggle to speak. “Who…what…?”

“One of their liaison officers to the provisional government,” Karen said. Dave was frankly amazed that she could say that with a straight face. A liaison officer was military shorthand for superior officer. They always thought they knew best and issued orders whenever the mood struck them. “And his servants.”

“I see,” Dave said, as Karen led him towards a second door. “And they make full use of the facilities?”

“They seem to like the swimming pool,” Karen said. “I’ve seen dozens of them splashing around, tossing water at each other like little kids. I don’t think they make any other use of the facilities here.”

“The mind boggles,” Dave said. The door read DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES. The mindset behind it appalled him. The aliens meant it in a whole new way. “Why…?”

Karen caught his arm. “Agree to whatever they want,” she said, sharply. “Good luck.”

The door swung open, revealing a surprisingly small office. “General Howery, Director,” Karen said. “I thought…”

“Thank you, Karen,” the Director said. She barely looked up from the file she was reading. “You are dismissed.”

Dave took a moment to study her, half-amused by how she was pretending to read the file. It was a very old dominance game, played by almost everyone who had been promoted above their level of competence. Summon the subordinate, he knew, and then do something to make it clear that their time is not as important as yours. It never seemed to change. The Director – Daisy Fairchild, he remembered – looked like a ball-buster, but one of the good kind, the ones who would go the extra mile themselves if necessary. Somehow, he wasn't surprised that someone from SETI would end up working for the aliens. They had always worshipped the possibility of alien life.

“You have a very interesting career,” Daisy said, without preamble. She placed the file on her desk in the perfect position for him to read the title, and wince inwardly. It was a copy of a Pentagon file, which meant…that the aliens had captured at least some of the Pentagon’s records. Personnel files weren't as critical as some, but it was a disturbing sign. “You joined the army, streamlined into combat infantry, served in Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq, commanded a unit in some unpronounceable city for a couple of years, recalled home to serve as a training officer, held a command position in the briefly-reconstructed Continental Command…and retired under something of a cloud. Would you care to explain why?”

Dave made a motion toward the file. “It should all be in there, Director,” he said.

“Oh, please don’t call me Director,” Daisy said. “You’ll make me feel old. Call me Daisy if you have to call me anything. And I would like to hear the answer from your own mouth.”

“There was this…terrorist group who appeared in the north back before I retired,” Dave said, finally. “They shot people, placed bombs and generally caused havoc, even though their media groupies tried to turn them into heroes. The military ended up playing a role in dealing with them. Towards the end, we realised that their funding came directly from Canada and radical groups there…and the Canucks weren’t going to do anything about it. I took it public and advised that we prepare at once for an invasion of Canada. The then-President didn’t appreciate my attitude and I was told that it would be a good thing if I retired before I caused a diplomatic incident.”

It still hurt, years afterwards. He hadn’t been the one taking pot-shots at innocent American civilians. No country could be allowed to support, even though omission, attacks on American civilians, yet the government had nearly allowed Canada to get away with it. Only the massive public protest and the economic damage had convinced Canada’s socialist government to take harsh measures against their unwanted guests. Canada hadn’t even experienced a wave of terrorist attacks after plucking up their courage and taking out the bastards.

“We have a specific task for you,” Daisy said, firmly. “The world has changed. The People have…occupied parts of America, but we need a human armed force serving alongside them to…ah, make it easier for humans to accept their presence. We have hundreds of volunteers to serve as their soldiers, but they need leadership. We’re looking to you to provide that leadership.”

Karen’s words echoed in his head. Agree to whatever they want

“I see,” he said, finally. “You want me to serve as a…Benedict Arnold?”

“We want you to be realistic,” Daisy said. “The People are here. We’re never going to get rid of them. We have to adapt and make ourselves useful to convince them that the human race serves their purpose by being alive. This isn’t a war against the Chinese, or the Russians, but an alien power. The entire world has changed! We need you to prevent the world from becoming any worse.”

She held his eyes. “There have been hundreds of resistance acts over the last few days,” she said. “So far, the aliens have refrained from reprisals, but how long will it be before they choose to simply hit back? We need you to prevent that day from ever coming?”

There was a long pause. “What do you say?”

“I was thinking,” Dave said. She’d tempted him, all right, tempted him with a return to command rank and a chance to create an army of his own, but he had no intention of accepting. Briefly, he considered faking his allegiance and biding his time, but it was a high-risk plan with a significant chance of failure…and then his family would suffer. “I, Dave Howery, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

“The Founding Fathers didn’t anticipate an alien invasion of the United States,” Daisy snapped. “The Constitution is not a suicide pact!”

“No, it isn’t,” Dave agreed. “I served my country well for years, even if my country decided to disperse with my services rather than piss off a bunch of cowardly terrorists and their allies. You’re asking me to betray all that just to serve the enemy and bring my country under their heel. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“I’m talking about adapting to new realities,” Daisy said, controlling herself with an effort. “I’m talking about…”

“Treason,” Dave countered. “I won’t have a part in it.”


”You don’t have a choice,” Daisy said. “Your family…”

Dave went for her, hands outstretched to snap her neck, but a massive shape crashed into him and knocked him to the ground. The alien warrior had appeared out of nowhere and tackled him. Dave prided himself on his situational awareness and the alien had sneaked up on him…or had it teleported in? No, they weren’t that advanced…

“I’m sorry,” Daisy said, “but I meant it. You don’t have a choice.”

The alien warrior pulled a long thin rod off its belt and pushed it against Dave’s head. There was a brief moment of…discontinuity…and he found himself lying on a bed, unable to move anything below his head. He was in darkness, yet he was somehow sure that there were shapes within that darkness, chilling his blood. They were half-seen at best and his imagination filled in the details. Anything could be lurking in the darkness, waiting to spring.

“All right,” he said. His voice sounded pitiful and weak in his own ears. “What do you want?”

A looming shape in the darkness revealed itself as one of the worker aliens, but with a larger head and long delicate fingers. “We want your allegiance,” he said. There was a faint note of something…inhuman in his voice. “Your race has a problem. Obedience does not come easily to you.”

Dave stared at the alien. “This country was founded on disobedience,” he said, finally. “What are you going to do to me?”

“Your people do not have the proper habits of obedience,” the alien said. A brilliant green light shone down from overhead, illuminating Dave’s body as he lay on the bed. “You will be taught the virtues of control and understanding. You will learn to obey.”

“Obey?” Dave asked. “Obey who?”

“Obey your leaders,” the alien informed him. A pencil-thin beam of blue light appeared out of the darkness and stabbed down at his head. Dave suddenly felt as if his mind was floating freely above his body. “You will learn that this is all for your own good.”

“Wait,” he said, desperately. There was something about the beam of light that unmanned him completely. “I’ll serve you. I’ll work for you. I’ll obey you…”

“You do not have the proper habit of obedience,” the alien repeated. “Your race has a problem. Those we wish to serve us do not wish to serve us and believe that they can plot against us. You were offered your chance to serve in good faith, yet we could not allow you to leave without agreeing to serve. You are ours now.”

The beam of blue light suddenly became painful and Dave blacked out.

***

He was sitting in a chair, feeling calm and relaxed. It should have alarmed him – he knew, somehow, that it should have alarmed him – yet he felt completely at peace. The world was passing by outside, yet…his mind was drifting, remembering happier times and places, the birth of his children, the graduation into the Army, the happy days with his father before the old man died…

A voice echoed into his mind. “Who are you?”

“Dave,” he said. It seemed as if he’d made a massive breakthrough, as if the fog surrounding his mind was lifting slowly, revealing a whole new world. “I am Dave Howery.”

“Welcome back, Dave,” the voice said. It sounded as if it loved him. “You’ve been asleep a long time.”

Dave smiled, dreamily. “Who are you?” He asked. “Show yourself.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave,” the voice said. There was a hint of amusement in its tone. “You will have to open your eyes.”

Dave hadn’t even realised that they were closed. He opened them and found himself staring up into a pair of dark eyes. The alien leaned back and beckoned Dave to his feet. Dave didn’t want to look away from the dark eyes. Merely looking at them made him feel loved, as if he were part of something greater than humanity or even the People themselves. He knew, at some level, that this should worry him, yet it didn’t. It all felt perfectly natural. It all felt right.

“Thank you,” he said. He felt tears trickling down his cheeks, even though he didn’t know why he was crying. Nothing felt right. Everything felt right. “Thank you.”

***

Abigail watched from her position as the reporters were herded into the conference room. Only a handful of reporters had survived the invasion – a surprising number, she’d discovered, had decided that they had to go cover events outside the city – and the provisional government had ordered them all to work to distribute news and official bulletins to the American population. Defiance wasn't an option. A handful of people had refused alien orders and had just been left to starve. Those who engaged in open resistance were killed, or taken away and never seen again. Washington was rapidly becoming a police state in all, but name. A handful of the police had even gone to work for the aliens.

It was easy to look at the collaborators and hate them, yet she was part of the machine as well. She and her fellow reporters couldn’t resist any longer. The collaborators might have been evil from the start, desperate for power at any cost, or they might have been forced into serving the aliens. How could she tell, she wondered, and what was the difference between collaborators and herself? There was none.

“I have an important announcement to make,” the Vice President said. At one point, Jacob Thornton had made excellent stories. He never minced his words. Now he sounded as if he were a child actor reading a bad script. “I present to you the new commander of the United States Army, General Dave Howery!”

Abigail had seen General Howery on television before, back after the mothership had first been detected. He’d struck her as an interesting man, yet now…now, he looked tired and worn…and conflicted. She couldn’t imagine him serving the aliens willingly, but looking at the way he gazed at them, it was easy to tell that he was loyal. He looked as if he would die for them.

Just for a moment, she locked eyes with him and saw something else there, something screaming deep inside his mind. General Howery was damned and in hell.

And, worst of all, he knew it.


Chapter Five


Alien POW Camp, Virginia, USA

Day 100


Second Lieutenant Michael Francis Carey picked himself off the ground as the sun rose above the horizon, sending rays of light into the POW camp. Nothing had changed in the night, nor had the POW camp been revealed as anything other than a bad dream. He’d faced the possibility of being captured by terrorists or insurgents, in Iraq or Afghanistan or any one of a hundred little countries on the verge of falling to horror and death, but he’d never seriously expected to be captured on American soil. It was the stuff of bad right-wing novels and movies. No enemy possessed the capability to launch an invasion of America.

And then the aliens had arrived and the world had turned upside down.

He looked over towards one of the alien warriors, pacing around the outside of the fence, and glared at it. If the alien noticed, he gave no sign, but then, they paid little attention to the four hundred soldiers they’d captured and stuffed into their POW camp. They’d sorted out the soldiers, removed anyone of high rank to another location – unless they’d liquidated them at once, which remained a very real possibility – and then just abandoned them. They’d even given the humans some medical care, better than they could have expected from any more conventional foe, and some entertainment. It was ironic. After all the horror stories about what happened to captured American soldiers in the Sandbox, he’d been captured by alien horrors who respected the Geneva Conventions far better than most humans. The worst danger in the camp was boredom.

Michael had been stationed at Quantico when the aliens had descended and invested the Marine Corps base. The fighting had spread rapidly out of control, with Marines struggling to repel the attack, before something had exploded far too close to his position and knocked him out. When he recovered, he discovered that he was in a transit camp run by the aliens and a handful of humans who had been press-ganged into service. The handful of other prisoners had told him that the remaining free Marines had dispersed into the countryside to carry on the war, leaving the base in alien hands – along with thousands of prisoners and dead Marines. He hoped that the aliens had had the time to give them a proper burial, but he had to admit that it was unlikely. Invaders probably had no time to worry about human burial concepts.

“Food, sir,” the Sergeant said. The Master Sergeant had served in the Marine Corps for years. The junior officers had privately joked that he had walked from the shores of Tripoli to the Halls of Montezuma, remaining in service to ensure that each successive crop of Marines retained the virtues and ethos of the Marine Corps. The aliens might not have realised that Sergeants – even Second Lieutenants – could be dangerous, even when deprived of their superior officers. If it wasn't for the fence, and a complete absence of weapons and tools, they would have been out in seconds and away before the aliens could react. “Eat up.”

“Thank you,” Michael said, taking the bowl of alien food. It had been universally nicknamed gruel by the humans, regardless of which branch of the armed forces they came from. It had accomplished the astonishing feat of making MREs seem palatable. The handful of human doctors who had been pressed into service confirmed that it provided all of the essential nutrients and suchlike that humans required, but they could do nothing about the taste. It was probably a subtle attempt to demoralise them…and he had to admit that it was working. The four hundred soldiers, a mixture of men and women from every branch of the services, were slowly coming apart at the seams.

After he had eaten the bowl – there was always enough food, even if no one wanted to eat more than the bare minimum – he accompanied the Sergeant on an inspection tour of the camp. The aliens didn’t bother to exercise any supervision of the interior, leaving the humans completely to their own devices. Despite having different views on how to serve, the humans had come closer together, mainly through trying to figure out how to escape. No one knew what the aliens had in mind as their eventual fate, but no one believed that it would be pleasant. The odds were that they would either be killed, like the Russians or Germans had gunned down prisoners in World War Two, or put to work as slave labour. The debates over why an advanced race would need or want slave labour had gone on long into the nights, but the Sergeant had pointed out that some people got a kick out of having slaves, even if the slaves were inefficient compared to paid servants or machines. The aliens might be more like humanity than either side cared to admit.

There was one building in the complex and hundreds of army-issue tents, taken – he suspected – from one of the National Guard storage dumps in the state. The building served as both the medical centre and the latrines, with a constant queue of soldiers lining up to go to the toilet. Normally, they would have dug latrines into the ground to provide additional toilet space, but the aliens had declined to provide them with shovels or any other kind of tools. Anyone would think that they feared the humans would use them to dig a tunnel and escape! The thought made him smile bitterly as he stepped into the medical centre and winced at the smell. It was worse than a field hospital on deployment, almost primitive. The aliens might have provided medical care, but it wasn't enough for some. They’d be recovering for years, if they recovered at all.

He caught sight of one of the doctors and winced again. Months ago, wearing a stained uniform and using improvised tools would be grounds for real trouble, if not immediate dismissal in disgrace. Now, it was the best they had. There were only two combat medics in the camp; the other four doctors were civilians, scooped up by the aliens two days after he’d been captured. One of them had worked in an inner city hospital and was familiar with trauma and gunshot wounds, but the other three had all been country doctors. They hadn’t been prepared for the sheer intensity of the POW camp. He found himself clenching his fists in sheer helpless rage. He wanted to wring the neck of every alien in the whole damned universe, yet he could do nothing. He had never felt so helpless in his life, even when, as a new recruit, the Drill Sergeant had chewed him out for leaving a button undone on his uniform. Everything had been simpler then.

“We’re running out of supplies,” the doctor said, shortly. He looked as if he was on the verge of collapsing at any moment. Michael could hardly blame him. No one understood why the aliens had healed some people – himself included – and yet hadn’t completed the task. They were alien and that was all there was to it. If there was a reason for their actions, it made no sense to humans. “Can you talk to them…?”

Michael shrugged. “They don’t seem to care about listening to us,” he said. The POWs had tried to talk to their captors before, but the aliens never responded, even the tall dark aliens that sent shivers down the spine of anyone who met their eyes. He wasn’t even sure if the hulking warriors could talk. They never spoke to each other, let alone their human captives. “I don’t think they give a damn about us.”

The doctor nodded. “Does anyone give a damn about us?”

Michael said nothing. He knew – or believed – that places like Camp Pendleton and Fort Hood were too large to be overrun easily, allowing the soldiers a chance to break out and disperse into the surrounding area to carry on the war – hell, SF soldiers were trained in insurgency warfare and slowing down enemy pursuit. The POW camp couldn’t be the only POW camp in America, yet there had to be thousands of soldiers out there, free and fighting to regain their country’s independence. The aliens wouldn’t be allowed to operate at will…

Or perhaps they had defeated the entire country and there was nothing left, but eternal slavery. He had tried to keep his hopes up when he’d spoken to the soldiers, but in the privacy of his own head, the visions of a subjected America refused to fade. It couldn’t be the end of the republic; the American Dream would live on…or would it? Perhaps he was deluding himself and it was the end. Perhaps…

“I don’t know, doctor,” he said. It was time for roll call, yet part of him wondered why they bothered. The aliens might have mixed and matched units purely to assist in breaking them, as the Sergeant had pointed out. “I just don’t know.”

***

Nicolas Little lay under cover and stared at the POW camp through a pair of binoculars. The aliens might have been very alien, yet their POW camp design might have come out of a human manual on how to build a simple POW camp. It would have provoked outrage and horror from the people who believed that war could be tamed and civilised – there was little in the way of medical care or entertainment for the prisoners – but he doubted that the aliens would be worried. An op-ed in the New York Times meant nothing to them. It served the single purpose of keeping POWs off the streets and it did that very well.

The aliens had fenced in a vast area and given the humans tents, with four watchtowers at each corner. They didn’t seem to have subdivided the camp into smaller sections, as some American POW camps had done back in Iraq, but perhaps they felt no particular need to further isolate the prisoners from each other. The soldiers would have broken out by now if they had tools or equipment, but without anything of the sort, they were trapped. He’d heard of POWs using their bare hands to dig under the fence, yet close examination proved that any attempt to do that would certainly be detected a long time before they could escape. Besides, the aliens had probably rammed the fence down into the ground, just to make sure. There was no way to know. The only way the prisoners would be getting out would be through outside rescue.

Good thing I brought along plenty of firepower, Nicolas thought wryly, as he crawled backwards away from the camp. Four of his team had inspected the camp over the last few days and one of them, a Ranger with a history of successfully infiltrating enemy-controlled areas, had never returned. The aliens ran random patrols around the camp and had probably stumbled over him, although there was no way to know unless they liberated the Ranger from the POW camp. He’d inspected the faces of every POW he could see in the camp and found no trace of him. He had recognised a few old friends and comrades, all of which had made him more determined to knock over the camp as soon as possible.

The aliens didn’t seem to pay attention to anything going on further away from the camp, but he kept low anyway, just in case they decided to change their minds. The orders filtering through the network had warned him to knock out the camp if he could – the prisoners would be a useful addition to the resistance’s fighting power – yet the final decision lay with him. There were only twenty men prepared to attack the camp – it would take days to get more fighting power into the area, now that the aliens were expanding their control still further – and if they failed…he shook his head. The aliens wouldn’t be expecting trouble. They’d get in, hit the camp, liberate the prisoners, and run for their lives. It would work. It had to work.

He’d bivouacked the group in a small barn established near the POW camp, under strict discipline. They’d encountered a handful of locals who’d told them that the aliens showed little interest in their activities, but still…Nicolas hoped that they wouldn’t be blamed for the attack. Human history held plenty of examples of horrific reprisals carried out by occupying powers against local populations. In World War Two, partisans had successfully killed Reinhard Heydrich, one of the worst Nazis at the time. The nearest town had been completely destroyed by German forces in reprisal for the assassination. The occupation forces in Iraq had been far more civilised, yet the local population had been at risk when insurgents had used their towns and cities as bases to launch their attacks. The poor bastards had been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

“Great Bloater,” he said, as he crossed a half-visible line in the ground. The password had been picked completely at random, which should prevent the aliens or one of their collaborators from unlocking any cultural references and guessing the correct response. “And you?”

“Bloated and blotted,” a voice said. A figure seemed to materialise out of nowhere. The Sergeant wore civilian clothes, yet somehow he couldn’t quite disguise his origins. “Welcome back, sir.”

Nicolas stepped into the barn and relaxed slightly. Gathering the team together in one place was risky, but there was little other choice. Their standard equipment couldn’t be used so close to an alien base. No power on Earth had been able to intercept – or often detect – microburst transmissions from Special Forces equipment – but no one knew if the aliens could detect them. If they could, they’d tip the aliens off to their presence – they might as well send a calling card promising to attack at noon. The only hope of success lay in surprise.

“They haven’t upgraded the camp’s defences,” he said, shortly. They’d patterned out the camp over the last few days and drawn up an excellent chart of its outline. The only mystery was what was in the single building. He’d given some thought to trying to pick up an alien – or a human collaborator – and sweating them for information, but no one knew how to interrogate an alien…and no human collaborators seemed to be involved with the camp. It was a smart move on the part of the aliens. He happened to know that a handful of collaborators were not all they seemed. “We attack in three hours – mark.”

There was no dispute. They might have preferred a night assault, but one thing that had been made clear in hundreds of tiny engagements was that the alien night vision equipment was vastly superior to humanity’s best technology. Or, for all he knew, they actually had perfect night vision themselves. He missed the days when he was facing incompetent terrorists who thought nothing of smoking in the dark, or left their computers and systems unprotected. The aliens were holding down his entire country. They seemed invincible…yet he’d seen one of their massive command ships crashing to the earth in Washington. They were powerful, they could do things that humanity couldn’t, but they were not gods. Their technology could be unlocked and turned against them.

His lips twitched. Information from the internet was always dubious, yet it was clear that the aliens had landed in North Africa and the Middle East, landing massive settlements in the former. They’d be experiencing the joys of an Islamic insurgency by now, one aided by the American and British troops that had been stationed in the Middle East. The thought of Iran and Saudi Arabia as allies was oddly amusing, although if pressed he had to admit that he preferred the former to the latter. They might have hated America and everything it stood for, but at least it was a honest hatred. Fifteen out of nineteen of the 9/11 hijackers had been Saudis.

“Yes, sir,” the Sergeant said, after they had gone over their respective roles – and the escape plan. The support units were already in place, but Nicolas had contingency plans if something went wrong. The resistance couldn’t command obedience from its disparate units…and the entire country was badly screwed up. The support units might be out of place through no fault of their own. It was yet another reason to get the POWs liberated as soon as possible. With the aliens developing their own human army, they’d be able to put entire divisions of human soldiers in the field soon enough. “We’re ready.”

Nicolas nodded. Seven of the team had served with him in Antarctica, others had been assigned to the resistance units before the Fall of Washington, but he had confidence in all of them. The American Resistance would be the best prepared in history. Even the stay-behind units NATO had established for dealing with a Warsaw Pact invasion wouldn’t compare.

“Good,” he said. There was no point in bothering with words of encouragement. They’d do it. “Move out.”

He always thought of his daughter before a mission, remembering the blonde-haired princess she’d been the last time he’d seen her. The thought comforted him as he slipped back towards his position, knowing that snipers, missile teams and the handful of others were preparing to back him up. The aliens looked as if they hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. They were feeding the humans – he’d timed the offensive so that the POWs would be fed before they were liberated – but otherwise, everything was proceeding normally. They were about to pay for their confidence.

“Take aim,” he muttered. The resistance was committed now. It was do or die time. The snipers would take out the alien soldiers on patrol, but how quickly could they react? No one knew for sure. “Fire!”


Chapter Six


Alien POW Camp, Virginia, USA

Day 100


Michael heard the noise and threw himself to the ground before his brain caught up and identified it. A second later, one of the watchtowers exploded, blowing a burning alien body down towards the ground. He saw a streak of light flash overhead and destroy a second watchtower, followed rapidly by the other two. The camp was under attack!

“Stay down,” he shouted, although he doubted that he could be heard over the shooting. The prisoners had no weapons or ammunition. If the POWs stood up, they might be gunned down by accident, or perhaps the aliens would try to kill them to prevent them being rescued. “Keep your heads down and wait!”

He heard, for the first time, an alien voice as alien warriors desperately tried to counter-attack. They’d been caught out in the open and were now mercilessly being shot down by their unseen attackers. He saw one of the aliens roll over and start firing bursts of blinding light into the cover, but he couldn’t see what the alien was shooting at, if anything. Perhaps the alien himself didn’t know. A sniper put a shot through the alien’s head and he collapsed to the ground. A pair of aliens rushed towards the human position and were shot down. The remainder were falling back in fairly good order. It wouldn’t be long before they came back with reinforcements and started clearing out the humans one by one.

The POW camp had been badly damaged, but the fence was still intact. It was too strong to be torn down by human hands, even if they all pushed at it. He hoped – prayed – that the resistance or whoever could free them before the aliens returned, or they were all dead. Somehow, he doubted that the aliens would just regard a rescue attempt as a harmless prank.

***

Nicolas took careful aim at the last alien and saw him collapse under his shot. The alien warriors had been wiped out, apart from a handful who were retreating rapidly and laying down covering fire as they moved. The resistance could have taken them, but they hadn’t come to kill aliens, even alien warriors. God alone knew how much time they had before alien reinforcements arrived and drove them away.

He keyed his radio – there was no point in not using it now – and barked an order. “Group One, with me. Group Two, watch our backs!”

The radio buzzed once. Nicolas nodded, jumped up, and ran down towards the fence…and the POWs waiting beyond. They looked battered and desperate, yet there was new hope in their eyes. He smiled in relief. He’d rescued a handful of prisoners from terrorists and many of them had been badly treated by their captors, but the aliens didn’t seem to go in for sadism. He remembered the human medical subjects at their base in Antarctica and mentally corrected himself. They didn’t go in for sadism unless there was a purpose to it. They didn’t torture for the fun of it, unlike some terrorists he’d captured or killed over the years. Did that make the aliens more or less virtuous than the terrorists?

He pushed the thought out of his mind as he reached the fence. He’d brought cutters with him and started cutting through the fence at once. The aliens had probably liberated the wire from a National Guard deport or perhaps a police storage dump, because it was human-produced, not alien. Cutting through it was a slow job, but with five men working on it, it was easy to tear their way through the wire. He opened the first fence and walked through to the second, checking the ground as he moved. If he had designed the POW camp, without any regard for liberal opinion, he would have scattered landmines between the two fences, just to deter anyone from climbing over and trying to escape. The aliens clearly hadn’t thought of it, or perhaps they simply hadn’t bothered. Nothing exploded and blew him into red mist.

“We came for you,” he yelled, as he started work on the next fence. It would have been a lot easier with tractors or trucks to help tear the fence open, but the aliens had removed all human vehicles from the area. The internet reports stated that they had pressed human vehicles into service – along, often enough, with human drivers – but not anywhere near the POW camp. “The war’s not over yet!”

The first torrent of prisoners came pouring out of the camp as the fence broke, running for freedom. Nicolas shouted orders and the handful of men who’d been prepared to serve as reception officers took command, rounding up POWs and directing them towards the support units, hidden away miles from the alien base. They’d probably react harshly to any large number of people in the area, suspecting that they were escaped prisoners, but most of them would escape before the aliens could organise a cordon and start searching the area. Once they reached the support units, they could be rearmed and sent to join resistance units. He hoped there were a handful of training officers among the POWs. The resistance had plenty of volunteers from civilian communities, but few of them had any military training. They needed someone to show them the ropes.

He keyed his radio again. “Check the aliens, strip them of anything interesting, and get it to the right location,” he said. They didn’t dare risk precise statements over the radio. A noted terrorist had been captured after he told his mother over a cell phone where he was hiding. The aliens couldn’t be allowed to do the same to the resistance. “And make sure they’re dead!”

“Over there,” the Sergeant said, waving him towards the single building. A handful of POWs were trying to carry men on stretchers, escorted by a pair of men who were clearly civilians. They might have been collaborators, but with the POWs nearby, it didn’t seem likely. “Sir…”

Nicolas winced. The wounded couldn’t be left in the camp. The aliens might not kill them out of hand, but they’d beef up their security in all of the POW camps, those that survived the day. Coordinating so many offences had been tricky, but if it had paid off, thousands of prisoners would be liberated before the aliens could react and lock down the camps. If not…even a half-success would be welcome. They desperately needed another victory. Knocking down the big alien command ship hadn’t won the war.

“Round up some of the POWs and detail them to carry the wounded,” he ordered, flatly. The wounded were going to have an unpleasant trip, but there was no choice, unless they wanted to remain behind in the camp. “Tell the doctors that they’ve been press-ganged into the resistance and that they can’t go home again, not with the aliens breathing down their necks. Move!”

He checked inside the building quickly, noting how primitive the entire medical centre had been, before abandoning it. If there was time, his team would rig the complex with Claymore mines and other surprises to delay pursuit, even though the aliens would probably not bother to rebuild the POW camp. They’d be more inclined to transport POWs to somewhere far more unfriendly – Alaska, perhaps. There were far fewer official resistance movements in Alaska.

“Most of the prisoners are on their way,” the Sergeant reported. “The fire teams are in position, but some of the prisoners want to stay behind and join them.”

“Denied,” Nicolas said. They passed through the hole in the fence and left the POW camp behind. He thought about setting fire to the tents and burning it to the ground, but there was little point. We don’t need to risk more lives.”

His radio buzzed once. “Incoming, sir,” the spotter said. “Get ready…”

Nicolas ducked as an alien heavy transport materialised overhead. It had been moving so fast that he hadn’t even realised that it was on its way until it had arrived. There was no sonic boom – no one knew how the aliens did that – or any other warning, apart from the spotter’s report. Alien warriors were already pouring out of the vessel’s underside, somehow floating rapidly to the ground. Nicolas had gone through HALO training himself, but the aliens had a whole new twist, somehow.

He keyed his radio. “Fire,” he ordered. “Hit them!”

Two SAM missiles were launched by the MANPAD teams, directly towards the heavy transport. The machine guns opened fire on the alien warriors, sending some of them falling to the ground, dead. The heavy transport lit up like a Christmas tree as the missiles struck home, but somehow it remained in the air, turning to bring its weapons to bear on the imprudent humans who had dared to fire on it. Nicolas threw himself to the ground as it pounded the resistance position, killing both of the antiaircraft team. He pulled himself to his feet and kept moving as the alien craft moved on to the machine gun positions, ignoring their puny attempts to shoot it down with their weapons. It’s drive field glinted and sparked as they fired on it, but there were no other effects.

Nicolas keyed his radio quickly. “Show a leg,” he snapped. The code phase meant that it was time to leave, immediately. “I repeat, show a leg!”

The alien craft opened fire again, pounding the machine gun nests into oblivion. Nicolas hoped that the crews had escaped before they were killed, although he suspected that they’d kept firing till the last. They couldn’t win a stand-up fight against the aliens, not without a hell of a lot more firepower and a weapon that would be guaranteed to work against their air support. Apache helicopters would be easier to take down. He fired at an alien head pursuing him and forced it to duck, before unhooking a grenade from his belt and throwing it at the alien. An explosion announced that it had detonated, but he didn’t look back. It was time to run.

He’d expected that the aliens would pursue with as much force as they could and he wasn’t disappointed. Their heavy transport completed unloading its troops and then followed the retreating humans, tracking them from low level. He guessed that the aliens wanted captives rather than dead humans, or they would have blown him and the rest of the fugitives away from high above. It didn’t matter. He’d prepared for their pursuit. He kept running, hoping that the aliens would continue to follow the main group. The waiting surprise would be ready for them.

A dark shadow fell over him as the alien craft drifted overhead. Just for a moment, he felt a flicker of awe, for nothing human flew like that. The aliens could have taught humanity so much, yet they had come in the spirit of war and hostility. Nicolas had heard several different versions of just how their contact with Earth had broken down into war, but in the end, it hardly mattered. It only took one side to fight a war and if the aliens had truly wanted peace, they could have easily have avoided fighting at all. It wasn't as if the human race could take the war to them. NASA had never produced anything worthwhile since the Space Shuttle. If they’d concentrated on building spacecraft instead of pretty pictures, perhaps America wouldn’t have been occupied and the human race wouldn’t be under threat of extinction.

His radio buzzed and he threw himself to the ground as the first missile fired. The heavy handheld SAM launchers were an experimental design, built to tackle a new Russian helicopter design that was supposed to be even tougher than the Apache. Only a handful had ever been produced, but he had four of them with his team, along with a number of more mundane Stinger antiaircraft missiles. The alien craft had no time to evade and took all nine missiles directly in the drive field. It heeled over like a drunken man trying to walk, before it crashed into the ground directly behind him. The shock knocked him to the ground, but by some dark miracle, the alien craft didn’t explode. He felt dazed, but somehow he picked himself off the ground and kept running anyway. The alien ground troops would have something else to worry about. If he was really lucky, they might even have been squashed under the crashed ship.

“Move,” he ordered, keying his radio one final time. “Everyone out!”

***

The rendezvous warehouse looked like just any other warehouse. It was large, musty, and seemingly disused. The handful of rescued POWs – the others had been apparently escorted to other safe houses and meeting points - looked around nervously. They hadn’t expected a warehouse to serve as a meeting point, although in hindsight it should have been obvious. The warehouse was larger than a supermarket and provided more than enough room for the soldiers and their equipment. The wounded from their desperate flight had been treated by a pair of combat medics and now they were waiting. Michael wanted to leave, to go find his family, but the resistance fighters had warned them to stay down. The aliens would be hunting for them.

“If I could have your attention, please,” a voice said. Michael looked around to see a man standing on a large shipping box, staring down at him. He was Special Forces, unless Michael was much mistaken, and reminded him of a SEAL he’d met while on deployment. “We’re the local resistance and we liberated you from your former home.”

There were some chuckles. “Our friends back there are pissed, but there’s no sign that they know where we are,” the speaker continued. “We think that a handful of us – or you – got picked up or killed in the chase, yet most of the former prisoners got away. I won’t go into details – what you don’t know you can’t tell – but we gave the bastards a black eye today. They’re going to be hunting for all of you and they have your details now. My guess is that they or their quislings will expand their control and eventually put the entire country into lockdown. They may find you and take you back to the POW camp, or simply kill you out of hand. I know that none of you expected to fight a war in your own backyard, but like it or not, that’s the situation we are all faced with. You have a choice to make.

“You can try to make your way back to your homes and your families, or you can join us in our war. I won’t take anyone with me who doesn’t want to fight. I don’t have the manpower to enforce proper discipline any longer. If you want to go home, you may leave. If you want to stay and fight, you are welcome to join us. We’ll parcel you out to resistance movements in the surrounding area, give you weapons and equipment, and you can give the bastards more than they bargained for. The choice is yours.”

His voice softened slightly. “You know the dangers,” he added. “Your families may suffer for your decision. You may never see your loved ones again. You may wind up dead or worse. Rumour has it that the aliens have ways to turn you into a quisling against your will. I won’t think any less of anyone who decides not to carry on the fight. We’ll try and help those who want to go home before hitting the enemy again, and again, and again, until they are out of our country or we’re all dead. Resistance is not futile.”

Michael laughed. “Sir,” he said, “I’m embarrassed that you even need to ask.”

There were some chuckles and the dim mood was broken. “Think about it,” the SEAL said. “Make your own decision and then let us know. One way or another, we cannot stay here very long. The aliens may come knocking at any moment.”

The discussion was very brief. The vast majority of liberated prisoners chose to join the resistance and carry on the fight. A handful of men, mainly with new families or relatives who needed them, insisted on returning home, if they could. There was no way to slip someone into the cities. It wasn't a complete loss, Michael was assured; the men who went back home could – and would – help in organising less official resistance. Besides, the Army and Marines had been volunteer-only for a reason. The last thing anyone needed was a resentful conscript behind them.

He’d thought about it himself. Linking up with the survivors from Quantico had its attractions, quite apart from the chance to hit back at the aliens. He felt as if he had failed badly when he’d been captured and held in the camp, even though cold logic told him that there had been no choice. He felt as if he needed a chance to redeem himself, even at the cost of his own life. The resistance offered the best chance of hurting the aliens. Besides, if the aliens kept an eye on his family in hopes he’d show up and be arrested, he didn’t want to make it that easy for them. If they decided to punish his family…

No, they wouldn’t do that, he told himself. Besides, his father had been a Marine himself and would have told him to get back to work and keep fighting, whatever the cost. He wouldn’t have thanked his son for walking away from the battlefield, especially if it was in his own home country. He made his decision and relaxed. Now he could go back to war.

“We decided,” Michael said, once the men who insisted on returning home had been escorted out. “What now?”

“Now we start moving you all into units that can use you,” the SEAL said. He gave him a wink. “The bastards aren’t going to know what hit them.”


Chapter Seven


Washington DC, USA (Occupied)

Day 101


General Howery had joined the Dead Men Walking.

Or, at least, that was how Karen thought of them. There were only about a dozen in Washington, but they seemed to dominate human-alien interactions. They might have started out human, yet they all went through some kind of process at the hands of the aliens and ended up almost inhuman. They seemed normal enough, most of the time, but their eyes were dead and they were supremely loyal to the aliens. General Howery’s record spoke of a loyal soldier and American, yet now he was working openly for the aliens, without even a twinge of conscience to rebuke him at night. Or perhaps he was screaming inside. There were moments when she thought she saw the real man under the cold face, a man trapped in his own body.

She’d tried to warn him to agree to whatever they wanted, in hopes it would prevent him from being converted into a slave. The thought of an ally in such a high place would have been welcome, yet he’d refused Daisy’s offer and had been mentally conditioned by the aliens. Perhaps they would have conditioned him anyway. They would hardly have let the person charged with raising and commanding battalions of humans operate unsupervised. General Howery was theirs now, body and soul, and if she dared breath a word against them to him, she’d find herself picked up and probably converted as well. And then she’d know just what it felt like to be dead and yet alive.

The process didn’t always seem to work perfectly. She would have expected the puppet President to have been displayed to the public on every occasion, but instead Jacob Thornton only made brief appearances, explained away under the guise of security. She’d only seen him a few times, but he looked worse than the other Walking Dead, as if he was on the verge of coming apart at the seams. It was possible that the process had permanently damaged his mind and the aliens were trying to conceal it, or perhaps he had been trying to resist and they wanted to enhance their control as much as possible. It wasn't as if the converted were simply parroting the aliens and echoing their commands. They were thinking and working as if they were willing collaborators. Only their eyes betrayed the truth – their eyes, and other tells. Karen had taken a risk and flashed her breasts at one of them. He hadn’t even batted an eyelid…and he had been a politician renowned for his womanising. Under other circumstances, Karen would have found that funny. It had taken alien mind control to convince him to stop thinking of women.

She gazed over at Daisy, seated at the table, and kept her face carefully blank. The aliens might not be able to read faces, but their loyal slaves sure as hell could…and wouldn’t hesitate to bring their concerns to their new masters if they felt that there was a reason to be concerned. Daisy wasn't one of the Walking Dead. As far as Karen could tell, she and hundreds of other prominent people served the aliens willingly, placing themselves completely at their service. Karen didn’t understand why some people willingly betrayed so much – not just their country, but their entire race – yet it hardly mattered. Daisy’s willing service to the aliens was just another priceless piece of intelligence, if she could get it into the right hands. The problem was that she had no idea how to contact anyone who might be interested.

The alien was speaking and the humans were listening with rapt attention. “The escape of hundreds of human soldiers is unacceptable,” he said. The aliens seemed at times to pay no attention to their humans, at other times; they exercised very close supervision indeed. There seemed to be no logic to their decisions. “They are to be recaptured as quickly as possible.”

“Of course, sir,” General Howery said. The hell of it was that Karen knew that he really meant every word. He had no choice, but to mean it. “We need to build up the manpower to track them all down unless you intend to devote more warriors to the task.”

Karen studied the alien leader with interest. The warriors had been concentrated around the cities, keeping them in lockdown, and the mass alien landings in the more under-populated areas of America. A number had been deployed to captured military bases and suchlike, but they hadn’t been pushed much further away from the remainder of the aliens. She suspected that the aliens were much more inclined to conserve their resources than they implied, which suggested…how many of the one billion aliens were actually warriors? How many of them could fight? She looked over at the smaller workers fussing over their superior and frowned. Could they fight in a pinch? They looked so weak and puny, as if a single glancing blow would crush their skulls, yet it might have been an illusion. She’d seen one of them carrying a massive load through the secure zone housing the collaborators.

“Warriors are to be reserved for securing the population centres,” Ethos said, finally. The alien voice showed no hint of emotion, no frustration or even amusement. It was hard to tell what the creature was really feeling. “You will deploy human units to secure the area.”

“They are not ready,” General Howery said, slowly. Karen wondered just how strong the temptation had been to just do what the alien said. It was another worrying aspect to their conditioning. The Walking Dead weren't just obeying the aliens, they were offering their knowledge and experience to their new masters as well. She had no idea what the aliens had done to change their minds – quite literally – but it was powerful, and evil. “We may have a few thousand volunteers in Washington alone, but they are barely marching in step. They will be easy targets for the resistance if we send them out without heavy escort. They need more time to train.”

Karen nodded inwardly. The resistance might not have launched any mass attacks, apart from the attacks aimed at liberating thousands of prisoners from camps across the nation, but they maintained a constant steady pressure on the occupation forces. Warriors had been sniped at, or targeted with IEDs, or even lured into ambushes and kill zones. The resistance hadn’t scored any big successes inside the cities, yet there were a handful of smaller victories that were costing the aliens, even if they were pinpricks compared to the sheer immensity of alien power. The crashed ship in Washington – no one could miss seeing it, even if the aliens had cordoned it off and refused to allow anyone near – was a permanent reminder that the aliens were not all-powerful. Outside the cities, the story was different. Human collaborators were shot at and killed, while alien patrols found themselves under brief attacks and discovered that their attackers faded away once they mounted counterattacks. Alien transports had been targeted by handheld SAM missiles, although none had been taken down apart from ground-attack craft. The whole situation was slowly spinning out of control.

She remembered President Chalk’s declaration just before the Fall of Washington, removing all limits on the possession of weapons and repealing all of the gun control laws. There had been a rush on gun stores and literally millions of weapons had been distributed across the nation, in preparation for – she saw now – a ground occupation. The aliens might well have bitten off more than they could chew. Or perhaps it wouldn’t matter in the long run. Iraq had had a nasty insurgency too, fuelled by foreign cash and fighters – and a few bad decisions made by the occupation authorities – and in the end, the United States had won. Iraq had had a few good years as a democratic state before the aliens had invaded. The insurgency had only prolonged the agony. Would the United States go the same way?

“We’ve been working on building up the governmental systems that were…ah disrupted during the invasion,” Daisy said, into the silence. “The vast majority of bureaucrats are just men and women trying to earn a living and without them, running the country would have been impossible. We caught thousands of them in Washington alone and have been putting them back to work, along with more…reasonable administrations in states and cities. In a few months, we should have a much greater level of control over the country and we can use it to put pressure on the insurgency from that direction. The expanded police force can be used to underline that control.”

Karen felt sick. She’d realised that Daisy was ambitious when they’d first met properly, just after the alien mothership had been detected, but she hadn’t realised just how ambitious. The aliens had offered her power and she’d accepted, creating the beginnings of a network they’d use – one day – to control the country. Karen could see how it would work, just as it had at SETI. There would be ID Cards, a vastly-expanded police force and firm controls. Anything not permitted would be forbidden. She wondered how long it would be before they started ordering all guns to be handed in, on pain of death, or worse. A little pressure in the right places and the resistance might be broken. Or, what if the aliens managed to work out the bugs in their conversion process? They wouldn’t have to wait for a Judas to come forward – they’d just make one for themselves. The Nazis and the Soviet Union had maintained control without such methods. What could the aliens do if they had them at hand?

“The small handful of people with real military experience who have volunteered to join the Order Police are untrustworthy,” Howery was saying. Karen realised that her mind had drifted away from the subject at hand. “Some of them, according to their records, were discharged or were regarded as unsuitable for promotion. The ones with good military records may intend to subvert the police from inside. I would advise against forming a specialist unit from them and deploying them without heavy supervision.”

“We did not expect success within the day,” Ethos informed him. Karen privately considered that a good thing. Howery was looking at the alien as if he was a love-struck child. He would have killed himself if the alien had ordered him to die. “We are patient. The insurgency will not threaten our operations on this planet.”

Karen hoped that he was wrong. It was hard to get reliable news, even for collaborators, but she’d been able to pick up some outside news from the BBC, which had rapidly transformed itself into an internet media giant. The aliens were dealing with another insurgency in North Africa and the Middle East, one that was both more violent and less effective than the one facing them in America. She hoped that the aliens regarded it as a more serious threat and deployed their forces to match, but somehow she doubted it. Daisy had made it clear that one thing the aliens did want was America’s vast industrial complexes. All the Middle East had was oil.

“On to other matters,” Daisy said, as if she had heard Karen’s thoughts. “We have secured and repaired most of the damaged utilities systems in the country. The people are no longer in darkness in the cities, nor do they have to worry about water and sanitation. The absence of electricity was certainly fuelling the insurgency and the return to normal life across much of the country will probably help to dampen it. The closure of all of the nuclear power plants has been announced and we expect that it will encourage the acceptance of the new order. Fusion is much cleaner – and free.

“The workers at the various industrial production complexes have largely returned to work,” she continued. “The Dollar may have fallen in value to almost nothing, but we have been able to offer food and security for their families, as well as other benefits. The process of reshaping the economy to replace the loss of China and other countries as a source of raw material is moving slowly, but we estimate that we will be at eighty percent of pre-war production levels within six months. We should be able to meet your requirements without major trouble.”

Karen listened with interest, her face betraying nothing of her thoughts. The aliens wanted human factories producing items for them, but what? Their technology was so advanced that it was hard to believe that humans were actually better at something than them, but perhaps…or perhaps they didn’t want to waste time building their own factories when they could use inferior human products. Or perhaps…they might just be doing it for their own inscrutable reasons.

“And the insurgency?” Ethos asked. “Will they not attempt to disrupt production?”

“They will discover that attacking the factories and the workers there will make them very unpopular among people who depend on them for a living,” Daisy assured him. Karen heard the self-satisfaction in her tone and felt sick. “They could only do us a favour by attacking humans who are just trying to survive.”

Howery shrugged. “Can the workers be trusted to behave?”

“The lives of their families depend on the factories,” Daisy said. “I believe that they will cooperate. It is in their interests to cooperate.”

On that note, the meeting ended.

Karen had taken to wandering around Washington outside the secure zone, even though it wasn't particularly safe. The insurgency in Washington had never really gotten off the ground – there were thousands of Warriors swarming around the city, ready and waiting for someone to start something – but there were plenty of desperate men and women out there. It was one of the reasons why the aliens had had so many volunteers for the Order Police. The Warriors might keep down real trouble, but looting, rape and murder was on the rise. The aliens couldn’t be everywhere. This time, however, she had a more specific destination in mind.

The internet café had survived, somehow, when many other buildings had been destroyed during the war. The owner had managed to keep up the links and remain online, even though the worst of the fighting. Now that the telephone lines and cell phones were down, the internet had rapidly become the main communications system in America. Karen had thought about using one of the computers in the secure zone, but it would have been easy for someone to load a monitoring program onto the computers there that would have tipped off the aliens. The internet café had risks of its own, yet it wouldn’t be so easy for them to identify her if they picked up the message. She pushed open the door and stepped inside, her stomach growling at the scent of hot coffee and cookies. The dollar might have been worthless, but there was always something to trade.

“So,” the owner said. He was a fat man wearing a shirt that was at least two sizes too small. A shotgun sat prominently on the table, a warning to any would-be looters. Karen was surprised that the aliens hadn’t confiscated it. “What do you have and what can I get for you?”

There were girls in Washington who were supporting themselves through prostitution, but Karen had other options. “This,” she said, holding up a small can of coffee grains. Without supplies coming in from outside the city, coffee had suddenly become rarer than gold. “And there’s more where that came from.”

The owner’s eyes narrowed. “Where did you get that?”

“My boyfriend used to love going on camping holidays,” Karen lied. Actually, she’d liberated it from one of the hotel suites. “He had a stockpile of things like this. I want a month’s free and secure internet time for this.”

“Two weeks,” the owner said. Karen blinked. The coffee shortage must be worse than she had thought. The thought of depriving Americans of their coffee…the aliens didn’t have the slightest idea what they’d done. “I don’t know about secure though, these days…”

“It’ll do,” Karen said. The government had started to monitor the internet much more closely after 9/11, leading some hackers to develop software intended to keep prying eyes away, just on principle. A number of court cases had been underway when the aliens landed and put a stop to them. “And privacy.”

“Over there,” the owner said, pointing to a small cubicle. “Keep your head down.”

Karen stepped into the cubicle and shook the computer’s mouse, waking it up. The internet had always given the impression of security, but she knew better than to take that for granted, not when the aliens might be watching over her shoulder. It made a chilling kind of sense – they could have left the café alone to see who used it – and it wasn't the only danger. The owner might keep an eye on her himself. She logged on and checked how many email servers were still working. Most of them, she discovered to her surprise, were still online. Only a handful of sites were missing. It was the work of a few moments to create a completely new email account and verify it. It wouldn’t do for purchasing anything online, but it would suffice for sending messages.

She took a breath. She could still back out, yet she couldn’t. The President had given her his personal calling card when they’d met, a simple card – like any other business card – with his private contact details. She’d been told that she had to keep it completely to herself. The emails went directly to the President with no one else in the loop. It was a risk – she had no way of knowing if the President was in any position to pick up the email – yet how else could she get a message out? No one, not even a collaborator, was allowed to leave the city without a very good reason.

The USB stick felt hot in her hand as she inserted it into the computer. The compressed file inside held copies of plenty of Daisy’s files, although she hadn’t been able to copy everything. She attached it to an email – signed it, with a wry smile, Deep Throat – and pushed SEND. There was a moment’s pause, and then the file vanished into the internet. Karen relaxed slightly, struggling to control her heartbeat, and then started to systematically wipe all the evidence of what she’d done. One way or another, the die was cast. She just hoped that someone, somewhere, could make use of what she’d done.


Chapter Eight


Area 53, Nevada, USA

Day 110


“Now that’s not something anyone wants to see,” Doctor Jane Hatchery said, dryly. “Get it off the screen before I puke.”

Alex Midgard gave her a droll smile. “There’s nothing good on the television these days,” he said, matching her tone. The image of an alien warrior was unpleasant, but it looked better than many of the people he’d seen on television since the Fall of Washington. “We have to look at the aliens sometime.”

Jane shrugged. “I’d prefer not to look at them at all,” she said. “I did the research, I did the first dissection of an alien life form…and I still can’t believe that that ugly bastard” – she nodded towards the screen – “is related to the being we have downstairs.”

Alex said nothing. The human race had captured precisely one alien alive, an alien whose suicide implant had somehow failed to detonate and liquefy his brain. If the aliens knew – or cared – that one of their number was held within a secret American military base, they’d showed no sign of concern. They probably assumed that their prisoner was dead, Alex had concluded long ago; if they’d known that the human race had a prisoner, they would have done everything they could to locate and recover him before the humans could make him talk.

The security of the base was a recurring concern. Area 53 – and Area 52, the home of the crashed alien ship that had alerted the human race to its new enemy – had been secret even before the aliens had arrived, so secret that most of the files concerning their existence had been wiped long ago. No alien ships had descended on either of the bases to offload warriors to occupy them – as the aliens had occupied more well-known bases – but Alex privately suspected that it was only a matter of time. The aliens had clearly captured some files from Washington and any one of them might have a reference that would lead them to Area 53 – and the captive alien. He’d been told that there were hundreds of other such bases, hidden away in unpopulated areas and concealed even from the locals, but the aliens had clearly stumbled across at least one of them. They’d broken into the Vice President’s bunker and captured him…and no one knew how they’d located him. No one had even known that he’d been captured until he started making speeches to the nation.

And there was another concern. Area 53 had been originally intended as a research site for biological warfare and had been sited well away from innocent civilian populations. The aliens had started to settle parts of Flyover Country from orbit – driving away or capturing the humans living in the rural areas – and their expansion might eventually lead them over Area 53, even without knowing what they’d taken. If it was entirely up to him, he would have moved the captive out of the country completely, but that would be tricky. The slightest hint that something wasn't quite right would bring the aliens down on their heads and that would be the end.

He looked up at the image of the alien warrior and smiled. “We put all of these images through facial recognition software,” he said. He’d studied such software during his time at the Foreign Technology Division, when the world had made sense and he wasn't a fugitive hiding in a Cold War era bunker. The software had never been as capable as its proponents and detractors had claimed, yet it did sometimes lead to interesting results. “They found that the alien warriors fell into two general categories.”

The images sharpened, revealing two different warrior faces. One had a slightly sharper chin and more focused eyes than the other. “There’s no way to know for sure, but the analysts think that they might be male and female, rather than differences caused by being different racial subsets or castes,” he said. “It could be that we’ve been looking in the wrong place for alien females. They might have been right under our noses all the time.”

“The alien we have here and the dead aliens back at Area 52 are definitely male,” Jane said, flatly. “Unless their reproduction is radically different from ours, perhaps like fish or lizards, they have to have an internal womb and other human-like attributes. We really need an alien female to dissect.”

“We’ll try and get you one,” Alex promised, knowing that it was a promise he might not be able to keep. The aliens killed since the Fall of Washington had all been killed in brief encounters, not battles where alien bodies might be recovered. The resistance had considered sneaking back to try to recover alien bodies hours after the fighting, but it had rapidly become clear that the aliens removed their bodies and took them back to their bases. “Have you made any more progress with our friend?”

Jane scowled angrily. The alien held in the secure bio containment lab certainly understood English, but seemed completely unable to speak it, although when pressed he – if it was a he – had made noises in the alien language. It was a weird atonal language composed of everything from whines to clicks and hisses, utterly beyond the ability of the human mouth to reproduce. It was clear that some aliens could speak English – and presumably other human languages as well – yet it apparently wasn't an ability they all shared. The reports from the resistance units operating in the towns and cities confirmed that some of the warriors spoke English, but not all of them.

Or perhaps they all speak English and are playing dumb to lure us into making mistakes, he cautioned himself. The aliens were alien. They might think that it made perfect sense to abandon a missing comrade and refuse to speak to the humans in their own language. No one knew anything about how their culture and society were ordered, or just how the different castes interacted. Every time he thought that he understood it, a new piece of data would come along and force him to re-evaluate his theories. Understanding other cultures had never been an interest of his…

And there were plenty of differences between human cultures, let alone humans and aliens. America had a very different culture to Russia, and they were both practically identical compared to China, or the Middle East. In the Middle East – at least, before the alien invasion – Jane would have been married off by now and have at least three kids, and she would have been very lucky if she was allowed to study medicine. Alex had never believed in cultural relativism – the belief that all cultures had the same inherent right to exist – and it was clear that the aliens shared his lack of concern. They thought nothing of reshaping America – and the rest of the world – to suit their own motives. For all he knew, the Leaders ran their society and considered the remaining castes expandable.

“Jenny and Marilyn are working on him now,” Jane said. “They’ve been trying to teach the alien sign language and he seems to be picking up on it fairly quickly. I suppose it helps if he wants to convince us to feed him better, or stop hurting him…”

Alex blinked. “We’re not hurting him, are we?”

“Would we know if we were?” Jane countered. “For all we know, the food we’re giving him is basically slop and gruel, like the stuff they give the people under their direct control.”

“I see,” Alex said. The foodstuffs recovered from crashed alien ships had run out after a few days, forcing the alien to try human food, or starve. It seemed that the alien preferred bland human food to anything flavoured, although it was impossible to say for sure. Eggs had caused the alien to vomit everything over the table and spend the next two days shivering. It might have made an interesting biological weapon, Alex had thought at the time, but there was no way to test it. He’d suggested that the resistance try to find a way to get eggs into the alien diet, yet no one had been able to come up with a way of doing so. Besides, it might provoke savage reprisals against the human communities. “But we’re letting him chose his own food.”

That was a sore spot among the handful of humans who knew that there was a captured alien on the base. Food at Area 53 was never very good at the best of times – the base had only been reactivated two months ago – and what stores there were had to be conserved carefully. A fully-manned military base could go through an awesome amount of food in a very short space of time, rations or no rations, and the thought that the alien might be living large while others felt as they were on the verge of starvation was a cause of distress. Master Sergeant George Grosskopf, the commander of the Base Security Team – and the one who’d captured the alien in the first place – had reported having to speak quite sharply to several soldiers who complained about the alien diet. A handful had been released to join the resistance in other parts of the state – Las Vegas was apparently proving a handful for the aliens – but the remainder had no choice, but to stay. They knew too much.

“In theory, our food should be safe for them to eat,” Jane said. They both knew that that wasn't a good thing. “In practice…it’s possible that he’s missing out on essential nutrients and other vital elements of his diet. It’s not as if we understand everything about them, is it?”

“No,” Alex said. He clicked off the images of the alien warriors and poured himself a cup of coffee. It might have been his imagination, but he could have sworn that it was weaker than he normally preferred. The base’s coffee supplies were under armed guard. “I wonder if they know as much as they think they know about us.”

He clicked the remote control and switched the screen to the local channel. CNN, FOX and WNN had vanished along with the satellites, leaving a void, until the aliens had started to fill it with their own propaganda. The collaborators on the screen spoke about the joys that alien rule would bring to the planet, with long sections on how alien technology had healed the sick, reformed the criminal and removed the blight of nuclear power from the land. It didn’t seem to occur to them that fusion power stations were nuclear as well, or that the aliens could tighten their grip through controlling the power supply…or perhaps it had occurred to them. Alex found it hard to understand how someone would willingly sell themselves to the aliens and work for them, but perhaps the collaborators were desperate, or wanted power. There was no way to know what their motives were, yet at least they weren’t among the Walking Dead. They had chosen to serve the aliens willingly.

“In other news, the Order Police has started to deploy over a million fully-trained police officers to bring order back to the streets,” the collaborator on the screen said. She had a bra size, he decided, that was larger than her IQ. Her breasts kept threatening to burst out of her shirt and flop about on the screen. There were people in the Bible Belt who would faint if they saw her. “They will ensure that terrorists and insurgents are driven away from innocent people and eventually wiped out.”

Alex considered her words, automatically dismissing the claim that they had over a million policemen. If they had that many to deploy, in addition to alien forces, the war was within shooting distance of being lost. The more interesting point was the losses among innocents caught up in the fighting. The official resistance had tried hard to avoid killing civilians, yet there were plenty of unofficial groups out there and the collaborators had made much of their atrocities. The images of bloodstained bodies and dead children had been splashed across the world’s screens…all blamed, of course, on the insurgents.

Santini had pointed out, in a fit of rage, that back when he’d been in Iraq, all the innocent civilian deaths had been blamed on the Americans. Never mind that the insurgents had a habit of using civilians as human shields. Never mind that some of the nastier groups had intended to kill as many innocents as possible to trigger a civil war. Never mind that American soldiers did everything they could to keep down civilian casualties…the media had licked up the shit they’d been fed by the insurgents and come back for more. It hadn’t surprised him in the slightest and he’d been more than happy to expound upon his theory at length.

“We used to joke about fragging reporters in the sandbox, but none of us ever did,” he’d said. “The reporters knew we’d never kill them even if they blew an operation wide open. The insurgents, on the other hand, considered any reporter who spoke against them a legitimate target, so the reporters stopped trying to speak against them and effectively supported them instead. Terror works. But then, most reporters are really good at rationalising it so they don’t sound like fucking cowards.”

“That girl should be on the target list,” Alex said, finally. The resistance websites included lists of collaborators and encouragement for anyone who wanted to assassinate one or more of them. The collaborators had started moving their people into secure areas to evade assassins. “Do you want to place bets on when she dies?”

“Doctors shouldn’t bet on a person’s death,” Jane said, tartly. “I wonder if…”

She broke off as her pager buzzed. “There’s something happening with the alien,” she said. “Coming?”

Alex followed her though the base’s winding corridors into the bio-containment area. Extensive tests had confirmed that there was no biohazard from the aliens – the aliens themselves had confirmed it as well, although they’d lied so often that people were wary about taking them at their word – but the base commander had insisted on keeping the levels sealed, just in case. Alex suspected that he had visions of the alien somehow breaking out of his confinement and making his way to the surface and escaping, but that was absurd. Comic book aliens were one thing – Superman had gained superpowers under Earth’s yellow sun – but real aliens were just…mortals. The aliens had a grasp of technology that exceeded mankind’s, they could do things that humans could not, yet they were not gods. They could be outthought. They could be beaten.

Jenny met them at the door and waved them in. She looked rather like a head cheerleader in High School, but she’d actually come directly from the NSA as a language expert. She’d been born into an Ambassador’s family and at seven years old, according to her file, she’d been able to speak five different languages. She’d added a new one every two years, improving and expanding her fluency well beyond even specialists in a single language. The NSA had recognised her talents and hired her as a language expert, training her until she could pick up the gist of a language with terrifying speed. Marilyn had been added as an afterthought, but Alex had been impressed when he realised that someone had had a brainstorm. There were humans who couldn’t speak, for various reasons, and they learned sign language. Why couldn’t the aliens do the same?

“I’ve actually made progress on deciphering their spoken language,” Jenny explained, as they stepped into the outer room. The alien was held in a surprisingly luxurious apartment, although it was clearly also a bio-lab. It was a place where the illusion of freedom and privacy could be maintained, if need be for years. “I can’t speak more than a handful of words and I suspect that no human will ever be able to do so without massive computer support or surgical alteration, but I’m getting there. I’m building up a dictionary and…”

“Leave out the specifics,” Alex said. “What about the alien?”

Jenny waved a hand towards the inner room. Alex followed her gaze. The alien – they still didn’t have a name for the being – sat on one chair, making complicated gestures towards Marilyn, who replied in kind. Alex had seen some gestures used to pass messages between troops when it was dangerous to speak aloud, yet sign language was far more complicated – and expressive. It was easy to believe that they were sharing vast amounts of information.

“I think they finally made a breakthrough of their own,” Jenny confirmed. The alien looked up, made a slow nodding motion with his great head, and returned to signalling Marilyn. “They’ve been doing that for nearly an hour.”

Alex watched, impressed. The problem of communicating with an alien life form had been researched long before real aliens arrived, yet theory had suggested that it would be almost impossible. If an alien was truly alien, they might have nothing in common with humanity and no ability to build up a proper shared understanding. The attempts to teach dolphins or chimpanzees to speak had all failed. And yet…the aliens clearly had as much interest in learning to speak to humanity as humanity had in learning to speak to them. It wasn't as if they wanted to remain silent.

“Good,” he said, finally. “What have they learned?”

“Quite a bit,” Jenny said. She picked up a sheaf of handwritten notes. “We might finally have an idea about how their society fits together.”

“Good,” Alex said. He took the first sheet of paper and skimmed through it rapidly. “I think we’re going to need that information.”

“I’ll have a full briefing for you later,” Jenny assured him. “I just haven’t wanted to disturb those two. Aren’t they sweet together?”

Alex didn’t bother to reply.


Chapter Nine


RAF Machrihanish, United Kingdom

Day 111


“Welcome to Torchwood, Prime Minister.”

Prime Minister Arthur Hamilton scowled at what he considered inappropriate humour. RAF Machrihanish was located a long way from London and coming out without being noticed, even with the massive security clampdown, hadn’t been easy. Jokes about Torchwood and other fictional secret agencies intended to track alien life sounded hollow when faced with the reality. Britain hadn’t been invaded, or even threatened with invasion, yet the country was on the verge of breaking apart. Two days ago, he’d signed an order placing elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade in Bradford, with orders to prevent rioting with lethal force. No Prime Minister had issued such orders for over a hundred years.

RAF Machrihanish had an odd history, one that ensured that it was mentioned in numerous conspiracy theories. The base had once been operated by the Americans, before being shared with a civilian operator, and rumours persisted about what might have happened in secret bunkers under the ground. The base had been repossessed completely by the MOD in the wake of the global economic collapse and transformed into a top secret research station, studying alien technology in the hope of developing weapons that could be used to defend Britain, if not liberate the world. The work had to remain a secret. The aliens had punched out NORAD just before the Fall of Washington and RAF Machrihanish’s defences were flimsy in comparison.

“Thank you,” he said, shaking General Williamson’s hand. The General had seen combat service in Afghanistan, where he’d commanded one of the Forward Operating Bases. He was known as a safe pair of hands for a secret project well away from political oversight. “I understand that you’ve finally gotten the base up and running.”

Williamson didn’t beat around the bush. “Yes, Prime Minister,” he said. “Torchwood – I’m afraid the name has stuck – is beginning research into two of the three alien craft now. The third has been moved to a secure location where it will be studied by a different team, just in case this base is compromised by the aliens or the press. The American researchers have been a great help, although they did have some access to the craft that crashed in America. The remainder of the researchers are still getting up to speed.”

He waved a hand at the other two people in the hangar. “Doctor Syeda Bihide, Chief Scientist, and Tony Jones, on special assignment from the President of America,” he said, introducing them. The Prime Minister shook their hands in turn. Syeda was a short dark-skinned woman with bright brown eyes; Tony Jones was older, with the first traces of grey hair at his temples. If he had been assigned to the UK by President Chalk, he would be extremely competent and loyal. The President was not known for tolerating fools or people who were willing to subvert American policy for their own interests. “We have prepared a short tour of the base for you so that we can introduce you to the departmental heads. If you’ll come with me…?”

The Prime Minister followed him deeper into the hangar, passing a black aircraft that remained half-hidden inside the hangar, and into the elevator. RAF Machrihanish might not have looked like much from high above – although it had the longest runway in the UK – but the complex underground was much more impressive. There were secret hangars, training bunkers and even a complete biological research lab, all top secret. Rumours had been leaking out for years, hence the decision to close down most of the activities at the base following the end of the Cold War, yet few researchers had guessed the truth. RAF Machrihanish had once been Britain’s Area 51.

“I understand that there have been some issues with security,” he said, as the elevator doors hissed closed and the small chamber began to descend. “What’s your current situation look like?”

The General paused to gather his thoughts. “We’ve attracted some interest from the local community, Prime Minister,” he said. “They knew that the civilian airfield had been shut down and they’ve believed for years that we had more here than we ever publicly admitted to having. We’ve been quietly encouraging the local police to move on tourists and have involved D-Notices and other such laws to discourage the media from picking up on the interest, even to the point of interfering with internet access. I don’t believe that any of it presents a serious threat, but we will keep an eye on it and prepare for the worst.

“About the aliens…we have soldiers here with handheld SAM missiles and other weapons, but if they decide they want to come and take the base, we’re screwed,” he added. “We couldn’t deploy Patriot or Rapier missile launchers to Machrihanish without drawing their attention and warning them that we had something here we considered worth defending. This base doesn’t have a fighter CAP or any additional defences, although the bunkers should provide some protection if we are attacked. We’ve been very careful about what we do here to avoid attracting their attention.”

The Prime Minister nodded bitterly. The disastrous Blair and Brown Governments were long over, but their legacy remained in almost every field. They’d encouraged the development of the Eurofighter and other advanced weapons systems, while cutting costs elsewhere in a desperate attempt to balance the budget. Iraq and Afghanistan had taught politicians the folly of that decision and money had been – eventually – redirected to the British Army and its supporting elements, rather than the RAF or ground-based SHORAD units. The irony was chilling. The defenders of Britain didn’t have enough weapons and equipment to cover even the most vital sectors. Machrihanish might be the most vital sector of all, yet they didn’t even dare defend the base for fear of alerting the aliens.

“I understand,” he said, as the lift came to a halt. “And the scientists?”

“The Yanks are settling in reasonably well, although many of them miss their families,” Williamson confirmed. The American Government, in the final days of the war, had launched a program to get as many first-class scientists and researchers out of the country as possible, but in all the confusion not all of them had escaped with their families. There was little hope of convincing the aliens to allow their families to leave America, if they even wanted to go. “The Resistance movement in America will try to rescue as many as possible, but it won’t be easy to smuggle them out. Transatlantic shipping has fallen to a new low. What little there is coming out isn’t always that useful.”

He didn’t go into details and the Prime Minister didn’t press him. “There’s also the political issue,” Syeda said, speaking for the first time. Her voice held a strong flavour of Lancashire, suggesting that she’d been born and bred there. “Many of the vetted and cleared scientists we brought here from the mainland have been angry at their American counterparts for not sharing the details of the crashed ship earlier. There have been some discussions that have developed into fights. There’s a limit to how many people we can bring to this base and they…well, pretty much every scientist on this base knows someone who would be really helpful, if only they could be vetted and cleared.”

“The decision to maintain secrecy was made by the President,” Jones said. He sounded tired and defeated, as if he’d already given up all hope. It couldn’t be easy, the Prime Minister realized, to know that one’s homeland was lost, perhaps permanently. “None of the scientists on this base knew about the crashed ship until it was revealed to the world by the aliens.”

“Leave it for the moment,” the Prime Minister ordered. They had come to a vast set of doors. At a muttered command from Williamson, the doors started to swing open, revealing a single alien craft sitting within a framework holding it off the ground. The Prime Minister studied it with interest. He’d seen an alien craft before, when the aliens had visited Britain weeks ago, but a crashed ship was different. Even the obvious damage to the craft’s rear didn’t detract from its eerie beauty. It seemed to shimmer, taunting the humans with its silent perfection. “My God.”

“I doubt that God had much to do with this ship,” Williamson said. “This craft might be repairable if we knew how to repair it – it certainly seems to be more intact than the other two craft. We have research teams concentrating on duplicating the American successes at Area 52 and hopefully expanding into whole new areas. We may have had a breakthrough.”

The Prime Minister glanced over at him. The General’s face looked odd in the reflected light from the alien craft. “Something we can use against them?”

“I think so,” the General said. “If you’ll come with me…?”

The General’s office was small and cramped. The Prime Minister liked it at once, even though the chairs were uncomfortable and the poster on the wall – an image of a tall man wearing a trenchcoat, with a line asking WHO would save the human race – was frankly disturbing. The General poured a generous glass of Scotch for the Prime Minister and Jones; Syeda had a small glass of water. The Prime Minister had never been much of a drinker, yet he had to admit that the Scotch was top quality. The General’s family owned a distillery up in Scotland.

“The aliens are not gods,” Williamson said, once they were all comfortable. “They have more advanced technology, sure. They can do things we can’t, yet their technology is based on principles we understand or can come to understand. There’s no magic in what they do.”

“As others have pointed out,” the Prime Minister said. “Can we deploy new hardware in time to prevent them from invading Britain?”

“Perhaps,” Williamson said. “We may not be able to duplicate everything they do just yet, but we do have some ideas that were prompted by their technology. They taught us how to produce, in effect, excellent batteries, which are really just systems to store energy. Combined with some of our tech, we can actually discharge that energy in a single burst.” He grinned. “It would make one hell of a weapon.”

The Prime Minister considered it. “Would it be effective against the alien craft?”

Syeda rubbed the back of her head. “Yes and no, Prime Minister,” she said. “The aliens deployed a plasma cannon-like weapon against the USAF. It fired bolts of plasma that destroyed whatever they hit, yet they didn’t move at light speed and could be evaded by a skilled pilot. Our new weapon would move at light speed. By the time the aliens knew that they were under fire, they’d have been hit.”

“The downside is that we don’t know for sure just what effect the weapons would have,” Williamson added. “The alien drive fields, we believe, absorb energy and only fail when too much energy is pumped in, overloading the field. The craft we have here all have fused drive systems, although we are following up several promising theories and may be able to unlock the mystery of how to build them for ourselves. We don’t know if we can hit them hard enough to knock out even one of their fighter craft – but they will certainly know that they’ve been fired upon.”

“It sounds more promising than anything else,” the Prime Minister said. “How long would it be until you can produce a test version?”

Williamson looked uncomfortable. “At least two months, Prime Minister,” he said. “The…well, we used to draw a great deal of equipment and technology from the United States and that is no longer available to us. Our own tech base is advanced, but the Americans were right at the cutting edge of the possible. We might have to make the tools to make the tools to make the weapons and it could take years. It would also have no rational purpose other than fighting the aliens.”

“Perhaps convincing them to hit us before we hit them,” the Prime Minister said.

“Precisely,” Williamson agreed. “There’s also the issue of moving on to mass production. That could take years.”

The Prime Minister winced. Despite desperate efforts and a level of governmental control that would have been unthinkable before the invasion, the British economy was sliding down the slippery slope to disaster. The loss of the United States had seriously damaged the economy and the knock-on effects had wiped out tens of thousands of jobs. The rest of Europe was in the same condition, although some of them had it even worse. The news out of France was growing darker every day. Germany was staggering under the twin blows of economic collapse and racial unrest, while to the east Russia waited and bided her time. China had collapsed into a sinkhole of civil war, fighting a savage multi-sided conflict…there would be no help from there.

“Give it the highest priority,” he ordered, harshly. They’d have to produce the weapons. There was no other choice. “What else is there?”

He listened to a brief outline of the ongoing research program, but there was little else that was truly new. The alien craft were still largely unexplored, although teams were digging into every aspect of the ships and distributing knowledge around the base. The workings of the alien FTL system remained a mystery, although one theoretical physicist had produced an elegant theory explaining how the alien craft were able to move faster than light. The alien plasma weapon had been extensively studied, but all of the teams had concluded that even if they duplicated the weapon, it would do them no good. The alien craft had hit each other during the big air battles, without taking any damage at all. Their drive fields had simply absorbed the hits.

“Thank you,” he said, finally. There was one question that still nagged at him…and it was unlikely that he’d ever see President Chalk again. “Mr Jones…why did the President insist on keeping the crashed UFO a secret?”

Jones looked down at the clean floor. “There were several different reasons,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were dealing with, so the President wanted to get a handle on it before we brought in the rest of the world. We wanted to know just what the aliens were doing and how they’d slipped so close to secure airspace without being detected. We thought…we thought that the rest of the world would declare war if they ever realised that we had the craft, or demand access to any research program. It wasn't that foolish a concern. An economic embargo would have crippled the global economy.”

“And you wanted the United States to have first crack at a faster-than-light drive system,” the Prime Minister said, without rancour. He would have done the same thing if the situation were reversed. “And yet, you kept information about a threat to the entire planet to yourself…”

Jones looked up at him. “There’s a story I read once, while I was growing up,” he said. “I forgot the title, but the story stuck with me afterwards. There’s this planet that is in desperate need of medical supplies from Earth and so a spaceship was dispatched to carry the supplies to the colony. The problem is that fuel is so expensive that every single ounce has to be finely calculated and there is no spare fuel. A single gram of extra weight on a spacecraft would ensure disaster.”

His voice hardened. “The fuel is so expensive that pirates try to hijack the ships frequently and that means that they have to kill the pilot, because otherwise there would be too much mass and the ship would crash. The pilots can’t show any mercy to hijackers either – it’s kill or be killed – so when one pilot realises that there’s a stowaway on his ship, he heads off to kill him. Except it’s a her, and she’s a young girl who wanted to visit her brother on the colony. She’s an innocent.

“Don’t you see my point? The girl didn’t know anything about the fuel, or the fact that her mere presence ensures that the craft will crash when it tries to land, dooming the colony. The universe doesn’t care that she boarded the ship with innocent motives. The cold equations apply to her as much as they do to the pilot, or the pirates, or everyone else. She has to die for the sake of everyone else. It doesn’t matter if the pilot kills her or if she walks out of the airlock. She has to die!

“The President didn’t know about the mothership, or the aliens, or everything else we know now. It wouldn’t have mattered if we’d told the entire world or not – a month afterwards, the mothership would have arrived at Earth anyway. We wondered…one of the scenarios the analysts came up with was a suggestion that the aliens had meant us to discover the craft, in hopes of triggering off World War Three and removing any human threat. We kept it to ourselves because we wanted to prevent global chaos. If we’d known what was coming, perhaps we would have made a different call, but we made the best call we could with what we knew at the time.”

The Prime Minister nodded slowly. “And the girl?”

Jones blinked. “She says goodbye to her brother – the poor bastard – and walks out of the airlock, taking responsibility for her own actions,” he said. He grimaced at the thought. “It doesn’t matter. She still had to die. What other choice did she have?”

He shrugged. “That’s why you got the craft here,” he added. “The President hoped that you could use them to develop weapons that could be turned against the aliens before they finish devouring us and move on to you. What other choice do we have?”


Chapter Ten


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 111


Edward Tanaka tensed, one hand on his concealed pistol, as he stepped through the lobby and into the deserted apartment complex. It had clearly been abandoned in a hurry and it showed. Broken bags, forgotten clothing and toys and bundles of rubbish littered the floor. He almost drew his weapon as he sighted what looked like a dead child on the ground, before realising that it was actually a walking-talking doll, made up to look like a five-year-old girl. He’d been warned to come alone, yet he would have killed to have someone at his back. Walking into a possible trap wasn't wise.

His gaze sharpened as he read the message on the wall. Anyone else who wasn't a Marine wouldn’t have recognised that there was a message at all, but he’d been trained to look for messages in odd places. It provided directions to one of the apartment complexes, thankfully on the ground floor. The upper floors would be far too easy for any enemy force to block off and trap everyone who came to the meeting. He slipped along a darkened corridor, still clutching his pistol, and relaxed slightly as he encountered the second sign. He pulled his balaclava over his face, concealing his identity, and opened the door. A figure stepped out of the darkness and pointed a pistol directly at his face.

“Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light…”

“Not while the evil days come not,” Ed countered. The obvious response would have earned him a pistol shot in the face. The figure stepped back and beckoned him into the darkened room, revealing three other figures wearing masks of their own. It galled him that he didn’t know who they were – even though one of them was clearly a Marine like him – although he did understand the need for security. The aliens didn’t play fair. If they captured him, they’d convert him into one of the Walking Dead and he’d spend the rest of his life serving them as a loyal slave. “All present and correct?”

“Don’t get smart,” the sole woman said. Edward thought of her as the Bitch Queen. She wore a garment that revealed nothing beyond her femininity, as if it protected her from the world. Perhaps it did; but the aliens wouldn’t hesitate to treat her as badly as a man, if they caught her. “Show me your eyes.”

Ed locked eyes with her for a long second. The Internet had been full of advice on how to detect one of the Walking Dead. They might have looked normal, but their eyes seemed dull and dead. The longer one spent with them, he’d been told, the more obvious it became that something was very wrong. She nodded and looked at the next man. Ed did the same. If one of them had been captured and converted, a hundred alien warriors might be on the verge of breaking into the apartment and capturing them all.

“This room is secure and has been checked,” the Bitch Queen said, finally. Ed shrugged. They might be able to clear out human-designed surveillance systems, but no one knew what an alien listening device would look like, or if it could be detected. It stood to reason that such an advanced society would have advanced methods of keeping a covert eye on people. “However, we will not remain here for long.”

“What a shame,” one of the other men said. Edward thought of him as Muscles. He looked like an insane bodybuilder, or perhaps someone who had taken too many steroids. “We could have had a hand of rummy before we went back to our wives and daughters.”

“Quiet,” the second man said. He and his companion – Edward thought of them as Pinkie and The Brain – scowled at Muscles. “The longer we remain here, the greater the chance that a roving patrol will pick us up. I hardly need to remind you how disastrous that would be. What do you have for us?”

“A chance to strike a real blow against the Orcs,” the Bitch Queen said. “So far, we’ve gone after their footsoldiers and little else. Now we’re going to really make them hurt.”

Edward frowned. His team had attacked two other alien convoys and planted over a dozen IEDs all around their operating area, as well as a daring raid on an alien-occupied building that had come terrifyingly close to disaster. He’d killed aliens, yet there seemed to be no limit to their numbers, and parts of Chicago had paid the price for his actions. How else could they hurt the aliens?

“We have a source inside the Green Zone” – the term had appeared just after the aliens had taken over the heart of the city’s government and stuck – “who was able to supply us with information about our noble Mayor’s schedule for the next few days. Don’t ask who gave us the information. Let’s just take the opportunity to really hurt the aliens by taking out the Mayor.”

The Brain spoke into the shocked silence. “The aliens have the Green Zone locked down tight,” he said. “We couldn’t get anyone through their barricades without being detected. They really clamped down hard on movement there,”

Edward nodded. The aliens had forced out anyone who wasn't willing to cooperate with them, without regard for their possessions or their former homes. The mayor, his family and his cronies had been permanently installed there, along with the senior officials who helped keep the city running. Experience had shown that the only way into the zone was through one of two gates, where alien warriors checked ID and scanned incoming civilians with handheld scanners. An attempt to slip a bomb through the dragnet had failed and the resistance fighter had been killed.

“He’s not going to be in the Green Zone,” the Bitch Queen said. “We’ll have at least two chances at him over the next few days. Three days from now, the asshole is going to be officiating at the opening of the new Heath Centre, where the aliens have provided some of their medical technology for the use of the human workers. Apparently they have a few hundred people with serious disabilities or infectious diseases lined up to be the first to be healed. It’s going to be a big publicly stunt for the Provisional Government. It’ll be an even bigger one for us when we blow it and the Mayor to hell and gone.”

There was a long pause. “Tell me something,” Pinkie demanded, finally. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

The Bitch Queen rounded on him. “I’m as sane as I have ever been in my life,” she snapped back. “This is a perfect opportunity to go after the bastard!”

“You’re talking about blowing up a medical clinic just to get one man,” Pinkie said. “Or do you believe that the aliens really intend to eat the people they say they’re going to heal? Do you think it’s a trick of some kind? What did those people do to deserve to die?”

“Many of them became infected with AIDS through their own stupidity,” Muscles put in. “It might teach them a few lessons.”

“I was unaware that stupidity carried the death penalty,” Pinkie said, angrily. “What about the disabled and walking wounded? God knows there’s been more injuries in this fucking city in the last couple of months than we had in the past decade! Do they all deserve to die?”

The Bitch Queen opened her mouth, but Edward spoke first. “We cannot strike a medical centre,” he said, firmly. “The Mayor might be a legitimate target, but hundreds of innocents are not. And, for that matter, what about the bad publicity we’ll get after we blow up a centre designed to help people? They won’t be hailing us as heroes of the resistance, but dangerously insane terrorists! We’ll be public enemies numbers one through five.

“And, less you forget, we need public support. A single phone call from the wrong person could – would – bring the aliens down on our heads. What happens if we kill a disabled man whose wife knows where one of our bases is located? Why won’t she pick up the phone and tell the Orcs just where to go? Forget morality or ethics, if you like – we need public support! Killing the Mayor won’t be popular if we cover the ground with hundreds of dead innocents.”

“He’s right,” The Brain said. “We cannot strike a medical centre.”

The Bitch Queen leaned forward. “And how long will you keep your scruples when we may be fighting this war for the next fifty years?”

“Long enough,” Edward snapped. His honour as a Marine forbade massacring civilians deliberately. Even enemy citizens deserved a chance at life. “What’s the other opportunity to hit him?”

The Bitch Queen scowled, but nodded reluctantly. “They’re opening a recruitment branch here for a division of the Order Police,” she said, tartly. “A few thousand young men are going to be recruited here and transformed into alien servants, if not Walking Dead. They’ll be given a few weeks of training and then set loose onto the streets to help keep order, right out of the enemy commander’s playbook. The Mayor is going to visit the centre in seven days – or thereabouts; his schedule might change on very short notice – to give it his official blessing. That’s our second chance at hitting him outside the Green Zone.”

Her eyes hardened. “The only possible victims will be collaborators and their media groupies,” she added, coldly. “Do they deserve to live?”

“No,” Muscles said. He clenched his fist. “They chose to serve the Orcs and bear arms against their fellow Americans. That’s outright treason in any book. They deserve to die.”

“Many of them are trying to feed their families,” Pinkie said, softly. “They don’t have any other employment, or prospects for the future, apart from serving the enemy and acting as their police. Many of them see it as a chance to moderate contact between the Orcs and us. God knows, it’s something we need desperately. Every time the civilian population gets caught up in a brief battle, the results are…unpleasant. They’re caught in the middle.”

“I understand that some of them may feel that they have no other choice,” Edward said, “but we cannot allow that to deter us from striking at them.”

Pinkie leaned forward. “Who are we to make such decisions?”

“We’re the ones who swore to carry on the fight until we liberated our country or died at alien hands,” the Bitch Queen snapped. “Or have you forgotten that we’re under occupation? You’ve seen the reports from the Internet. They’re slowly transforming our country into a slave labour camp! The longer it takes for us to overcome our fancy scruples, the more time they’ll have to put the entire country into lockdown and complete the job. I don’t know about you, but I am not going to let my kids grow up under their jackboots.”

“I understand,” Edward said. “What do we do now?”

“The obvious question,” The Brain said. “Does the Mayor deserve to die?”

Pinkie frowned. “Shouldn’t we push this question up the chain?” He asked. “What about our senior leadership, or the President? Should we sentence the Mayor to death on our own authority?”

“Our standing orders say that we may target collaborators at will,” Edward pointed out. “The Mayor is very definitely a collaborator. I would say that the choice is clear.”

“I think that you have appointed yourself as his defendant,” the Bitch Queen said, to Pinkie. “Tell us why we shouldn’t kill His Honour and rid the country of a stinking corrupt political figure who currently blows the Orcs. Or don’t you have an answer?”

Pinkie’s face, what little could be seen of it, flushed bright red. “I have no defence,” he said, “yet we do not know what is going through the Mayor’s mind. Is he a willing collaborator or is he acting the way he is because his family is under threat? If the former, he deserves to die and by thunder I’ll hang the bastard myself, but if it’s the latter…can we condemn a man for trying to keep his family alive?”

“And how many families has your client managed to kill, even indirectly?” The Bitch Queen demanded. “Surely there are limits.”

Muscles agreed. “And let us not forget that the Mayor has gone well beyond merely helping them out of fear,” he added. “He has done far more than just the bare minimum. I don’t know what is going through his mind, or what’s driving him…”

“Ambition,” The Brain said. He was the only Chicago native among them. “His Honour has always been ambitious. I suspect that he sees the aliens as his ticket to power on a global scale. Rumour had it that he was already planning his run for President in two years. If the Party had accepted him, if he’d raised the funds…”

He shook his head. “He’s right,” he said, nodding to Muscles. “The Mayor has become a willing collaborator. I don’t really care what motivates him. I just want him dead, killed to send a message to all other would-be Quislings. We’re coming to get you.”

“And besides,” the Bitch Queen added, “taking him out in the midst of other collaborators would send a powerful secondary message all of its own. Nowhere is safe, nowhere.”

“The Green Zone is pretty safe,” Muscles scowled. “They could just lurk there until we die of old age or enemy action.”

“Or until we bring out the mortars,” Pinkie said. “A few random shells every day would serve as a powerful message in itself.”

“How true,” Edward agreed. On one hand, it would shock hell out of the collaborators. On the other hand, the aliens would probably retaliate harshly against the mortar teams and any civilians unlucky enough to be in the area at the time. “It might convince them that nowhere is truly safe.”

“Poor bastards,” Muscles snickered. “Poor little Quislings, so helpless and vulnerable…”

“That’s enough of that,” the Bitch Queen said. She glanced from face to face. “Shall we vote?”

“Death to the Mayor,” Muscles said. “Kill the bastard and have done with it.”

Pinkie nodded. “Kill him,” he said.

“Agreed,” The Brain said. “My dear?”

The Bitch Queen glowered at him. “Kill him,” she said. “And you?”

Edward smiled to himself. “Death,” he said. Part of his mind was appalled. They had just sentenced a man to death without a fair trial, or even a chance to defend himself before a jury of his peers, yet there was no choice. How could they kidnap the Mayor and put him on trial? The Bitch Queen was right. They couldn’t leave the Mayor in place, even if he was acting under heavy duress. He had to be removed. “And which of us gets the task?”

“You,” the Bitch Queen said. “Don’t forget to make sure that the bastard suffers.”

“I’ll settle for killing him,” Edward said. “Is there any other business?”

No one spoke. “Then I’ll head off back to my base,” he said. “Give me five minutes before the next person leaves.”

He left the room and tore off his balaclava, before walking outside and away from the abandoned apartment. The evening had become darkness in the time he'd spent at the meeting, a darkness barely broken by glowing streetlights. The aliens had declared a curfew over the entire city in hopes of preventing resistance fighters and drug lords from operating at night – anyone picked up by an alien patrol was either added to the work gangs or was never seen again – but it wasn't always enforced. He could hear, in the warm night’s air, gunshots in the distance. Perhaps someone was having a go at an alien patrol, or perhaps humans were fighting humans. There was no way to know.

A shape emerged out of the gloom and ambled towards him. Edward raised his weapon and the would-be mugger thought better of it, giving him a shit-eating grin and wandering off in the distance, coat pockets clinking with glass bottles. The street bums seemed to have been the only ones prepared for the alien occupation. Edward considered going after him and breaking his neck to prevent him harming others in the future – chances were, he would have mugged and raped people in the chaos already – but there was little point. Besides, some of the homeless worked for the resistance and kept an eye on the aliens, curfew or no curfew. And, probably, some of them worked for the aliens or the collaborators.

He glanced up as one of the alien heavy transports raced overhead, heading out northwards towards Canada. The Canucks hadn’t been invaded, as far as he knew, but they had to cope with tens of thousands of refugees from the United States. Canada was a small and very vulnerable country to anyone who could reach it, having grown used to depending on the United States for its defence during the Cold War. The Canadian Air Force wouldn’t be able to stand off the aliens for long if they decided that they wanted Canada, one day. Who knew? Perhaps the aliens would find maple syrup to their liking.

The building they were using as their temporary base loomed up in front of him and he checked it out carefully before entering through the rear entrance. They’d prepared the building for rapid demolition if the aliens stumbled across it – anyone who came in the front entrance would walk right into four Claymore mines, among other surprises – although they couldn’t pretend to be innocent civilians. A person with half a brain cell could tell that the building had been prepared as an ambush site.

He smiled as he passed through the second layer of defences and down into the basement. The informant had told them seven days. By then, he would have come up with a plan to kill the Mayor…and show everyone what happened to collaborators. They’d never forget it…


Chapter Eleven


Mannington, Virginia, USA

Day 114


“I think that the question is simple,” Pepper said. “Who sent you that data packet and can they be trusted?”

The President looked down at the display. There were forty files in all, ranging from the planned operating structure for the Order Police, to the list of willing or unwilling collaborators working for the aliens. It was an intelligence windfall, yet the President had learned to be careful when anyone offered him a gift horse. The West’s intelligence services had been embarrassed before and would – if they ever beat the aliens and drove them off-planet – doubtless be embarrassed again. Nothing could be accepted without question.

He scowled. His private email address was only given out to family and a handful of very close friends. Jacob would have known it, he recalled, and felt a spurt of hope that his old friend might not have fallen completely into alien hands. Perhaps some of the Walking Dead had more free will than others or perhaps it was a fake packet of information, intended to lure the resistance into a trap. Or perhaps it was nothing to do with Jacob at all. Who else might have the email address and the access to the alien power structure that would grant them access to such information?

It couldn’t be a coincidence. That thought was laughable. The email address was a combination of seemingly random letters and numbers, not something blatantly obvious. An analyst from NSA had once told him that anyone experimenting with a random set of numbers could easily stumble over the phone number or email address of a Very Important Person, yet there would be no way of confirming what they’d found, or even if it was more than a coincidence. The unsigned email had been addressed, specifically, to ‘Mr President.’ That suggested that whoever had sent it was neither a close friend nor family. Besides, most of the President’s friends were accounted for. Who else had the address?

The server existed outside Washington, without any form of oversight at all. The President’s official email address was deluged, every day, with emails, threats and spam. The secret email address was rarely used, yet the President looked at each of those emails personally. No one else, even the Secret Service, looked at them without permission. It was just another attempt to convince the President that he wasn’t living in a cage, even if it did have golden bars. His mind repeated the question. Only thirty people had the email address. Who had sent him the information?

An answer clicked in his mind and he returned to the list of collaborators. It was an embarrassingly long list, with a number of very familiar names and faces. Some of them had been his political opponents during the last election, or his detractors ever since he had been elected into office, others had tiny marks beside their names, suggesting that they weren't acting of their own free will. He saw one beside Jacob Thornton’s name and ground his teeth together in rage. Whatever the aliens had done to him would be avenged, even if it cost his life. No one deserved to become one of the Walking Dead.

And there, on the list, was a single name.

“Her,” he said, simply. “She sent the information.”

Pepper frowned. She would remember Karen from her visit to the White House. “Are you sure?”

“No,” the President said, “but she does have the email address and – apparently – the access required to look inside the alien government. She’s the most likely suspect.”

“Then we keep it strictly to ourselves,” Pepper said, sharply. “If the aliens figure out what she’s done, they’ll convert her into one of the Walking Dead and use her to feed us lies and false information. All of our communications with her is done all over the web – there’ll be no way of knowing if she’s still operating under her own free will or if the aliens have reprogrammed her and turned her into a slave. We can’t risk losing such an asset.”

“I agree,” the President said. He skimmed through the data packet again. Some of it would be immediately useful; other parts were only of academic interest. There was little point in a list of the Walking Dead until they could put together a mission to snatch one and get him to one of the secret hospitals scattered around the nation. Perhaps what had been done to them could be reversed. Perhaps he’d be able to laugh with his old friend again. “So what do we do with the data?”

“Pass it on to the other coordinators, but otherwise nothing,” Pepper said, practically. “The list of collaborators aside, there’s nothing here worth risking her safety over. We can ensure that that list gets out without any trace of its origin, perhaps blaming it on spies inside Washington or even the aliens themselves. They’d want to make sure that their collaborators couldn’t turn their coats at the slightest opportunity.”

The President nodded once. The orders he’d sent to the Resistance had been quite clear. Collaborators, particularly willing collaborators, were to be killed, preferably in such a manner as to discourage others from following in their footsteps. A handful of low-level collaborators had already been shot, or blown up with a car bomb, but none of them had been real filth. They’d just been men and women working to feed their families. The list Karen had sent them included the ones who had literally sold their souls to the aliens. They were the real targets, yet striking at them was going to be difficult. The aliens guarded them well.

His eye skimmed through another data packet. Karen had described life inside Washington in blunt uncompromising phrases. The collaborators were living the high life, with wine, women and song, while the ordinary population came closer and closer to starvation. The President could see the underlying motive – a broken population was one that would serve the aliens, if only to avoid death – yet it still made his blood boil. No one did that to Americans. No one. He read a line informing him that one of the foremost data experts working for the aliens had organised himself a harem of girls and shuddered. He hated to think of the fresh-faced girl he remembered meeting in the White House trapped in such an environment. It would warp even a saint.

Pepper was reading another section. “It says here that the aliens are already expanding the Order Police under General Howery,” she said, slowly. “If we take this as read, they already have at least five thousand policemen ready and raring to go and more on the way. Is that even possible?”

“Maybe not very well trained policemen,” the President said, who had bitter memories of attempting to train the Iraqi Police after the invasion. Wishful thinking and political correctness had rendered them useless until the defects had been fixed, after a horrifying cost in time and lives. “But they’ve got the Walking Dead. They’ll have leaders and people who know what the hell they’re doing. Hell, they even have some of our police on the streets!”

The reports had been all too clear. Some state and city governments had urged their police forces to remain on the streets and maintain order, in order to avoid having the alien warriors restoring order through deadly force. The President couldn’t blame them for the decision, but it came far too close to collaboration and it wouldn’t be long before it crossed the line. How long would it be before SWAT teams found themselves breaking into resistance bases in order to save the aliens the trouble? The entire situation was a horrible ghastly mess.

“We did provide the Order Police with some recruits,” Pepper reminded him. “We’ll have insights into how they operate and what they’re doing while under alien command. We’ll even be able to track them as they move out and prepare ambushes once they start expanding out of the cities. We could hurt the bastards.”

“Unless they identify our men and convert them into Walking Dead,” the President said, pessimistically. It was a recurring danger. No one knew how many files the aliens might have captured, but it was far too possible that they’d have a list of everyone who’d every served in the armed forces, in any role. They’d compare the biometrics of their new recruits to the files and discover just how many of them might be working for the resistance. If they were smart, they wouldn’t kill them out of hand, but covert them into Walking Dead and use them to feed information to the resistance. “What happens if they do that?”

He hit the table angrily. “What happens if they do that?”

“We watch, we wait, and we cover our butts every way we can,” Pepper said. She didn’t show any sign of being worried by his sudden explosion. She’d once told him she’d witnessed worse behaviour from his predecessor. “They’re powerful, they’ve got the cities and the military bases, but they’re not gods. They can be beaten.”

“I hope you’re right,” the President said. “I really hope you’re right.”

***

Greg Ross put his stepdaughter to bed and read her a bedtime story. She might have been only six years old, but a combination of semi-homeschooling and an enquiring mind had led to her reading at a much higher level. She had passed the sixth Harry Potter book last month, despite Greg’s private concerns that the story would scare her. It was impossible to believe that anything would scare her for long. She took after her father like that and if Nicolas Little had ever been scared of anything, Greg had never seen any sign of it. The man, if half of his stories were true, had done things that would daunt ninety-nine percent of the human race.

“Goodnight, Nancy,” he whispered, as he turned out the light. Mannington still had power, thankfully, even if it came at a cost. The TV news was full of lies these days – the cynics in the town suggested that there had been no real change – yet some items stood out, including the promise that free power would be provided – soon – for all American citizens. It was just another bribe, the general consensus had decided. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

He blew her a kiss and closed the door behind him, feeling his shoulders slump as soon as the door was closed. Daily life had become a struggle, even though he'd taken the precaution of stockpiling as much food, drink and ammunition as he could ever since the alien mothership had been detected. It wouldn’t last forever and even a place like Mannington couldn’t feed itself indefinitely. Greg had heard some of the farmers warning that they needed supplies and equipment that they had purchased from China, which had collapsed into civil war. Even if China had still been the aspiring superpower that everyone feared and distrusted, the aliens had shut down most international shipping. The farmers would have to make do without it. The siege mentality was setting in all over the town. How long would it be before they turned on each other? He checked the tiny pistol in his pocket out of habit. It had been a gift from Nicolas, who’d urged him to carry it at all times, gun laws or no gun laws. His daughter had to be protected.

The stairs seemed narrower than every as he walked down them towards the kitchen. He’d taken to cooking enough stew and curry to last them for a few days, even if it was monotonous, and he had intended to prepare it when Nancy finally went to bed. She’d been outside playing with her friends – luckily, there was nothing on television for the children, an oversight on the part of the aliens – and had been tired, yet she was untouched by the horrors that gripped the country. He hoped – prayed – that it would stay that way, but he knew it wouldn’t. Two doors down, there was a little girl on the verge of running out of the insulin she desperately needed. When she ran out, she would die.

He stepped into the kitchen and stopped. Something was wrong. One hand reached for the pistol, but it was too late. A strong pair of hands caught his arms and held them tightly, rendering him immobile. Greg felt a moment of bitter pain – he had failed Nancy and his late wife – before a voice whispered in his ear.

“It’s me,” Nicolas said. He let go of Greg’s arms carefully. “Don’t worry. Relax.”

Greg rubbed his arms. “Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”

“Yes, that would be clever,” Nicolas said, dryly. The SEAL – if he was still a SEAL – wandered over to the table and sat down on one of the chairs. “The last thing either of us needs is someone knowing that I’m here. The aliens may not know who I am, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’m on their shit list, if not the shoot on sight list. You need to alter those locks, by the way. I picked my way in far too quickly.”

Greg scowled at him. Nicolas looked…tired, rather than anything else. He was intimidating, with what looked like muscles on his muscles, yet they’d never had a real disagreement. The separation between Nicolas and his wife had been amiable and they’d both put Nancy first. Even after their wife had died, they still put the child first. A SEAL had no time to raise a child and everyone knew it. Nancy’s exact legal status might be a little vague, but she had two fathers. Everyone thought that they were homosexual.

“The locks weren’t designed for a SEAL breaking and entering,” he said. “Coffee?”

“If you have it, yes please,” Nicolas said. “Don’t use too much of it. People will be buying and selling their souls for a cup of coffee before too long.”

“I have noticed,” Greg said, dryly. The town stores were out of coffee and very little was trickling in from the outside. The dollar was worthless now. Whatever currency the aliens intended to introduce would have to be built up from the ground. “It’s not easy to get much of anything here.”

He poured two cups and passed one of them over to Nicolas, who sipped it gratefully. “Nancy was hoping to see you soon,” he said. “Will you have time…?”

“I don’t think that she should know I was here,” Nicolas said, flatly. “I’m…don’t push for details, but I’ve been operating against the aliens for the last few weeks. I’d strongly suggest that you kept that to yourself for the moment. No one else needs to know.”

Greg nodded. The alien television channel showed little about resistance activity, but the Internet was buzzing with stories of ambushes, raids and bombings, each one taking out a handful of aliens. It was hardly a surprise that Nicolas would be involved in the resistance. A former SEAL could expect no mercy from an occupying power. They probably had him on a death list.

“I understand,” he said, finally.

“No, you don’t,” Nicolas said. “We have information that suggests that the aliens intend to start expanding out of the cities towards the towns very soon, perhaps within the week. All of you will be registered and added to their database. I saw those kids out there training and I’m telling you that they will not stop the aliens. They may give the Order Police pause, but not their alien masters. The Orcs will crush anyone who stands in their way. When that happens…you have to make sure that Nancy is registered in your name, as your daughter.”

“I see,” Greg said. Truthfully, Nancy was already registered as his daughter. He'd formally adopted her when he’d married her mother, just to prevent legal problems in later life. “What happens if they take a blood sample and do a paternity test? They’ll know she’s not mine.”

“Then we’re screwed anyway,” Nicolas said. He finished his coffee and put the cup down on the table. “We don’t know how much the aliens know or care about our relationships, but if they know about me and they locate Nancy…they’ll try and use her against me. Even if it’s too vile an idea for alien minds, one of the Order Police will think of it. The fucking Nazi wannabes will be quite happy to think of it and serve their masters. They’re drawn from the very scum of society. The occupation of Mannington is not going to be pleasant.”

Greg winced. “Should I take her out of the town?”

“If I knew where you could go, I’d recommend that,” Nicolas said. “We can’t take her to a resistance safe house or a survivalist retreat. Staying here under your name might be the safest course of action. We don’t have any better ideas.”

“We?” Greg asked.

“Don’t ask,” Nicolas advised. He stood up and paced over to the window, peering out into the darkness. “One day, we’ll drive those bastards off our planet and then life can return to normal.”

“If it ever does,” Greg said. He was something of a historian. “France was torn apart for years after the end of the German Occupation.”

“Ah, that was just the Frogs,” Nicolas said. He chuckled, and then sobered. “I remember training with some of their Special Forces units, back when the world made sense. They were good guys, screwed up by their own government, just like us.”

He winked at Greg. “If I don’t see you again, take care of her and yourself,” he said, pulling a small envelope out of his pocket. “If you don’t hear from me in a year, give that to Nancy. And thank you for everything.”

“You too,” Greg said. “Don’t get killed out there.”

“I’ll try my hardest not to get killed,” Nicolas said. “Don’t take risks. Don’t try to be a hero. Just…take care of her.”

He slipped out of the rear door and vanished into the darkness.


Chapter Twelve


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 116


Linda lay where the Mayor had left her until she was sure he had gone, and then she pulled herself to her feet, rubbing at the bruises that covered her body. Everyone had known that the Mayor of Chicago was a womaniser without taste or conscience, but no one had known just how far his tastes ran, not until alien horrors had descended on the city and given him supreme power over the humans within, as long as he worked for them. Linda had been the daughter of his main political opponent before the aliens had arrived and dragging her into his bed had been a ‘fuck you’ of monstrous proportions. No one knew what had happened to Linda’s mother, who had challenged the Mayor in the last election, but her father had apparently been shipped off to a work camp and Linda herself…

She looked into the mirror and winced again. The Mayor had left marks all over her teenage body, each one a reminder of her new status. Like the other girls in the harem, she wasn’t allowed to wear clothes or leave the complex without special permission and everyone would see her scars. She had lost her body modesty days – it felt like years – ago. All she wanted was to go home and crawl until the bed and hide. She wanted to escape the nightmare of alien horrors and men with cold dead eyes. The Walking Dead terrified her. The Mayor had told her that if she didn’t cooperate, she’d end up just like them. After several days in the Mayor’s service, along with seventeen other teenage girls and one who was probably underage, she was past caring. She had to strike back somehow.

The bottle of the Mayor’s best vodka lay where he’d left it, leaving them with strict orders not to touch it on pain of a beating, or worse. She picked it up and took a sip, washing the bitter taste of his mouth away with another taste, before spitting it out into the sink. The others took their own sips, she knew, and the Mayor – despite his threats – didn’t seem to care. Perhaps he was worried about satisfying the horrors. If he failed to please the aliens, he might be next on the list to be converted into one of the Walking Dead. She hoped that they’d kill him sooner or later. It wouldn’t matter if she were killed herself at the same time, as long as he was dead.

She had no apartment to herself, but each of the harem – the whores, she’d come to realise – had a section of their room that belonged to them and them alone. The others had gone down to the gym to work out – the Mayor was keen that they all remained in shape, even if he was tending towards flab – leaving her with him on her own. It didn’t matter. None of them were any freer than she was. They couldn’t help her against him. She hunted through her bunk roll and located the cell phone she’d managed to conceal within her bedding. The aliens either hadn’t found it or didn’t care. She didn’t dare call anyone – she had a vague idea that the aliens would be able to trace the call – but she could send text messages. She’d prepared the message she wanted to send already. Now that the Mayor was on his way…

One finger pushed the button and the message was sent. The brief contact from outside had reassured her that there were people out there who were still fighting, but how could she carry on after betraying the Mayor so badly? If he or his successor found out, she was dead…and she no longer wanted to live. She walked into the bathroom and found the collection of pills that had been made available for the Mayor’s harem. Pouring a glass of water, she started to swallow them one by one.

By the time they found her, she had been dead for over an hour.

***

The new training ground for the Order Police had been placed inside a massive sports complex, allowing them access to a gym, running ground, shooting ranges and everything else they required to train as paramilitary policemen. Edward had spent two days talking to the trainers and others who had worked in the complex before the aliens closed it down and sent them all home and he had a fairly good idea of the layout, but he also knew that the aliens had it under close supervision. They’d arrived in force, taken over the building and evicted the previous occupants…and since then, they’d kept it under heavy guard. The handful of humans who he’d sent to the Order Police had reported that everyone who went in and out was scanned by the aliens, who used sensors that seemed to locate any hidden surprises. Edward had slipped a makeshift IED into one of the alien packages to test the limits and hadn’t been surprised when it had been discovered. The alien sensors were good.

He’d thought about setting up mortars and shelling the complex from a distance, but that would have had two disadvantages. One, it would have revealed that the resistance had mortars, and two, it would have brought the aliens down on their heads. Back in Iraq, radars had tracked incoming mortar shells and counter-battery shells had been fired back at the launchers, hopefully killing the insurgents before they could escape or set the mortar up somewhere else. They could have rigged the mortar to fire automatically and fled the area before the aliens counterattacked, but that would have cost them the mortar and God alone knew when they’d get more supplies from outside the city. The aliens had sealed off the roads – sometimes knocking down entire buildings to make the task easier – and there were limits to how much they could bring in through the tunnels. Besides, he wanted the strike to be dramatic. The aliens had to know how badly they’d been hurt.

“Get in, kill the bastard, get out again,” he muttered to himself. He’d thought about using a sniper rifle from a distance, but that wouldn’t have had the same effect. Besides, the aliens knew about snipers now and tended to have their warriors crawling over the rooftops, watching for possible threats. Several of them had been killed by emplaced IEDs, but it hadn’t discouraged the practice. “Let’s see now…”

The Mayoral car could be seen in the distance, escorted by a handful of Chicago’s finest, all carrying weapons and looking very official. The police force seemed to have split down the middle; some had agreed to try to keep the peace, others seemed to have gone over completely to the aliens, and quite a few had simply vanished. The Bitch Queen’s source had suggested that the policemen who had refused to do even the bare minimum had been transported out of the city to an unknown destination. The odds, Edward had decided, was that their treatment wouldn’t be very pleasant. A handful of senior officers had been converted into Walking Dead and they’d be keeping an eye on the remaining unconverted officers. They wouldn’t be able to get away with much under their supervision.

He looked over at the group of media groupies waiting for the Mayor and, beyond them, the lines of trainee Order Policemen. They looked rather laughable to Edward, although Marine trainees probably looked equally absurd to fully qualified Marines who had some combat experience under their belts. The Order Policemen might not be dangerous now, but if they had a few weeks of intensive training – and a very strong incentive not to fail – they’d become a hazard the resistance couldn’t ignore. They would combine local knowledge with a vested interest in an alien victory – after all, if the aliens lost, who would save them from vengeful neighbours wanting revenge?

The media was more of a puzzle. It was easy to believe that they would be happy to swallow and spew out whatever the aliens gave them, yet some of the Chicago reporters had clearly been disappeared. The remainder had probably drawn the correct lesson and chosen to toe the Mayor’s party line. The aliens were our friends, here to help, and if it weren’t for the resistance, we’d be living in Heaven by now. Edward privately doubted that most of the reporters believed the shit they printed – although he’d met a few reporters with only a questionable grasp on reality – but it didn’t matter. The exact circumstances didn’t matter either. They were serving the enemy and helping them to occupy America.

He watched as the Mayor’s car came to a halt and stepped back, blending in with the crowd of curious onlookers. The policemen glanced over at the civilians without taking much notice, their eyes lowered as if they were ashamed of themselves. The Walking Dead didn’t seem to feel any shame at all. Their cold dead eyes flashed everywhere. Edward had to admit that it was a hell of a deterrent. No one in their right mind wanted to end up like them. He heard a lady screaming a name – “John, John” – at one of the Walking Dead, before her neighbours calmed her down. The Walking Dead man she was shouting at, her husband or her brother, showed no sign of having even heard. He was a monster in human form, not through his own free choice, but through mental rape. Edward felt a sudden surge of hatred and wanted to gun them all down, but his training asserted itself. It wasn't the right time yet.

The Mayor stepped out of his car and held up his hands. The crowd cheered, as if they really meant it, yet Edward could detect hatred and resentment under the cheering. Perhaps the Mayor could as well, for his eyes narrowed and darkened, before he turned towards the stand. The media rushed forward to take pictures and images that would be broadcast to the world, telling the global population how America had bent over and spread its collective ass-cheeks for the aliens. It was a shame it wasn't going out live, Edward decided. They’d really give the global population a show.

He glanced around, wondering if he could see any aliens, but there were none. That didn’t mean anything. Rumour had it that the aliens had personal invisibility shields and other such science-fiction technology, although nothing had been proven one way or the other. He looked around for any suspiciously empty places and saw nothing, yet even that didn’t matter. They might be trying to make it look like a human show, but they’d have a rapid reaction force on standby somewhere nearby, and their cursed flying ships ready to intervene. He doubted the Mayor truly trusted the policemen. They probably hated him as much as anyone else.

The Major stood up in front of the podium. He looked fatter than he’d been the last time Edward had seen him, showing the signs of good living when two-thirds of the city’s population was on the verge of starvation and completely dependent on the aliens for food and water. Showing the people that he wasn't suffering alongside them couldn’t be a wise move, unless it was just a gesture of contempt for the people who’d elected him and put him into power. Perhaps it would have been different if a different Mayor had been elected, or perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered. Those people always rose to the top in a dictatorship.

“My people,” the Mayor boomed. He didn’t look to be wearing a mike, but that proved nothing. “My people, we have suffered because of insurgents on the streets, hacking away at the new order and condemning us to starvation and death. We have suffered because of the need for security measures to keep us safe from the last remnants of an older order. We have suffered, but no more!”

Edward glanced from face to face, wondering who would believe the shit the Mayor was saying, knowing that some would believe it. Perhaps it would be out of desperation, or fear, or ignorance and stupidity, but some would believe. Others would know that he was lying, yet would be too scared to speak out, probably wisely. No one knew where the disappeared went to, but no one believed that it would be pleasant. Rumour had it they went into alien bases and were never seen again.

“Today, we start training the men and women who will return order to our streets,” the Mayor proclaimed. “Today, we start cleaning up our city!”

Edward’s sense of the dramatic recognised the cue and he drew his Uzi from his coat pocket. The group’s machinist had modified the weapon, enabling it to fire explosive bullets as well as standard rounds. No soldier liked using explosive bullets, but Edward had wanted to send a message – besides, the aliens could cure plenty of injuries. He didn’t want to leave the Mayor crippled, but dead. The crowd recoiled from the weapon, too late. He sighted and fired in one smooth motion. The Mayor’s body exploded into chunks of flesh and blood.

The sound of shooting alerted others, who drew their own weapons and opened fire on the trainees and the media. Most of the policemen had hit the ground, drawing their own weapons, but doing little else. Edward had decided to gamble. The police might not fight to defend the Mayor or the aliens, but they certainly would fight in their own defence. The Walking Dead were the sole exception and they were all gunned down before they could start shooting into the crowd. To most of them, death had probably come as a relief.

He pulled a flare out of his other pocket and fired it into the air. It was easy to sympathise with the commander on the other side – one moment, everything had been normal; the next, everything had descended into chaos – yet there was no way of knowing how long it would be before he could adapt, react and overcome. Even a platoon of Marines would be stunned and lose vital seconds discriminating between genuine targets and panicking civilians. How long would it be before the alien reaction force arrived and sealed off the area? He drew his a second magazine from his belt, fired off the remaining explosive bullets towards a group of trainees cowering on the ground, and switched back to normal bullets with a private sigh of relief. Explosive bullets could be more dangerous to the shooter than the target at times. The remaining resistance fighters were already falling back amidst the civilians, or concealing their weapons as they moved away from the scene. A handful were still shooting at a pair of trainees who, with more training than Edward had anticipated, were shooting back at them from cover. One of the resistance fighters threw a grenade at them and killed them both before they could escape, or encourage the others to join the fight. If there were any survivors among the trainees, or the media, they were lying low and probably cursing their very distinctive uniforms.

“Keep moving,” he snapped, at one of the younger gang members. The boy – he couldn’t be more than seventeen years old – was still shooting towards the media. There hadn’t been time to cure the gang members of all their bad habits; he was spraying and praying, not firing short precise bursts. “Come on!”

An alien craft materialised overhead, already expelling hundreds of Orcs down towards the scene below. A couple of resistance fighters opened fire on them, trying to kill them before they hit the ground, but only a pair of aliens died. The remainder hit the ground and came up shooting, firing at resistance fighters, policemen and civilians indiscriminately. Edward saw a policeman empty his gun into one of the aliens before the alien’s friends killed him with a single shot. The remaining policemen were firing desperately at the aliens, who were hunting them and the civilians down. Edward wanted to stay and fight, to help them hold off the aliens, but it was hopeless. The aliens, deprived of their main collaborator, seemed intent on throwing away everything he’d built. It showed a chilling lack of concern for human life. Other alien craft were arriving, unloading additional warriors…

Edward took one final look and started running, concealing the Uzi under his coat. If the aliens hadn’t seen him clearly, they might not know who he was, or who the other resistance fighters were. They’d all gone through the sanitation process before leaving their base, making sure that they weren't carrying any ID and remaining off the alien system, but they’d have to move the base anyway. If one of the fighters had been wounded, rather than killed, he’d talk. The aliens would convert him into one of the Walking Dead and task him with tracking down his former allies. It was, he felt, cheating. The aliens didn’t play fair.

Behind him, the sound of weapons fire, both human and alien, was dying down. He hoped that that meant that they hadn’t killed everyone, including unarmed civilians, but there was no way to know and he feared the worst. The story would make good propaganda for the resistance, whatever had happened, and warn the aliens that they couldn’t count on unconverted policemen. Or perhaps they’d just start turning them all into the Walking Dead…no, that couldn’t happen. If they could convert people on such a scale, they’d have done it by now and won the war.

Afterwards, back at the base, he reviewed the losses. The Mayor was dead, along with at least ten Walking Dead and an unknown number of reporters. Seventeen resistance fighters had been killed, out of thirty. He rubbed his head as he checked the final reports. It almost felt as if it were worth it.


Chapter Thirteen


Chicago/Washington DC, USA (Occupied)

Day 116


“Look what the terrorists did to our city!”

Abigail looked down on a scene of total devastation. It wasn't as vast and impersonal as part of Washington, where the massive alien command ship had crashed, but somehow that made it worse. Dead bodies were scattered everywhere, human and alien, some of them mutilated or torn apart. She heard one of her fellow reporters being sick in the background as the wind shifted and blew the cloying stench of dead bodies towards them. She knew what dead humans smelled like, if they were given any chance to decay at all, but it was mixed in with an alien scent. She caught sight of green blood dripping from a dead alien – somehow, it hadn’t clotted as human blood would have done – and looked away as she felt her gorge rising in her throat. The entire area had been devastated.

The aliens had rounded her and a dozen other reporters up barely an hour ago, transporting them on one of their transport craft – it had looked rather like a flying saucer, to Abigail’s private amusement – to Chicago. The flight had taken only nine minutes and the ground had gone past so fast she’d wondered at the lack of any acceleration. Two of the reporters had fainted when they realised just what had happened and had been unceremoniously left in the transport to face the heat later. The others had been marched through Chicago to view the scene of the attack first hand. It wasn't a pleasant sight.

She had never been to Chicago before, nor did she have any particular feelings for it, but the devastation was almost as bad as what had happened in Washington. It was clear that Chicago had an active insurgency – or perhaps ongoing gang warfare, or both – underway, costing the aliens and their collaborators dearly. She’d seen a pair of Quislings, men wearing alien uniforms, staring down at the damage with shocked expressions. They had to know that the resistance had targeted them. All Quislings were targets, according to the underground newssheets being distributed around the internet and the world. None of them could relax for a moment.

The Mayor of Chicago wouldn’t be able to benefit from the lesson, for he was very clearly dead. Whoever had fired on him had hated him – no one could have inflicted that kind of damage without some degree of feeling being involved – and they’d blown his body apart beyond recovery, even by alien medical science. Abigail had had to write a handful of puff pieces about how the alien doctors had helped blind children to see again and wheelchair-bound adults to walk again, yet she was sure that their technology couldn’t put the Mayor back together, even if they considered it worth the effort. Shooting him down in the midst of a ceremony was a rather unambiguous demand for a recall election, unnecessary now.

But the resistance hadn’t stopped with the Mayor. Judging from the devastation, there had been at least twenty fighters in the crowd and they’d gunned down trainee Order Policemen and Walking Dead with abandon, before fading away as alien reinforcements arrived. She doubted that the Order Police would get many recruits from Chicago now – the news was all over the city – which meant that the aliens would have real problems controlling the human population, unless they brought in additional warriors or starved the population to death. They had most of the city in a total lockdown and no one could escape, unless they used underground tunnels. Had the aliens deduced their existence and moved to shut them down, or did they simply not care? Every time she thought that she had figured out the aliens, they did something to remind her that they were alien.

She looked over towards the bodies of some of the policemen – the Chicago Policemen, not the dead trainees – and blinked in surprise. She was no expert in wounds, but the policeman didn’t look as if bullets had killed him. She’d learned, years ago, that bullets actually inflicted much less damage than the movies suggested and it was quite possible for even seemingly fatal wounds to be survivable. There were no bullet holes marring the policeman’s chest, but a dark cauterised wound that had clearly burned through his body. She’d seen such wounds before. Alien weapons fired bursts of superheated plasma at their targets and they inflicted such damage. The aliens had killed the policeman…

Abigail found herself composing a story in her head, one that would never go out on any of the official news broadcasts. The policeman might have been working for the resistance, or he might have been working for the aliens – and they’d gunned him down anyway. It suggested that they didn’t really care about human collaborators, even the ones who worked for them willingly, regarding them as expandable assets. There was no way to know the truth, but as the story practically wrote itself in her head, she realised that it didn’t matter. It would be a legend to inspire resistance. Accuracy was not important. The policeman – she didn’t even know his name – would be branded as an unwilling collaborator, trying to keep his people safe, only to be killed by his new masters for failure. It would serve as a warning to all others who were trying to walk the same tightrope; the aliens might turn on them at any moment. The story wouldn’t be published officially, but there were ways and means. She had had a hand in inventing most of them.

Overcome by an impulse she didn’t recognise, she bent down and closed the dead policeman’s eyes, overcoming her revulsion at the thought of touching a dead body. Glancing around to ensure that none of the aliens, or her fellow reporters, had seen the odd gesture, she straightened up and followed the minders as they showed the reporters the bodies of innocent civilians caught up in the attack. The minder was one of the Walking Dead and it showed. He didn’t seem to have noticed that most of the women and children in the pile had clearly been killed by alien weapons, not human guns. Even the ones who had been killed by gunshots looked to have been scarred by alien weapons, suggesting that some of the Order Police had fired on them, rather than the resistance. Her dead policeman became even more of a hero. Had he fired on the aliens to prevent a massacre? The truth didn’t matter. By the end of the week, everyone would believe that he had done his duty and died heroically.

“The terrorists were tracked down by warriors and finally exterminated in a pitched battle,” the minder continued. Abigail didn’t know him personally, but she could recognise the type from a mile away. He might or might not know what he was talking about. He would know that it was his duty to spin the facts in favour of his superiors and that he had to keep the press away from any odd, inconvenient or embarrassing fact. His new loyalty to the aliens would give him enough clout to have any reporter who publicly dissented from the party line locked up or executed, if not converted into one of the Walking Dead. “Their supporters fled and will be tracked down and executed within the week.”

Abigail would have preferred to go home to bed, but the minder insisted on showing them the scene of several battles, all crawling with aliens. Some of the aliens weren't Warriors, or Leaders, but new types, alien castes she hadn’t seen before. A handful looked like crosses between Warriors and Leaders, others looked as if they were soft and cuddly. They seemed to swarm everywhere, working quickly to clear the area of everything, human and alien alike. She found herself staring at them and had to be encouraged along by another reporter. The small aliens worked with a speed and will that seemed utterly inhuman, even to her. There had been thousands of reports of little grey aliens kidnapping people from their homes. If the worker aliens had been seen in bad light, they could have passed for the Greys. Everyone knew, now, that the aliens had been performing research on human captives at the South Pole. No one knew why.

The smaller alien caste seemed to come in hundreds of different shapes and forms. They were all roughly humanoid, but their heads, eyes and even hands were different, with some clearly being built for heavy lifting and others for very delicate work. A handful had cyborg implants inserted into their bodies, or had even replaced their hands or limbs with metal tools, without regard for human sensibilities. Abigail hated to think about the public outcry if humans had started to replace their arms and legs with ugly mechanical counterparts, but perhaps the aliens didn’t care. They also seemed to have no sexual dimorphism. Around a third of the workers, she was sure, were female. She wasn't sure how she knew – perhaps it was female intuition – but there were differences. They just weren't as obvious as breasts and thighs.

Maybe they have problems telling our sexes apart, she thought, although she suspected that it was unlikely. They could have learned the significance of breasts easily – it wasn't as if American women covered themselves up so completely that breasts couldn’t be seen, at least in outline – and besides, women tended to be different from men. Maybe the aliens had problems telling humans apart, though; they didn’t seem to realise that their Walking Dead were instantly recognisable to other humans. Or perhaps they just didn’t care.

“Come on,” the minder said. She looked into his dead eyes and fought the urge to recoil. He might have been a typical asshole with power when he’d been operating of his own free will, but no one deserved to spend the rest of their life as an alien slave, whatever he’d been. She wouldn’t have condemned a lawyer to live as an inhuman human, although she’d always found lawyers to be pretty inhuman. “We have work to do.”

The remainder of the tour was pure propaganda. The minder showed them the alien medical centre and talked about how hundreds of patients with incurable diseases, barely kept in check by human medicine, had already been cured and how thousands more would be cured in the next few months. The scourge of AIDS, Cancer and thousands of other diseases would be wiped out in America, along with hunger and poverty. For some reason, he didn’t point out that democracy and free will would also be eradicated. She saw thoughtful expressions on a pair of reporters she knew by reputation, two lesbians who’d made a habit of attacking the government at every opportunity, no matter which Party held the White House. They might have realised, at last, that whatever could be said about the Federal Government, at least it was American – and human. The alien-backed government was composed of Walking Dead.

They passed a food station and watched as thousands of hungry citizens were fed. There was little new for her there – she’d been at the food stations in Washington to pick up her own rations – but the Chicago workers seemed to have a whole different attitude. Perhaps it was the late Mayor’s influence, but where the Washington servers had concentrated on feeding as many people as possible, the Chicago servers seemed to enjoy making people crawl. Abigail saw one of them hesitating just long enough to remind a father of four who was in charge, before handing over a ration of alien gruel and enough food bars to keep them going another day. She suspected, knowing what she knew about how the Quislings lived the high life, that most of the real food in the city had either been eaten or transferred to the secure areas, where it was eaten by those who collaborated enthusiastically. She remembered, with a sudden flicker of guilt, the buffet they’d been served at the first press conference she’d attended. It had been wonderful, the more so because she had believed that she would never have anything like it again. Bread, cheese, meat, salad…it had been a bribe, a threat and a promise. If she didn’t play ball, she would be going back to eating gruel and drinking cold water. None of the reporters had failed to take the message home.

“It’s time for you all to return to Washington,” the minder said. “You can write your stories and scripts on the way home. Photographs and video records will be provided.”

After you have ensured that anything that makes the aliens look bad has been removed, Abigail thought. It didn’t really matter. Everyone knew that the news was censored these days. She’d just have to bide her time and wait.

She wrote the puff piece on the flight home. This time, the alien craft moved slower, although far faster than anything below a military jet, giving her time to think. One thing she had learned was that the aliens – or the Walking Dead – had no sense for presentation. The story she wrote howled about how evil the resistance fighters were – and how glorious the aliens were – to the point where it bordered upon parody. She was fairly sure, like Iraq a decade before, that if someone added all the death figures together, they would conclude that the entire American population had been exterminated several times over. Anyone who read the article would know that it had been written with tongue firmly in cheek. She submitted it to her minder and watched as he read it and gave it the seal of approval. He hadn’t noticed.

It still puzzled her. The Walking Dead were loyal to the aliens, yet some of them seemed to possess a degree of free will and others…did not. The Vice President seemed only to appear at very formal ceremonies, which suggested that there was something wrong and the aliens were not altogether certain of their ability to control him. Others, General Howery among others, seemed to operate independently of alien supervision, serving the aliens with all the ability and experience they’d once used to serve America. Had the minder lost his sense of taste and judgement when they converted him into an unwilling collaborator, or was he engaged in a tiny rebellion of his own? There was no way to know.

She was privately amused to notice that she was almost alone in the canteen when she ate. Most of her fellow reporters weren't used to such carnage and were trying to forget it in the bar. The Washington Green Zone had a very well stocked bar, but she had too many secrets to risk getting drunk. She ate a quick meal – trying to forget the families accepting food from the aliens, or what they had to eat to remain alive – changed her outfit completely, and walked out of the Green Zone. She still made a point of sleeping in her own apartment – it had once belonged to a lobbyist who had fled Washington before the aliens invaded, or so she believed – and besides, it made an excellent cover for her other work. The basement under her apartment block had a computer system that had been set up without any link to her at all. It also had something more interesting.

The story she’d written in her head came out almost unbidden, creating a version of reality that might have been real. It wouldn’t matter what the truth actually was; people would want it to be real. She wrote about the policeman and his life, and his death. She wrote her version of how he had died and turned it into a real story. It would have won an award if awards were still being handed out – or at least she liked to think so. The Pulitzer Prize had become increasingly politicised in the last decade. She knew that stories that should have won the Prize had been ignored, in favour of inferior stories that never should have seen the light of day. She shook her head and pressed SEND. The story would be all over the internet by tomorrow.

It wasn’t the end of her work. The other item in the basement had been salvaged from a school, a hand-operated mimeograph. It might have been old technology, but with a little effort, she could print out hundreds of copies of the story, without electric power. It took her two hours to produce enough copies to make it worthwhile, but eventually she packaged them all up in a bundle and carried them up to the ground floor. She didn’t know who used the apartment that had once belonged to the building manager – once, she would have tried to find out, but it was too dangerous now – but it didn’t matter. She left the pile of printouts in the arranged place and went back upstairs to her apartment, closing the door behind her.

She’d arranged it all. The owner of the apartment worked for the resistance. He’d distribute the newssheets around Washington under cover of darkness, pushing the news around the city and embarrassing the aliens. They’d have to deny the story or ignore it, yet neither would be believed by the citizens. They might try to ban people reading the underground newspaper, but they’d rapidly discover that it would be impossible to enforce. They’d end up looking like fools. As long as she was careful, she could keep writing their lies and producing real news on the side, without ever being detected. Anyone could have written the original story. They’d never be able to trace it to her.

Besides, she knew, it was the only way she could sleep at night. She'd had her problems with America in the past, but it was her country and she’d do what she could to save it from the aliens, even at the risk of her own life. If reporters in the more restrictive countries could brave the threat of torture and death, how could she do any less? With that thought, she slipped into bed and fell asleep.


Chapter Fourteen


Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Occupied)

Day 120


“It’s not clear,” Sergeant Gavin Portree muttered. “We’ll have to go another way.”

Sergeant Kalid Burke shook his head. “There is no other way,” he muttered back. He’d have preferred a throat mike and subvocalising his words, but there was too great a chance that the aliens would pick up on it. The general level of tech in Saudi Arabia wouldn’t have produced such equipment and none of the Saudi Special Forces units had had access to it. “We’ll have to wait.”

Kalid’s mother had been from Saudi Arabia, born to a surprisingly liberal family. Educated abroad, she’d refused to return to the life of a Saudi woman – the lucky ones were second-class citizens – and had married an Englishman to gain citizenship and remain behind in the United Kingdom. Her family hadn’t bothered to press the point, giving her a considerable sum of money and wishing her luck. Kalid had grown up on a diet of hearing how unpleasant Saudi Arabia was from his mother and how important it was to cede no ground at all to extremists of all religions. Kalid’s own Islam was pretty nominal. The only reason he didn’t drink or smoke was because it would have upset his mother to see him indulging. When he’d turned eighteen, he'd joined the British Army and after a successful two years with the Rifles, he'd passed Selection and transferred to the SAS.

He could pass as a Saudi and so he'd operated covertly in the country before the aliens had invaded, hitting terrorist bases and terrorist supporters as part of the Chalk Doctrine. Kalid had also come to realise that his mother had been right. Saudi’s prosperity was built on oil and slavery – they’d imported millions of guest workers to do all the dirty labour in the Kingdom – and growing undercurrents of change promised to sweep away the Princes and create either a democratic state or an Islamic Fundamentalist State. If the latter, he doubted that anyone would notice the difference, apart from the Princes. The entire country had been on a knife-edge for years and when the aliens had invaded, it had crumbled within a day. The aliens had crushed the Saudi military and occupied the cities. The remainder of the state had just rotted away.

Kalid himself would have been quite happy to leave the Saudis in the mess they’d created for themselves, but the British Government had been keen to cause as much trouble for the aliens as possible. Kalid didn’t know why, but he guessed that it had something to do with the fact that the aliens wanted the entire world – and causing trouble for them in one place might buy Britain some time. His insertion into the country and passage to Riyadh had been surprisingly easy. The aliens hadn’t locked down the cities completely. If the population had fled out into the desert, they would have all starved to death.

But then, Riyadh itself was an unnatural city. If the rest of the country had decided to stop supporting it, the city would have wasted away very quickly. The Saudis spent literally billions of pounds every year maintaining their castles of sand, everything from growing food to supplying water and power. The result was a metropolis that was far more fragile than most people guessed. The aliens held the life of the entire population in their clawed hands.

His eyes followed the alien force as it moved down the centre of the road. Like Britain and – he’d heard – most of Europe, private cars had been banned from the roads. It was ironic to think of Saudi being short of fuel, but it was – besides, the aliens had a habit of shooting up any vehicle that came charging towards them. Saudi men were notoriously bad drivers – the women weren't allowed to drive at all, something Kalid knew for a fact was not supported by Islamic Law – and the remainder of the population probably considered it a relief. Besides, the aliens had made quite a few examples of people who’d dissented. Their bodies hung from stands they’d erected, purely to intimidate the population. It might have been working.

“Filthy quislings,” he heard Gavin say. Gavin’s mere presence in the country would have caused uproar before the aliens had invaded. He wasn't just an infidel. He was an atheist. Kalid couldn’t care less – he was halfway there himself – but he wasn't going to risk a religious disagreement with their allies. “Look at them, taunting the population.”

Kalid followed his gaze. The quislings were former guest workers, men and women who’d been abused badly by their former masters, owners in all, but name. They’d been beaten, abused, raped and sometimes murdered, after being lured to Saudi with promises of good jobs and high pay. They’d formed the backbone of several Islamic movements in the country, yet they had never been organised into a rebel force, for the clerics were just as racist as the rest of the country. The aliens had shattered the previous power structure and found, in the chaos, that they were welcomed by the guest workers. No one could have asked for more cooperative allies. They’d even helped the aliens to root out and destroy the remains of the religious police, the Mutaween, although they were no loss. The religious police had helped to recruit young Saudis to go fight in Iraq, where he’d killed many of them back when the world had made sense. The part of him that still clung to Islam whispered that with their deaths, the average depth of Islamic belief in the country had risen sharply. No one with the slightest belief in divine vengeance could have done half the atrocities they'd committed over the years.

“They’re not the target,” he reminded his friend. Truthfully, he didn’t care about the collaborators, provided that they didn’t get in his way. The aliens had handed out enough weapons – captured, he suspected, from a Saudi weapons dump that had fallen into their hands – to ensure blood on the streets, if they ever left. “Come on.”

The alien patrol and the escorting quislings – and their handful of naked prisoners – had vanished into the distance. They’d passed without any attempt to bar their way, even by the most outraged citizens. Kalid knew why. Unlike Western troops in Iraq, the aliens had one simple response to any defiance; they opened fire. In the early days, he’d heard, the young men of the city had gathered to throw stones at the aliens, even a handful of makeshift weapons. The aliens had slaughtered them and that put a stop to that. Car bombs and suicide bombers had had more success, but the aliens were always on the alert. They didn’t hesitate to fire on any suspicious target.

His mother’s family had once owned several businesses in Saudi Arabia, although they'd lost two when a Prince decided he wanted them for his own profits. He'd run the businesses into the ground the following year, according to his mother, and eventually sold them on to one of his cronies. The thought of giving back stolen property had never occurred to him, although his mother had said that her father hadn’t wanted them back afterwards. The Prince had made an Ayn Rand villain look clever and competent.

“Here,” he said, finally. The house clearly belonged to a wealthy family, yet it hadn’t been looted by the quislings or raided by the aliens. It crossed his mind that it could be a trap, yet…he didn’t dare pass up on the opportunity. They had to make contact with whatever remained of the official resistance. “Keep your mouth shut, remember, unless it’s in English.”

“Yes, boss,” Gavin said. “Remember not to drool too loudly over ankles and bright eyes.”

Kalid elbowed him and walked up to the male entrance, knocking once on the door. It opened, revealing a male secretary who glanced at them both nervously, before silently beckoning them in. Kalid removed his shoes in the lobby and motioned for Gavin to do the same. There was no point in given offence when they needed help. It had been a year since he'd been in a similar house, but the layout was surprisingly familiar. His mother had brought more from her heritage than just a desire to escape and run free. Whoever had decorated the house had a similar eye for detail.

“You would be Kalid,” a voice said, in unaccented English. “Welcome to my house.”

Kalid took a breath as he studied his grandfather. He’d seen pictures, but he wasn't quite sure what he expected, even from a man so liberal that he didn’t beat his servants. That policy had probably saved his life. They’d watched from a distance as masters who had beaten or raped their servants had been hung, or simply gunned down by the aliens. The old man had a long beard and signs of a lifetime spent at prayer, but his eyes were bright and he was clearly no fool. In a different environment, he would have become a captain of industry or the next Bill Gates.

“Thank you,” he said, finally. He had no idea how the old man felt about him. Sure, his mother had been married for three years before Kalid had been born, but there was no escaping the fact that she had married an infidel and given birth to an infidel son. “My mother sends her love.”

“She always was a wonderful child,” his grandfather said. “Let us talk of other matters for the moment.”

A woman wearing a headscarf came in and silently served hot coffee and sweet honey cakes. Gavin didn’t look openly at her, but they were both very aware of her presence. They’d seen too many people injured or killed because they had respected foreign traditions and not realised in time that the person wearing the veil wanted to kill them. His grandfather didn’t seem to care. They spent the next hour talking about nothing in particular, something that he’d found maddening on deployment. Arabs could spend hours talking about nothing, enquiring after family and friends, before getting to the point. His grandfather, the businessman, didn’t take as long as some he'd known in Afghanistan.

“So I understand that you’re here to help us,” he said, finally. “How could you possibly help us? What can you give us that we couldn’t already get for ourselves?”

Kalid recognised it as the opening round and smiled inwardly. “First things first,” he said. “Is this place secure?”

“If it wasn't, I would have been put in front of the crowds at chop-chop square and beheaded,” his grandfather said, dryly. He was referring to the area used for public executions. The criminals – or people accused of crimes they hadn’t committed – were killed in front of the watching crowds. “Your generation always thinks that us old men were only born yesterday. It’s really quite amusing when you think you invented sex!”

He snorted. The Religious Police tried their hardest to prevent young Saudis from engaging in illicit sex, but they had only limited success. Young men used cell phones to talk to young women, perhaps even meet up with them for a brief encounter. They sometimes did everything, but actual penetrative sex. A young woman found not to be a virgin on her wedding night would be lucky if she was only beaten and divorced. Young males often crossed the causeway to Bahrain and spent days drinking, dancing and pursuing orgasmic release with the whores there. The spectacle of young males drunk for the first time was not for the faint of heart.

“I know what I'm doing,” his grandfather assured him. “What are you doing?”

Kalid paused to gather his thoughts. His grandfather had been involved with a very covert plan to launch a coup against the Saudi Government and the clerics alike, one that would have transformed Saudi into a modern state – or at least one that had a better future than religious war and genocide. They'd been carefully laying their plans when the aliens invaded, destroyed the previous government and the clerics alike, leaving them alone against an army of quislings. He wouldn’t be given to taking chances on even vague promises from London. No one in the region believed Western promises, even if there were boots on the ground backing them up.

“You had contacts among the army, but those contacts have been destroyed,” he said, finally. Intelligence suggested that any surviving Saudi soldiers would be in camps and therefore out of reach. After the American resistance had punched open several camps, the aliens had tightened security on the remaining camps in North Africa and the Middle East. An attempt by Algerian resistance fighters to liberate their comrades had resulted in a bloody slaughter. “You may have young men and women who are willing to fight, but they need training and equipment. We can supply you with both.”

“There are possible benefits to be had from cooperating with the aliens,” his grandfather countered. “I could assist them and gain power and influence that way.”

Kalid recognised the underlying question. “Grandfather…the world has changed,” he said. “If the Iraqis or Iranians or Americans had invaded, you would have something to bargain with. You would have something they needed. They wouldn’t be coming with the intention of staying forever. This is an alien force intent on occupying the entire world for the rest of time. At best, humans would be second-class citizens on our own world. At worst, we’d be exterminated. What do you have to bargain with that stands against that?”

He learned forward. “You know that Saudi produces nothing the aliens need, even oil,” he added. “As far as they are concerned, the vast empty space of the Arabian Desert is just what they need for a home. They’ve been landing vast numbers of their settlers in North Africa and it won’t be long before they start expanding over here. What does your country have that makes keeping you around worthwhile? What’s to stop them simply burning down your cities and exterminating you like rats?”

It was the worst-case scenario, but it sounded horrifyingly possible. For all they knew, the aliens regarded genocide as a perfectly viable tactic. Faced with resistance in an area they barely needed, they might decide to simply remove the human population. It boded ill for Washington and most of the other occupied cities, yet they had factories and businesses that the aliens could put to work for them. Saudi had very little industry and none of it was worth much aggravation.

“The scorpions might tell them to exterminate us all,” his grandfather mused. It took Kalid a moment to realise that he meant the quislings, the guest workers. That, too, was terrifyingly possible. The guest workers hated their former masters. Their new masters treated them far better. “They might get what they wanted.”

“They might,” Kalid agreed. He pressed his advantage. “You called us and insisted on a meeting here. I don’t think that selling the two of us out would get you very far and I think you know it as well. You want to resist them and we can help. What do you want, Grandfather?”

His grandfather smiled. “We want our women and children moved out of the country,” he said, finally. Kalid made careful note of the ‘we.’ “Can your superiors do that?”

Kalid hesitated. The blunt truth was that they couldn’t all be moved to Britain. If it had been logistically possible, they wouldn’t have been welcomed. Jordan was still clinging to some semblance of civilisation, but they wouldn’t want a few hundred Saudi refugees either. There were plenty of smugglers working the coastlines of North Africa who might agree to smuggle them out of the area, but where would they go? Anywhere that might take them would hardly be safe, unless…

“We might be able to take them somewhere safe, if only for a short period of time,” he said, finally. It would require some careful planning and, at bottom, it would be a significant risk. “How many are we talking about?”

“Several hundred in all,” his grandfather said. “Can you move that many?”

“We’ll have to see,” Kalid said. “Now, about your people…”

***

His grandfather had offered them separate suites, but Kalid had insisted that they share a room. Gavin had wondered aloud if it had been his mother’s room when she was a child, causing Kalid to laugh bitterly. His mother’s room would have been in the female side of the house – there were limits to how liberal his grandfather could be with the Religious Police breathing down his neck – and no males would be allowed entry, except perhaps her brothers. She’d had four of them, two had gone into business, one had left the country and vanished somewhere, and the fourth had become a cleric. He’d been killed in a drone strike against a terrorist complex two years ago. It was just possible that Kalid himself had called in the drone strike, but he preferred not to think about that. It hardly mattered to him.

Gavin made a set of symbols with his hands. His grandfather might be friendly, but they were in enemy territory. The room was probably bugged. Kalid read the SAS sign language with the ease of long experience. Can he be trusted?

I think so, Kalid signed back. His father had warned him to be careful of his grandfather, although he’d thought that they’d never meet. The old man, he’d said, was terrifyingly smart. He doesn’t benefit from turning us over to the aliens.

Hell of a gamble, Gavin confirmed. What do we do if he does betray us?

We kill him and we get the hell out of here, back to the sub, Kalid signalled. It wasn't something he wanted to dwell on, but if the universe had been fair, there would have been no need for the SAS or any other armed force. Get ready for dinner. After food, we start preparing for action.


Chapter Fifteen


Washington DC, USA (Occupied)

Day 125


“Don’t mention this to anyone,” Jasmine said, “but take a look at this.”

She handed Karen a sheaf of papers, roughly stapled together by someone in a hurry. The top sheet was marked Committees of Correspondence: The Voice of America and included a dramatic picture of an old-style soldier from the War of Independence stabbing an alien warrior with a bayonet. The underlying blurb included a list of names that were clearly assumed, ranging from John Henry to Wilkes. She opened the sheaf and read the first story. It spoke at great length about a policeman who had lost his life trying to prevent the aliens from gunning down helpless civilians.

“I don’t believe it,” she said. She was in a good position to know that most of the official news statements were nothing more than bullshit, at best. Daisy was a firm believer in giving people only what she wanted them to hear and now that she controlled Public Relations, she had all the power she needed to shape public opinion. “Where did you get this?”

“It was sent around in the mail this morning,” Jasmine said. Karen could work out the implications for herself. Someone in the Green Zone – apart from her, of course – was working for the resistance. She looked at Jasmine and found her look returned by polite incomprehension, although she was sure that there was more to the maid than a pretty face. Perhaps she was distributing the underground newspaper to remind the collaborators that there was a whole other world out there beyond the walls. “I heard that they were transmitted over the internet and printed out wherever…”

Karen smiled. The days when only a handful of newspapers could print newsletters were long over. Thousands upon thousands of people had access to printers and photocopiers, so making thousands of copies of a document published over the internet wouldn’t take very long at all. The only dangerous bit would be distributing them around the city, but with a little care they could either avoid being caught or pass the task on to street children, who would be happy to help in exchange for sweets or a little food for their families. The aliens might catch any number of them without growing any closer to the true culprits.

Daisy’s going to shit a brick, she thought, as she skimmed through the remainder of the paper. Some of the stories looked exaggerated or made-up – just because it was published by the resistance didn’t mean that it was all true – yet others were horrifyingly plausible. One story covered men and women forced off their land in Flyover Country, driven away to make room for the mass expansion of alien colony settlements on American soil. Daisy had been told, in no uncertain terms, to make no reference to alien settlements at all in the daily broadcasts, even if it was an issue of vital importance. She would faint when she saw the underground newspaper. She wouldn’t even be able to put out her own version of the truth to counter it.

She finished reading the paper and closed it, before handing it back to Jasmine. Keeping it with her was simply too great a risk. Daisy might trust her implicitly, but the aliens wouldn’t trust anyone who wasn’t one of the Walking Dead. They might decide to search her room at any moment, or they might order one of the maids to search for them, or…there were too many possibilities and she knew better than to take risks. Now that she was sending information out of the Green Zone to the President, she had to remain in place for as long as possible.

It helped that there was no easy way out of Washington. She’d considered the problem and even researched it, but the only official way out of the city was through an alien blockade or on one of their transports, and both were blocked to her. She was sure that there were tunnels and sewers under the city, but she hadn’t known where they were in San Francisco, let alone Washington. Someone who had lived in the city all their life might not know either. It wasn't something the average person bothered to find out. The President’s last email had promised that the resistance would try to find a way out for her if she was discovered, but she didn’t place much faith in that promise. How could they help her at such a distance? The only option she seemed to have was to prepare for suicide at a moment’s notice, yet she wasn't even sure how to do that!

She looked up at Jasmine and noticed the bruise for the first time. “What happened to your eye?”

Jasmine winced. “One of the men down the corridor thought that I wasn’t being cooperative enough,” she said, rubbing the darkening skin. Something in her eyes told Karen not to push any further. “He decided that I needed a lesson in manners.”

“I’m sorry,” Karen said. Ideas ran through her head. She could badmouth the person who’d hurt Jasmine to Daisy, or to the aliens themselves. She could manipulate the information going in and out of the computer system to suggest that that particular collaborator was untrustworthy and deserving of a bullet in the back of the head, or at the very least conversion into one of the Walking Dead. All of the possibilities risked drawing attention to her and that could prove fatal. “I wish…I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Jasmine said. Now Karen knew to look for it, she could see that Jasmine was having trouble moving without pain. “I'll just take longer each morning to do your hair, all right?”

Karen nodded angrily. She still found the idea of servants who did everything for her creepy. It wasn't likely, but she had a mental vision of herself dissolving into a fat ugly blob while servants took care of her every need and want. Some of the collaborators in the building were already running to fat, but she was determined not to become like them. If she did have to run for her life, she’d need to be healthy and fit.

“You’re welcome to do everything you think I need,” she said, reluctantly. She took one last look at the underground newspaper before Jasmine hid it somewhere in her bag of equipment. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Jasmine countered. “Take care of yourself.”

It wasn't until Jasmine was out of the door and she was alone that Karen started to shake. The final page of the underground newspaper had included a list of collaborators. It wasn't a complete list – it wasn't the list she’d sent to the President – but it included several very familiar names. They included Dave Howery, Daisy Fairchild…and Karen herself. The writer had drawn no distinction between the normal willing collaborators, the Walking Dead, and people who were slipping information to the resistance. He had concluded by urging every American to take a shot at a collaborator whenever they had the chance. She might be shot by someone who didn’t know that she was on the same side!

Perhaps they think they’re doing me a favour, she thought. She hadn’t signed her real name to the documents she’d sent the President, but it wouldn’t require much intelligence to deduce the identity of Deep Throat. The President might have kept it to himself or only shared the details with his most trusted allies, yet with the Walking Dead conversion process, could anyone be trusted to keep a secret? Dave Howery had started life as a patriotic soldier, willing to lay down his life for America. Now he served her enemies, bringing all his considerable experience and competence to the task of crushing resistance in his own country. She wished, not for the first or last time, that he had listened to her. An ally in such a high place would have been useful.

She picked herself up off the bed and checked out her appearance in the mirror. She looked stunning, in her own opinion, thanks to Jasmine and expensive cosmetics she’d never been able to afford before. She’d wanted to wear her normal working clothes, but Daisy had insisted that she wore only expensive business suits and enough perfume to suffocate a mouse. Karen had wondered if Daisy was trying to subtly annoy the aliens, yet if the aliens noticed, they didn’t seem to care. She was sure that about half the aliens she’d seen were female, but if they wore perfume or revealing clothes to attract mates, she’d seen no sign of it. For all she knew, the aliens only mated at a certain time of the year and otherwise had no interest in sex at all.

The hotel had more permanent residents these days, even though several hundred had been farmed out to other buildings in Washington, or transported to administrative centres in several other cities. Mayor Hundred of New York – who’d welcomed the aliens to the city back when they’d come to address the United Nations – had vanished into the underground, along with most of his administration, and the aliens had had to set up a collaborative authority from scratch. It wasn't easy. A resistance fighter with a weird sense of humour had rigged up the mayoral chair in New York to blow when someone sat on it, vaporising the unlucky collaborator who’d sat down on it first. Others fired on collaborator policemen and Order Police, or left IEDs scattered around the area, just to discourage the aliens from acting rapidly. Daisy’s broadcasts had offered a vast amount of food and supplies to the person who handed Mayor Hundred over to the aliens, but so far no one had come forward and tipped them off. Anyone would think that they didn’t like the aliens.

She stepped into the War Room and nodded to Daisy, standing on the other side of a large map of a city. She didn’t recognise it at all until she saw CHICAGO written at the bottom of the map. Someone had been drawing on it with a marker pen, outlining the Green Zone and marking the location of resistance attacks, IED strikes and other incidents. It didn’t take her long to realise that the active resistance in Chicago was more active than she’d been led to believe, even by the underground newspaper.

“The situation has become intolerable,” Daisy said, angrily. She was glaring down at the map, as if an act of will could force it into showing a better picture. “We lost nineteen of our allies in the last four days!”

General Howery looked up at her. “What exactly did you expect?” He asked, coldly. One of the curses of being one of the Walking Dead, Karen had deduced, was that anything that might have prevented you giving good advice – self-preservation or regulations – was ignored. General Howery couldn’t help himself. He had to be loyal to the aliens in more than just name. “We killed over a hundred civilians and several policemen.”

“The insurgents killed the civilians,” Daisy countered sharply. “We cannot be blamed for their decision to stage an attack in the heart of a crowd.”

“And how else did you expect them to act?” General Howery said. “The Mayor of Chicago was a priority target for them, a much-disliked figure at the best of times, only holding his office because he was a master at manipulating local politics. He would probably not have survived the next election even if the People hadn’t arrived to reshape the world. They had a window of opportunity and jumped right through it.”

His voice hardened. “And then the Order Police opened fire on civilians and the real policemen moved to stop them,” he added. “You must know that the police – most of the police – weren't following orders because they loved the thought of working for the People. They were following orders because they believed that it was the only way to prevent a disaster. The Warriors are not suited to patrolling civilian streets and keeping down criminal gangs. They’re a blunt instrument to be used to hammer anything that comes out into the open. We needed the policemen to cooperate willingly. The policemen who were killed by the warriors…they ensured that most of the police will no longer cooperate.”

“Then round up their families and make an example of them,” Daisy snapped. “Or disarm and arrest the remaining policemen and convert them to your way of thinking.”

“Many of their families have already vanished,” General Howery said. “They may have slipped into the underground, or gone to stay with friends, or…be that as it may, the Chicago Police Force is no longer reliable.”

“If it ever was,” Ethos said.

Karen jumped. Somehow, she hadn’t seen the alien. He’d been standing in the corner, watching and listening as his human servants argued. One dark eye met hers for a second, before he looked away and down towards the map. She wondered what the alien made of the human buildings. Ethos seemed perfectly comfortable in the hotel, yet the handful of images she’d seen of alien buildings out in Flyover Country were very different from human constructions. The alien sense of what a building should look like would have daunted Howard Roark.

“We need to regain control of the city rapidly before resistance spreads into other cities,” Ethos continued. “We also need most of the population alive. Starving them out is not a viable option. We need to act rapidly. General?”

“We will be transferring several units from the Order Police to Chicago to replace the dead and wounded,” General Howery said. “We will also be transferring units recruited from prison camps in the Middle East…sir, that is not wise.”

Ethos’s great head tilted slightly, silently inviting General Howery to continue.

“The average Middle Eastern soldier is useless except in a pre-planned battle,” General Howery said. “They can barely cope with stone-throwing insurgents and backing up corrupt governments and clerics. Even if we brought in tens of thousands of them and they were all reliable, they would provoke Americans to even greater fits of fury and insurgency. The average Joe Sixpack hates Arabs. He sees them as ungrateful little bastards who drain America’s resources, beat women, support terrorism and generally don’t deserve to exist. Putting any foreign army on American soil would trigger an uprising, but Arabs…they’ll be massacred in their thousands.”

Karen couldn’t disagree with his logic, but she kept her mouth firmly closed. The President would need to hear of the threat before it was too late, but she would have to have more to tell him. If the aliens deployed Arab soldiers to American soil, the results would not be pleasant…and then it occurred to her that the aliens might not care if all the Arabs were killed. They claimed to have thousands of prisoners from the brief invasion of the Middle East and they might regard them all as expendable. It would suit the most ruthless of minds to expend them all on crushing resistance in Chicago.

“There are other considerations,” Ethos informed him. “You will see to deploying and arming the Arabs when they arrive. They will be loaded onboard transports within the day and transferred to Chicago.”

“Please will you make additional Warrior support available,” General Howery said. “If the Arabs are just going to soak up bullets, we can at least move the Warriors up after them and complete the destruction of the resistance.”

“Do what you think most suitable,” Ethos said. The alien turned away slightly, and then turned back. “And the countryside?”

“We have teams heading out now to complete the registration process and start integrating the countryside into the new order,” Daisy assured him. “It will also give us insight into how the resistance is operating outside the cities and allow us to isolate and target their bases. Who knows? We might even encounter the President’s hole and drag him out to present him to the country.”

Karen felt her face twist and hoped that none of them had noticed. Daisy wouldn’t say a word, Ethos might not recognise the expression, but Howery would…and if he had concerns, he would take them to the alien leader. A word from him could mean a date with the conversion team and becoming one of the Walking Dead. It would be the end of her life as a free woman…but then, she wasn’t really free as long as she was in the Green Zone. Daisy could dispose of her within seconds.

“Keep me informed,” Ethos said.

The alien stepped out of the door and vanished. Karen tried to form a mental image of an IED exploding inside the Green Zone and blowing the alien to bits, but no one had managed to smuggle any explosives inside after the aliens had sealed off the area. A handful had tried and had been detected and captured. Two of them had become Walking Dead and betrayed dozens of their comrades. The remainder had simply been executed, or transferred to a holding camp somewhere out in the countryside. No one, not even Daisy, knew what happened to them then.

“Karen, start producing a list of buildings that we can use to house the Arabs when they arrive,” Daisy said, as soon as Ethos was gone. “Lay on food, women and anything else they want.”

“Of course, Director,” Karen said. “Is there anything else you wish me to do?”

“Let me have the list as soon as it’s finished,” Daisy said. “Be off with you.”

Karen shrugged and headed down to her own office. The aliens had constructed a massive database representing Chicago and all of the other cities. It was easy enough to isolate buildings that might serve to house large numbers of troops. She considered playing around with the requirements to ensure that they had an uncomfortable stay, but she knew that it would be futile – and lethal if it were traced back to her. As she worked, she composed her message to the President in her head. She’d send it as soon as she went off duty…

…And the aliens would discover just how nasty the war could become.


Chapter Sixteen


Mannington, Virginia, USA

Day 127


“They’re coming, Sheriff.”

Sheriff Chris French nodded curtly. Every instinct in his body – he’d been a Military Policeman back when he’d served in the Army, before retiring and being voted into office – was screaming at him to unlimber the stockpile of heavy weapons they’d salvaged and open fire on the oncoming convoy. He’d studied images sent back by a recon team and he hadn’t been too impressed. The Order Police might have snazzy uniforms – the historians in Mannington had commented that someone had been inspired by the Nazis – but they didn’t know much about operating a convoy. Their vehicles were all bunched up, far too close together for comfort. An ambush would probably have wiped the entire convoy out.

But that would have merely brought down alien wrath on Mannington. Its status as a hub of the resistance would have been revealed, breaking the chain binding the different units together and allowing the aliens to convert more people into their Walking Dead. The thought of what he could tell them, if they made him utterly loyal to them, was chilling. He’d seriously considered fleeing into the countryside and only the thought of his family had kept him in the town. They had to get through this peacefully. It was the only option.

“I know,” he said. He keyed his radio. “No resistance. Keep the guns out of sight and leave them in the hides. Do not fire without a direct order from me or Deputy Jack. I say again, do not fire.”

The barricade across the road, unmanned, wouldn’t deter them for a moment, but a team of teenage boys was already removing part of it, allowing the convoy to enter town. It was composed of a mixture of vehicles, including a set of Bradley Armoured Fighting Vehicles and four trucks that had been converted into troop transports. Chris wasn't sure if the odd disparities in equipment were a result of shortages, or if the more standard troop transports had been deployed elsewhere. The aliens had certainly captured a vast amount of equipment when they’d descended on the military bases, so perhaps they were working their way through it and putting what they could back into service. It was an oddly reassuring thought. They had limits on how much of their own technology they could deploy. He caught sight of the boxy Bradley as the lead vehicle loomed into view and smiled to himself. The Bradley was tough, but IEDs had taken them out in Iraq and – if necessary – the same trick would work in America.

He’d been curious to see if the patrol would be led by an alien, but it rapidly became clear that the leader was human, one of the Walking Dead. Chris looked up into his eyes and shivered. He’d helped capture a serial killer who’d kidnapped, raped and murdered three little girls before he’d been caught, yet the serial killer hadn’t been anything like as inhuman. The Walking Dead man might as well be a zombie. There was no feeling behind those eyes. No pride, no shame, no greed…he was nothing, but a servant for an alien power.

“Welcome to Mannington,” he said, holding out a hand. The Walking Dead man looked at it as if he wasn't quite sure what to do with it. For a moment, Chris caught sight of the real personality behind the face, a man screaming inside his own head. “What can we do for you?”

“I am Colonel Anders,” the man said. His voice sounded completely devoid of all feeling. “I have orders to bring Mannington into the system for rebuilding the country and adapting to the new world order. You will assemble your entire population on the playing fields while we search your town. Please be advised that public possession of firearms and military equipment is forbidden by governmental edict and any of your people found with a firearm at a later date will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Chris winced inwardly. Mannington, like many rural towns, had its fair share of Second Amendment fanatics, even before President Chalk had rendered all gun control legislation null and void, in preparation for the invasion everyone knew was coming. He’d issued orders to hide as many weapons as possible, but if merely possessing them after the registration was a death sentence…there would be blood on the streets.

“I understand,” he said. If the Walking Dead man had been human, he would have tried to ingrate himself with him, but he doubted that there was any point in trying. “I’ll assemble the people now.”

He walked back to his car and issued the orders. No one would be happy, but they’d all cooperate. Mannington’s survival depended on remaining unnoticed, yet statistically he was sure that there was at least one rat among the town’s population. The various books on insurgency and counter-insurgency he’d read had suggested that there would always be someone who was vulnerable to pressure, either through greed or a desperate urge to preserve their families. It wasn't going to be a pleasant experience for anyone. He just hoped that everyone would have the sense to keep their heads down and remain unnoticed.

***

Greg Ross held Nancy’s hand as they were urged towards the playing field, where he’d spent many happy afternoons watching kids playing baseball. Nancy had once told him that she wanted to be a cheerleader when she grew up, along with a hundred other possible occupations for a girl in America. She had had her name down for the shooting team – no one had realised that she was too young until the first day – and went on every camping trip the town’s different groups offered. It was her father’s influence, Greg considered, before quashing that thought as hard as he could. He had to remember that, as far as the Order Police were concerned, Nancy only had one father.

The playing fields were surrounded by a pair of buttoned down tanks, their weapons not quite pointing in the general direction of the grumbling townspeople. It was a threat Greg took note of, knowing that machine guns would tear through them all in seconds, leaving them all dead or dying on the field. He held Nancy close as the final people arrived, hoping that none of the Order Police would take a liking to her. There were rumours about some of the other mass registrations, where girls had been dragged away from their families and never seen again. He caught sight of a pair of Order Policemen and realised that they were scared, under the air of steely determination they were trying to produce. They reminded him of the first time he’d met Nicolas, when he wasn't quite sure what to expect from a trained soldier. They looked as if they were far too jumpy. He braced himself, preparing to push Nancy to the ground and roll on top of her to provide what little cover he could, but nothing happened. No one fired a shot.

An hour passed slowly as the Order Police searched the town, smashing their way through locked doors and windows. It sounded as if the entire town was being ransacked and he heard angry rumblings from people who had lived in the town for years, but no one made a move. The tanks’ mere presence firmly quashed any thoughts of resistance. The kids ran around at the edge of the playing field, barely affected by the atmosphere, even though they never went anywhere near the tanks. Greg watched parents watching their kids and shared their fear. Nancy might not have been his, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t want to see her die.

Finally, the Order Police returned to the playing field. “Attention,” the leader said. There was something badly wrong with him, as if he had drugged himself into a stupor. His eyes seemed inhumanly cold. “You will now be registered and provided with an identity card. You will carry the card with you at all times. Losing or damaging the card will result in arrest and possible detention, certainly a large fine. Failure to present it when requested by a law enforcement agent will result in arrest and possible detention. Any child under ten years old will be counted on the mother’s identity card and will be given a card of his or her own when they reach ten years of age. Presenting false information will be considered a serious offence and will result in arrest and detention when discovered.”

There was a pause. “Once you have been registered, you will be provided with a small pamphlet explaining your rights and responsibilities in the new world order,” he added. “Knowingly breaking any of the new laws will result in arrest and detention.” He pointed towards a set of tables at the end of the field. “Line up by families and be registered.”

Greg muttered under his breath, but did as he was told. He’d researched the issue online when Nicolas had mentioned it to him and discovered that it was a means of population control. A person who had an ID Card could be tracked; a person without one, and without a valid excuse, could be arrested on suspicion. It could also be used to identify families and other links between people. A powerful database and a handful of search tools could turn up connections most people never even dreamed existed.

The line moved slowly, but surely, until he was finally facing a bored-looking young man with a shaven head. “Name, please,” he said, in a bored monotone that suggested he’d done it a thousand times before, if not more. He rattled off a list of details Greg had to provide and seemed unconcerned about the answers. Greg felt his heart beating faster when he claimed Nancy Ross as his daughter, but the Order Policeman didn’t seem to notice anything wrong. “And finally…”

He held out a scanner and invited Greg to touch it. A beam of warm blue light passed over his fingers. A moment later, an image of his fingerprints appeared in front of him. He’d seen them before, back when he’d been dared into a Jail and Bail scheme for charity, but this time it was real.

“We know who you are now,” the young man informed him. For the first time, he sounded human. He reminded Greg of the football jock who’d had all the girls in High School, before he got into heavy drugs and ended up in jail. “Don’t even think that you can fool us by changing your fingerprints. We’ve got your DNA as well.”

Greg felt his heart nearly stop as Nancy’s hands were pressed to the same scanner. A moment later, the Order Policeman sniggered. “Your wife cheated on you, buddy,” he said, with a nasty laugh. Greg stared at him in horror. It was easy to pretend that the horror wasn't about exposing Nancy’s real father. “She’s not yours.”

Nancy, thankfully, kept quiet. “Her mother died a long time ago,” Greg said, truthfully. “I never…”

He broke off. “Seven years with a brat who isn’t yours,” the Order Policeman said. “I’m afraid I don’t have a DNA match here for her father.” He laughed, sharing the joke. “Don’t worry. I’ll register her as your child and I’ll let you know who put the cuckoo in your nest if there’s a later match.”

Greg’s legs were shaking, but somehow he controlled it enough to remain standing. “Please do,” he said. The Order Police could never know how close they’d come to uncovering a resistance cell. “Until then…she’s mine.”

“Here,” the Order Policeman said, dismissing the issue. He passed a copy of a pamphlet over to Greg. “You may go back home now. Best of luck with the bastard bitch.”

He was still laughing as Greg walked off. Back home, he inspected the damage and confirmed that nothing had been taken, including the hidden pistol. The search had been more perfunctory that he’d expected, but then, Mannington was a large town and the Order Police had an entire state to register. They’d ignored the five hundred dollars hidden in one of the drawers, although perhaps that wasn’t too surprising. Dollars, these days, were only useful as toilet paper. It would be years before a new currency could be established.

Slowly, he read through the official document. There was little there to surprise him, but it meant that life was going to change, again. The private possession of firearms was banned – the first step of any occupying power – and anyone caught with a weapon would be moved to a detention centre. Worse, there were strict movement controls. Anyone more than fifty miles from their place of accommodation without permission would be arrested and detained. Truckers and others who needed to travel regularly had to be registered separately. Anyone who wanted permission to move their place of accommodation had to apply directly to the Order Police, presenting unlimited opportunities for graft and corruption. It was…un-American.

He put it down and looked over at Nancy. There were times when she was just a child, and other times when she was smart, scarily smart. His heart ached with love for her, the little girl he’d brought into his family and made part of his life. What would happen to her, and the millions like her, if they grew up in such an oppressive environment? Would they become good little peons, or serfs, or…what?

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, quietly. “I’m very sorry.”

***

Mannington had never been a very wired town, even during the worst days of the war on terror, but there were a handful of cameras scattered throughout the town. A handful of internet companies had added enough wireless bandwidth to camouflage the presence of the Fairy Dust, but it was still a risk. Pepper had judged that the risk was worthwhile – even the most advanced American counter-surveillance gear had problems detecting the Fairy Dust – but it all hinged on the great unknown. Just how much could the aliens detect? They might miss the Fairy Dust, or they might realise that it meant that there was more to Mannington than met the eye. They might even tear the entire town apart to find the secret bunker – if, of course, they deduced its existence.

The Fairy Dust, like so many other ideas, had appeared in a science-fiction novel and had then become reality, thanks to the black budget and the NSA. They consisted of hundreds of tiny sensors scattered around, using the wireless internet field to camouflage their own transmissions back to the bunker. They were the ultimate surveillance device, classified to prevent terrorists from discovering their existence and developing countermeasures, allowing her to watch most of what happened in Mannington. She’d watched as houses were broken into, searched, and a handful of items removed without permission. A small pile of guns, ranging from a blunderbuss that looked old enough to have taken part in the War of 1812 to a hunting rifle, had been seized and dumped in one of the trucks. They hadn’t located any of the weapons dumps scattered around the town, but if they chose to be angry…

They’d let the majority of the population go after registering them, although they had arrested a handful of young men who had turned out to be soldiers. Two of the Order Policemen had been knocked down before the prisoners had been subdued and loaded into the trucks, along with a girlfriend who refused to be separated from her lover. It was a grand romantic gesture that could cost her everything, but she refused to abandon her boyfriend. She was bound and loaded into the truck behind him. It was an object lesson in the new world order.

“Bastards,” the President hissed, from behind her. She sensed his guilt at remaining safe while the town was searched and looted. If the Sheriff had breathed a word to the alien collaborators, they would have dug up the bunker and captured the President. Instead, they had no idea how close they’d come to proving themselves to their new masters. “What are they doing now?”

Pepper shrugged, switching from view to view. If it had been entirely up to her, she would have scattered much more Fairy Dust around, along with more obvious cameras and surveillance systems, but the Sheriff had flatly refused to cooperate any further. The last thing they needed, he pointed out, was a resentful population. The grand anti-terrorist database, compiled by successive governmental agencies, had been controversial from the start and eventually disbanded under pressure from the ACLU, no matter how useful it had been. Pepper was in two minds about it. She needed the system to do her job and at the same time, she was uncomfortable with the concept of the government spying on anyone – everyone – whenever it saw fit to do so. The old saying that a person with nothing to hide would be comfortable with being watched was nonsense. Even perfectly innocent people acted oddly when they knew they were being watched. Besides, tipping them off that there was something worth guarding in Mannington could have had disastrous consequences.

She watched as the Order Police finally loaded up their trucks and drove out of town. “They’re gone,” she said. She switched to a piece of Fairy Dust she’d emplaced down the road. “They’re on their way to the next target.”

“I see,” the President said. He’d gone back to his computer. “Look at this.”

Pepper leaned over to his screen and read over his shoulder. It was a message from Karen, deep inside Washington. “They’re planning to bring in…who?”

“And use them to sweep out Chicago,” the President said. Pepper followed the awful logic of it and shuddered inwardly. The aliens had clearly decided to turn Chicago into an object lesson for everyone else. “Send a message to the resistance coordinators at once. This threat has got to be countered.”

Pepper asked the obvious question. “But how?”


Chapter Seventeen


Virginia, USA

Day 127


Ian Douglas looked around the outside of the camp nervously. He couldn’t understand why the Walking Dead man in command of the small force hadn’t allowed them to sleep in a hotel, or perhaps billet themselves on a local farmer or shopkeeper. The Order Police might not be popular – the stares they’d had from the locals more than proved that – but they were necessary. He kept telling himself that. It saved him from wondering if he was on the wrong side.

He’d marched in support of a peaceful contact with the aliens when SETI had first picked up the approaching mothership, only to see the military-industry complex provoke a war with the aliens. It had all been explained by one of his professors at his college. The arrival of aliens would change the world and those who profited from having the world stay the same had good reason to start a war. Ian had believed every word implicitly. The world would be a great deal better if everyone was more understanding and fewer American boys and girls were sent overseas to invade harmless nations and kill hundreds of civilians. They weren't part of the problem. They were part of the solution. Ian, who had never left America or even spent much time outside the cities, believed his professor’s words completely. The world needed saving from itself.

An owl – or so he thought – hooted mournfully in the distance. He didn’t like the countryside; it was so quiet. An eerie silence had descended over all of America with the grounding of almost all the civilian aircraft fleet, although he’d been told that it wouldn’t be long until jumbo jets and smaller aircraft were pressed back into service. The survivors of the military-industry complex wouldn’t be able to prevent the rebirth of America as a nation and the restructuring of the entire world. The aliens had brought the keys to paradise.

He’d known that as soon as he’d seen the food and medical stations they’d constructed. The food might have been bland and tasteless, but it was free, free to all comers without any discrimination. Ian’s father had groaned endlessly about the cost of putting four children through college in training for jobs none of them wanted, yet they’d always had food on the table. Others hadn’t been so lucky. The young Ian had looked at how unlucky others had been and wondered why the food distribution system was so unfair. His professor had been keen to supply the answers. The aliens, if they fed the world’s teeming poor, would have plenty of allies. And that didn’t even touch on the medical centres…

It was so unfair that people who couldn’t afford the treatment they needed had to suffer. Ian had never had a serious illness in his life – he’d broken his arm once by falling off a bike – but others hadn’t been lucky. He’d watched as illnesses human science couldn’t cure had been defeated one by one, or injuries that would have meant months in a plaster cast had been healed almost overnight. The aliens had healed the sick and taught the blind how to see. They were an unmixed blessing to the entire human race. He’d joined the Order Police with that in mind. Sure, there were a few holdouts and insurgents who believed that the aliens came in the spirit of war and hostility, but they’d learn better soon enough. When their children could grow up in a world free of want or suffering, they’d change their minds. Ian clung to that thought. How else could he justify his own actions?

He glanced around the lamps that lit up the camp and shivered, even in the warm air. No one argued with the Walking Dead, despite grumbling from some of the newer policemen, and they were all trying to get what sleep they could on the hard ground. Physical discomfort didn’t seem to bother the Walking Dead, but it did bother young men who had never had to live out in the countryside in their entire lives. A handful had admitted to being Boy Scouts when they’d been younger and had taught the others useful skills – like putting up a tent – yet Ian and the others wondered why they couldn’t use a house. There had to be a reason, but what?

The trucks seemed to glimmer slightly in the flickering light. There were a handful of prisoners in the vehicles, a pair of men with hunting rifles who’d taken shots at the convoy and four girls who had been making rude faces at the Order Police when they’d been grabbed and hauled into the trucks. Ian was silently grateful that the Walking Dead supervisor had ordered the girls to remain unmolested. Some of the Order Police had been licking their lips at the thought of having fun with the prisoners before they were moved, along with the other reactionaries, to one of the detention centres. Ian hoped that it would stay that way. He didn’t want to even think about violating a woman against her will. What would his professor have said?

He paced over to the truck and glanced inside. Two pairs of very scared eyes looked back at him and he looked away, overcome by a feeling he couldn’t recognise. He thought about undoing the girls’ handcuffs and allowing them to slip away, but his comrades would know who to blame and he’d find himself in a detention centre or one of the Walking Dead. He told himself, over and over again, that it was only a temporary measure and it would all be over soon, yet coming face to face with the consequences shocked him. The future wasn't going to be easy.

Something moved behind him. He started to turn, but it was already too late. A strong pair of arms grasped him and held a cloth to his mouth. He couldn’t help breathing in some of the fumes and the world started to spin around him. A moment later, he fell into darkness, barely aware of his attacker lowering him gently to the ground. He was out before he touched the earth.

***

Nicolas held the Order Policeman until he was sure that the man – no, the boy – was entirely out of it, and then he let him go. The resistance team had scouted out the entire camp carefully, unable to quite believe their eyes. The camp had barely been secured and that meant that the person in charge was either an idiot, or trying to be clever and lay a trap. A SEAL who established such an insecure camp would probably end up being laughed off the force, assuming that his comrades didn’t shoot him themselves for endangering their lives. No SEAL would have created such an insecure base. He couldn’t think of any reputable Special Forces unit that would have risked their men’s lives in such a manner.

He held his pistol in one hand, waiting to see if any of the sleeping Order Policemen would get up, or start screaming for help. The silencer wouldn’t be as effective as they were in the movies and if he had to start shooting, the entire camp would come awake. Nicolas had no objection to killing them outright, but he wanted to send a message to the Order Police and their superiors. Killing them all wouldn’t make any real difference – there were plenty more out there where they came from – but humiliation…the aliens would have to react harshly to their own people. He reached into his pocket and brought out a cigarette lighter, flicking it on and holding it up in the air. A moment later, the resistance group came out of hiding.

It would have shocked the Order Policemen to know just how closely they’d been tailed. Nicolas had left a recon post near Mannington, prepared to intervene if the real secret of the town was threatened, and they’d watched as the Order Police left with their loot. They’d spent the last hour slipping close enough to the camp to overrun it within seconds of the order being given, yet they’d been slowed by quiet nagging doubts. No one, he’d thought, could be so stupid to camp out in the open with only one guard. It had to be a trap, but the more he’d studied the position, the clearer it had become that it was a golden opportunity to hit the enemy. The resistance men had their orders. There was no time to waste.

Nicolas himself tackled the Walking Dead man. No one had been able to identify him, but logically he would have been a policeman, perhaps even a soldier, who had been converted to the enemy’s point of view. Whatever he had been, he wasn't any longer – Nicolas knew better than to give him any chance at all to escape or summon help. The aliens had turned the Walking Dead into fanatics with even less concern for their lives than suicide bombers had shown back in Iraq, or Palestine. They had been able to deter suicide bombers with strikes against their families and supporting elements, but the Walking Dead wouldn’t care if their entire families were wiped out. They were no longer really human. Nicolas landed on top of him, tore away the blanket and snatched the pistol under the makeshift pillow before his target could grab it and start shooting. The Walking Dead man opened his mouth to shout orders and Nicolas ground his head into the dirt. He struggled, but it was already too late. Nicolas caught his hands, wrapped them behind his back – the man didn’t even scream in pain, even though it must have hurt – and secured them with a plastic tie.

“Stay still,” he snapped. The Walking Dead man ignored him and kept struggling, as if he couldn’t feel the pain. Perhaps he couldn’t. Nicolas had been taught techniques for dampening out pain for short periods and if the aliens could rewire entire sections of the human brain, perhaps they could restrict the pain centres as well. He produced a cloth from his belt and stuffed it into the Walking Dead man’s mouth. His angry gasps and bellows were replaced by stifled sounds. Nicolas pulled a second plastic tie from his belt and secured the man’s legs as well. Normally, anyone who had been tied would have enough sense to lie still. The alien slaves didn’t have that option. “I said, stay still!”

He pulled himself to his feet and glanced around. There had been twenty-one collaborators in the ground and twenty of them had been grabbed and tied before they could offer any resistance. The unfortunate watchman had breathed in enough of the fumes to remain out of it for at least another hour, but at a wave of his hand, one of the liberated Marines moved to secure him anyway. The dazed Order Policemen were staring around, stunned at the sudden change in their fortunes, unable to even think of resisting. The resistance took no chances and searched them roughly, removing everything from weapons to personal items. Nicolas was amused to discover that they didn’t have dog tags, merely ID Cards. The aliens probably hadn’t considered the need for such systems – at least, not yet. On the other hand, they were trying to build up a national security state from scratch. They’d probably get round to it sooner or later.

“Get the prisoners out of the trucks and out of here,” he ordered, curtly. A pair of soldiers nodded and slipped into the trucks, returning a moment later with a pair of older men and several girls. The girls looked stunned – they’d been handcuffed to the truck – yet very relieved. The men just looked angry, as if they wanted to fall on the Order Policemen and cut them up into tiny pieces. Their escorts would get them all out of the area and up to one of the hidden bases. There, they’d have to make a decision about their futures.

He glanced inside the remaining trucks and motioned for every piece of alien technology to be pulled out and transported to a different rendezvous point. Back in Iraq and Afghanistan, some pieces of technology the Americans had given to the local soldiers had included locator beacons, just in case the locals decided to sell them to the insurgents. The aliens would probably be a great deal more paranoid about any of their technology falling into the hands of the local resistance. Even if America's scientific base had been destroyed, there were other countries out there. Shipping the gadgets to Britain would be tricky, but it could be done. He kept a sharp eye out for Greg and Nancy, but didn’t see either of them. Nancy’s cover remained intact.

Or maybe they just don’t care, he reminded himself. It was easy to think of himself as pretty damn good, an attitude that was encouraged among men who routinely went behind enemy lines and operated without massive air and ground forces in support. The aliens might not know or care who he was, or who Nancy was, although that might change. If they were building up a database of everyone in America, they’d eventually be able to identify families with links to the resistance and start targeting them specifically. The aliens were probably great believers in the application of violence to solve their problems. He smiled inwardly – he was probably the first man to be relieved that someone thought that his former wife had been cheating on him – and walked back towards the Walking Dead man. Someone had injected him with a sedative and left him lying there. The other prisoners were too cowed to offer serious resistance.

“Get him out of here,” he ordered four of his men. He’d detailed them for a specific – and very dangerous – task. They’d take the Walking Dead man to an abandoned barn that had been taken over by the resistance, and then see if the aliens tracked him down. If they didn’t, they’d move him to an underground clinic – designed to help rebuild the country in the event of a nuclear war – and see if they could undo whatever the aliens had done to him. They trusted their Walking Dead implicitly. If the resistance could get a trusted man deep inside the alien system, all kinds of interesting possibilities would be opened up for exploitation. He felt a moment of pity for the Walking Dead. They hadn’t chosen to collaborate with the aliens.

He looked down at the real collaborators and saw them flinch back from his gaze. “Listen very carefully,” he said, in a quietly menacing tone he’d picked up from a Drill Sergeant back when he’d been a mere recruit. “You have chosen to bear arms against the United States in a time of war. You’re nothing better than goddamned traitors. I am perfectly within my rights to execute each and every one of you, so don’t piss me off.”

“You can’t do this,” one of the collaborators protested. He sounded half-scared, half-confident. Hadn’t he noticed that the world had changed? “We have rights!”

Nicolas nodded to the nearest soldier, who leaned forward and cut the collaborator’s throat. He heard several of the other collaborators being nosily sick as their former comrade’s blood gushed out, staining the ground. They’d probably never seen anyone butcher a hog before, or any real violence at all. He’d seen far too many like them, young men who pretended to be streetwise and walked around pretending to be gangsters. They always folded when faced with a real challenge.

“You have no rights,” he said, into the silence. He glanced from collaborator to collaborator and picked on a teenage boy who was clearly terrified out of his mind. Nicolas picked him up and held two fingers near his throat. “The interesting thing about the nerves here is that I can use them to tell when you’re lying,” Nicolas added, untruthfully. “Tell me a single lie and I’ll break your neck and go on to the next traitor. Do you understand me?”

The boy nodded desperately. Nicolas fired question after question at him, starting with ones to which he already knew the answers. It was an old tactic. The only way to interrogate someone properly was to have a way to verify whatever they told the interrogator, or everything from drugs to torture became unreliable. A person being tortured would say whatever it took to stop the pain and would quite happily tell the interrogator whatever he wanted to hear. The trick was convincing them that lying would only bring more pain. It wasn't a task for the faint of heart, or the morally unsound. The questions were meaningless, really. The point was to humiliate the Order Police in front of their superiors.

“Good enough,” he conceded finally, and dumped the boy back among his comrades. A rank smell suggested that several of them had lost control of their bowels. “Strip them.”

Before the Order Police could protest, the soldiers brought out knives and cut away their clothes, leaving them naked on the ground. Small cloths that had been soaked in Tabasco sauce were stuffed in their mouths. They could still breathe, but it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience. Even the most hardened palates would have hesitated to include so much Tabasco with their meals and the Order Police were getting it without any moderating food.

They gathered up the remaining supplies, dumped anything they couldn’t use in the trucks, and set fire to them. By Nicolas’s estimate, the Order Police should survive the fires, which would probably attract the aliens. They’d come to pick up their servants and discover just what had happened to them. Perhaps they’d shoot them out of hand for failing so badly. Or perhaps they’d be discovered by locals who’d take the opportunity for a little revenge. He smiled as they walked away, even though it wasn’t particularly funny.

From now on, he knew, things would only get worse.


Chapter Eighteen


Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Occupied)

Day 130


Nine figures slipped through the darkening streets, walking as casually as they could. Two of them were woman wearing the full veil, escorted by a man playing at being their brother. The remaining six were spread out, trying to act as if there was no connection between them. The aliens would probably not notice the formation, Sergeant Kalid Burke hoped, but the same couldn’t be said for their collaborators. Would they notice an advancing attack force before it was too late?

He rubbed his beard as he walked towards the target. The secret to launching a surprise attack was that it had to be a surprise, and a surprise – generally speaking – was convincing the enemy that something he could see in plain sight wasn’t actually dangerous. Hereford had hammered that into his head. In 1940, the instructors had told him, the French had known that the Germans couldn’t use a certain attack route to attack France. They’d known it and they’d never actually bothered to test it…and when the German attack had materialised, it had done so against the weakest part of the French line. The aliens had to see the advancing force as harmless until it was too late.

The presence of the women, he suspected, wouldn’t make that easier. The aliens didn’t seem to have any sexual dimorphism between the sexes and they’d seen female warriors on the streets. It made a surprising change from their different castes – they’d seen females for all of the known castes as well – but perhaps it made sense to them. He had to keep reminding himself that they were alien. They wouldn’t think the same way humans thought. Only four days ago, they’d rounded up – with the help of their collaborators – a few thousand city residents and forced them to dig graves for the thousands of dead humans, killed in the fighting to take the city. A National Guard unit – the National Guard had been the best the Saudis had had, although it hadn’t come up to the standards of a second-line British or American unit – had dug into part of the city and fought savagely. They’d been fools, Kalid had decided. They should have faded away into the civil population and joined the underground. Many of the other units had simply surrendered or disintegrated when the aliens had turned their attention to them, ending their war before it had properly begun. They’d been moved out to camps somewhere in the desert and no one had seen them again.

He caught sight of one of the alien warriors and lowered his gaze, silently praying to Allah – a God he wasn't sure he believed in – that none of the young Saudis would do something stupid. He’d tried to train Arabs to become soldiers, but even before the occupation, it hadn’t been easy. The culture mandated against everything a soldier needed to learn; they took poor care of their weapons, considered simple tasks beneath them and demanded higher pay and living conditions. Kalid would have agreed that the British Army shamefully underpaid its soldiers, but men who wanted to sleep between silk sheets and get up at noon didn’t become soldiers. He couldn’t condemn their bravery – Arabs weren't cowards, whatever else could be said about them – but there was a time to fight and a time to make a tactical withdrawal. This was not the time to fight.

The alien checkpoint loomed up in front of him, staffed by a group of warriors and their collaborators, who were openly humiliating the Arabs before allowing them to pass. Kalid couldn’t blame them for wanting a little revenge on their former masters, but there was such a thing as going too far. Some of the horror stories floating around the city had included women being publicly cavity searched and virgins being deflowered by the collaborators. There was no way to know if such rumours were true – the Arab world had little experience with an unbiased media, so rumour central ruled and every crazy rumour was rapidly converted into something preposterous – but perhaps it didn’t matter. It would encourage Arabs to fight the aliens. It would also encourage the honour killing of the women, reminding him of why his mother had fled the country in the first place. A plague, he’d decided, on both of their houses.

“Men to that side, women to this side,” a bored collaborator announced. Kalid was privately surprised that they’d been allowed to get so close without being stopped, but it hardly mattered. “Remove headdresses and veils; prepare your ID Cards.”

Kalid reached under his jacket. They didn’t have ID Cards. He hadn’t registered with the aliens when they’d started compiling their database of who was who within the city, any more than Gavin had. They might miss him, but if they checked Gavin’s DNA they might start wondering what he was doing in Saudi Arabia. The British expatriates who’d worked for the Saudis had packed up and left in the days following the invasion. Very few of them had cared anything for a country that considered Britain one of the world’s great evils. He grasped his knife in one hand and dropped the bag on the ground. The collaborator turned, too late. Kalid rammed the knife home and the collaborator dropped to the ground. It wasn’t perfect – the Hereford instructors would have been very disappointed in him – but it had worked.

“Now,” he snapped, and opened the bag. He pulled out the AK-47 and opened fire on the aliens, firing short precise bursts towards their heads. The alien body armour, the Americans had discovered, was alarmingly good, better than anything of human manufacture. Their heads were only partly covered and served as the best targets. He’d assigned the Arabs to firing on the collaborators. The aliens didn’t seem to want to share their body armour with their human allies. “Hit them!”

He saw an alien warrior die as his bullets tore into his head, followed rapidly by a second. The crowd was running everywhere, a handful even pulling out weapons of their own and adding to the chaos. That was an unwanted surprise, even though it would come in handy when the time came to fall back. The aliens would probably have confiscated the weapons when they searched the men at the checkpoint – they’d been confiscating weapons from all over the city – but perhaps it would have allowed them to take down an alien before they died. Another alien warrior targeted and killed one of the Arabs before Gavin shot him down, pushing the advantage as far forward as they could. Kalid reached into the bag, brought out an onion string of grenades, and threw them right into the checkpoint. The explosion shook the ground and sent the remaining aliens reeling.

Kalid brought out a whistle and blew it hard, before firing a final shot at the aliens and falling back down the side street. The danger was that their Arab allies wouldn’t fall back with them. The best they could do was give the aliens a bloody nose before falling back and leaving them to lick their wounds, but some of the Arabs had wanted to stay and keep fighting, until the aliens were defeated. It wouldn’t work like that, Kalid had warned them. The aliens would bring up their fighter craft and exterminate them. They couldn’t do anything about alien air power. He glanced behind him as he ran and was relieved to see that four of the Arabs were following them. Three had either been killed or were still fighting with their fellow Arabs against the aliens.

“They’re coming,” someone shouted. Kalid had expected the aliens to give chase as soon as they got reinforcements. Any survivors back at the checkpoint would be dead by now. The aliens kept a rapid reaction force near any vulnerable place and they’d have it in play by now. He looked up, expecting to see an alien craft overhead, but saw nothing. He didn’t question their good fortune. They had to get to the first location before the aliens came after them. He turned the corner and ran up the street, smiling as he saw the cars lined up, useless without fuel. They’d be far more useful for him than they would be for their owners.

He found the pre-prepared position and threw himself down, rapidly ejecting one clip and reloading the AK-47. Even a trained soldier burned through a hell of a lot of ammunition in a brief encounter. Soldiers in Afghanistan had fired off millions of bullets during their tours in the country. He exchanged glances with Gavin and saw the shared delight in combat. They were living life right on the edge, with hordes of angry aliens bearing down on them, and neither of them could be happier.

The aliens advanced quickly, but carefully. They learned faster than their Arab opponents, for sure. One alien advanced, covered by a second and a third, and then waited to cover his allies before advancing again himself. Other aliens swarmed over the rooftops and hunted for snipers, reminding Kalid of a minor oversight. They didn’t have any snipers in position. He was a little surprised that the aliens hadn’t brought in any air power, but it didn’t matter. He would be grateful for Allah’s small mercies. He smiled at the thought. It was true. There were no atheists in foxholes. Feeling oddly calm, as if everything had already been designed, he reached under the car he was using for cover and removed the detonator. A moment later, his finger came down hard on the button.

They’d packed the cars with high explosives over the last few nights, ever since he had started planning the raid. Ten cars detonated at once, sending waves of jagged metal flying through the air, cutting the alien force apart. Even their body armour couldn’t stand up to the wave of fire and shrapnel. Only two survived the explosion and were rapidly dispatched by Gavin, firing from his position. The aliens on the rooftops seemed stunned. Perhaps they’d been hit by debris, or perhaps they’d been stunned by the noise. Kalid’s ears were ringing, although he’d been much closer to the blast. Shattered window glass cascaded down on him from the car he’d been using as cover. It might not have been rigged to blow, but it was truly totalled. He allowed himself to imagine some poor Saudi teen – a man, of course – seeing his wrecked car and crying, as Kalid himself had done when his first car had been damaged.

“Come on,” Gavin snapped. “We can’t stay here.”

Kalid shook his head to clear the numbing and ran into the nearest house, through the female entrance. He doubted that anyone would care that much. A woman who looked old enough to have known the Prophet stared blankly at them and pointed towards the door. Kalid followed her finger, ran into the next room, and pushed aside a prayer rug someone had mounted on the wall. It revealed a hatch leading to the next house, part of their preparations for escaping afterwards. The reason they’d picked the area to stage their attack was that it was almost deserted. The collaborators had taken most of the inhabitants away to face the aliens. They were probably serving in work camps now.

He muttered a silent prayer for the old woman under his breath as they ran through the houses, seeing no one else. She had refused to move, claiming that she’d lived in the same house for all of her life. She might even be telling the truth. The rare Saudi woman who wasn’t married off to someone, with or without her agreement, was doomed to eternal spinsterhood. Her family had been taken away and she had nothing left to live for. He knew what would happen to her.

In the last house, they found a change of clothes and changed rapidly, before rigging the small pile they’d left behind to blow when someone touched them. They slipped back outside and merged in with the crowds fleeing the area. The aliens weren't known for being gentle to crowds. Sometimes they ignored them, sometimes they opened fire. Very few people remaining in the city were stupid enough to try to launch noisy protest marches. They ended up being handled roughly by the aliens, or their collaborators. Kalid took one last look behind him as the ground shook. The old woman had detonated the explosives in her house and, hopefully, taken out a group of aliens along with herself. He knew that the Jihadis had told lies, that nothing but hellfire awaited those who killed themselves to kill others, but he wanted to hope that perhaps she’d receive her reward some day.

The collaborators were on the streets in force, pushing and shoving at the Arabs to get them to knuckle down to them. No one said anything. The aliens following their collaborators and watching for anyone stupid enough to start anything were enough of a warning. Kalid and Gavin stayed well away from them and followed a roundabout route to the safe house, hidden in a place he hadn’t believed could exist in Saudi society.

The Saudis had a population of gay men comparable to every other country, yet being homosexual in Saudi Arabia could be a death sentence. The hidden apartment allowed men to spend time with other men without being noticed, although the cynic in Kalid suspected that there were two reasons the Religious Police never went anywhere near it. They had been well paid never to interfere with the homosexuals…and the last group of homosexuals they’d tried to arrest had sold their lives dearly. They’d known that they could expect no mercy and had held out for hours before the building had finally been burned to the ground.

He’d wanted to go back to his grandfather’s house, but it was too dangerous. The other survivors of the attack would have scattered as well, yet it was just possible that the aliens would trace them back to his grandfather and arrest him and his household. The owner of the homosexual apartment had agreed to hide them, but he’d made it clear that he wouldn’t be doing anything else. The aliens didn’t care about homosexuals. If they hadn’t been so enthusiastically discriminating against Arabs, the homosexuals would probably have joined them as well. Instead, they were sitting on the sidelines. Kalid was tempted to point out that staying on the sidelines could be dangerous as well, but it hardly mattered. They’d learn, in time, just what the aliens had in mind for all of humanity.

“Not a bad success,” Gavin said, as they relaxed in one of the rooms. The others in the apartment had been told that they were just two more homosexuals, shyer than most and genuinely devoted to one another. Irritating as it was, it provided an excuse to remain apart from the others. Simple statistics claimed that there was a good chance that at least one of the homosexuals would betray them, given half a chance. “They’re going to be pissed.”

Kalid shrugged. He could hear the sound of automatic weapons fire out on the streets. Someone, out there, was fighting for his life. “Probably,” he said. After a mission, he found it hard to care about anything else. “As long as they don’t find us, it doesn’t matter.”

Gavin nodded and opened one of the packs. It contained weapons and some equipment, and a letter from Kalid’s grandfather. Kalid took it and read it quickly. The old man had had contacts everywhere and still did, even in the alien collaborator government. The Walking Dead couldn’t be trusted to be anything other than alien slaves, willing to betray the humans they had once known, but the unconverted…they could be bought, or suborned. They could be used against their masters.

“Funny,” he said, finally. “The aliens are transporting the soldiers elsewhere.”

Gavin looked over at him. “Where?”

“It doesn’t say,” Kalid said. His written Arabic wasn't bad, but his grandfather had terrible handwriting. “They’ve given them the chance to write a few letters to their families and even some pay, provided that they go somewhere and fight for the aliens. They’ve even promised that those who serve them for at least a year will be released, free and clear, without any obligations in the future.”

“Sounds ideal,” Gavin said. “Where do you think…?”

He broke off. “Oh no,” he said. “They wouldn’t.”

Kalid shook his head. It made a horrible kind of sense. The aliens had rounded up thousands upon thousands of trained soldiers they had to feed. They couldn’t let them go, because they would join the insurgency, they couldn’t trust them to fight in their own countries, and they couldn’t kill them all…why not? Perhaps the aliens regarded genocide as a perfectly logical and reasonable tactic…no, if they believed that, they would have wiped out humanity without setting foot on Earth.

But there was a use for the prisoners. He saw the awful logic of it and shuddered. If they went to America, they’d be used to keep the Americans down – and extract a little revenge in return for real or imagined slights. Hundreds of them would be killed, yet the aliens wouldn’t care. They’d probably consider it a bargain. They’d get rid of two problems for the price of one.

“Wankers,” he snapped, angrily. He’d known Americans, served beside them, even spent months in their country. They deserved better. They could be convinced that they knew all the answers when they only knew half of them, but they had good hearts. “What the hell do we do about it?”

Gavin was more practical. “What can we do about it? Nothing.”

“Yeah,” Kalid said, bitterly. “The best we can do is hurt them as much as we can here and hope that it distracts them from America. Damn those ugly fucking bastards to hell.”


Chapter Nineteen


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 135


Commissioner Ted Hanks felt sick to his stomach.

He’d never wanted to be anything more than Assistant Commissioner. The Commissioner of the Chicago PD was a highly politicised post and he had never been willing to buff sufficient asses. The previous Commissioner had been as much a politician as a police officer and he’d been one of the Mayor’s strongest supporters. He’d eaten his own gun after the Mayor had been assassinated, dumping the whole ungodly mess on Ted’s head. Ted would cheerfully have strangled the Mayor with his bare hands.

Not that he could argue with the Mayor’s logic. The aliens followed ROE that would have led to certain court martial and conviction for any American commander who even proposed them. Their response to being attacked was overwhelming firepower and their complete lack of concern for innocents caught up in the fighting was chilling. The Mayor had claimed that the police had to act as a barrier between the humans and the aliens – if they didn’t try to save lives, who would? There was no way they could throw out the aliens, so the best course of action was to cooperate and hope that it convinced the aliens to treat humans with a little more respect. Ted had never been entirely convinced of that logic – it struck him as wishful thinking – but such decisions were well above his pay grade. All he wanted to do, all he’d ever wanted to do, was be a cop. Right now, handing in his uniform and retiring to the countryside was looking mighty good.

The movies loved portraying gangs as being as well-armed as the police, if not better armed, but the truth was very different. Prior to the war, the gangs had rarely been well armed and their weapons were not always maintained properly. The gun control freaks screamed for more and more regulation – conveniently ignoring the fact that the gangs would ignore the law anyway – yet it hardly mattered. The gangs and inner cities could have been cleaned out very rapidly if the political will had been there. Instead, straw after straw had been piled on the camel’s back and police departments had come alarmingly close to losing their best men and women, even before the invasion. Now…now, many of the gangs had ties to the insurgents, who gave the gangs modern weapons and training, while hundreds of police officers had simply handed in their uniforms and gone home. They didn’t want to collaborate with the aliens, not when they found themselves caught up in a war zone and facing the disdain of family and friends. They just wanted it all to end.

He looked over at the man sitting in his office, looking as if he owned the place. General Imen Houssam claimed to have been a six-star General in the Syrian Army. He certainly had the patter down right, although personally Ted wouldn’t have trusted him to organise a whorehouse in Las Vegas. The aliens had brought him and his troops in through the airport – and landing them directly in parks and the few open spaces in the city – with orders to root out the insurgents, or else. Houssam looked depressingly eager and willing to carry out his task, although if one were fair, the aliens would probably tear him apart if he failed. During an unguarded moment, Houssam had admitted that he and his men had been captured and thrown into detention camps, and only released if they were willing to fight for the aliens. Bringing them to America, Ted had to admit, was a stroke of evil genius. The Arabs would have no contacts and no hope of mercy if they fell into American hands. They would have nowhere else to go. Using them in their own countries might have given them a chance to desert and escape. Using them in America would keep them fighting.

Houssam looked unhealthy, to say the least. Apparently, the life of a General in the Syrian Army had been an easy one, until the army had actually been called upon to fight. The aliens hadn’t been halted by UN resolutions and subtle pressure, as the Israelis had been more than once, and they’d just gone through the defenders like a knife through butter. Houssam had lost weight rapidly over the last month and it showed. The ill-tailored uniform he wore had been designed for a much heavier man. A month in the detention camp obviously hadn’t agreed with him. The aliens probably hadn’t bothered to feed the Arabs very much.

“I should have upwards of thirty thousand troops on the ground by the end of the week,” Houssam informed him. It was lucky for him, Ted knew, that the aliens were handling his logistics. The Arab force was united only in name. They’d jammed together Africans and Arabs from every country they’d invaded and occupied and many of them hated each other more than they hated the Americans, or even the aliens. The Military Police Houssam had brought along to enforce his orders were overworked trying to keep a lid on the fighting. There was certainly no hope that they would actually train as a unit. They’d been given Bradley Armoured Fighting Vehicles from a captured American Army Base, but they barely grasped how to drive them in a straight line. “Once they are all in position, we can begin operations.”

“Oh,” Ted said, dryly. He’d be astonished if the Arabs were ready in a month, but then, the aliens were breathing down their necks. The reward for failure would be harsh. “Do you feel that thirty thousand are enough?”

“We might outrun our supply chain,” Houssam said. Ted kept his face blank. He would have bet fifty dollars, even though the dollar was worthless now, that Houssam didn’t even begin to grasp the concept of logistics. “Bringing in everything we need is already pushing our superiors to the limit.”

They shared, for a second, a brief moment of mutual understanding. “A week,” Ted repeated. “And how exactly do you intend to proceed?”

The alien orders hadn’t been too specific. Ted hadn’t been able to decide if they trusted the people on the ground to handle it, or if it was a more humanlike attempt to dodge the blame if it all went badly wrong and the operation failed. The thought was bitterly amusing. Perhaps the aliens weren’t that alien after all.

“We’ll sweep through the city and remove all of the insurgents,” Houssam said. He’d certainly had some experience in removing insurgents. The Syrian Army had exterminated nests of radical Islamic fanatics before, when they’d gone too far in advance of their patron’s wishes. “It’ll only take a few days to complete their destruction.”

Ted closed his eyes. That wasn't just wishful thinking; that was…nonsense. He had no military experience himself, but he had participated in drug raids and area searches and they always took longer than expected. The criminals might decide that suicide by cop was a better end than years in jail with other hardened criminals. Sweeping the entire city, even if the Green Zone and some of the other areas were left alone, would take weeks at the very least. There would be resistance, of course. The resistance would certainly not allow such an intrusion to go unchallenged.

“I think you need more of a plan,” he said, as calmly as he could. Houssam could issue the orders and make the assault go ahead on his plan, if he decided to do so. He felt cold sweat prickling down his back. “Pull your men into the city. Occupy the roads and other important locations, and then cut off the area you want to search and go through it carefully. Check everyone you find. Anyone with a weapon or without an ID card goes into the bag. Anyone else gets treated gently. You don’t need more enemies.”

“The only thing that terrorists understand is the liberal application of firepower,” Houssam said. Ted knew that there were plenty of Americans who would have agreed. “We go in hard and crush them before they can react.”

Ted sighed. “They already know you’re coming,” he said. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a copy of Committees of Correspondence. The lead story focused on the Arab soldiers being moved into Chicago and prepared for an offensive against the resistance. In a saner age, the paper would probably have been charged with inciting racial hatred, describing the Arabs in words that would have shocked a soldier. They’d even outlined several possible attack plans that would have worked better than the actual plan. “If you move in hard, the entire city will be at arms against you. Treat people gently and you won’t get more enemies.”

“I have my orders,” Houssam repeated. His voice softened slightly. “We’ll try, but people – if you can call them people – are demanding results.”

They shared another look. “We’ll support you as best as we can,” Ted said, grimly. The resistance would damn him to hell for being a collaborator and they might well be right, but he didn’t want to see Chicago destroyed by the aliens, or the Arabs. It was a scene out of a bad movie. If half the remaining police force deserted…

“I know you will,” Houssam said. “Now, how about showing me where you keep the booze?”

Ted snorted. “I thought Muslims weren't allowed to drink,” he pointed out, pulling a small flask of whiskey from his drawer. “How much do you want?”

“Rules are for those” – he said an Arabic word Ted didn’t recognise – “pigs,” Houssam informed him. “We crushed them like ants two years ago and they never dared raise a hand to us again.” He took one of the glasses thankfully. “To victory!”

Ted echoed him reluctantly. “To victory!”

***

“Well, that’s us told,” Edward Tanaka said. He looked around at the masked faces. The four resistance leaders looked back at him. “What do we do now?”

The homemade newspaper – which would have ensured an instant sentence to the camps if it were found on his person – lay open in front of them, confirming what they’d already learned from the resistance network. The warning was chillingly clear. The aliens intended to launch a sweep and destroy mission using Arab troops through Chicago, clearing out the resistance once and for all. He flipped the newspaper shut – smiling thinly at the story about an Order Police patrol that had been captured, humiliated and released by a resistance unit – and dropped it on the floor.

“We have four options,” the Bitch Queen said. She ticked them off on her fingers. “We hide the weapons and withdraw into the surrounding population. We pull our people out through the tunnels and into the suburbs. We fight, or we surrender. Is anyone here seriously in favour of surrender?”

“I think you know better,” The Brain said, coldly. “They’re bringing in Arab troops, not more of their own people. We could fight the Arabs to a standstill without any bother at all.”

Edward was tempted to agree. The aliens had taken over the city’s stadiums for training their new troops and he’d watched them from a distance. The aliens would have been better off working with completely green recruits. At least they would have less to unlearn. They did have a handful of good officers – if nothing else, the aliens would have shattered the old Middle East power structure – but even the best officers in the world would have problems converting soldiers who’d had years to pick up bad habits into anything, but raw meat for the grinder. Judging from some of the reports, the different nationalities really didn’t get along and several unpopular officers had been killed by their own men. It did put a new perspective on disagreements within NATO. He doubted that any of them had led to murder.

“Except if we fight, the city will be reduced to rubble,” Muscles said. “I was at Fallujah. We wrecked most of the city in order to save it. We could turn Chicago into a nightmare for them, but we couldn’t stop them destroying the city.”

“We could have nuked any Iraqi city any time we liked,” the Bitch Queen pointed out. “We chose not to do so…”

“I would have hated to hear the screaming if we had nuked any city,” Pinkie said, thoughtfully. “There are people out there who wouldn’t have forgiven the President for launching a counterattack after the entire United States was nuked.”

Edward hit the table angrily. “Enough,” he snapped. “The aliens can destroy this city at any time and there’s fuck all we can do about it. Right! The question is if we fight or retreat. Leave the political debates to internet flame wars.”

His gaze swept around the table. “If we retreat through the tunnels - which carries the risk of having hundreds of our people trapped underground if the aliens realise what we’re doing - we will have to leave most of our stockpiled weapons here,” he added. “Can any of you swear that the ragheads won’t locate and destroy them? We’d have thrown away most of our heavy weapons for nothing. We could slip back into the city only to discover that we couldn’t be an effective force any longer.”

“And gives the Arabs more time to prey on helpless civilians,” Muscles added.

“They’re not helpless,” the Bitch Queen snapped. “There are plenty of people out there who have hidden weapons, even if they don’t have a direct connection to us.”

“And those who are discovered with weapons will go right into the camps,” Edward pointed out, coldly. The aliens had made that very clear. Humans were not permitted weapons, unless they were policemen or collaborators. “We’re running the risk of losing most of the city’s population to this…onslaught.”

The Bitch Queen snorted. “Let’s face it,” she said. “If we pull out our best fighters, the rest of the city is still going to fight anyway, so…we should fight. We have weapons, we have skills, we have the ability to make them bleed…and we have a duty to defend our country.”

“Defending the indefensible is not smart, but stupid,” The Brain said. “If the aliens start pouring down fire from heaven, we lose. The end. We could wipe out their garrisons and bases very quickly if they didn’t rule the skies above us.”

“We have to fight,” the Bitch Queen repeated. “The country was badly shaken by the defeat and occupation. We’d never faced anything like it. If we make a stand, even an unsuccessful stand, we will inspire resistance all around the world. If we surrender and spread our legs for them, we will discourage resistance. If we retreat, we convince them that we’re not going to challenge them. We have to fight.”

Edward couldn’t dispute her logic. It was hard to trust everything that came through the internet, but it couldn’t be denied that morale was low right across the country. The ongoing registrations and the rise of the Order Police damaged morale without inspiring resistance and…she was right. A heroic, if ultimately futile, defence of Chicago would serve as a rallying call for resistance all over the land. And yet…they’d be placing hundreds of thousands of lives at risk. Most of the city’s population had remained in the city, trapped behind the alien wall of steel. How many of them would die if they tore the city apart? The death toll would be incalculable.

“I think there is no choice,” Pinkie said. The Brain gave him an unreadable look. “We simply cannot pull out all of the unregistered people before they begin their sweep. All of those people are going to go right into the camps – or they can fight. With our help, they may become something that can actually give the aliens pause; without it, they will all die. I say we fight.”

“Fight,” The Brain echoed. “What other choice do we have?”

“None,” Muscles said. “When we were dealing with the aliens, there were…things they wouldn’t do, because they were aliens. Now they’re bringing in humans, the city’s suffering may only have just begun. We may be looking at looting and raping on a mass scale. It’s happened before and God knows it will happen again. We fight.”

“Fight,” the Bitch Queen said. She looked down at her fingertips. “We fight until we can fight no more, then we booby-trap the bodies and let them inherit a tomb.”

Edward didn’t hesitate. “We fight,” he said. Disagreement wouldn’t have changed anything…and besides, he wanted to fight. Muscles might well be right. The aliens might have miscalculated by bringing in foreign troops. It wouldn’t be hard to whip up hatred against them even before the atrocities started. “I think the motion passed.”

The Bitch Queen snorted. “We’ll meet again before they start their sweeps,” she said. “We’ll sort out our plans and prepare our defences. Is there anything else before we split up again?”

“We need to find as many Arabic speakers as we can,” Edward said. “Chances are that a lot of the Arabs down there are conscripts who don’t want to be here anymore than we do. We might be able to convince some of them to join us, or give us information from inside the enemy camp. There’s bound to be a few Arabic speakers in the city.”

“I speak a little myself,” The Brain said. “Several of the retired soldiers in the city will speak more. I’ll make enquires.”

Edward bent down and picked up his copy of the underground newspaper. It fell open on a grainy picture of two handcuffed girls being led off by the Order Police. The underlying text suggested that they were in for a fate worse than death. He held it open to show them all what had happened to others who had dared to object.

“This is what we’re fighting,” he said, calmly. “We cannot risk falling into their hands. If we risk capture…”

He left the sentence unfinished. They all knew what he meant.


Chapter Twenty


Washington DC, USA (Occupied)

Day 136


“This is absolute nonsense!”

Karen kept her face blank as Daisy threw her copy of the underground newspaper onto her desk. She’d heard a reporter joke once that said that a newspaper could only be said to be a success when its enemies read it over breakfast, even before writing pages of bile and angry rebuttals. If that was the true measure of success, then Committees of Correspondence had succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of newspaper editors. Its worst enemy was reading it in her office!

“They’re completely defying the ban on publishing anything without clearing it through my office,” Daisy continued, her voice furious. “Can’t we do anything to stop them?”

Karen decided that it was a rhetorical question and said nothing. The story in question was damaging, but hardly as embarrassing as other stories that had appeared in the newspaper, or on the Internet. It seemed that a group of Order Policemen had been captured by the local resistance, stripped naked and left tied up for recovery. They might not have been found in time to save their lives if someone hadn’t phoned in a tip to their headquarters, which had sent out a rapid reaction force to investigate. They’d discovered the poor policemen in terrible shape. By accident or design, they’d been left on the verge of hypothermia and certain death. The story was already all over the country and had been rapidly embroidered to include ant hills, honey-coated policemen and itching powder. The version in the underground newspaper was, as far as she knew, fairly accurate. It was also fairly tame.

“They’re making fun of us,” Daisy snapped. Karen suspected she would have been happier if the Order Police had been attacked and brutally slaughtered. She could have had her press corps turn them into innocent victims of aggression, or some other comforting lie. It might even have worked. People would have felt sorry for the dead, but not for humiliated fools and idiots. According to the underground newspaper, every member of the Order Police force had been sleeping when the resistance force had attacked and tied them all. What had they been thinking? “What can we do to bury this story?”

Karen winced inwardly. Daisy actually wanted an answer this time. “We ignore it,” she suggested, finally. It helped that media relations had never been one of her interests. Her handful of exposures to reporters had taught her that they could never be trusted, even slightly. They took a person’s life and turned it into a travesty in order to sell newspapers, or market television channels, or even for fun. “The story cannot be improved, so leave it alone. We won’t even bother with a denial. Let them think that the story is so worthless that we can’t be bothered denying that it ever happened.”

“I suppose that that would work,” Daisy said, reluctantly. “Have you heard from the teams assigned to tracking down the source of this…piece of toilet paper?”

Karen shook her head. “They’re using a combination of the internet and handheld deliveries to distribute it,” she said. “A handful of distributors were picked up, but when they were interrogated, it turned out that they knew nothing about who was actually writing the articles, or compiling them together. They were just street kids out to earn a few candy bars, not hardened resistance fighters.”

“Damn it,” Daisy swore. “Why the hell are they disobeying orders?”

Karen could have answered that question, but she held her peace. Daisy had moved from position to position where she was required to manage, not to actually know anything about the nuts and bolts of her position. She’d had a talent for maximising profit and public exposure and she’d used that to benefit herself as well as her current employers. She couldn’t see the difference between herself and the company – the state was her, in her own mind. She might have made an excellent manager, but she knew very little about people.

The aliens had rounded up thousands of people and told them to work for them, or else, with the twin examples of the detention camps and the Walking Dead to keep everyone in line. Some of the collaborators truly believed that the aliens were building a paradise on Earth and were willing to do anything for them; others were reluctant servants and only worked for them because there was no other choice. They could hardly be expected to give their all when all it would get them was a death sentence from the resistance. Some of them had been named and shamed in the Committees of Correspondence. Others knew that their time would come eventually.

And then there were the people outside the alien government. They didn’t regard the alien government, even under the former Vice President, as being legitimate. They had barely recognised the Federal Government as being legitimate. The more extreme ones had stocked up on guns and ammunition, convinced that the Feds were coming to impose jackbooted tyranny on the entire United States. They were the ones who promoted talk radio, internet freedom, gun rights and keeping the Federal Government as limited as possible. They certainly didn’t feel any particular urge to follow the alien government wherever it led. They would hardly follow Daisy’s orders unless they thought that they were in their own best interests.

But Daisy couldn’t comprehend that. To her, all of her employees were there to do her bidding and be rewarded for it. They could think for themselves, provided they thought of her and her wishes first; truly independent thinking was for her and her alone. The idea that some of them might defy her was alien. The idea that men and women would risk their lives, jobs and freedom to strike back meant nothing to her, for it didn’t exist in her mindset. It didn’t matter that she represented a government that was rapidly becoming loathed by the entire country, or that she had the aliens backing her up. She couldn’t compel obedience from the entire country.

“They are not yet convinced that ultimate victory is certain,” she said, finally. The problem was that far too many people knew that the official line was nonsense. They might see the endless news broadcasts – all cleared by Daisy personally – and the stream of old movies and soap operas as nothing more than an attempt to distract the population from the truth. The official broadcasts somehow never included the men and women forced from their homes, or taken away by the Order Police, or the massive refugee camps in almost every state. “You need to convince them that the new government is working in their interests.”

But that was another of her blind spots, Karen knew. She couldn’t understand the need to negotiate with those she considered inferior. She was good at negotiating with her equals or superiors, but inferiors existed to carry out her orders, nothing else. The idea of having to convince people that she was right, and that she was working for their best interests as well as her own…it made no sense to her. In her world, people worked like drones, while she was the Queen Bee.

“The new government is working in their interests,” Daisy snapped, angrily. It was said. It was, as far as she was concerned, true. “We have to clamp down on filth like this” – she shook the Committees of Correspondence angrily – “and make sure that they are only told what we want them to know!”

Karen silently gave her points for honesty as she carried on. “And now they know about the Arabs,” Daisy continued. “Why don’t they realise that there is no other choice?”

“Because the American population, as a whole, dislikes Arabs,” Karen reminded her. “The Arabs are the enemy. The Arabs are fanatics who beat women for wearing makeup, treat everyone not like them as dirt or worse and fly jumbo jets into buildings to kill thousands of innocent Americans. The Arabs strap on suicide belts and kill American boys and girls who are actually trying to help them. The Arabs use oil to jerk us around. The Arabs…I don’t think there could have been a worse response if they’d decided to bring in the Chinese Army!”

Daisy’s eyes met hers for a second. Karen wondered if she’d gone too far. She braced herself for a reprimand, or instant dismissal. Dismissal wouldn’t have been so bad, except the President would have been denied his window into what the enemy were planning. What if they decided she had to join the maids, or be converted into one of the Walking Dead? What if…?

“That is beside the point,” Daisy said, finally. Karen felt herself shaking inwardly, as if she’d just been in combat and survived a near-miss. “The point is that our superiors have decreed that the Arabs are to be used and used they shall be. Our job is to ensure that the American population accepts their role in securing Chicago.”

Good luck with that, Karen thought, coldly. The internet was ringing with resounding denunciations of the Arabs. Soldiers who had fought Arabs in the Gulf and Iraq Wars were telling everyone how useless Arab troops were and how easy it would be to defeat them. Others were pledging to head to Chicago to join the fight, or to launch attacks against alien bases in the rest of the country. Arab-Americans were swearing to take up arms and fight their former countrymen, claiming that they’d moved to America to get away from tyrants and religious fundamentalists. It didn’t matter what kind of positive spin Daisy tried to put on it. The aliens might have been better off if they’d simply nuked Chicago into radioactive rubble.

“Get in touch with the producers,” Daisy ordered. “I want them to launch a series of programs exploring atrocities committed by the insurgents against the civil population. I want images of dead people, people clearly killed by human weapons, and testimonials from raped women. If you can’t get them in time, use actors and special effects. I want tearful widows and weeping children, the children of policemen who were killed just trying to do their duty. Make it clear that Chicago is beyond governance and needs to be reformed by main force.”

“Yes, Director,” Karen said. It wouldn’t make any difference, no matter how many tear-jerking stories Daisy found, or had invented for the program. The alien government had spent its last reserves of goodwill a long time ago. The Hollywood producers had no trouble making up the facts if they couldn’t find real facts, or if the real facts said the exact opposite, but she doubted that anyone would believe it, even if they put the best-known actors to work on a movie depicting the events…

An idea occurred to her and she smiled. “Why don’t we hire some famous actors to appear in movies explaining just what happened?” She said. “We could get them to play people caught up in Chicago and bill it as real life.”

“An excellent idea,” Daisy said. “See to it.”

Karen smiled. They’d get Shirley McCaw to play a rape victim – she was a famous actor with an average amount of talent, although no one ever looked past her breasts – and it would look realistic, too realistic. People would look, recognise the actor, and realise that it was all acting. The images the actors would produce would crowd out the real images, such as they were, and convoy the impression that they were all faked. It might give the propaganda department a black eye. Best of all, it couldn’t be blamed on her.

“I will,” she promised. “Is there any other business?”

“I’m due to address the reporting party this afternoon,” Daisy said. “I’ll hear a report from you afterwards. Later.”

Karen walked out of Daisy’s office and somehow managed to get back to her apartment before collapsing. She hadn’t realised just how badly she’d been sweating, or just how close she’d come to stepping over the line. Daisy could have called in the Order Police and had her thrown into one of the detention camps, or into the brothel the Order Policemen used when they were off duty. She’d heard enough whispered horror stories to know that she’d be better off committing suicide than going in there as a prisoner. She’d just be another piece of meat.

She thought, again, about simply fleeing the Green Zone. The President had told her that there was someone in Washington she could contact, but little else. Karen suspected she knew how they intended to get her out, if she decided to flee, yet it would put an end to her usefulness. How long could she remain in the Green Zone without going mad, or being discovered and taken off to become one of the Walking Dead?

There was a tap on the door and she looked up to see one of the maids, Jessica. She gave Karen a wink and placed a copy of the underground newspaper on the table. Karen almost fainted, before realising that she was being sent a message. She wasn't alone after all. She picked up the newspaper, read it again, and then shredded it. Alone or not, keeping it was too much of a risk.

Smiling, she went back to work.

***

Rumour had had it that the reporters were about to be addressed by the Vice President, but it was only the Director of Human Resources. Abigail wasn’t blind to the underlying implications. The Vice President of the United States was a powerful figure, even if he was normally about as useful as tits on a bull. If the aliens weren't showing him off at every opportunity, as well as using his network of contacts to try to bring the Republican Party Leadership under control, it suggested that something had gone wrong with the conversion process. He might be struggling to break free of his conditioning, or perhaps he was going slowly mad, torn between two worlds. She had wondered about trying to sneak in for a private interview, but she had a feeling that that kind of investigative journalism was discouraged. Two reporters had asked probing questions at the first press conference and they’d been escorted out and disappeared. No one knew what had happened to them, but everyone had drawn the right lesson.

“As you know, Chicago is on the verge of falling into anarchy,” Daisy said. She would never have made a good public speaker. With her position, she didn’t have to be good. The reporters would have lapped up everything she said and painted it as the most important political speech since the Gettysburg Address. “We have prepared a force to enter the city, crush the terrorists, and restore law and order across the city.”

There was a long pause. Everyone knew what she meant, yet no one dared ask any questions. They knew what would have happened to them if they had. “This force must be presented as favourably as possible to the world,” Daisy continued. “You have all been chosen to embed with the force to explain to the country exactly what is going on and why we embarked upon this course of action. This will be a great honour and you should all be proud to play your part.”

A chance to have my boobs shot off, Abigail thought, coldly. She wasn't blind to those implications either. The aliens might have several motives in sending Arab troops into an American city. In her experience, whenever someone made a seemingly-stupid decision, it tended to have a hidden motive. The aliens were doing something very newsworthy and attempting to cover it up, yet the cover was so torn that it was barely there. Could it be…that they were trying to hide something else behind the assault on Chicago? If that was the case, then what?

Daisy was speaking again and Abigail hastily dragged her attention back to her. “You will be invited to watch as the terrorists are taken away and placed in detention camps, allowing Chicago to return to being a flourishing city once again,” she said. “You will see the best we have in action, restoring order to the streets…”

She droned on and on, repeating herself…or maybe just hammering the message home. Abigail was thoroughly sick of it even before one of the minders took over and started to lecture them on safety and making sure that everything they wrote passed inspection. She wasn't sure why they were even bothering. In Iraq, reporters had filed stories from the Green Zone – the first Green Zone – or even safer cities to the south, claiming all the while to be at the front lines. The media had almost cost America the war. Here, with the aliens dominating the entire country, they could make up stories to their heart’s content and who would question them?

The bloggers, of course, she thought. They would write their own stories. The reliable ones were treated as more truthful than the official press, a trend that had been developing even before the invasion. In a sense, she was a blogger now herself. She smiled to herself and silently started to compose her next story for Committees of Correspondence. She’d be a good little girl and go where they told her to go and write what they told her to write – at least in the daytime. At night, she would write the real story and transmit it to the printers. The country would know what was really going on in Chicago. She looked back at the minder and smiled inwardly. He didn’t really have the imagination to be a good minder. He should have watched them all like hawks. Instead, he’d made passes and manipulated careers, ensuring that he was the most hated man on the press team…

She smiled. She’d just had a nasty idea. A very nasty idea.


Chapter Twenty-One


Mannington, Virginia, USA

Day 138


“They couldn’t free him from the conditioning?”

“Apparently not,” the President said. The report, displayed prominently on the screen in front of him, was devastatingly clear. They’d taken the Walking Dead man captured nearby and subjected him to a series of tests in an underground hospital. The hospital had been built on the assumption that it would be helping to rebuild society after a nuclear war or a biological catastrophe, but there was nothing wrong with its facilities. The Walking Dead man had been tested thoroughly.

He ran through the report. They’d been lucky, in a sense, because they had a medical record for the man before he’d become one of the Walking Dead. He’d been a Pentagon bureaucrat – absurdly, the President found that he wished he knew the man’s name – who had apparently volunteered to remain behind in Washington even after the Pentagon had been destroyed. His heroism had been betrayed and, after his capture, he’d been brainwashed. His final service to his country was to serve as a research subject. The President silently promised himself that his sacrifice would be remembered and ran through the remainder of the report.

The Doctors had found nothing odd in his body, but when they’d examined his brain, they’d hit the jackpot. They’d found a small implant located in his brain, somehow exerting a baleful influence on his mental state. Tests had revealed that he’d lost nothing of his intelligence or knowledge; it had just been diverted towards alien ends and perhaps enhanced by their technology. The hospital’s psychologist – not a speciality the President normally had any time for – had concluded that the Walking Dead were insanely loyal to the aliens, fanatically convinced that they were always in the right. It suggested that they had all become utterly devoted servants. The President couldn’t fault the analysis, but the implications were disturbing. Humans spoke of their country, right or wrong; he’d certainly never considered betraying America. The Walking Dead might feel the same way about the aliens.

Part of the psychologist’s report was composed of weasel words, but the overall meaning was clear. The Walking Dead man was aware of what had been done to him, but unlike a rape victim or any other kind of victim, didn’t seem to care, even though he had to be aware that even those feelings had been imposed on him. That made a depressing kind of sense, the President decided. A person normally wouldn’t act to change their lives unless they felt strongly about the need to change their lives and if the Walking Dead couldn’t feel strongly about anything…he looked over at Pepper and wondered how she felt. She’d been a test subject for experimental technology in her life. How did she feel about that?

But it was the conclusion that really worried him. The doctors had considered attempting to remove the implant, but from what they’d found as they scanned his head, the implant had somehow grown threads that ran through his entire brain. An attempt to remove the implant, they decided, would probably kill the victim, or leave them permanently brain dead, even if the implant didn’t have some kind of failsafe mechanism wired in to prevent removal. It didn’t seem likely that they could disable it either. Any attempt to do so would definitely kill the victim. The Walking Dead would remain Walking Dead until they could force the aliens to undo what they’d done, if that was even possible.

He looked down at the list of known Walking Dead and shivered. Some of them were unknowns, both to him and the country, the remainder were a list that could have come from any reception in Washington. There were political leaders and elected representatives, military and police officers, managers and business experts…the list went on and on. Some of them, according to Karen’s reports, had attempted to defy the aliens and had been rewarded by being transformed into Walking Dead, others had just been scooped up, transformed and then returned to their prior positions. The prospect was a daunting one. The aliens didn’t have to rely on collaborators with dubious motives. They could make as many collaborators as they liked. What was the value of a man standing up and defying the aliens if they could just implant him and learn everything he knew?

The report from the underground CIA research centre wasn't much better. The CIA had been quietly spearheading a project into brain implantation – the President didn’t even want to think why – but they had never been able to produce anything as effective as the alien implants. Their implants worked by rewarding or punishing the victims for their thoughts, giving them orgasmic doses of pleasure or sharp blasts of pain as the situation demanded. It was little more than a crude form of brainwashing and results had been mixed, although the researchers had only had a limited number of Death Row prisoners to use as test subjects. They’d attempted to sell the program to the President’s predecessor as a way to prevent criminals from re-offending – an implant could be used to stun a criminal on the verge of committing a violent act – but he’d been appalled. The President held his predecessor in contempt, yet for once he was forced to agree with him. The whole process smacked more of Nazi Germany than the United States of America. It was grossly immoral to carry out research on human subjects…

And yet, without such research, Pepper would never have had her artificial eye. There were soldiers, sailors and airmen who had survived, even returned to duty, because of research that had been originally carried out on prisoners who would otherwise have received a lethal injection. They’d even volunteered to serve as test subjects, knowing that it would give them a better chance of life. The question echoed through his mind. Was it right to experiment on serial killers and paedophiles?

He read through the CIA report again, but found nothing helpful. The long-term CIA aim had been to develop implanted communications systems that could be used to contact agents in enemy countries, perhaps even to create agents in enemy countries, but they hadn’t even come close to achieving that aim. Their implants had always been noticeable – they would also have been detected by a simple ELINT counter-surveillance sweep – and they hadn’t always worked properly, even with the most basic objectives. The President thought back to the alien base that had been destroyed at the South Pole. The aliens had been performing medical experiments on kidnapped humans there, before the base had been raided and nuked…had they been learning how to create the Walking Dead? The bottom line was undeniable. There seemed to be no way to free the Walking Dead from their servitude.

And there seemed to be no limit to their fanatical loyalty. The President had read reports of Walking Dead turning their families over to the Order Police, or ordering the most horrific atrocities, or even – when captured – shouting to the aliens even under threat of death. The President shook his head sadly. He’d hoped that the Walking Dead could be freed, perhaps even used as a fifth column inside the alien ranks, but it was clearly impossible. They would just have to be terminated on sight.

He looked up at Pepper. “They’re all going to have to be killed,” he said. If some of the vaguer weasel words in the psychologist’s report meant what he thought they meant, the Walking Dead knew, at some level, what had been done to them. They’d probably find death at the hands of their fellow countrymen a mercy. “We’ll have to put them all on the list.”

“Yes, Mr President,” Pepper said. The President rolled his eyes. He’d been telling her for weeks that she could call him Andrew, but she seemed unwilling to take that step. They were both confined in the bunker and people confined together either got very close or fell out spectacularly. The awareness that the aliens could break in at any moment kept them both alert. The President had quietly resolved to blow the bunker – with him in it – if there was a chance that they would fall into alien hands. He didn’t want to become an unwilling Judas Goat for his country. “People have been shooting at them for weeks, of course.”

The President snorted. The List was an internet site established on a hidden government server. It had only one purpose, compiling a list of collaborators and encouraging their targeting by resistance or independent fighters. Karen’s name was on it, something that worried him even though there was little choice. If her name wasn't on it, an alien counter-intelligence officer might look at it and start wondering why she’d been excluded. He hoped that she’d be safe – the resistance didn’t have a strong presence in Washington – but it was a problem. The last thing any of them needed was their greatest source being plugged by an independent with a hunting rifle and patriotic motives.

He’d kept the Walking Dead off The List, at first. They’d had hopes that whatever had been done to them could be reversed, or perhaps the aliens could be induced to free them – they hadn’t asked to become Walking Dead. If they couldn’t be freed, however, they became targets, people to be killed in the hope of impeding the aliens as much as possible. Somehow, with the report of the aliens gearing up to smash resistance in Chicago and expanding the Order Police as much as possible, he doubted that anything would impede them for long. The mass evictions continued in Flyover Country, allowing the aliens to expand their cities on the ground.

There’s a billion of them, he thought, coldly. He still got reports from the observatories and the remains of the Deep Space Tracking Network, using bases in Canada, Britain and Japan. The aliens seemed to be unloading their mothership as much as possible, spreading out their population down on the ground, displacing the human population as they expanded. They were doing the same in North Africa and the Middle East. Sparsely populated regions were becoming alien cities and industrial bases. The local population was being displaced, or exterminated. Rumour had it that the aliens had established bases in China and India as well, but with chaos spreading over the subcontinent, no one knew for sure. The Chinese Civil War raged on, while North and South Korea were struggling for supremacy and Pakistan dissolved into chaos. The years since 9/11 had seen significant improvement in the region. It had all been washed away by the invasion. Where are they going to live?

“Put them on The List anyway,” the President said. “We may as well make it official.”

Pepper nodded. “And that brings us to Chicago,” she added. “Are you ready to record a message in their support?”

The President felt a wave of shame and rage that was more profound than anything he’d ever experienced, even before he had resigned from the army over Iraq. He could make speeches, and try to encourage people to resist, but he couldn’t do anything else to support them. The resistance might be nominally directed by him, yet he had no way to enforce his orders – and, in any case, moving more men and material into the area would be tricky. The aliens controlled the vast continental network of roads and railroads now. The resistance had strong links to the truckers and they were quite happy to transport men from place to place, but with random spot checks by the Order Police underway, it risked discovery and being captured. The Order Police…

He ground his teeth. He couldn’t believe that there were so many Americans willing to sell out their country and serve the aliens. Some probably had no choice – it was work for the aliens or starve – but others seemed to have jumped into it willingly. It wasn't as if the rewards weren't considerable either; the aliens not only paid in their own money, but whores and supplies were freely available to the traitors. No matter how many of them were killed by the resistance, hundreds more would come forward to take their place, at least until the aliens were defeated. The President felt a moment of sympathy for the French and any other country that had had to survive under occupation. The aftermath had almost torn them apart. It would do the same to America.

“I better had,” he said. He’d urged the local resistance to choose the best course of action, hating himself even as he’d spoken. It had sounded weak, even to him, a suggestion that he wasn't willing to grasp the buck with both hands. Truman had once said that the buck stopped with the President, yet how could he, in a bunker, decide the best course of action. Only the men on the ground could do that. “Do you have the camera ready?”

“Of course,” Pepper assured him. “Just give me a moment to warm it up and you can make your speech.”

The President looked over at a map he’d hung on the wall. Blotchy red marks showed where the aliens had landed and started to set up their bases and cities. The more he looked at it, the more he suspected what the aliens were really trying to do. They could hammer alien collaborators all year without really impeding the aliens at all. The aliens might even intend to force the humans to burn off their combat power by fighting each other. Bringing in Arab troops to America was guaranteed to spark off an explosion – the ravings on the internet proved that, if nothing else – and humans would be killing humans, expending war materiel that couldn’t be easily replaced. The resistance had vast numbers of tiny production plants for bombs and other weapons, but mass production was no longer an option. How many Arabs and Americans alike would be killed because of the aliens? The latest reports suggested that over fifty thousand Arab troops were on their way. A SSN had taken the risk of firing cruise missiles at an Arab detention camp in Saudi, but there had been no way to obtain post-strike information to determine what had happened. The aliens had hunted the submarine ruthlessly, yet it had escaped. The President found that bitterly amusing. At least the human race was ahead in one area…

Yet even that might not matter. In his research after the UFO had crashed, the President had read an oddly-dated science-fiction novel about alien invasion. The aliens had been remarkably primitive by some standards, yet they’d crossed the gulf of interstellar space and occupied Earth’s high orbitals. As long as they’d held that control, they couldn’t be beaten…and the situation he faced, in some ways, was comparable. The aliens had hundreds of spacecraft in orbit around Earth. They could administer the final sanction at any moment if they came close to defeat. Firing missiles from an SSBN probably wouldn’t harm them in the slightest. How long could an insurgency sustain itself without outside support?

“There is the other piece of information from Karen,” Pepper said. The President, silently glad of the change of subject, looked over at her. “What do you intend to do about it?”

In the olden days, before the invasion, the US President would have been very involved with the Middle East and its endless conflicts. Now…it was hardly on the list of concerns and the thought that he could do anything about it was absurd. He couldn’t control what took place on American soil, let alone the Middle East. The last of the American carriers had been interned in Britain. The remainder had been sunk. The American soldiers on deployment in the Middle East had either gone into the camps or into the underground – or had been killed by the Arabs. The only other option was a nuclear strike, against…what?

“Nothing,” he said, finally. “Pass the information on to the Brits. They can pass it on to the next set of victims. They’ll have to handle it themselves.” He rubbed his eyes angrily. “We’re out of the world policing business.”

Pepper didn’t argue. “Yes, Mr President,” she said. “Smile for the camera?”

***

“We have to go there,” Michael Francis Carey snapped. Nicolas rubbed the side of his head. There was always a rivalry between the Marines and the SEALs, even though they worked together fairly often, but this was something different. “My family is in the suburbs in Chicago!”

Nicolas counted to twenty under his breath. He could understand his subordinate’s concern – Nancy was only a few miles away, even if he couldn’t go visit her for fear of drawing attention to her location – but he wasn't thinking straight. The resistance team was on foot. Chicago was hundreds of miles away. They’d never get there in time to do more than see the rubble.

“And there is nothing we can do to help them by going there,” he said, tightly. “We couldn’t even get there without being picked up by the Order Police!”

“So we shoot our way through them,” Carey snapped. “We’ve done it before.”

“We lost three people over the last week,” Nicolas reminded him. “We ran into that checkpoint and we had to fight our way out of the trap. If they had known we were coming, none of us would have gotten out alive. We pissed them off pretty badly, as you may recall. How do you intend to get there in time to help?”

He watched as his words sank into Carey’s head. “But we…”

Nicolas nodded. “The best thing we can do is continue hurting them as best as we can,” he said, softly. “That’s what we’re going to do. There’s a genuine alien base not too far away and when they’re being ground to sausage meat in Chicago, we’re going to hit it. There is nothing else we can do?”

Carey wasn't happy, he saw, but he knew that Nicolas was right. What other choice did they have?


Chapter Twenty-Two


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 140


Edward Tanaka lay on a rooftop and peered towards the Arab camp. The mismatched force’s weaknesses were all-too-evident, but it was becoming clear that their commander, whoever he was, wasn't entirely a slouch. Edward’s experience with Arab commanders had been decidedly mixed; the New Iraqi Army had had its fair share of good commanders, while the Kuwaiti and Saudi armies had had too many officers who’d won their positions through patronage rather than competence or even time in grade. The Egyptians, Libyans, Saudis, Syrians and Yemenis shared nothing beyond Islam – sometimes not even that – and fights had been common, but their commander was steadily breaking them down into a fighting unit. Discipline was harsh. A pair of Egyptians had been hung for molesting an American woman and a Saudi had been publicly flogged for breaking into a bar and getting stinking drunk on the moonshine inside. He probably regretted that more than the flogging. Edward’s private opinion was that some of the home-brewed beers were probably in violation of international treaties against chemical warfare.

I wonder who you are, you bastard, he thought, not without a certain degree of respect. For all the talk about how Northerners were different from the Good Old Boys in the South, Americans shared a common culture and attitude that transcended race and religion. The Arabs were united only by name and hated each other more than they hated Israel or America. It had its odd moments – his father had served in the Gulf War, where fights between Arab units had been common – but all the dreams of a united Arab nation were just that; dreams. The Egyptians thought the Saudis were degenerates. The Saudis thought that possessing Mecca gave them the right to rule all of Islam. The Jordanians suspected that the Egyptians and Saudis had sold them out to Israel and the Americans. The Yemenis hated the Saudis with a white-hot fury. Anyone who could get them to work together had to be a remarkable diplomat, if nothing else. God alone knew what would happen when they came over the wall and advanced into Chicago, but it wouldn’t be for lack of preparation. The Arabs were historically bad at logistics, yet with the aliens and Walking Dead handling those, they might be able to avoid outrunning their supply lines.

He winced as a shadow passed overhead, heading for Midway Airport. Chicago had enough urban sprawl to make landing troops difficult, even with alien technology, but they were using all the space they could to build up their forces. He wished for a MANPAD as the alien craft headed towards its landing zone, but he’d brought nothing apart from his pistol. If the Order Police caught sight of him, he’d have to escape or kill himself. He wasn’t going to become one of the Walking Dead.

The Arabs had done a lot of boasting, but they hadn’t been very specific about what they had in mind. The Bitch Queen’s source had been much more helpful. The Arabs didn’t intend to try anything fancy. They’d massed their forces beyond the alien line – at IL50, Cicero Ave – and would be advancing on a wide front, aiming to crush the resistance against the Lake. It was brute force on a colossal scale and he couldn’t fault the plan. It showed a mind that had few illusions about how capable his forces actually were, or just what they could accomplish. The Green Zone and the other secure areas within the city would, he assumed, be held firmly by alien forces.

He remembered the brief discussion they’d had last night. The source had been specific. Anyone caught with a weapon, or without an ID card, would be shipped to one of the detention camps and disappear. The police – the real police – had announced that anyone who handed in a weapon before the offensive begun would be granted amnesty. The aliens or the Order Police hadn’t dissented, which was interesting. Was it an attempt to minimise bloodshed, or to ensure a bloodbath? An echoing call to prayer sounded out and the Arabs lined up in front of a Mullah, who looked rather unhappy. Edward had heard that the Mullahs had been told that rabble-rousing would result in a bullet in the back of the head. Who knew? It might even have been true.

His lips twitched. They’d taken something out of the Iraqi playbook all right, and only half of them had lined up to pray. The other half remained on guard duty, watching for enemies who might try to slip through the defences. The resistance had smuggled a couple of people though in the first two days, but then the Arabs had tightened up security and intercepted the third sabotage mission. The resistance fighter had blown himself up along with at least four Arabs. Edwards hoped that they enjoyed the suicide bomber tactic as much as he’d enjoyed it in Iraq, although he had no intention of making a habit of it. It was un-American.

The Mullah finished his raving and the men prostrated themselves in the direction of Mecca. For a moment, Edward felt an odd kinship with them, sharing their prayers that they could come through the fighting without being killed. There were no atheists in foxholes, as the old saying went, and he knew no soldier who wouldn’t pray when under fire. Most of them were going to die in the next few days. He studied faces through his optical sensors, wondering if he would see anyone he might remember, but found no familiar faces. They were a curious mixture, wearing American uniforms – their commander had apparently decided that national uniforms would only upset people – and standing to attention. They might have made good soldiers if someone had given them half a chance. He gritted his teeth as he scanned the parade ground, wondering if their commander would show himself. It would be worth a hell of a risk just to take a pot-shot at him. He was probably all that was holding them together.

A pair of aliens, both Leaders, walked past the human soldiers, their dark eyes glancing from side to side. A number of Arabs flinched away at their gaze, some muttering prayers under their breath. The Arabs disliked the aliens as much as Americans did, yet they fought for them. Edward didn’t laugh. If things had been different, perhaps he would have joined the Order Police. He followed the aliens and saw another group of aliens standing waiting for them, speaking in their odd language. It was impossible to make out what they were saying. If any humans understood the alien language, they weren't in Chicago.

He glanced down at his watch and then started to crawl off the rooftop, heading towards the stairs back down to the ground floor. The apartment had officially lain empty ever since the aliens had landed in Chicago, but there was always the prospect of squatters, or someone trying to hide from the aliens. He’d seen no sign that anyone else had entered the building since the invasion, yet that meant nothing. There were plenty of people in the city with a motive to hide.

The Order Police rarely came into the area except in force, although they dominated some parts of Chicago. Edward hadn’t gone there since the invasion, but he’d heard that a person might be asked for his card at every street corner, just to track them as they moved through the city. With a few powerful computers, the aliens could probably track the movements of every human under their control, providing a picture of what they’d been doing ever since they registered with the aliens. There was little choice if he did run into a patrol. He’d have to escape, or kill himself. The thought never failed to chill.

He glanced from side to side and then ran. If luck was with him, he’d be back at the base before darkness fell over the city. The Arab offensive was intended to begin in less than a week. With their competent commanding officer, they might just make it.

***

Abigail had seen plenty of aliens by now and she had grown used to them, even though she knew never to take any of them for granted. They weren't human and they didn’t think like humans. The presence of the looming alien warriors was a constant reminder of their power, a remainder to both her and the Arabs. They’d been warned that failure to succeed would result in a death sentence. No one doubted that the aliens would carry out their threat.

She gazed over the camp as night fell over Chicago, bringing cold air sweeping down from the north. Canada was up there somewhere, free human territory – until the aliens decided they wanted it too. The Canadians had depended on the Americans for their defence and hadn’t built up their army to the point where it might be able to stand off the aliens, although so far every nation the aliens had challenged had been beaten. She wished, oddly, that the Canadians had been a little more paranoid where their American cousins had been concerned. They could have built up a powerful army and prepared for war, preparations that would have served them well against the aliens. It was too late now.

The scent of cooked food wafted across her nostrils and she felt her belly rumbling. The Arabs had insisted on bringing their own cooks and meat to the United States and their soldiers would be eating curry and rice, along with other meals she’d only been able to eat in ethnic eateries. She wasn’t sure if that was actually a good thing or not, although her stomach was insisting that she begged some food for herself. She’d eaten MREs when she’d been embedded with American soldiers and while the soldiers had grumbled, she hadn’t thought that they’d been that bad. They’d certainly been way ahead of her cooking. The Arab cooks were all men, she noted with a certain frisson of amusement. They hadn’t brought any women with them to the war.

Let’s hope they don’t get into Dearborn, she thought, slyly. Dearborn was home to the largest community of Arab-Americans, mainly Lebanese and others who had tried to escape the tyrants, terrorists and religious fanatics who had wrecked their home countries. She’d read, once, that several of them had roughed up an Al Jazeera reporter for being too pro-Saddam in 2004, something that had struck her as rather less than funny at the time. They’d probably be arming up now, prepared to fight to defend themselves and America. They weren’t that far from Chicago.

“Over here,” the minder bellowed. His voice sounded tinny against the racket of the camp, but no one would dare pretend not to hear. “Reporters; get over here!”

The Arabs had been garrisoned in a cluster of warehouses that had once, as far as she could make out, held mechanical components for nearby factories. The reporters weren't getting much better accommodation, although she would have bet her much-reduced pay packet that the minders had secured excellent accommodation. She was proved right as she was led around a corner and caught sight of several luxury trailers that had been requisitioned by the minders for their own comfort. A group of Order Policemen stood on guard, their faces carefully blank, yet showing hints of envy and fury…and fear. The whole camp was on edge.

She followed the other reporters into a large warehouse – wincing slightly at the cold air – and watched as the minder stood up on a chair to speak to them. “You all have your assignments,” he said. “You will be following your assigned units through the city, composing stories about the bravery of the loyalist units involved in the assault, all of which will be filed through me before they are broadcast to the waiting world. Between missions, you will be quartered back here where you will continue to write your stories. There will be no computer access without my direct permission. Any attempt to seek unauthorised access or distribution will result in heavy punishment. You saw the hanged men as you came in.”

Abigail nodded. There was no way of knowing what the Arabs had done, but someone – perhaps the aliens, perhaps the Order Police – had hung them from lampposts and left them strung up as an object lesson, pour encourager les autres. It had worked, too; there was no dissent from the reporters, no suggestion that they should only write about what they had seen personally. Professional pride – and most reporters felt a little pride in their occupation – had been replaced by the desire to survive. It wouldn’t be long before it was replaced by Stockholm Syndrome and reporters started falling in love with their minder’s version of reality.

And there was another point. She had sent several stories in to the Committees of Correspondence and other underground newspapers. There were even several editions of each newspaper, each one slightly different, for uniformity wasn't even a possibility these days. If the minders insisted on supervising everything, it probably meant that they’d deduced that one of the newspaper’s contributors was among their tame reporters, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Submitting a real story might be difficult. On the other hand…

A bitch in sheep’s clothing, she thought, and smiled. She’d taken a few precautions with help from a few friends and if she played her cards right, she should be able to get a newspaper essay out first, and they’d never even be able to prove that it was her!

“The assault will begin in four days,” the minder said, as if it was as inevitable as death or taxes. “You will have that long to prepare your preliminary stories for inspection and have them examined by my department. Once you have completed the first stories, you may use the rest of the time to get acquainted with the city and the people who have been the helpless victims of terrorist aggression.”

Abigail fought hard to keep a smile off her face and almost succeeded. The aliens had shot themselves in the foot. Their collaborators had presented videos of terrorist violence and women being raped that were too good. Anyone with half a brain knew that CCTV cameras didn’t pick up such precise images, as if they had been directed by a movie producer, but a single viewpoint that was often frustratingly blurred. No video of violence included close-ups of the victim’s face, or hinted at anything rather than revealed it directly…the images had been faked. The thought amused her and depressed her in equal measure. It depressed her because the aliens or their collaborators thought that the humans would swallow such nonsense, but it amused her because she suspected that someone had insisted that the propaganda be made that way, to make it clear that it was all faked. By accident or design, it was a blow for the resistance.

The bloggers had made it clear from the start, although most of them had refrained from suggesting that it had been done deliberately. They’d provided exhaustive analysis and blow-by-blow commentary on the more obnoxious videos, proving that they’d clearly been faked, or at the very least weren't what they claimed to be. The best that could be said of them was that they hadn’t taken place in Chicago; the worst were clearly actors, playing a role. Abigail had never imagined that anyone could play a victim of violence, but she’d never thought about it. Hollywood could produce shockingly real special effects without actually beating an actor up to show blood, or raping an actress or slaughtering children just to get it exactly right. They would have been better to have accepted imperfect videos or even taken footage from police stations and public surveillance cameras. They might have gotten away with that. It would, at the very least, have been harder to disprove.

Her minder finished his speech and allowed the reporters to disperse to their rooms. The small hotel had once catered for people on low budgets and had decorated accordingly, although Abigail had slept in worse when she’d visited Paris as part of a group from school. There was enough food and drink to keep them going, although the food was American rather than Arab. She seriously considered walking down to the canteen and requesting a share, but decided that the idea would be unwise. Even if the Arabs she saw were…respectful of American women, the minders might decide that it represented an attempt to gain unsupervised access to the Arabs and treat her accordingly. She hated being so…controlled. Her worst boyfriend had never been such a control freak. He just hadn’t cared enough about her.

She found the bed and lay down in it. It was lumpy, but at least it was warm and dry. The noise from outside seemed never-ending, but somehow she finally managed to drift off to sleep, dreaming of Arabs and aliens and nightmares that seemed to merge into one, reminding her that she was on the front lines of a war. They might all be killed in the next few days.

Shots woke her up late at night, but otherwise there was no sound of alarm. She pulled the covers back over her head and tried to go back to sleep, her imagination filling in the story. Perhaps some of the Arabs had decided to desert, or perhaps they had killed some Americans, or perhaps the resistance had tried sneaking more people into the camp. She could write stories around all three ideas, showing people the underlying truth of the war. She could make it real for them.

The morning after, they were told that the shots had been a training exercise called at short notice. The Arab sharpshooters had needed to practice engaging targets in the dark. No one had been hurt and the shooters were all perfect.

She didn’t believe a word of it.


Chapter Twenty-Three


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 145


Lieutenant Jalal Shafaqat braced himself as the line of vehicles began to move forward, through the barricade the demons had thrown up to block escape. The scene was a depressing reminder of barricades and operations on the streets of Cairo, even if he had never actually fired a shot in anger. The Muslim Brotherhoods had been out on the streets, screaming their rage at the corrupt and venal regime that ruled Egypt, yet Jalal and his comrades hadn’t faced them directly. That had been the task of the more experienced and ruthless units of the Egyptian Army, units who knew that if the crazy Mullahs and their howling servants took over, they’d be the first against the wall. They’d crushed the mobs with brutal efficiency and moved on to the next target, before the demons had invaded and crushed Egypt. They’d timed it perfectly. The Muslim Brotherhoods had been scattered by the army, yet the army hadn't been ready to stand off the aliens, even if they could have been defeated. Jalal and his fellows had gone into the camps.

He didn’t like Chicago, not one little bit. It was a cold and ugly city, populated by men and women who eyed the Arabs as if they would like to tear them apart. He’d seem similar looks on the faces of the Muslim Brotherhood prisoners, the few that had survived to be captured, men who hated everyone who wore the army uniform. They’d been taken out into the desert, shot in the back of the head, and then dumped in a mass grave. The Americans watched and bided their time. Jalal had no illusions. The Americans might respect the demons, but not the Arabs. They would lie in wait and strike when the time was right.

The older men in the regiment, including some who had fought covertly against the Americans in Iraq – and on the American side in the Gulf War – had told him all about the Americans. They were demons when it came to technology, often being able to do things that seemed like magic to young men and women brought up in a different world, and when they fought, they fought with an utter ruthlessness that terrified their enemies. And yet, they were acutely sensitive to casualties and could be dissuaded from their chosen course of action by a few deaths, the more shocking the better. It was a contradiction Jalal had never been able to understand, even when he had walked the streets of Chicago’s suburbs to try to gain a feel for the city. Chicago wasn't like Cairo or any of the other cities he’d seen. Chicago shouted its identity to the skies and dared them to answer back.

He hefted his rifle as he led the patrol along the street. The orders had been clear enough. The force would advance on a broad front until they reached the lake. Anyone encountered within the city was to be halted, searched, and identified. If he or she wasn't carrying an ID card, or a weapon, they were to be taken into custody and sent to the rear. Jalal hoped, despite himself, that they caught some young women, even though the men at the rear would have all the fun. American women, it was rumoured, were very skilled in bed. Jalal had never married – his family was too poor to afford a dowry – but he’d been induced to enter one of the whorehouses in his hometown when he’d joined the army. The whore hadn’t wanted to be there and the experience had left a sour taste in his mouth.

Chicago rose up around him as they advanced further. Despite the noise of the advancing armoured cars, there was a sense of eerie silence, underlying the entire city. It took him a moment to realise why. The Arabs were the only ones on the street. The Americans had vanished, leaving behind litter and few other traces of their presence. Perhaps they’d melted into their buildings, hiding from the soldiers, or perhaps they were planning an ambush. Cold sweat ran down the back of his neck and he cursed the day he’d volunteered to serve with the aliens. It couldn’t have been worse back in the prison camp. The older soldiers told him that if he lived through his first taste of combat, he’d be fine every other time, but the anticipation was making his palms sweat. He had to lick his lips to use the radio and, when he spoke, his voice was cracked and broken.

“We’re at the first waypoint, sir,” he said, and hoped that the Americans hadn’t been able to listen in. The senior officers had warned them to keep off the airwaves as much as possible, but it was impossible to coordinate the advance without some communication…and the different armies lacked a shared communications system. In time, he’d been promised, they’d develop a shared code, but for now, they just had to keep transmissions to an absolute minimum. “We are moving in now.”

The apartment block was pitted with bullet holes and pockmarks, suggesting that someone had been fighting a gun battle somewhere nearby. It was a depressingly ugly building to him, even though he had to admire how neatly it had been built. He walked up to the door – someone had sprayed a massive red V over the glass – and checked it carefully. There was no sign of any trap, but he allowed two of the common soldiers to have the honour of leading the way into the building. The Muslim Brotherhood had been very inventive when it had come to rigging up surprises in their safe houses and he expected the same level of ingenuity from the Americans.

He ran forward as the remaining nine men filed in the door and found himself in a lobby. The smell was appalling, a mixture of piss and shit and something he fancied he recognised, but couldn’t identify. The Americans – or someone – had piled rubbish into the corridor, along with several dead cats and dogs. The putrid remains of the animals left him gagging for breath – several soldiers vomited before pulling on their gas masks – and cursing mentally. It was hard to even consider heading up the stairs to search the remainder of the building, but that might have been the point. Even in gas masks, searching the ground floor was not a pleasant task. The smell rose up with them to the second level, infesting the entire building. Jalal had spent time patrolling in slums and refugee camps, but the Americans had created a whole new form of warfare. Every instinct in his mind was screaming at him to get out and never come back. It was beyond logic and reason, yet somehow he held his ground. His men were depending on him.

The sergeant pointed to a sealed doorway ahead and Jalal smiled, recognising the signs of someone attempting to keep out as much as possible of the accursed stench. The soldiers moved forward and banged on the door – he would have preferred to kick it down, but the ROE insisted that they try to summon the occupants first – and it opened, revealing a middle-aged American lady who glared at them indiscriminately. She reminded Jalal of his mother – a woman who’d never taken any shit from anyone, even his father – and he pulled himself to attention.

“We have to search your flat,” he said, feeling a moment’s pity for the woman. Now he could see her clearly, he could see a pair of nose plugs inserted in her nose. Her sense of smell had to have been bad even before she tried to block it off.

“No,” the woman said. She blocked the doorway with her formidable body. “Get lost.”

Jalal waved to two of his soldiers, who pushed the woman aside and stormed into the flat, knocking her to the ground as she passed. Her apartment was quickly ransacked for guns and other weapons, but the soldiers found nothing apart from a set of carving knives. The woman cursed them fluently in several languages, including an oddly accented version of Arabic. Jalal ignored her and pushed her fingers against the scanner he carried, revealing that the woman had been registered and then ignored by the aliens and their human servants. She simply wasn't very important. He patted her down roughly and left her lying on the ground, screaming her rage at them.

The remainder of the building was searched slowly, despite the stench. One room held a family of four women who were either very close friends or lesbians. Others held more normal families who were hiding out from the aliens, or the resistance, or both. All of them were registered and cleared quickly, apart from one of the women, who slapped a soldier after he groped her breast during a search. She was rapidly hauled out and dumped outside the apartment for one of the follow-up units to arrest. Jalal found it hard to care if she worked herself free and escaped. Her details were recorded and she’d be arrested the next time she passed through a checkpoint. He checked that his men were ready and led the way to the next building. If the entire mission went so smoothly, perhaps he’d see his family again after all.

***

Vivian rubbed the side of her mouth where she’d bumped it into the floor. The Arabs had searched her, but they’d missed her most important weapon, her brain. She’d looked helpless, a woman old enough to be their grandmother, and they’d ignored her, even after she cursed them in several different languages. She hoped that the families upstairs were keeping their younger daughters out of harm’s way. The Arabs might have more in mind than just searching them.

She pulled herself to her feet and staggered back into the bedroom. The Arabs had searched it roughly, pulling out all the drawers, but they’d missed the tiny cell phone. She’d been given it linked into the latest MP6 player and if they’d seen it at all, they hadn’t recognised it for what it really was. She clicked it on and activated the hidden touchscreen, sending the single message out towards the resistance. They'd know that the Arabs were on their way, along with all the information she’d gathered. She’d sworn at them in Arabic, yet it hadn’t occurred to them that she understood every word they’d said. Smiling, she rubbed some cream on the bruise and turned to leave the apartment. She wouldn’t miss it.

***

Jalal braced himself as they advanced towards the second building. There were hundreds of armoured vehicles and troops backing up his small unit, but somehow he didn’t find them reassuring. The total lack of enemy operations bothered him more than he cared to admit. The resistance wasn't composed of cowards, so where were they? He wondered if he should have arrested everyone in the previous apartment building, yet there would have been no point. The resistance wouldn’t have left their registered fighters in a place where they could be quickly rounded up and dispatched.

His musings came to a sudden end as one of his point men kicked a plastic bottle on the road, which exploded. Jalal hit the ground as a hail of shots poured down from the building’s windows – no, from all of the buildings – catching the Arabs in a deadly crossfire. Missiles lanced out towards the armoured cars and blew them up into massive fireballs. He saw, just for a moment, a tumbling bottle arcing through the air and crashing into a group of soldiers, exploding into a fireball. The shooting never ceased. The Americans just kept pouring fire into their position, tearing a once-proud unit apart. A disabled van he’d noticed earlier blew up violently, sending red-hot chunks of metal flying through the air. A sergeant was struck by a piece of metal and his head literally flew off his shoulders. Another armoured car was blown apart by a missile aimed from one of the buildings, creating yet another fireball. Jalal wanted to run, to escape, but somehow he held himself together. If he ran, he reminded himself, the entire line would break and run. The demons would tear them apart for failure.

He glanced around, seeing how many men were hugging the ground and holding their weapons as if they were life preservers. A handful of men had tried to run, only to be blown apart by heavy machine gun fire from the resistance. He met their eyes one by one and used hand signals to tell them to get ready, unhooking his grenades from his belt and preparing to throw them towards the American positions. As long as they remained low, he reasoned, they couldn’t be hit. They could use that against the enemy.

“Now,” he shouted, with a silent prayer to Allah that he’d survive. He threw the first grenade as far forward as he could, right towards the Americans. Other grenades followed, hammering away at the Americans and driving them back, although the buildings weren't significantly damaged. The firing dampened off slightly as the Americans fell back. He looked back towards an advancing armoured car and waved desperately, heedless of command authority, signalling the car to open fire with its heavy machine gun. A stream of tracer roared over their heads and bombarded the American position. He saw wood and stone chips break off the building under the fire, leaving it as a minor miracle that it didn’t come crashing to the ground. The Americans, he grudgingly admitted, did good work.

Another company of soldiers raced forward and he used hand signals to send them forward into the American positions. This time, no one took chances; they threw grenades into the buildings, before advancing with weapons at the ready, firing at any possible threat. The American resistance fighters fell back in surprisingly good order, firing shots to force the Arabs to keep their distance. Jalal knew that he should give chase, but it was hard to muster up the energy. It felt as if the sudden ambush had gone on for years, not barely seven minutes, if that.

“Allah,” he muttered, as the soldiers regrouped. Over two hundred soldiers and nine armoured cars had been destroyed in the brief bloody clash. They’d gone right through a meat grinder. “Is it always going to be like this?”

***

Dolly peered through her sniper scope as the Arabs regrouped. They looked shell-shocked, as if they hadn’t expected such a reception. Dolly could almost have felt sorry for them, except that they’d been on the verge of raping her entire city. The rumours had been sweeping Chicago for weeks now, warning that the aliens had sold all the women to the Arabs in exchange for clearing out the resistance fighters and the gangs, or even stranger rumours. Dolly had privately resolved never to be captured if she could help it. The Arabs would be unlikely to show mercy to a teenage girl who happened to be both a cheerleader and a sharpshooter.

She watched grimly as a handful of prisoners were led off, some of them cuffed and beaten by their captors. She’d been warned that there was only one kind of target worth her fire, an alien Leader or one of the Arab commanders, but she wanted desperately to open fire on the Arabs. It wouldn’t have saved the prisoners from whatever lay in wait for them. Somehow, she doubted that their treatment would be pleasant.

Two weeks ago, she’d been horrified when she killed her first man, a member of the Order Police. Now, she calmly moved the scope from target to target, trying to work out how the Arabs were organised and who was in charge. It wasn't easy. The unit cohesion seemed to have been badly damaged, if not broken altogether, and there were several individuals who appeared to have been completely orphaned. She smiled to herself as her scope passed over a wounded man, blood pouring from a gash in his face, and then focused on a surprisingly handsome young man giving orders. He looked too young to be commanding an army, but perhaps he was just a Captain or a Major. It didn’t matter. Someone who could pull soldiers back from the brink of collapse was clearly someone to be reckoned with.

She targeted him carefully, making sure that she could kill him with a single shot. Her sharpshooter rifle was a custom job, obtained by her father after she won the Cup for shooting two years ago. She’d hunted a couple of times, but she hadn’t enjoyed killing defenceless animals, even if some of them had chewed her clothes when they’d managed to break into her tent. Hunting men was, somehow, much easier. The Arabs wouldn’t hesitate to shoot back at her. Wasting bullets wouldn’t have been clever, not after realising that she only had a limited supply and no easy way to obtain replacements.

“Goodbye,” she muttered, and squeezed the trigger.

***

Jalal had lost track of how much authority he had; somehow, being the only person who seemed to be barking orders, he’d won control of several battered units. He formed them up and pushed them forward, securing the area as much as possible. The resistance wouldn’t have run far. They’d had time to prepare their strong points and ambush the advancing forces and they’d have doubtless set up a fallback position. Somehow, despite all the horror and carnage, he was actually enjoying himself. It was finally a chance to put training and theory into practice. It would earn him promotion, honour, and perhaps a chance to see his family again, if the aliens hadn’t destroyed Cairo in the days since he’d been captured. Perhaps, even, it would guarantee their safety in such dangerous days.

It was his last thought. A moment later, Dolly’s bullet passed through his head and sent him crashing to the ground. He was dead before he hit the hard pavement.


Chapter Twenty-Four


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 145


Night was falling as Edward Tanaka led the four-man team through Chicago’s underground tunnels. The old subways – and the distinctive elevated subway trains that looped around downtown – had been closed down by the aliens back when they’d first occupied the city, along with all other forms of public transport. It had been intended to help keep the population in order – and dependent – yet it had backfired. The massive network of underground tunnels and sewers could be used to get almost anywhere in the city, without ever having to show one’s face above ground.

He checked the goggles as they passed another hidden marker on the wall. The aliens and the Order Police hadn’t sent many people down into the tunnels, knowing that the resistance, the gangs and the homeless who hid down out of sight had the advantage there. There was a whole secret community under the city, although it was hardly as romantic as some novelists had described it. It consisted of men and women trying desperately to survive. Many of them merely tried to stay out of the Order Police’s way. The night vision goggles he wore sometimes warned that they were being watched from darkened corners, even though the majority of the population chose to stay out of sight. They had been half-crazed even before the invasion. Now, they were practically insane.

“Here,” one of the men muttered. “There’s the ladder.”

Edward nodded once and watched as the first man started to climb rapidly up the hidden rope ladder. It had required two days of careful work to create the passage linking the building above to the sewer network, two days in which he’d been terrified of discovery by the Order Police. The problem with any kind of surprise attack was that if the surprise were lost, the attack would be nowhere near as effective, if it was effective at all. They’d rigged the building with explosive charges that would obscure everything they’d hidden, if the Order Police broke in, yet it wouldn’t take a genius to deduce what they’d been preparing. Surprise would be lost without the attack ever having been launched.

He’d disliked rope ladders as a kid, but it was something that had been beaten out of him at Camp Pendleton. He climbed up rapidly, careful not to look down as he scrambled through the broken tarmac and underground into the department store’s basement. Frills had once sold the kind of garments that drove women crazy – and emptied men’s wallets – yet it had been deserted for weeks. Their reconnaissance had suggested that the remaining samples of expensive underwear had been transported into the Green Zone, although no one knew why. Perhaps the Order Police had just felt like looting that day. The idea of the aliens wearing panties and bras…

The vision of a cross-dressing warrior loomed up in his mind as he reached the top and he had to struggle to keep from chuckling. The darkened shop looked deserted, but he shone an infrared torch around anyway, checking the wired charges at the front of the store. They were all intact and showed no sign that anyone had tampered with them, but he hesitated before deactivating and dismantling the traps. The last thing they needed was to be disturbed at a crucial moment.

“Get the rest of the team up here,” he ordered, barely raising his voice above a whisper. He could hear, in the distance, the sound of explosions and shooting, but a single raised voice could draw attention. “Check the weapon before we get it into position.”

He climbed the stairs quickly, checking each of the floors as he went. They were genuinely creepy in the darkness, but there was no sign that anyone had come in through the shattered windows and made a nest amid the cash registers. The rooftop door was locked and it took him several minutes to unpick it in the heavy darkness, but finally he was on the roof, staring out towards the Green Zone.

Bastards, he thought, angrily. There was a power cut all over the city – another alien attempt to convince the resistance to surrender, or the local residents to turn them in – except in the Green Zone. The small cluster of buildings was lit up like a Christmas tree, mocking the people who refused to collaborate. Look at us, it seemed to say; look what we have. You could have it too

Edward pulled out a small pair of binoculars and surveyed the target quickly. There was no sign of any alien craft overhead, or even on the ground, but that proved nothing. The alien craft moved so rapidly that they made bringing in reinforcements from South America or Russia a realistic possibility. The latter was a genuine concern. The Internet spoke of chaos on Russia’s streets and a government that was considering how best it could profit from the current situation. What if the Russians decided to add their forces to the Arabic units already assailing Chicago?

He turned and looked towards the west. The city was burning, with fires everywhere, despite the best efforts of the fire department. They’d driven right into the war zone and had attempted to start putting out the fires, even though the Arabs had targeted them as a matter of course. Edward admired bravery, but suspected that the firemen would have been better off joining the resistance as a working unit, rather than wasting their lives on fires that would never go out until the fighting was over. The grand offensive might have stalled, but the Arabs were learning, prodded – no doubt – by the Walking Dead.

Edward had no illusions. If the Arabs continued their attacks, the resistance would eventually run out of city and be crushed. The only alternative was to hold as long as they could, and then slip out of the city in the chaos, something that would be tricky. The only other option was to surrender and hope that the Arabs would treat them kindly, but he knew that it was a fool’s hope. The Arabs might take them alive, yet the aliens would turn them into Walking Dead, and then they would willingly betray the resistance in other cities. Who knew? Maybe the horse would learn to sing, if they held out long enough.

The ground quaked as another explosion billowed up in the distance, followed by a gust of cold air. He found himself praying for snow to further snarl up the Arabs, although he doubted that they’d be lucky enough to get snow for another few months. He looked back at the Green Zone, felt a wave of hatred and contempt that was beyond words, and headed back down into the darkness. The team had nearly finished setting up the mortar.

“It’s all set,” one of them assured him. He knew no names. It was safer that way. “We should be able to get off at least four shots before they triangulate on our position.”

“Good,” Edward said. He looked over towards the rear entrance. “I’ll dismantle the traps, then you can open the door and get the brute out.”

He’d chosen Frills for a reason that had nothing to do with an ex-girlfriend who’d found the place irresistible. The owners had spent vast sums of money to provide it with a parking lot behind the store that they’d used to unload their new produce. The mortar could be moved out into the parking lot without being noticed, although he took care to run a set of checks to make sure that no one was watching them from a distance. They might have been watched by someone from one of the taller buildings with a pair of night vision goggles, but it hardly mattered. By the time they reacted, it would be too late.

There was no talking now; the team knew what had to be done. Two men loaded the mortar with the first shell, while the third carefully checked the targeting. They’d done their best to pre-sight the system, but mortars were never the most accurate of weapons. It didn’t matter, as far as Edward was concerned. All that mattered was that the mortar shells would be coming down somewhere inside the Green Zone. The collaborators were about to have a rude wake-up call.

“Fire,” he ordered, shortly.

The mortar launched the first shell towards the Green Zone. The team didn’t hesitate. They started loading the second shell at once. Edward watched the first shell, wondering if the aliens had installed a point defence laser system or force shields that protected their servants from attack. The US Army had been deploying anti-mortar laser systems for the last few years, even though they hadn’t been as perfect as the designers had promised. The aliens could probably do better. Mortar shells flew in a ballistic trajectory and could easily be tracked by radar – it was quite possible, he knew, that an enemy-controlled artillery battery was already preparing to fire back at them. The US had done the same in Iraq.

“Hit,” he shouted. Silence no longer mattered. The explosion billowed up from the Green Zone, although he couldn’t tell what he'd hit. He’d allowed himself to hope that they might hit an ammunition depot and blow the entire base sky-high, but that would have been too much to count on. Besides, the aliens would be fools to trust their human servants with too many weapons. “Fire again!”

Two more shells were launched in quick succession, before a streak of light flared down from high above, missing the mortar and the team by bare meters. The shockwave from the blast knocked Edward to the ground. Cursing, he crawled back towards Frills, knowing that the aliens would have ground troops already on the way. The ground shook again as the mortar was destroyed, along with one of the team members who hadn’t moved quickly enough. The remaining three ran into Frills and raced for the basement, resetting the traps as they went. Anyone who broke into the store would be in for a nasty surprise.

He’d wondered if the aliens would simply destroy the building, killing all of them in a single shot, but it seemed that they were more interested in capturing them. He dived down into the basement, caught the rope ladder, and slid down it fast enough to give himself friction burns. The explosion from above suggested that someone, or something, had broken into the store. He cursed and ran as soon as he hit the bottom, following the others back into the darkness. Behind him, a shower of bricks and debris rained down from high above. The aliens would probably dig their way through eventually and expose part of the tunnel system, but by then he’d be long gone.

He laughed to himself as they ran all the way back to the base, even though it wasn’t a significant blow against the aliens. The collaborators now knew that not even the Green Zone was safe. The results of that would be…interesting.

***

Captain Jake Valdemar was the only person in the Order Police headquarters expecting the mortar strike, but the shell had landed far too close for comfort and it was easy to pretend to be scared. Most of the men in the Order Police – women weren't allowed to join, for all kinds of reasons – had never seen combat before, even on the streets of America after signing up with the aliens. They were comfortable pushing people around – there were plenty of mindless twerps who just loved making other people’s lives a misery – yet they were hardly soldiers. They weren't even playing soldiers.

Jake had played soldier himself, as one of the Michigan Militia, before the invasion and the founding of the Order Police. The Militia had been linked into part of the underground resistance network that had been put together before the Fall of Washington and Jake had volunteered for a deep-cover assignment. Real military men weren’t allowed to join the Order Police, so Jake had posed as a poser – he’d claimed to be an Army Ranger – and managed to convince his recruiter that he’d been rejected by the regular army for being a bastard. The recruiter hadn’t known any better. Jake had an excellent memory for detail and could have posed as a Ranger to anyone who wasn't actually a Ranger or had served with the Rangers themselves. The Order Police had been delighted to have him. Someone who wanted to have served could be easily manipulated.

He pulled himself to his feet in one smooth motion and walked into the control room. The Order Police commanders – a mixture of resentful officers and civilians posing as military or police officers – had restricted their enlisted men from entering their sanctum without permission, a seriously flawed approach to security that he had been careful not to call to their attention. The Walking Dead man in the centre of the room – the real commander of the Chicago Order Police, in all, but name – ignored him as he entered, but several other officers looked up and glared at him. The civilians were worst. He'd posed as a Ranger to them and most of them believed him, convinced that he would one day rise above their position and outrank them. He glanced at the big screen showing incidents all over Chicago, smiled, and drew his pistols.

The first shot went through the Walking Dead man’s head. The second went through the only other armed man in the room. The remaining men started screaming or trying to run, allowing him to gun them all down before they could escape. There was only one other exit in the room and he’d ensured that it was locked most of the time, mainly for security reasons. It hadn’t occurred to any of the officers that it could be used just as easily to trap them. Real Rangers, Jake knew, wouldn’t have been caught so easily. He fired a final shot into the last officer and ran forward. The building might be secure, but someone would come to investigate the shooting, even with mortar shells distracting their attention. The bombardment had already stopped.

He glanced down at the computers as he tore away one of the chairs and knelt down by its side. The aliens hadn’t given the Order Police any of their computers; they’d just insisted that they use human computers, with human operating systems. Jake had Windows 9 himself back when he’d been younger and had been unimpressed by the number of bugs in the system. Microsoft had eventually created a patch to fix the numerous security weaknesses in the system, but some careful checking had revealed that the Order Police hadn’t bothered to install the patch, deliberately or otherwise. The thought that someone else might be trying to screw things up as well warmed his heart, even as he pulled out the USB memory stick and placed it in the socket. The reinforcements were doubtless already on their way, but the virus would have infected the entire mainframe by the time they even realised they had a problem. If the resistance was very lucky, the collaborators might not even think to check for viruses before they brought the computers back online.

The computer chimed once and he removed the USB memory stick, carefully dropping it in the shredder. The Order Police had installed one that had no problem destroying CDs and USB memory sticks as well as paper and cardboard, a system that had been developed for official Washington. He reloaded his pistols and slipped out of the door, heading for the furthest exit. The main exit would be sealed by now. If the tunnel network had been extended into the Green Zone, escape would have been easy, but the aliens had uncovered and sealed the network under their base. He’d have to lie low until he could sneak out of the zone.

“There,” a voice shouted. “You! Stop and raise your hands, right fucking now!”

The words sounded intimidating, the voice did not. Jake didn’t even consider it; he pointed his pistol towards the oncoming security guard and shot him neatly through the head. He’d won prizes for shooting with a pistol, even though accurate pistol shooting was hardly as easy as the movies suggested. He kept moving, keeping to the shadows. By now, escape was hardly a possibility, but he ran onwards anyway. The aliens would have to work to get to him. The last thing they’d be expecting would be a fugitive walking right up to the main building and calmly walking through the door.

He braced himself as he reached the two policemen at the door, but neither of them realised that he – their superior officer – was a fugitive. Original thinking was not encouraged in the Order Police and while he would have hesitated to allow someone to enter without the proper passwords, the policemen allowed him to enter as soon as they saw his face. They didn’t even question the bloodstains on his uniform, perhaps concluding that he’d been helping to interrogate a suspect. Asking questions was also not encouraged in the Order Police.

The interior of the hotel still stunned him every time he saw it, but there was no time to delay. He ran up the stairs, throwing away caution, and into the offices on the second floor. A guard tried to stop him and he shot him down, firing twice over the heads of the administrative assistants to force them to keep their heads down, before running right into the main office. The handful of collaborators who had replaced the Mayor stared at him, unable to believe their eyes. He gunned them down mercilessly, laughing out loud. A real Ranger couldn’t have done any better…

A blue-white flash of light struck him in the chest. There was a brief moment of pain, then darkness. His mad rampage had been halted, too late.


Chapter Twenty-Five


Outside Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 147


“You’re out of your mind,” Yvette Falk said. “There are times when I don’t know why I married you.”

“Mass multiple orgasms,” Luke Falk said. He stuck out his tongue at his wife. “No one in their right mind would have thought of this.”

“That,” his wife said tartly, “is my point. You are out of your fucking mind.”

Luke Falk rubbed the side of the plane gleefully. Joe McCarthy and the others who’d feared a communist takeover of the United States would not have been amused, but then their grip on reality had always been a little shaky. The Polikarpov U-2 had been in his family for over forty years, ever since his father had purchased it from a cash-strapped Eastern Europe regime and had it shipped to the United States. It was hardly a unique aircraft, yet it always drew the crowds at air shows. A skilled pilot could do things in such an aircraft that most people wouldn’t believe.

The Kukuruznik, as the Soviet pilots had nicknamed it, had once served as a general-purpose biplane, mainly used as a trainer and a crop-duster. It was easy to forget that it had once also served on the front lines in the Great Patriotic War – the Second World War – where it had acquired a reputation to rival any other aircraft on both sides. The Wehrmacht soldiers had learned to fear the Nähmaschine - sewing machine – even though it could only inflict pinpricks compared to the Stuka or the much later A-10 Warthog. The psychological effect on German troops had been much more noticeable. They typically attacked by complete surprise in the dead of night, denying German troops sleep and keeping them constantly on their guard, contributing yet further to the already exceptionally high stress of combat on the Eastern front. Not unlike the Warthog, the Kukuruznik could absorb an astonishing amount of damage before it fell out of the sky and the more modern planes of the German Air Force – and, later, the American Air Force in Korea – had had real problems shooting them down. Absurd as it sounded, multi-million dollar combat suites could be outwitted by a skilled pilot flying the remarkable aircraft. The results had been terrifying.

He scowled at the black paint that had been pasted over the Red Air Force markings his father had painstakingly reproduced, years ago. The paint had apparently come out of the Stunk Works and was supposed to be good at absorbing radar pulses, or obscuring them enough to make it hard for anyone to track the Kukuruznik effectively, but he wasn't sure if he trusted it. There were a handful of other modifications – ground-attack missiles and bombs rigged up by the nearby machine shop – but otherwise there were few differences from the planes the Night Witches had flown, back in the Second World War. But then, his father had pointed out, advanced aircraft like the Raptors he’d flown months ago had been wiped out by the aliens. A primitive aircraft might just survive long enough to do some damage.

“The logic is sound,” he said, firmly. “Besides, think how many people we know in the Chicago suburbs.”

His wife nodded, even though she’d refused to allow him to have anything to do with the resistance at first. She knew how lucky he’d been. The F-22 Raptor he’d flown against the aliens had been hit by one of their plasma blasts, but somehow – unlike almost all of the destroyed aircraft – he’d been able to eject in time to escape the plane’s disintegration. The USAF hadn’t been able to find him another plane before the war had come to an end, so he’d returned home to his family’s farm and the embrace of his wife.

“Lucky,” she said, “if you don’t come back from this, I’m going to kill you.”

Luke smiled. Lucky was her old nickname for him – and he had to admit that he’d been very lucky so far. He’d found her, married her, joined the USAF, rising to fly one of the Raptors, survived the aircraft’s destruction…and he could still fly. His father’s small collection of aircraft had been his childhood toys. He’d learned to fly before he could drive, despite increasing interference from the FAA and other government agencies that wouldn’t know safe flying from a hole in the ground. The USAF at least let them take risks, if not very many of them. The greatest risk, it seemed, was dissenting about the future of air power with the top brass.

“I’ll be back, I promise,” he said, checking the Kukuruznik one more time. It was a remarkably simple aircraft, able to land or take off on a dime. A simple mechanic could handle any repairs without a fancy degree from the USAF; he’d learned to maintain it from his father, who never hesitated to tell him how bloated and useless most of the USAF pilots had become. In his day, all pilots had known how their aircraft worked and could even perform simple repairs at will. They hadn’t needed to replace entire components without knowing how they went together. “You keep your head down and don’t get into trouble.”

Officially, his father didn’t own an airfield, but they’d used one of the fallow fields as a runway before. The FAA had prevented them from flying away from a registered airfield, but the FAA had vanished along with the remains of the Federal Government, unless its inspectors had joined the Order Police. Luke could well believe it. The inspectors ignorance was matched only by their incivility and their sheer conviction that mummy – them – knew best. They’d prevented his grandfather from flying and the old man had never forgiven them. And then people wondered at the sorry state of American aviation.

He climbed into the cockpit and started the engine. The modern starter was his only concession to modern technology. He’d installed a GPS system years ago, but without the satellites it was completely useless, as were some of the emergency systems. He’d pulled out the radio when he’d started preparing the Kukuruznik for its mission. A single radio broadcast would have the aliens on top of him before he’d even finished speaking. He waved to his wife and started the engine. A dull roar echoed through the cockpit as he pulled on his helmet and parachute. He didn’t expect to be flying high enough to use the parachute, but his father had taught him never to take chances. Finally, he put a small passport photo of his wife on the cockpit, before removing it and passing it down to her. He didn’t want anything that could be used to identify him if he were shot down. The explosives in the plane should see to that, but again, it was best not to take chances.

The aircraft lurched forward and rose into the air. He found himself laughing as the Russian aircraft climbed higher, before diving down towards the ground and flying at literally treetop height. The easiest way to avoid radar, as every pilot knew, was to remain as low as possible and the Kukuruznik flew very low indeed. He'd heard that some of the Night Witches had flown low enough to reach out and touch the ground and he believed it. He wasn't flying quite that low, but he should be undetectable by anything human. No one knew if the aliens could track a Kukuruznik.

He remembered the first battles with the aliens over America, trying to analyse them for clues. The aliens hadn’t shown any difficulty in tracking the Raptors, but they’d had problems tracking stealth UAVs and a handful of specialist aircraft. They had, apparently, been unable to detect an F-117 that had been hastily dusted off and put back into service, even though the F-117’s stealth was inferior to the Raptor’s stealth. The best answer he’d been able to come up with was that the aliens had tracked the air disturbance caused by the Raptors, yet that should have applied to the other aircraft as well. Perhaps the truth lay somewhere in-between. There had been dozens of Raptors flying in the early battles.

The stars high overhead guided him towards Chicago, burning in the distance. One thing he loved about the Kukuruznik was that it was slow, allowing him a chance to take a breath and enjoy the flight. The aliens had shut off most of the power to the surrounding area, making it easy to navigate towards the city. The flight back home would be the real challenge, assuming that he survived long enough. He hadn’t realised just how many alien craft were in Low Earth Orbit, and how tricky it was to separate them out from the stars. It might not matter. With a little luck, he could put down on a road and ask for directions.

He glanced around, looking for signs that he’d been detected, but saw nothing. The sole other concession to modernity was a threat receiver he’d obtained from a military surplus sale, yet he doubted it’s use under such conditions. The alien radars – if they used radar – hadn’t shown up on the most advanced systems the USAF had been able to build and deploy. The Order Police wouldn’t have SAM missiles, as far as he knew, but why would they? The only people flying were the aliens and they wouldn’t want their puppets armed with weapons that could be used against them. He gathered his bearings and steered towards one of the Order Police outposts. They’d been blocking people from entering or leaving the area and the resistance had targeted them for destruction. They knew it, too. He’d heard that they stopped everyone and strip-searched them before turning them back, looking for guns or bombs. A handful hadn’t been careful enough and had been shot by their irate fellow countrymen. The traitors, in Luke’s view, deserved everything they got.

A light flared high overhead and he tensed reflexively, before realising that the alien ship had completely missed him, or had chosen to ignore him. The aliens, if the President were to be believed, had been flying with impunity through American air space for decades, but now they were flying openly. Luke, like many of the other USAF pilots, blamed the USAF’s top brass and the radar operators. If they’d paid more attention to transient returns and UFO reports, perhaps Earth would have had enough warning to build a real defence. As it was…

He could hear the sound of shooting in the distance from the burning city. The resistance was still resisting, even pushing the damned Arabs back in places. Luke had no idea how long the aliens would tolerate the stalemate before they sent in their warriors with ground-support aircraft – or simply bombed the city down to bedrock - but the longer they held out, the better. He’d give them the best chance he could. He looked down, seeing the roads in the moonlight, and the Order Police checkpoint up ahead. They were in for a shock.

His father hadn’t just bought the aircraft from Eastern Europe; he’d bought the aircraft’s weapons as well. It would have horrified the ATF if they’d realised that he’d purchased four heavy machine guns and some ammunition, but the ATF was no longer a going concern, not after the President had shredded all gun control legislation. Luke toggled the switch and triggered the machine guns, spraying the checkpoint with a hail of bullets. The Russians might have been bad at producing sophisticated aircraft and weapons, but they’d been geniuses at producing simple weapons that any fool could use and the machine guns still worked perfectly. He saw something explode behind him as he raced overhead and heard a pair of shots in the distance as someone shot wildly at him. The bullets didn’t go anywhere near the Kukuruznik. He saw a Bradley on the road and launched one of the makeshift missiles at it, but it missed, striking the ground and exploding there. Laughing, he swooped away, leaving chaos and confusion in his wake.

He gunned the engine and changed course, heading further in towards Chicago. The map’s he’d memorised suggested that the Arabs had taken over Midway Airport from the aliens and were using it as a base to prepare their new recruits before sending them into the city. The aliens would have their own craft at the base and flying over it would be suicide, but the Arabs had also taken over a number of warehouses near the airport as barracks. The entire area was lit up with white lights, allowing him to navigate towards the barracks and pick his targets with ease. He chuckled to himself and pushed the aircraft into a steep dive, unloading half of his bomb racks onto the first target, before pulling up and unloading the remaining bombs on the second warehouse. The bombs had been designed to punch through the rooftops before they exploded with shattering force, sending shockwaves through the air. The Arab soldiers billeted in the warehouses would rapidly come to regret their decision to come to America. The second warehouse didn’t blow up as spectacularly, but he definitely heard screaming behind him.

A fence surrounding an open space revealed the location of a prison camps and he unloaded his machine guns on the guard posts, swinging the aircraft around to strafe the defenders. The prisoners, if they reacted quickly, would have a chance to escape, but he couldn’t stay in the area. He'd emptied all his weapons and that meant he had to get home and get the aircraft under cover before the Order Police came looking for any private aircraft. He’d prepared an elaborate cover story about the aircraft being stolen, but he doubted the Order Police would believe it. They’d been embarrassed in front of the aliens and would be looking for scapegoats. Whoever was in charge of the barracks would probably end up being hung.

It was another odd point, perhaps a mark in the aliens’ favour. The resistance had expected – and used propaganda to warn the public – that the Arabs would gleefully commit a whole series of atrocities against the American public. Only a handful of isolated atrocities, mainly rapes and a couple of murders, had materialised and the aliens had taken care of them with ruthless efficiency. They'd found the Arabs responsible, taken them out and hung them, or in one case allowed their warriors to chop the Arab up with their long knives. They might have been crushing Chicago piece by piece – he looked back towards the city as another billowing fireball rose up into the sky – but otherwise the Arabs were being more civilised than the Order Police. The aliens barely seemed to care what they did, provided they kept the civilian population firmly under control.

He checked his compass and flew due south. The aliens would have their own craft up and looking for him and his only hope was to remain as low as possible. There was no point in looking for the alien craft really, but he glanced from side to side anyway, trying to pick out the threat. He flew over buildings and forests, knowing that there were entire resistance armies somewhere underneath, depending on him to give the aliens a bloody nose. The aliens had to be slowed down, somehow. He no longer knew if they could be defeated.

Something moved high above him and he cringed, sensing more than seeing the alien craft. It didn’t seem to see him. It was racing out as if it expected a supersonic attack aircraft or even a Warthog, rather than the tiny Kukuruznik. He floated down towards the ground and flew as low as he dared, praying that the Kukuruznik’s coating would help keep it safe. He’d worked hard to minimise the aircraft’s infrared signature and anything else that could be used to track it, but nothing was perfect. A Serb air defence commander had brought down an F-117 with a little bit of luck and a sound-tracking system. What could the aliens do to him?

The flight home was nerve-racking. He didn’t see any other alien craft, but he felt a pricking at the back of his neck that convinced him that cold alien eyes were looking down on him. They might be vectoring in hundreds of craft – it occurred to him, too late, that they might be tracking him and waiting to see where he landed – to follow him, or they might have lost him altogether. Navigating by the stars was easier the further he flew from Chicago, yet the aircraft was nearly running on fumes when he finally touched down at home and drove the aircraft towards the barn. The resistance had sent along a demolitions expert to make sure that the aliens couldn’t recover the aircraft or any of its supplies, but he feared that the explosion would definitely tell them that something had been there. They’d have to set up another airbase somewhere well away from the area. He wasn't going to put his wife in such danger again.

He felt utterly tired as he shut the aircraft down and closed the barn doors, rewiring the explosive charges as he left. His wife hadn’t gone to bed; she’d waited for him, using their private generator to provide the power to read. She’d been reading the bible and praying out loud, pleading with God to spare her husband’s life. She stood up as he entered and ran towards him, wearing only a blue nightgown she’d bought at Frills, a lifetime ago.

“I made it,” he said, as she hugged him tightly. He couldn’t tell her everything. “I got in and out smoother than I expected.”

“Thank God,” Yvette said. She pulled at his clothes until he had undressed completely, and then tugged him into the bedroom. “I thought…”

Afterwards, Luke lay in bed, smiling to himself. The aliens might catch him tomorrow, or maybe bring in antiaircraft units and shoot him down the next time he tried to raid their defences, but it wouldn’t matter. The story would be around the world by the time he woke up the next morning.

He turned, cupped his wife’s breast with one hand, and went to sleep.


Chapter Twenty-Six


Area 52, Nevada, USA

Day 150


“Explain it to me again,” Alex ordered. “What exactly am I looking at?”

The device on the table looked as if three radios had been mashed together and fused to a laptop, one of the latest NSA-issue designs that were at least one quantum leap ahead of anything on the public market. They cost over a million dollars apiece and it was a sign of just how important the work at Area 52 was that seven of them had been sent to the base, along with billions of dollars worth of other computer and research equipment. Now that Washington and the government-owned factories were occupied by the aliens, there wouldn’t be any more until the aliens were driven away from Washington, or completely defeated.

He rubbed the side of his head tiredly. The work at Area 52 was important, yet the entire research team were beginning to develop an extreme form of cabin fever. Normally, they would only have gone into lockdown for a month or two – and even so, they could have walked outside on the disused airstrip or inside the hangar. They couldn’t do that now, not with the base’s only defence being secrecy, when everything depended on the aliens believing that the base was completely disused and abandoned. Having people walking around on the surface might draw the aliens to the base, just to see what was going on, and if that happened…he’d have no choice, but to set the nuke and run, leaving the crashed ship to be destroyed.

And there were other dangers. The entire southern border of the United States was coming apart. The aliens had encircled the cities, but they hadn’t secured the countryside and there was now a brutal four-sided war going on that seemed to rage from Texas to Mexico. There had been a tidal wave of refugees into Mexico, another tidal wave coming out of Mexico as the government and economy collapsed, while resistance teams fought it out with the Order Police. Fort Hood was still the scene of guerrilla fighting between the infantrymen stranded there and alien warriors. Drug lords waged war on their opponents. The aliens didn’t seem to care. They merely slaughtered all comers indiscriminately and waited for the humans to kill each other off. The fighting hadn’t spread to Nevada yet, but if the drug lords decided that an old disused base made the perfect hideout…

“I’ve been working on studying the alien computers recovered from this ship and Antarctica,” Robert Nguyen explained. The Vietnamese-American had grown up the son of two parents who had ignored him, past providing for all his material wants and needs. He’d grown up surrounded by computers and had become inhumanly proficient in understanding and developing computer software. By the time he was twelve, he was a social cripple and a legend on the World Wide Web, the boy who had written software to remove DRM and other restrictions on program use and freely distributed them around the net. He'd hacked into computers around the world and written them long involved emails telling them about their security holes and explaining how they could be corrected. When the NSA had finally tracked him down, they’d offered Bandit – as he called himself – a choice between a job or a jail sentence. Nguyen had accepted the job and the high salary that came with it. “I believe that I have made a breakthrough.”

Alex looked up, interested. Some alien technology was understandable, even though it wasn't easy for humans to duplicate. Some other parts seemed oddly familiar, yet alien and scientists had had real problems trying to understand it, with at least two mental breakdowns in the last few months alone. And some of it seemed completely inexplicable. The ship’s computers fell into the middle category. Alex had read reports suggesting that the alien computers weren't actually that different to anything that humanity had created, but they’d wired them up with an alien mindset and so they were effectively beyond understanding. Others had believed that humanity would understand them one day.

“The aliens created a quantum matrix within their system’s mainframe and used it to generate their own universes of code…”

Alex held up a hand. “I’ve got a headache already,” he said, wryly. “Couldn’t you explain it with…say, ninety percent less technobabble?”

“It doesn’t sound so clever then,” Nguyen grumbled. Alex folded his arms and waited. “Very well; I’ll do my best.

“The aliens built a quantum computer that is at least twenty years ahead of anything we built, but its internal logic isn’t that different to systems we had on the drawing board, even though we never managed to make the system work. They don’t rely so much upon programming as they rely upon an organic…ah, self-programming matrix that is actually comparable to a human mind. I assume that it’s comparable to an alien mind as well. The bottom line is that they have a system that could literally store every last piece of information on Earth and index it without needing human or alien intervention. Calculating flight paths and trajectories would be a snap.”

“I shall assume that all of that makes sense,” Alex said. Technobabble had never ceased to irritate him. “How does it relate to what we need to know?”

“I managed to isolate programming segments – subunits – within the crashed ship’s computers and I was able to get a feel for the computer language they used. It’s obviously not anything as simply Java or BASIC, let alone something more complex, but ALIENSPEAK – as I have termed it – is understandable. The aliens might be alien, but they’re not that alien. Their computers exist in the same physical world as our own computers. They might be far faster and far more capable, but they’re still understandable. The basic principles are the same.”

“I think I understand,” Alex said. “How can we use this against them?”

“We can’t actually copy vast amounts of alien data into our systems because they don’t seem to have developed cross-platform programs that can be used across different computer systems,” Nguyen explained, “but we can hack into their systems, with a little luck. Their computer security isn’t actually that good compared to ours, which may suggest that they haven’t been challenged recently, or that they might have expected to block out access from our Internet. They wouldn’t have been wrong. The system’s defences, such as they are, would block out a human computer. With this” – he tapped the device on the table – “we should be able to sneak into their systems without being thrown out automatically.

“Think of their system as watching permanently for IP addresses that are on a banned list, or not on an approved list,” he added. “Anything that links into the mainframe with such an address gets booted out; no warning, perhaps without an explanation. Back when I was banned from an internet forum with a really obnoxious douche bag of an administrator, I used to develop software that would allow me to slip in under the radar and wreak havoc. The asshole claimed to know everything and knew nothing…”

He trailed off at Alex’s stare. “The thing is, with a little work, we can hijack one of their systems and use it as a gateway into the overall system,” he concluded. “We may not be able to cause much damage – the system is configured to limit the amount of damage someone could cause without permission and I suspect that it is actually capable of healing itself – but we could certainly pick out intelligence and maybe even make slight alterations.”

“So much for any Independence Day scenarios we might have been hoping for,” Alex said. “There’s no way you could give the system a virus?”

“The system is configured…well, you didn’t want any actual technical details, but suffice it to say that infecting it with a virus would probably fail,” Nguyen admitted, sourly. “I’ve been trying to design something that might work, but my understanding of ALIENSPEAK is still limited and the system, as I said, is capable of recognising an attack and reacting at terrifying speed to repair the damage. We may come up with something as we grow to understand their language and just how the system works, but…”

Alex frowned. “Is the system alive? Is it a form of life in its own right?”

“Good question,” Nguyen said. “I don’t believe that it is really anything more than a highly-advanced expert system, with limited capability for learning and growing on its own, but I suppose that it is possible. My guess, however, is that the original programmers added in hard limits – we did the same back at Fort Meade – to prevent it from developing a form of intelligence. If it actually can…we honestly don’t know for sure.”

“I’ll read your report carefully,” Alex promised him. “How do you intend to tap into their systems?”

“That's the hard part,” Nguyen admitted. He pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket and placed it on the table. “The aliens have, I believe, created a massive wireless network that links their ships and bases together. They must have; unlike us, they didn’t have any previous hardwired system on the ground. This has interesting implications.”

He drew a circle and marked it EARTH, then drew a handful of stars surrounding the planet. “They don’t seem to use anything that would allow them to actually drive a signal through the planet’s mass, so my guess is that they use their orbiting fleet to create links and nodes between their bases, the mothership and the three remaining command ships,” he continued. “The craft that was destroyed over Washington might actually have provided the command and control for their invasion, occupation and settlement of America.”

“They slowed down after we wrecked the ship,” Alex said, following the logic. “They didn’t slow down in the Middle East, or North Africa. They kept landing their transports and unloading the settlers on their new home. In America, they slowed down and built the Order Police instead. Why…?”

“My guess, and it is an informed guess, is that those four command ships and the mothership form the core of their network,” Nguyen explained. “Losing one of them had to hurt badly. I think they probably set up new units on Earth, but they’d be vulnerable to us attacking them physically, either directly or indirectly. The system may be the only way the Leaders keep the rest of them under control.”

Alex scowled. The alien captive might have been talking, but not everything he’d said – or signed – had made sense, although he was sure that they were just missing the key that would unlock the entire secret. Perhaps they’d killed off enough alien Leaders to upset the rest of the aliens, or perhaps they hadn’t killed off enough…there was no way to know. The relations between the different castes of aliens seemed to change completely, dependent on the exact situation. He was sure they could work out how to use that against the aliens, if they learned to understand it…

“Getting into the system remains the priority,” Alex said, finally. “What’s the catch?”

“The craft we have here – and the other crashed ships – are no longer linked into the system,” Nguyen said. “That’s lucky for us. If they had been, the aliens would have had no trouble in tracking the ships down and recovering them. The problem is that we can’t use them to get into the alien computer system. We don’t think we could repair the system, even if we dared try. We need to get into the system from somewhere else.”

“I knew there was a catch,” Alex said, rubbing his head. The headache hadn’t faded away. “We can’t get you into one of the alien ships, Robert…”

“I wouldn’t want to be in an area they controlled completely,” Nguyen admitted. “There should be a command node in Washington, where they have their collaborator government set up, even with the crashed ship. It should be possible to get close enough to hack into the system without being detected and tossed out, or arrested. There may be closer command nodes, but the best chance of finding one is in Washington, or their cities.”

“Which are very secure,” Alex concluded. The aliens had not only been driving humans away from their homes, but embarking on a scorched earth policy to keep them away. Resistance armies did what they could to hinder the aliens, yet none of it was enough to slow them down. “You do realise that you can’t hop in an aeroplane and fly to Washington these days? You’d be talking about at least a week’s hard travel, probably longer – hell, almost certainly longer. How close would you have to be to the…ah, command node to hack into it?”

“It depends on how much wireless bandwidth they’re generating,” Nguyen admitted. “I’d certainly have to be inside the encircled area of the city, although I don’t think I’d have to be inside the Green Zone.”

“That’s not much of a consolation,” Alex said, sharply. “Robert, Washington is under very tight control. Everyone in the city has to have an ID card and be registered within the alien system.” He held up a hand before Nguyen could interrupt. “I know; sooner or later, you’ll figure out how to add details and get people registered or unregistered as you please. For now, if the Order Police stopped you, you’d be arrested and taken away. If you were lucky, you’d be dumped in a detention camp and put to work. If you were unlucky, you’d be tortured until you told them everything they wanted to know, including telling them about the existence of this base.”

“I don’t know where in California we are,” Nguyen protested. The Tiger Team had all been told, apart from a handful of the senior leaders, that Area 52 was in California. If any of them were captured, it was hoped that it would misdirect the aliens enough to save the base. “I couldn’t direct them anywhere!”

Alex shook his head. “You’d be able to tell them a great deal about this base,” he warned. “You’d certainly be able to tell them that we were on the verge of learning to break into their computers. You shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near them. I’m sorry…”

Nguyen glared at him. “You sent soldiers into harm’s way before and some of them got killed,” he protested. “Why can’t you send me on a much safer mission?”

“The soldiers all volunteered and, at bottom, they were expendable,” Alex snapped, hating himself for even thinking it. “They knew the risks. You don’t understand the risks and you are far from expendable. We cannot let you go until you’ve shared everything you know or have deduced about the alien system, and even then, we couldn’t run the risk of you becoming one of the Walking Dead.”

“We could free them if we could figure out how to hack into and deactivate their implants,” Nguyen snapped. “We could learn that from their computer systems, but we have to hack into them before it occurs to them that we could hack into them and they start improving their security. We don’t have time to hesitate!”

Alex considered. “Couldn’t we put your device near the command node and operate it through the Internet?”

“No,” Nguyen said. “I thought of that, but we wouldn’t have enough Internet connectivity to operate it at a distance. Even the heavy trunk lines the government built for nuclear war would be insufficient to handle the expected traffic – and then, the security systems they do have might realise that we were up to something we shouldn’t be. I can fake that” – he pointed to the laptop – “as part of their communications system, but not another part of our internet. I need to be there in person. There’s no one else who could do it without extensive training.”

Alex held up a hand. “I’ll consider the matter,” he said. “I’ll have to consult with others who might have their own concerns, or thoughts on how the mission could best be accomplished. I don’t think that it’s a good idea, but I won’t rule it out completely.”

“Nuts,” Nguyen said. “Does that mean you’re going to say no in the end?”

“I'm going to run it past the people in charge of the resistance in Washington,” Alex said, firmly. “They’ll have the final say on the issue. I think they’ll have links in Washington that can be exploited, but…they may not want to risk them. We’ll see, ok?”

He watched Nguyen leaving the office, carrying his strange device in one hand, and looked down at the newspaper in his hands. Only five copies had been printed out on the base – paper supplies, like everything else, had to be conserved – and they were passed around every hour. The newspaper ranted and raved about the endless war in Chicago, shouting about atrocities and how badly the Arabs treated the local population, while the resistance resisted heroically. The official news broadcasts, for once, said pretty much the same, except the heroes and villains were reversed. He wanted to sit back with a cup of coffee – something else that had to be conserved – and read it all, but there was no time. He looked at the cartoon on the last page, drawn by a famous artist who had had to go into hiding, and smiled bitterly. It showed a dark-skinned elf stabbing an alien warrior in the chest, followed by a three-headed monster eating its way through a stream of alien leaders. It would have been funny if it weren’t so tragic.

“Get me the direct link to the President,” he ordered. Only one person could authorise sending Nguyen into Washington. “Tell him that we might have had a real breakthrough.”

He ran through a quick explanation and waited for the President’s response. “I’ll consult with others and get back to you,” the President said. “Make the preparations anyway. We may be able to get him into somewhere closer than the encircled cities.”


Chapter Twenty-Seven


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 150


“Keep your heads down,” the guide advised. “There are snipers watching for the slightest hint of weakness.”

Abigail nodded and followed his advice. She was wearing a set of body armour and a helmet, but she had no illusions as to how effective they would be if someone took it into their mind to take a shot at her. A sniper with a military-grade sniper rifle or even a hunting rifle could splatter her brains all over the streets, along with the other reporters and observers. The Order Policemen escorting them looked nervous, gripping their weapons as if they were lucky talismans and for once she was grateful for their presence. They’d draw fire away from her.

Chicago, the sections that had been ‘liberated,’ looked considerably worse for wear. It was worse than the part of Washington that had been destroyed when the massive alien ship came down on top of it, for it was completely unnecessary. Buildings had been damaged, or destroyed and left as piles of rubble or blackened ruins. Dead bodies lay everywhere, causing a health hazard. Drainpipes and sewer tunnels lay exposed to the air, pushing a vile stench towards their delicate noses. A handful of prisoners were engaged in clearing up the dead bodies and transporting them to a mass grave outside the city – rumour had it that the aliens intended to feed the human bodies to their warriors, although honesty compelled her to admit that it was only a rumour, if one repeated enough to make people believe in it – while conscripted doctors and nurses worked on the wounded. There was no difference between a wounded American and a wounded Arab. They both looked terrible.

If this is liberation, she thought, I’d hate to see occupation. The resistance still held over half the city and was fighting savagely to bleed the Arabs as much as possible. The briefings they’d been given had all been sweetness and light, promising that there was no danger from a handful of isolated holdouts, but everyone knew better. The sound of shooting still echoed out over the city, joined by mortars, bombs and random explosions as one booby-trap or another was triggered. The entire ‘secured’ area of the city was still a dangerous maze loaded with traps; she’d heard that the Arabs had taken to shooting at anything suspicious from a distance, hoping to set the IED off before it could harm them. Prisoners had sometimes hidden grenades on their person and used them against their captors; the dying had booby-trapped their own bodies in hopes that their deaths would still serve America. A week of hard fighting had cost the Arabs dearly and many thousands of them would never see home again. Those that did go home, if the aliens allowed them to go home, would be forever scarred by the experience. They had had no experience in fighting such a determined foe. The idea of picking up and checking every person in the zone had been replaced by the desperate struggle to survive. She didn’t want to even think about how many civilians had been killed in the fighting.

A handful of the Arabs spoke English and she’d listened to their horror stories. They’d spoken of sentries being garrotted and grenades being tossed into their sleeping quarters at night, or of women luring them out of formation and then sticking a knife between their ribs, or fleeing collapsing buildings before they were buried under the rubble. Several of them had drunk bottles of alcohol they’d found, only to discover that they’d drunk pure alcohol or methanol and, at the very least, they’d been blinded. The aliens could help the blind to see again, yet they didn’t seem to care about the Arabs. The wounded were shipped out and no one had ever seen them again. It hadn’t been hard to quietly suggest that perhaps the wounded were simply dumped in a mass grave and left to die. The aliens certainly didn’t seem interested in providing medical care to their sepoy troops.

Another shot rang out, much closer, and she winced inwardly. The Order Police jumped and looked around, their eyes searching out possible targets. Abigail followed their gaze, but saw nothing, apart from a bullet-ridden plastic bottle lying on the ground. One of the policemen pointed an AK-47 at it and blasted the bottle to little pieces, shredding it beyond repair. It took her a moment to realise why and then she found herself fighting to keep a smile off her face. They’d thought that the bottle was an IED. Without the looming presence of the aliens, the resistance would rapidly destroy the Order Police and the Arabs, if they stayed around to fight. The only thing keeping more of the Arab soldiers from deserting was the fact that the resistance had no interest in taking prisoners. Arabs who were caught alone ended up dead, with their balls cut off and stuffed into their mouths. It was a merciless war on both sides. It didn’t help that the resistance had uncovered someone who spoke Arabic and used him to bellow out warnings about the aliens, or their own leaders, to the advancing Arab soldiers. Morale was on the brink of collapse.

She looked back as another Bradley rumbled up behind them. Their minders urged them to get out of the way, allowing the vehicle to head further into the city. The Bradley vehicles had been deployed by the Order Police and the Arabs – they’d originally been stored in an army base not too far away – and used against the resistance, but at least forty of them had been destroyed in the fighting. It was hard to get accurate figures because half of the Arabs didn’t seem able to count, but she’d counted the burned-out wreckage she’d seen. The Arab figures, taken without any care, suggested that more vehicles had been destroyed than had ever existed, although she would have been the first to admit that she had no idea how many Bradley AFVs had been built. The death figures were equally questionable. If they were all taken on face value, the entire population of the city would have been exterminated, several times over. The continued fighting suggested otherwise.

The fighting had even spread into the suburbs and outside the city proper. Rumour had it that someone had used a light aircraft to bomb an Order Police base, releasing thousands of prisoners in a single devastating raid. Abigail would have loved to believe that rumour, but it didn’t seem possible, not when the aliens had wiped out the USAF in two weeks of hard fighting. How could a civilian aircraft have outdone the entire USAF, armed with the most modern and advanced fighters in the world? The resistance had attacked Arab bases and Order Police barracks, hitting them constantly and forcing them to divert resources to tracking down and eliminating the so-called bandits. They’d been promising that Chicago would fall any day now, but judging from the ongoing fighting, Abigail was sure that the city would be holding out for another few weeks, unless the aliens lost patience and brought up their own craft and warriors in support. By the time the fighting ended, there would be nothing left of Chicago, but rubble.

She turned to watch as another line of Arab soldiers returned from the front lines, a vague concept in urban fighting. They didn’t look happy, but tired and dispirited, as if they expected the sky to fall in at any moment. They didn’t notice the women among the reporters, or anything else, they just walked on as if they were already asleep. They needed at least a week out of the fighting and probably some consoling, she decided. They’d be lucky to get a single night’s sleep. One of the resistance’s nastier tricks had been to deploy noise-makers near the Arab barracks and wake them up constantly, using sleep deprivation to mess with their minds. The results had been mixed. Some Arabs had gone back to the fight feeling murderous, others had had a set of nervous breakdowns…and some had ended up firing on other Arabs. The chaos that had resulted had stalled the advance for a day before the rogue unit was finally eliminated. Nothing of that, of course, had been allowed into the official record.

Abigail smiled tightly. The collaborator government had picked the wrong person to head the propaganda department and it showed. Americans were suckers for subtle propaganda, but blatant propaganda was too easy to demolish and use against the people who’d produced it. She’d recorded hundreds of interviews with actors who played civilians caught up in the war zone and faithfully recorded their stories, all the while using positioning and contrast to hint that they were lying. Few of the stories had any basis in reality, which helped. She didn’t know who’d been watching and approving her recordings, but they had no sense of the ironic. She was convincing hundreds of people that the collaborators were lying through their teeth.

She glanced down at her watch. Her ‘interview’ with the senior minder was coming up, an interview that she knew would include something more than just talking. The collaborators had been so pleased with them that several of the reporters were going to be assigned to even more important positions, if they made it through the vetting process. Abigail had no illusions about that either. The minders were fond of abusing their power over the reporters, particularly the young and attractive reporters. This time, however, it would be different.

Another string of explosions echoed out as an advancing patrol triggered a buried mine, or perhaps a concealed IED. She braced herself to drop to the pavement as the shooting seemed to grow louder for a second and then faded away again. The Order Police were shoeing the reporters back towards the rear areas and safety, ironically proving that the city was hardly as safe as they claimed. The thought made her smile bitterly. The world was far from safe these days, for anyone.

***

Dolly braced herself as the timer reached zero, drawing her pistol and taking off the safety. She’d been hidden for over four hours under the tarpaulin, risking her life and more to end up behind the advancing front lines, but the gamble had paid off. The Arabs who’d searched the building hadn’t done so thoroughly at all. An American platoon would almost certainly have found her, but the Arabs only interest was in surviving and returning home to their families. They hadn’t wanted to search too thoroughly because they might have discovered an IED and been killed. The thought made her smile. A handful of empty plastic bottles scattered around, she’d been told, had delayed the enemy more than rigged buildings and snipers.

She peeked out from under the cover and relaxed as she realised she was alone. It had been unlikely that the Arabs would use the building as a billet, but it had been a possibility and the last thing she wanted to do was to present them with something young and female. A handful of women in the resistance had been raped when they’d been captured and the remainder had been warned never to let themselves fall alive into enemy hands. She checked across the rooftop and saw nothing out of place, but she kept her head low anyway. A skilful enemy might have hidden another sniper on a nearby rooftop, or maybe even scattered a few sensors around to watch for trouble. It was the curse of dealing with alien technology. There was no way to know where the limits actually were.

The edge of the rooftop hadn’t been touched either, although it was obvious to her that it had been intended as a sniper’s nest. She crawled into it and peered down towards the ground. Arab soldiers milled around, but none of them were clearly officers or other vital targets. Some of the resistance fighters shot at doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, but Dolly had refused to do anything of the sort. The doctors and nurses had been pressed into service by the enemy, rather than being willing collaborators or Walking Dead. They weren’t legal targets in her book and she had refused to treat them as enemy soldiers. The resistance leadership hadn’t pressed the point. Dolly was one of the best civilian snipers they had and they needed her. She checked her rifle, ensured that the weapon was loaded, and settled down to wait.

It wasn't like competition shooting. The military snipers who’d given her and the others a crash course on hunting humans had made that clear. A sniper could shoot any number of low-ranking soldiers and make little difference at all, but shooting a couple of officers could throw the entire advance into chaos. She could have put down at least ten soldiers at any time, yet they were not her targets. She had strict orders to wait for an officer. The Arab leadership stayed well behind the lines and only came forward when they believed that an area was clear, where they would look around, make rude comments about the Americans, and then go back to their beds and American prostitutes. Rumour had it that the prostitutes had patriotically given the Arab leaders AIDS. It was just a shame that the alien leadership didn’t indulge.

Time passed slowly. It was tempting to believe that she was missing the Arab leadership because they had chosen not to wear uniforms, but she held her fire. The military snipers had warned her that salutes were forbidden in a combat zone, and uniforms were often discarded for fear of snipers, but that it would be obvious when a really high-ranking officer finally arrived. One would come, sooner or later, and when he arrived, she had to kill him. By now, she was used to killing. It helped that she knew men and women who’d been killed by the aliens and their servants. She remembered their names and faces, and then pushed them aside, reviewing her escape route. Getting killed or captured after taking the shot would really ruin her day.

A pair of Bradley AFVs and a vehicle she didn’t recognise appeared at one end of the street and drove slowly towards the Arab checkpoint at the other end. The Order Police were taking it slowly, very aware that their vehicles could be mistaken for enemy vehicles at any moment. One particularly daring resistance stunt had involved recapturing a set of Bradley AFVs and turning them against the Arabs, firing madly into their positions and slaughtering hundreds of them before antitank weapons finally took out the captured vehicles. The war would be easy to win, she’d been told, if they kept the enemy jumping at shadows. She tracked the vehicles with her scope as they finally slowed to a halt nearby. The Arab soldiers formed up into a protective formation as the door opened and a man climbed out.

He looked a little like Saddam to her, although his moustache was bushier and his face betrayed a certain level of intelligence. He wore no insignia on his uniform, but that in itself was revealing. He had to be a senior officer of some kind. A second officer followed him, followed by…she felt her mouth drop open. The third figure was far from human. The alien leader stepped out and she saw the Arab soldiers stepping back, several of them muttering prayers under their breath. The alien’s mere presence was daunting. What the hell was it doing in the combat zone?

It was her first sight of an alien and she felt a chill running down her spine. The alien was inhumanly tall and thin, with an oversized head and massive dark eyes. It was alien as hell. It was subtly wrong on so many levels that merely looking at it was hard, as if she was staring at a spider or a crab. She wanted to crawl away and hide; yet somehow she managed to track the alien and draw a bead on him. An alien leader was a more important target than an Arab, right? She hesitated for a long moment. Who should she shoot first?

And then the alien turned his massive head and looked up at her. She found herself staring into a pair of dark eyes. Even through the scope, the effect was profound and she was utterly convinced that the alien knew she was there. He didn’t point, or scream, or do anything to draw his protectors’ attention to her. He just looked at her, somehow holding her in place with his eyes. Dolly felt her head spinning, as if the alien was looking deep into her thoughts. Brilliant flashes of memory spun through her mind. She recalled her first boyfriend, and the first time she’d slept with him, and the time he’d dumped her for another girl who’d go down on him, something she wouldn’t do on a bet. She recalled winning the shooting championship and her plans to join the military and go professional. She recalled…

A fit of rage overwhelmed her and she pulled the trigger. The alien’s head exploded into a shower of green blood and brain. The spell was broken instantly and she took aim at one of the Arab leaders, but he dived for cover behind one of the Bradley’s before she could fire. Cursing, still unstable, she threw the grenades over the side and ran for the fire escape chute. Her brain felt as if she was thinking through a haze of cotton wool, but she somehow focused on escape. There was very little time left before they sent people into the building to root her out.

She found herself laughing as she plunged down into the depths. No one else had plugged an alien in Chicago. No one. If she got out of it alive, it would be one hell of a story. The aliens would never be so confident again.


Chapter Twenty-Eight


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 150/151


Someone killed an alien, Abigail thought. There had been a complete news blackout over the event, but everyone in the camp knew the truth. Someone killed an alien leader!

The thought made her smile. The aliens had lost people before, but most of them had been workers or warriors. If any alien leaders had been killed in combat, or on the massive ship that had been shot down over Washington, they’d kept quiet about it. Losing one in Chicago…what had he been doing in the combat zone in the first place? She’d asked the other reporters, but they knew little more than she did, leaving them sharing rumours and innuendo rather than fact. It was a story that had to be written up for the Committees of Correspondence, yet she already had one story and she didn’t dare add that story until the rumours had spread further. God alone knew if anyone suspected her of writing for the underground newspaper…no, that wasn't true. If they’d known, or even suspected, they would have hauled her in for interrogation. Reporters, no matter how useful, had been vanished before.

She paused outside the hotel and hesitated. She wanted to run, to hide, to flee Chicago and never return, but that wasn't an option. She’d told the minder that she would come to him to ‘discuss’ her possible future role and she couldn’t back out now, not when he could have her disappeared within hours. Besides, there was the other priority. It would make everything worthwhile. She patted her bag and checked that she had everything she wanted, and then she stepped into the lobby. The Order Policeman on duty checked her card, leered at her, and pointed her towards the lift. She thanked him and followed his finger, feeling her heartbeat racing as she walked towards her destiny. She’d never done anything so risky before in her entire life.

She’d been in countries where the government had been evil – although supported by intellectuals in the West – and she hadn’t understood why the people hadn’t rebelled against their oppressors. She understood now. America was pervaded by a sense of oppressive evil, pushing down on the people and suppressing them below a wave of fear and hatred. The Order Police seemed to be everywhere, using the ID cards, money systems and food distribution points to maintain control. They could isolate a single person and haul them out for questioning, or crush an uprising with ease. The underlying fabric of American life was being warped and perverted into a police state and those who fought back were being slowly isolated and destroyed. Chicago might still be fighting, but no one had any illusions about the outcome. The entire city would eventually be destroyed, along with the resistance. How many other cities would rise up against the aliens and their collaborators?

It wasn't even as if the aliens were under threat. They might be providing security, but their main focus was on their expanding colonies in the west, not in holding down the cities. Humans were killing humans, not aliens; they might intend to weaken humanity rather than waste their own force in crushing revolt after revolt. By that analysis, Chicago was pointless. The resistance would accomplish nothing. The elevator came to a halt and she stepped out into luxury. The hotel had once been a second-class hotel for people forced to stay in Chicago for a few days. Now, it had a first-rate staff and everything it could possibly want, apart from freedom to choose its guests. The collaborators had taken over the entire building.

They seem to have a fondness for hotels, she thought, as yet another humourless guard checked her papers and fingerprints. His eyes were focused on the papers, which made a pleasant change from most of the Order Police. They always take them over and make them luxurious as hell.

Her private speculation was that the collaborators were people who had always wanted to stay in the best hotels, but somehow had never been able to join the elite who had earned or inherited the money to enjoy such facilities. Envy was as powerful a motivator as anything else, one that she could comprehend. Perhaps it was worth the betrayal of the entire nation, although that struck her as a little odd. After Chicago, how could anyone believe that the aliens came in peace and meant well? Or was it a form of Stockholm Syndrome? Did the collaborators who had been pushed into collaborating come to love their masters?

“I’ll have to inspect your bag,” the guard said. Abigail shrugged and handed it over to him. It wasn't as if there was anything important in it anyway, just a handful of tissues, a set of condoms, a PDA and a USB stick. She watched the guard’s face and saw his lips twitch when he saw the condoms, before he closed the bag and passed an alien-designed scanner over it and her. She twitched as he ran it over her rear, but he was completely professional. “You’re clean.”

“Nothing up there, of course,” Abigail said, hoping to needle him a little. “How could I hide anything with this dress?”

“Just a routine security check, Miss Walker,” the guard said. He passed the bag back to her and waved her through. “Have fun.”

Abigail said nothing as she walked down the corridor towards the master suite. It had once been three separate bedrooms, but apparently the collaborators had insisted on melding it all together into a single set of rooms. She’d been amused to discover that even that hadn’t been big enough for their minders, but they hadn’t been able to go any further without running the risk of bringing down the building. She checked herself in the mirror – she wore a thin dress that hid very little – and knocked on the door. There was no way out now.

“Come in,” a voice said. She opened the door and stepped through into more luxury. The room itself would have been pleasant, except that twenty famous paintings that had once belonged in art galleries had been pasted across the walls. They’d been looted from one of the more famous collections in the United States, yet they clearly didn’t belong together. One table was groaning under the weight of food, another was covered with bottles, some clearly very expensive.

Her minder came to his feet as she entered, his eyes leaving trails of slime all over her breasts. The other female reporters who’d spent time with him alone had reported that subtle wasn't in his vocabulary and she’d dressed accordingly. She could have worn an Islamic veil, she saw now, and he would have reacted in the same way. The deal he was offering was as old as time. He would give her what she wanted – or he thought she wanted – in exchange for spending the night with him. It couldn’t be said to be favouritism. He’d slept with most of the reporters, male and female.

“You’re looking lovely tonight,” he said, taking her hand and kissing the air just above it in a parody of courtly love. At least he wasn't picking her up and hauling her towards the bed, or pushing her against the wall and fucking her right there and then. “Would you like a drink?”

“Yes, please,” Abigail said, more to be polite than any real desire for alcohol. Perhaps she could induce him to drink enough to render him incapable. She examined the collection of bottles, but she knew too little about wine to know which would be good and which wouldn’t be touched by anyone who wasn't a wine snob. Her minder bubbled in her ear, trying to impress her with his experience, although she suspected that he was talking nonsense. Wine snobs had never impressed her before, even though her old editor – wherever he was now – had been fond of showing off his collection. “Just a sparkling white, please.”

“An excellent choice,” he said. He poured them both a glass and handed it to her. “You may call me Percy, by the way. We’re alone here.”

“Thank you, ah…Percy,” Abigail said. She found herself looking at him in a whole new light. Why, she wondered, had he chosen to collaborate? The wine tasted oddly sweet, but she drank it anyway. “I understand that you wanted to talk to me?”

“Over dinner,” Percy said. He walked over to a concealed intercom and spoke briefly into the speaker. “The maids will be here in a few moments. Enjoy your wine.”

Abigail was tempted to remark on the absurdity of having maids serving them when they could have easily done it for themselves, but she said nothing. The maids, wearing French Maid outfits that revealed everything and concealed nothing, served them quickly and efficiently, before vanishing away into the shadows again. The food was good and it went down surprisingly quickly. If it hadn’t been for Percy’s eyes falling to her breasts time and time again, making it clear how the day was going to end, she would almost have enjoyed herself. As it was, she couldn’t wait for it to be over.

“There’s a requirement to create more official broadcasts and warnings,” Percy said, as they ate. “The insurgents are only harming the country by endless resistance to the unbeatable. We have to convince people to stop supporting them before the entire country gets torn apart.”

“I quite agree,” Abigail lied. Perhaps that explained why Percy had become a quisling. He thought that the aliens were unbeatable, certain to win. He might even have been right. The resistance was currently fighting other humans rather than the aliens themselves. “What can I do to help you fight them?”

“We have to diversify the information we put out to the population,” Percy said, earnestly. “They seem to be…distrusting of our regular news broadcasts and television shows. They seem to think that we lie all the time.”

I cannot imagine why, Abigail thought, coldly. Saying out loud would have been suicide. Percy might be trying to come across as Mr Nice Guy, but she had no illusions about the weight of alien power behind him.

“We need to create new newspapers and information broadcasts, a rival channel if you like,” he said, finally. “Would you like to be editor of the second national newspaper in the post-contact era?”

Abigail stared at him. It couldn’t be denied that it was an opportunity, and not just another opportunity to serve the aliens and their puppet government. She could use a newspaper room to spread the truth, maybe even print out thousands of extra editions of the underground newspapers. But at the same time, it would also put her firmly on the alien side, at least in the public mind, and she would be targeted as a collaborator. She might end up dead, killed by the people she had been trying to help, or perhaps one of the Walking Dead. What would happen to her then?

On the other hand, if she refused the honour, they might start asking why. “It depends,” she temporised. “How much editorial freedom would I have?”

“As long as you followed the official line, as much as you want,” Percy said. Abigail translated that easily. None at all. “The purpose is to calm down the population and prevent them from supporting the insurgents.”

Abigail thought about pointing out that the population hated the collaborators and their puppet government, but she knew that it was pointless. She also knew that refusing the offer would certainly cause problems for her in the future, and it was an opportunity to help the resistance. The risks were worth taking, she decided; with a little care, she might even be safer than she was writing for the underground newspapers.

“I’d certainly like to try,” she said, finally. “Who do I have to impress to get the job?”

“Me,” Percy said, with a sly laugh. He looked up and, for the first time, met her eyes. “How do you intend to impress me?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Abigail said. She licked her lips and smiled inwardly at his reaction. “Are you sure we won’t be disturbed for the rest of the night?”

Percy looked towards a laptop sitting on the table. “My staff know not to disturb me when I’m…working late,” he said, with a grin. His eyes widened appreciatively as Abigail stood up, drawing his attention to her legs. “We won’t be disturbed.”

Abigail leaned forward and kissed him, suppressing her revulsion. He probably wouldn’t notice any difference, but as his hands started to roam her breasts, she had to fight to control herself. He wasn't gentle or caring. He didn’t care if she had a good time or not, provided that he had a good night. One hand slipped up her dress and inside her panties, groping her bottom. She groaned, as if she was enjoying his attention, and pulled him to his feet. Her hands ran down his chest, undoing his shirt and trousers, dumping both of them on the floor. He didn’t have a bad body, actually; a little more exercise and he would be quite attractive. She reached inside his pants and felt him stiffen to attention. That, too, wasn't bad. Perhaps she would have enjoyed herself if she had chosen to sleep with him.

“Not here,” she whispered. She felt him pushing against her and knew that he was on the verge of just tearing her dress away and forcing his way into her. “On a bed.”

He pulled her through a pair of doors and into a room with a king-sized bed. She turned him around and pushed him down on the bed, pulling away the last vestiges of his clothes. He looked up at her as if he were slightly stunned, as if he’d never had a woman take the lead before – perhaps he hadn’t. Abigail recalled watching pornographic movies as a teenager and shimmied out of her dress, clutching her own breasts and rubbing at them, before reaching down to her panties and pushing them down towards the ground. Naked, she stepped forward and bent over him, taking his cock into her mouth and licking it, before bringing herself down on him. He was so excited that he came bare seconds after she had pushed down on him, gasping with excitement as he spent himself inside her. Abigail smiled to herself at his expression. She could have killed him outright and he probably wouldn’t have even noticed.

She spent the next three hours exhausting him, pushing Percy right to his limits before he collapsed into a stupor. She had enjoyed herself more than she had expected, but there was no time to delay. She slipped out of the bed and watched him for a moment to ensure that he was truly asleep, before slipping back into the dining room and opening her bag. She pulled out a pair of light gloves with one hand and the USB stick with another, slipping it into his laptop. The collaborators had full and uncensored access to the Internet, even in the heart of the secure zones. It was the work of a bare five minutes to install a macro to send her story for Committees of Correspondence from his laptop in two days, and then delete the evidence. It would take a computer expert to reveal that the message had come from that laptop, and no one would know that it had been her who’d sent it. Even if they decided Percy was innocent, he’d bedded so many that it would be hard to tell who’d installed the macro in the first place, or when. They might know when it was sent, but she doubted she’d still be bedding him by then.

Smiling to herself, she pulled herself to her feet and walked back into the bedroom. Percy hadn’t moved at all from where she’d left him, so she slipped back into bed and pressed her breasts against his chest. He wouldn’t be able to claim that he’d not had his money’s worth from her. Not entirely to her surprise, he woke up twice in the night and pressed himself upon her again. She wasn't unwilling to play. The more he liked her afterwards, the more chance that he’d help her in other ways. She might even be able to turn him into a source for the resistance…

“You passed the interview,” he informed her, the morning afterwards. He looked tired, but sickeningly happy. “After we’re finished in Chicago, you’ll be assigned to the new newspaper back in Washington. I'm sure you’ll make us proud.”

“Thank you, sir,” Abigail said. She felt sore, yet there was a quiet undertone of triumph. If the message was sent properly, it had all been worth it, even if Percy called her back to his bed. And if Percy happened to get the blame from the aliens for sending the message in the first place…

“You’re welcome,” Percy said. He pulled her over to him and pressed his lips against hers, hard. She felt his teeth pressing against her lips and tasted blood. His hands ravaged what was left of her dress, stroking her breasts and marking his territory. “Never forget who did it for you.”

“I won’t, sir,” she promised him. Her lips hurt, but she still felt triumph. “I won’t forget a thing.”


Chapter Twenty-Nine


London, United Kingdom

Day 151


The underground bunker – STRAKER – was deep under London. Unlike the better-known PINDAR, STRAKER was completely unknown to the public, although the more astute might guess at its existence and rough location. STRAKER was supposed to be proof against nuclear, chemical and biological attacks, yet the PJHQ analysts had questioned even its safety. The rocky armour protecting NORAD made STAKER look flimsy by comparison, and the aliens had taken NORAD out with a single projectile. If they targeted London in the same way, the entire city would be destroyed.

Prime Minister Arthur Hamilton looked down at the table, and then up at the person facing him. It had surprised him to discover just how much money had been lavished on making the top government officials and civil servants feel comfortable in their secret nuclear bunker, even to the point of luxury apartments and extensive supplies of food and drink. The soldiers and the others who actually operated the bunker received far less consideration, although he had privately resolved that if they all did become trapped in the bunker, he was going to ensure that all of the supplies were distributed evenly. Britain’s nuclear policy had always been a little warped; considerable attention had been lavished on making sure that the government survived, yet they would return to the surface to assume control of a devastated nation and a resentful population, if the population survived. He’d read a top secret paper from MI5 that had suggested that the bunker would become the scene of a mini civil war between different aspects of the British State, the more so if there was no Britain to return to. It didn’t bode well, he’d thought, for the future – but then, someone would have to be out of their mind to consider starting a nuclear war.

“The report comes from America,” the Prime Minster said, softly. “The President – ah, President Chalk – swears that we can trust the source, but they have no way of verifying it or even casting reasonable doubt.”

Roi Avram met his eyes. The Israeli Ambassador to Britain was in an unusual position at the best of times. Regardless of the justice of his cause, Israel was increasingly seen as an illegitimate state by large portions of the British public, bearing the sole responsibility for the plight of the Palestinian people. The fact that Palestinians had been making life intolerable for Israelis for years, and that the Palestinians had been betrayed by their own government and fellow Arabs, had never registered on a population that had become increasingly suspicious of government and society. The collapse of America had been welcomed by some parts of society, the same parts that were now occupying detention camps on Dartmoor or up in the Scottish Highlands. They couldn’t tolerate rioting on British streets, not now.

“The information states that the aliens intend to move against Israel very soon, perhaps within the next few days, and complete their conquest of the Middle East,” the Prime Minister continued. “Our own sources in the Middle East – those that have survived the invasion and occupation – have been unable to confirm or deny it for themselves, but we believe that the source can be trusted. Naturally, should your government claim that we provided advanced warning, we will deny everything.”

“I liked to think that it would all be over,” Avram said, bitterly. “After the invasion, after the occupation…we liked to think that the threat was over, once and for all. Now…you’re telling us that the aliens intend to invade Israel? Why?”

“We don’t know,” the Prime Minister admitted. “The analysts who looked at the issue thought that Israel was merely the most powerful nation in the region and they decided to save you for last, or maybe they don’t recognise any difference between Israeli and Arab and decided to halt at your borders merely to catch their breath. One of them thought that the source was being duped and it was intended to catch them, because taking Israel gives them nothing, but another headache. They already have enough problems with the Arabs.”

“They’ve been using Arabs as occupation cadre in America,” Avram pointed out, coldly. “Our own sources report that they’ve been recruiting more from the cities and slums and offering them a chance to get their own back on the Great Satan. Thousands are taking them up on the offer, just to get out of the trap the Middle East has become. Do you think they intend to do the same to Israel?”

“There’s no way to know,” the Prime Minister said. “There’s also no way for us to help you, at least…directly. We can probably give you some covert assistance.”

“You can’t do anything,” Avram repeated. “You know, we had a few shining days of peace even before the aliens landed in the Middle East.”

The Prime Minister nodded. The Arab Street had been delighted at the alien attack on America and had started screaming about taking the opportunity to march into Israel and push the Jews into the sea, once and for all. Their rejoicing hadn’t lasted long. The Prime Minister of Israel had gone on television, broadcast over the entire Arab world, and warned that Israel would launch a mass nuclear strike if anyone even looked at them funny. He’d been intimidating as hell, reading out a list of cities that would be thrown into nuclear fire…and Mecca had been on top of the list. The Arab regimes had panicked, declared martial law, and started stamping on their home-grown extremists, until the aliens had invaded and put a stop to it. There had been new riots and protests across Europe at the news, but by then successive European governments had been declaring martial law as well.

“You also know the position of my government,” Avram continued. “Any attack on Israel, from any quarter, will be responded to by overwhelming force.”

“You mean you’re going to nuke the aliens,” the Prime Minister said. He wasn't sure how to feel about it, as if he were dead and numb inside. Viewed coldly, it might not be a bad idea to let the Israelis go ahead, just to see what would happen. The aliens hadn’t responded badly to the nuclear weapon that had been detonated at the South Pole, but they’d been on the verge of victory over America anyway. How would they respond to an Israeli nuclear strike? “Are you serious?”

“Yes, Prime Minister,” Avram said. “Our policy has always been clear, unlike the Delphic utterances of other governments and politicians.”

“Politicians always like their manoeuvring room,” the Prime Minister admitted. “I wish we could do more to help.”

“Just take in the refugees when they start pouring out of Israel,” Avram said, bitterly. He looked up at the massive world map displayed on the big plasma screen. “We all grew up fearing that one day America would abandon us and Europe would fall to the Arabs in your streets, and then Israel would face the Day of Judgement. We all knew that one day we would have to remember – if we ever forgot – that war is about killing the enemy before he kills you, something you allowed yourself to forget. Even the Americans, even after Iraq, forgot that single truth.

“We won’t surrender and we won’t leave our country,” he continued. “If they come for Israel, we’ll bathe them in their own green blood.”

“Good luck,” the Prime Minister said. “We’ll see what we can do about sending you some covert help.”

He watched Avram leaving, wishing he could help the man and his country. For all the public disdain, the truth was that Britain and Israel had both taken part in the massive anti-terrorist program and had shared intelligence on terrorists for the past forty years. Israel made a far more palatable ally than any of the Arab states – if it had as much oil as they had, it would be perfect. But the aliens were overwhelmingly powerful and the entire combined might of Europe would be insufficient to force them to stand down and leave Israel – or Europe – alone. The Israelis would be standing on their own. He felt weak and helpless to change the course of events.

It dawned on him, then, that the weak must often feel ashamed.

***

Two hours later, he hosted a small meeting in the bunker.

“We have actually developed a system for generating a directed pulse of energy, as we discussed previously,” General Williamson said. “The aliens actually provided us with the solution. They might as well have handed us the lock with one hand and the key with the other. We actually built a prototype directed-energy weapon and tested it underground. It works extremely well.”

The Prime Minister nodded. “How long until you can put it into mass production?”

“It would depend on several factors,” General Williamson said. “The weapon is not, unfortunately, perfect. Basically, we use one of the alien batteries – the devices they taught us to produce – as the power source, surging out every last erg in the battery in one shot. That’s one bottleneck. The second bottleneck is that we’d have to set up for mass production first and then actually start producing the blasters – I’m afraid the name stuck – without attracting attention. The third…well, we can use their batteries everywhere. If we start suddenly having shortages…”

The Prime Minister could follow his logic. Britain had been having energy problems for years because successive governments had refused to bite the bullet and admit that their search for renewable and green energy sources had been little more than a pipe dream. The aliens had provided a number of fusion power stations and taught the world how to make perfect batteries and the lights had come on again. The oil shortage that had driven millions of British cars off the road could be circumvented by using alien tech to power the cars…although the Prime Minister privately thought that having most of the nation’s cars off the roads wasn't a bad thing. The rest of the population didn’t agree.

“They might start wondering where all the batteries are going,” the Prime Minister said. “Is there no way we can cut down on the time it takes to produce them?”

“Probably not,” General Williamson said. “We might be able to produce more if we share technology with the French and Germans, maybe even the Japanese, but I don’t think we could speed things up that much. The French should cooperate, but the Japanese…”

“I know,” the Prime Minister said. “They’re eating themselves over there.”

His lips tightened. Japan had been hit badly by the invasion, even without the aliens actually striking a direct blow against them. The Japanese economy had been wrecked along with that of most of the rest of the world, while the war raging over in Korea had forced the Japanese military to try to take an active hand. The global shipping network that fed Japan had vanished. The collapsing government of Indonesia and dozens of African states had left hundreds of pirates in their wake, attacking global shipping and starving out Japan. The country was on the brink of collapse.

Rumour on the internet had it that the Japanese were seriously considering launching an invasion of China just to snatch up food supplies, but it would be absolute madness. The Chinese Civil War might be raging on, yet the Prime Minister was certain that the one thing that would reunify China was another Japanese invasion. The Chinese had long memories and still hadn’t forgotten the Japanese invasion before the Second World War – for them, World War Two had begun with the Twenty-One Demands. The alien plan seemed to be working perfectly. If the Japanese did launch such a massive and desperate invasion, another human military force would be spent fighting other humans, instead of the common foe.

He sighed. “We’ll make a covert approach to the French,” he said. “God knows what’s going on in Paris, but they should be willing to help…”

“If they can help,” General Williamson muttered. The Prime Minister gave him an inquiring look. “The French have been very cagey about just how much trouble and strife hit their streets.”

The Prime Minister remembered the reports and shivered. The British and American tourists in France had been rounded up and returned through the Channel Tunnel when the French economy shuddered and collapsed. The MOD had conducted interviews with all of them, but they hadn’t known much beyond chaos suddenly manifesting on France’s streets, along with the French Army. The brief discussions between the Prime Minister and his French counterpart – who seemed to change every week – were more informative. The French Government seemed to be playing musical chairs.

“We’ll see,” the Prime Minister said. “Is there any more good news?”

“Yes,” General Williamson said. “The researchers at Torchwood think they’ve finally found out how the alien craft tick.”

The Prime Minister leaned forward. “What did they find?” He asked, unable to keep the eagerness out of his voice. If they could crack the secrets of alien technology, the situation might not be so hopeless after all. “Something useful?”

“I’m not a technician,” General Williamson admitted. “You’ll have to bear with me a little. From what we know of the alien technology, they generate a field surrounding their craft that somehow imparts momentum and a degree of protection. We used to think at first that it was a form of antigravity technology, yet the odd thing is that it’s not. It actually provides thrust…well, one of the researchers claimed that it was a rocket without the rocket.”

“I’m sure that makes sense on some level,” the Prime Minister said. “How does that account for their speed and manoeuvrability?”

“We knew from what happened to the Americans that the alien craft had problems manoeuvring at high speeds,” General Williamson said. “We now know that the reason they had problems was that the drive interacted badly with the atmosphere and that provided a limit on their ability to manoeuvre. Obviously, in space they had no such problems. We finally managed to get a handle on what they do to produce the drive field. Give us a few months and we might be able to produce the first human-designed spacecraft with such a drive.”

“My god,” the Prime Minister said. “We could kick them right off the planet!”

“Maybe,” General Williamson said. “There are some problems with the concept. The first one is that the drive is an immensely complicated system. It is actually much more advanced than anything we produced for the Eurofighter, or the Americans produced for their space program, and duplicating it will take time. Deploying a fleet of such craft…it could take years, by which time they might own the Earth anyway.”

“It’s too good an opportunity to pass up,” the Prime Minister said. “Is there no way we can shorten the timeframe at all?”

“They did have two possible suggestions,” General Williamson said. “The first is that we could produce most of the spacecraft – the airframe and weapons – without the drives, and then install the drives once they’ve been constructed. At worst, we’d lose the resources we put into worthless airframes, but it should be worth doing. The second one is that we could try to steal drive units off the aliens.”

“How the fuck do they intend us to do that?”

“They didn’t know,” General Williamson said. They shared a quiet laugh. “It may be possible that one of the factories the aliens are setting up on Earth is designed to produce drive field units, so we might be able to get someone inside and start stealing drive units…but it’s not particularly likely.”

“Make producing the drive units your top priority,” the Prime Minister ordered. “Ditch everything else. Put everyone to work on top priority – get them beer and prostitutes if you have to – and get me some results.”

“Yes, Prime Minister,” General Williamson said. He started to stand up, and then paused. “Tony was wondering about America, sir. Is there any news?”

“Real news, you mean,” the Prime Minister said. The official broadcasts from Washington suggested that the aliens had turned America into a paradise. The reports from the British Ambassador suggested that they’d actually turned America into a police state. The Prime Minister believed the Ambassador, but knew that the British Press had started to pick up on the alien lies. “Chicago is still being invested, the aliens are still registering the entire country…what more does he want to know?”

“He’s worried about his family,” General Williamson said. “So are most of the rest of the Yanks we have at the facility.”

“They have my sympathy,” the Prime Minister said, grimly. “Can’t we sneak most of their families out?”

“We’ve been trying, but it’s a long slow process and several have vanished en route,” General Williamson said. “Ever since Cuba decided to throw the Americans out of their base on Cuban soil, the entire Caribbean has been a nightmarish war zone. I bet they miss Uncle Sam now.”

“Doubtless,” the Prime Minister agreed. “I want updated reports whenever anything changes.”

“Of course, Prime Minister,” General Williamson said.

He saluted and left the room, leaving the Prime Minister looking down at the remaining folder on the table. It was marked DUSTBIN – British operations were given computer-generated names, rather than something that might give the game away too soon – and it was depressing as hell. The plans to create a set of stay-behind units to continue the war if Britain were invaded and occupied by the aliens were proceeding smoothly. If the worst came to the worst…

Churchill had faced the possibility of invasion, but Operation Sealion had never been launched. He was the first British Prime Minister of the new century to face the prospect that Britain would be invaded by an enemy who had already defeated the most powerful nation on Earth. He had no illusions about the outcome if the aliens decided they wanted to put a stop to Britain’s desperate attempts to crack their technology. The underground resistance would be all that was left to fight.


Chapter Thirty


Virginia, USA

Day 154


The airfield had once belonged to a wealthy flying enthusiast who’d spent millions of dollars building up a fleet of unique aircraft and flying them at air shows. The aliens had landed on the airfield several weeks after the Fall of Washington and pressed it into service as a forward operating base for their warriors, evicting the owner and his fleet of aircraft. The owner had been quite happy to provide Nicolas with detailed plans of the airfield in exchange for help in finding an empty home to live in. The small assault team took up position near the airbase and waited for his signal.

Get in, do some damage, and get out again, Nicolas thought coldly. The resistance had been upping the tempo of their operations after the aliens and their Arab allies had started attacking Chicago in earnest, but nothing they’d done so far had slowed the Arabs as they ground their way through the city. He’d hoped that the aliens would at least redirect their warriors or the Order Police to come after the resistance units, yet the aliens had seemed remarkably unconcerned about losses. He suspected that it was because most of the dead were human collaborators, not aliens. The aliens attempted to keep their people as isolated as they could from possible human attack. The horror stories from the west proved that.

He peered through the darkness to make out the shape of five aliens on patrol. The aliens were better than they’d been in the early days of the occupation; their patrols were seemingly random, and they were spread out, watching for any sign of trouble. The Order Police and the Arabs were happy to consort with the locals – although the Arabs had developed a habit of only doing so in groups – but the aliens kept humans away, often with warning shots. Sneaking up on them wasn't going to work, so he reached into his belt and pulled out a trigger, removing the safety and pressing down hard. A brilliant white flare leapt up into the air, suddenly illuminating the entire scene.

The alien warriors hissed in shock, their clawed hands coming up to cover their eyes, but it was too late. The doctors who’d dissected the aliens claimed that they actually had a greater sensitivity to light than their human enemies and the magnesium flare had to have blinded them, just for a few seconds. Nicolas lifted his rifle and shot the first one in the head. The other four dropped a moment later as the team went to work. One of the aliens turned, half-lifting the weapon he carried before he was killed, leaving Nicolas cursing under his breath. Their body armour was far too good.

“Open fire,” he ordered, keying his radio. The resistance had discovered that the aliens could pick up and track even tiny broadcasts, but secrecy was no longer an option. The mortar teams he’d placed in the rear opened fire, launching high explosive into the alien base. He saw alien ground-to-air weapons systems firing bursts of superheated plasma into the air, trying to destroy the mortar shells before they hit the ground. Their shooting wasn't bad either. Only two shells reached the ground and exploded, one on top of an alien tank. The vehicle looked undamaged, but Nicolas was sure that anyone inside was having a really bad day. “Move!”

The fence, according to the former owner, was merely designed to give any intruder a nasty shock, but Nicolas took no chances and used grenades to knock it down, allowing the team to enter the base. A line of alien warriors appeared out of one of the buildings and opened fire, sending brilliant green flashes of light spinning towards them. Nicolas hit the deck and returned fire, taking down two of the aliens while the remainder dived for cover themselves. A savage firefight broke out as the snipers added their own fire from their positions nearby, shooting down any alien foolish enough to show his face. He heard an inhuman voice hissing in pain before another explosion cut them short. Pinned down, the aliens didn’t have much hope, but Nicolas would have bet his bottom dollar that reinforcements were already on the way.

They’d planned to hit as many of the alien bases as they could simultaneously, but anyone who’d ever served knew how quickly Murphy could put in an appearance. The aliens would probably act to save their own hides first, rather than assisting their collaborators, which meant that the alien craft were already on their way. Their speed allowed them to base their rapid reaction force on the other side of the continent and still deploy it to any trouble spot within seconds. It wasn't a fair fight.

Time to make it even more unfair, he thought, as he slipped back. The others could hold the aliens pinned down for the moment. He picked up the resistance-built RPG – a better design than anything he’d seen in Iraq or Afghanistan, produced in an American garage by a resistance worker – and sighted it on the target. The heavy RPG erupted from the expendable launcher and slammed into the alien position. The explosion lit up the area and sent the aliens falling back rapidly.

“At them,” someone shouted, as the humans moved forward, covering one another. A pair of alien warriors were too badly wounded to be saved and taken prisoner, so Nicolas dispatched them both with merciful headshots. The remainder seemed to have been killed or attempted to flee back into the buildings, but they were death-traps now. A spray of RPGs were launched at their windows and detonated inside the buildings, blasting out the doors and surviving windows. Nicolas glanced inside one of them and saw alien workers scattered and broken on the ground, keening like little children. An image of Nancy flashed in front of his eyes and he found himself inexplicitly shaken.

“Sir,” someone said. Nicolas winced as the ground shook again. “Sir, are you all right?”

“Never better,” he snapped, harshly. The stench of dead aliens was rolling across the field now, somehow worse than dead humans. If the rumours about alien warriors actually eating humans were true, perhaps it could go the other way too…no, he refused to even think about that possibility. “Clear the remaining buildings!”

He turned the corner and glanced into one of the hangars, coming face to face with an alien of an indeterminate caste. The alien lashed out at him with a cyborg arm and he jumped back, bringing up his rifle and shooting the alien in the chest with two quick shots. The alien’s chest disintegrated, revealing a mixture of flesh, blood and mechanical implants before it collapsed onto the ground and died. Nicolas saw it’s implanted systems twitching before they powered down as well. The sight was sickening and a remainder of just how alien the aliens were. No human could have endured losing so much of their body to mechanical implants.

Beyond the alien, he saw a pair of alien transports resting in the hangar and waved up two of his men. They inspected the craft quickly, but found nothing apart from a handful of dead aliens lying on stretchers. There was no clear sign of how they had died and Nicolas found himself keeping one eye on them, just in case they returned to life suddenly and attacked his men. In a bad movie, he would have been able to fly the alien craft out of the area and escape, but real life wasn't that simple. A quick glance at the control panels in the alien craft revealed that he had absolutely no idea how to fly it. Even his experience with light aircraft and helicopters was useless.

“Place the charges and let’s get out of here,” he ordered tersely. He was surprised that the alien reinforcements hadn’t already arrived. They had to be distracted by one of the other attacks, or maybe they were suffering from being unable to determine which attack was the real attack, or prioritising the most important targets. “Hurry!”

He ran back outside to see the first alien craft arrive and start shooting, launching blasts of green light down towards the ground. Two of the sniper nests were blown away in seconds, a third – narrowly missed – was shut down as the sniper ran for cover. Four Stingers rose up towards the alien craft and slammed into its drive field in quick succession, sending it spinning away before it came down on top of one of the hangars. Nicolas hit the deck again as the craft exploded, devastating the airbase. The fireball roared up in the darkness. The base was completely wrecked.

Nicolas keyed his radio again and muttered a single command. “Bug out, now,” he ordered, and repeated it once. There would be no acknowledgements; everyone else, under orders, would break off and run into the surrounding area. There was no point in sticking around to engage the aliens in a stand-up fight, not when they’d all be slaughtered. “Now!”

Something grabbed his leg and squeezed hard. He looked down to see that one of the little worker aliens had caught hold of him. The alien’s legs were completely missing, yet the dark eyes showed no hint of pain or rage, just icy determination. Nicolas kicked out at the alien, and then drew his pistol. The alien held his eyes for a second and then let go, closing his own eyes. Nicolas held his pistol for a long moment, and then pulled himself to his feet, leaving the alien alive. His ankle hurt badly, but he’d been through worse in SEAL Training. The training program that turned a man into a Navy SEAL was dreaded and rightfully so. He limped out as fast as he could go, turning to look back at the former airfield. It was a burning wasteland. The charges his men had placed in the two alien craft detonated seconds later and completed the task of destroying the base. If there were any aliens left, they were keeping their heads well down and trying not to be noticed.

Turning his back, he headed to the rendezvous point. It had been a good night’s work. Now all he needed was a rest and some medical attention. They’d hide up until the following night, and then find another base of operations. He had the feeling that the area was about to become remarkably hot.

***

Jason Pickering checked his rifle quickly as the stream of Bradley AFVs and commandeered civilian trucks motored down the road towards the small town. The Order Policemen were all tired and worn after a night where they had been blown up, shot at and even poisoned. Each individual base had come under attack and it hadn’t been until hours later that they’d realised that their little attacks had only been part of the wider picture. The Order Police had grown used to being hated, but for so many of them to die in a single night…it made him wonder if he’d made the right choice.

But there hadn’t been a choice, he told himself, time and time again. The system had never allowed him a chance. It had taken any chance of a normal life, an education and a future and turned them all into garbage. What choice had he had? A lifetime of petty crime and jail sentences had loomed ahead of him when the invasion had begun and he’d realised that there were whole new vistas of opportunity opening up in front of him. He could become a Big Man, gain all the power and women he wanted, and all he had to do was serve the aliens without question. He’d signed the deal at once and, as a reward, had used the Order Police’s control over work duties and rationing to convince his old sweetheart – she’d never even heard of him, she’d said – to share the wonders of her body with him. It hadn’t been much of an encounter, not compared to the whores who sold their bodies to the Order Police, but at least he’d had her first. No one had realised, apart from him, that she was just a tease.

He looked over at the Walking Dead man who led the patrol and shivered. It was yet another reason to be loyal, for he didn’t want to end up like him. The Walking Dead showed no interest in women, or money, or power. They just lived to serve the aliens and do whatever they were told to do. They had no conscience, no sense of right or wrong…he’d seen one of them shoot his own daughter when she’d started begging her father to return to normal. They were inhuman monsters. Jason couldn’t imagine a life without women and all the things that made life worth living.

“When we enter the town, you will obey orders at once without question,” the Walking Dead man said. His voice was as cold as his eyes, as cold as the winds that blew off the sea. There was no humanity hiding under them. There was nothing, but cold alien thoughts in a human body. “Do not hesitate. It will cost you your life.”

Jason didn’t know the name of the town they drove into, but he’d seen a hundred like it, enough to know the general details. There would be around a thousand inhabitants, many of them probably involved with the resistance…no, the terrorists. Rumour had it that the aliens could read minds and branding the enemy anything other than the officially-approved line could get him shot, or worse. The population eyed them with sullen indifference. They would be counting the seconds until the patrol left and they could get on with their lives.

They stopped in front of the Sheriff’s office and the Walking Dead man barked orders, telling the Sheriff to gather his people at the local baseball field. He then barked orders to the Order Police, telling them to separate men from women and perform weapons checks on everyone as they entered the baseball field. Jason angled for a shot at searching the women – always good for a quick grope – but he was unlucky and ended up pulling security instead. The looks he got from the men he was guarding chilled his blood, but he reminded himself of the gun in his hand and the heavy machine guns mounted on the Bradleys. They could resist, but it would be the shortest and nastiest slaughter in history. Most of them, he couldn’t help noticing, were white. The handful of non-whites among them seemed to hate him and his fellows even more.

He’d expected orders to search the town – which was fun, if destructive – but instead the Walking Dead man got up on one of the vehicles and glared down at the men. “Last night,” he said, in his dead voice, “hundreds of Order Policemen and People were killed by terrorist attacks. The vile perpetrators of this crime came from this area. One of you knows who they are. Tell us now and you will be rewarded.”

There was a long silence. “This is your last chance to make a stand against the evil gripping our country,” the Walking Dead man said. His voice was still cold; Jason would have shouted. “Choose now or face the consequences.”

Seconds passed as the tension rose. “You made your choice,” the Walking Dead man said. “This entire town will suffer for your decision.”

He drew his pistol and shot a man at random, followed by another. “Open fire,” he ordered, as Jason’s jaw hit the ground. “Kill all the men!”

The crowd lunged forward like a wild thing. Jason panicked and levelled his rifle, firing madly into the heaving mob. They seemed not to notice the dead and kept coming, howling in pain. His rifle ran empty and he lashed out at one of the men, knowing that it was too late…a second before the machine guns opened fire. The mob dissolved into a bloody mass screaming in pain, their screams joined by those of their womenfolk and children. He saw a little boy’s head explode as a stream of bullets flew through his head, his body collapsing to the ground and bleeding into the field of blood. The shooting ended suddenly and his legs wobbled. It was all he could do to remain standing upright.

One of the Order Policemen was loudly sick. The Walking Dead man casually levelled a pistol and blew out the young man’s brains, adding them to the blood on the ground. Jason swallowed hard to prevent himself from being sick as well, knowing that the Walking Dead man would kill him at any sign of unease. The others drew the same lesson, staring at their leader…and at the women, who were staring at them with horrified eyes. None of them would have seen anything like it before. Such things didn’t happen in America. They happened in Third World countries no one cared about unless they had some importance, not America. It couldn’t happen here…but it had. He looked away, unable to meet their eyes. They all knew what was coming.

We could kill him, he thought. We could put a bullet through his head

But it was futile. They were all tainted now.

“You may have the women as a reward for your services,” the Walking Dead man announced, as calmly as if he were ordering dinner. Jason felt sick again. He had never really raped a woman, although he felt a spurt of guilt at what he’d done to his sweetheart. Had that been rape, even if no force was involved? “Choose the ones you want and take them now.”

Jason didn’t dare disobey. He sighted a teenage girl who looked just a little like his old sweetheart and went after her. She fought – they all fought – but it was futile. He forced his way inside her and tried to pretend that he was enjoying himself. Her screams tore at his soul and left him silently pleading for a mercy that wouldn’t come.

Afterwards, they burned the town, leaving the remainder of the women alive.

It was, the Walking Dead man said, a good day’s work.


Chapter Thirty-One


Mannington, Virginia, USA

Day 155


“Lidice,” the President said, bitterly. “It’s Lidice all over again.”

The photographs had been scattered all over the internet, taken by resistance fighters, shell-shocked local residents and – for once – reporters and photographers working for the puppet government. The mildest was one of the most shocking things that Pepper had seen, while the worst…she felt her stomach heave as she glanced at it. The young woman was barely entering her teens and her body bore the marks and scars of a brutal sexual assault. The town itself had been burned to the ground, with the surviving women and girls forced to struggle to the next town, desperate for help. A town that had once had over seven hundred residents had been left with barely three hundred. The dead or dying had just been left where they lay.

“No,” Pepper said, flatly. She couldn’t believe it. She didn’t want to believe it. “Why would they do something like that?”

“To scare us,” the President said. She’d rarely heard him speak in that tone and it always meant trouble for someone. She remembered him chewing out a State Department official in the first year of his presidency and the young man had stumbled away, completely stunned. He wasn't used to being cursed in terms more appropriate for soldiers on deployment. “They wanted to intimidate us and force us to put down our arms. They wanted to force the civilians not to support the resistance any longer.”

Pepper felt her blood run cold. Mannington wasn't secure in any conventional sense of the word. If either of the two people on the surface who knew about the bunker chose to call the aliens, they wouldn’t have much difficulty trapping and catching the President, if he didn’t have time to kill himself first. They should have enough warning, but no one knew for sure how Jacob Thornton had fallen into their hands. Pepper’s nightmare was that they’d somehow inserted one of the Walking Dead into the Vice President’s security detail, even though someone so badly…wrong would have been noticed. Or maybe they’d deciphered a secure communication from the days that humanity had believed that its encryption programs were perfect. There was no way to know.

The Vice President was speaking on the standard broadcasting channel, his face flushed and clearly unwell. Pepper had never known the hard-charging Thornton to stutter or gasp in the middle of a speech – he’d once spoken for nearly an hour without showing any ill effects – yet the puppet that wore his body stumbled and flinched as he spoke, as if he were a puppet in truth. It occurred to her to wonder if she was looking at a clone, or a hologram, rather than the VP she’d known, but surely the aliens weren't that advanced. And yet the more she saw of their technology, the harder it became to visualise an Earth free of their influence. The best humanity could hope for was a draw.

“…Ask you all not to panic,” the Vice President said. His voice was, if anything, growing weaker. “The punishment was carried out against a village that was caught in the act of supplying rebels against the Federal Government. One hundred and seventeen people known to be assisting the terrorists were killed after a fair trial and due consideration of their cases…”

“That’s a good one,” Pepper muttered. “Tell us another one, why don’t you?”

“Hush,” the President said. “I want to hear this.”

“…Invite you all to report any insurgent or terrorist activity within your area,” the Vice President continued. “If you suspect your neighbour of aiding and abetting terrorist acts, contact the Order Police at once and report him. The Order Police will investigate and punish any terrorists captured as a result of your information. Accurate information will be rewarded; inaccurate or deliberately misleading information will result in severe punishment.”

Jacob Thornton’s image vanished from the display, to be replaced by a mindless female talking head, who started to mumble inanities about the Meaning Of It All. Pepper allowed herself a moment of disdain – the talking head hadn’t been hired for her intellect – before she looked over at the President. He was staring down at the table, shaking with fury. If he’d been an older man, she would have said that he was on the verge of a stroke.

“Those…bastards,” he said, his voice low and angry. “Those…”

He treated her to several minutes of swearing in at least seven different languages, without repeating himself once. Pepper listened with a certain respect. She’d been called everything under the sun in her life, mainly by people who wanted to be where she was, yet she hadn’t heard half of the President’s collection of swear words. She guessed he’d picked them up in the army, or perhaps in politics. Politics, he’d once told her in an unguarded moment, was war carried on by other means…and with less honour.

“But there’s no honour in war,” Pepper had pointed out.

“Exactly,” he’d said. “And there’s even less in politics.”

His hands were squeezing the table hard enough to generate an ugly mottled pattern on his fingers. “I need to get up there and hit the bastards,” he snapped. Pepper recognised the symptoms of cabin fever and shuddered. No one liked to spend a week in a bunker, let alone several months. The USAF had had real problems recruiting men and women to man the nuclear missile silos, and they hadn’t carried the whole weight of the nation on their shoulders. “I need to get out of here.”

“You can’t,” Pepper said, feeling a moment of pity and rage, rage at the aliens who had turned the world upside down. She wanted to join him, to take her rifle and collection of interesting tricks and kill as many aliens as she could, but it was vital that the President remained alive. He was far more important as a symbol than as anything else, certainly not just another soldier. “Mr President…you have to stay here.”

The President swung around and fixed her with an icy glare. “Until we run out of supplies, or we are found by the aliens, or until we kill each other?”

“Until the aliens are defeated and the nation is ours again,” Pepper said. She held out a hand and prayed that he’d take it. “It won’t be forever.”

“They’re killing my people,” the President thundered. “They’re killing them. Man, woman, Republican, Democrat, white, black…they’re killing them, and I have to stay here in this bunker and pretend that I’m directing events!”

“As long as you remain alive, there is a legitimate government in existence,” Pepper said, firmly. The Secret Service frowned on arguing with one’s principal, but there was no choice. Besides, she understood what was at stake for both of them. “If you were confirmed dead, Jacob Thornton would become the legitimate President of the United States, and he’s one of the Walking Dead.”

“No one would follow him,” the President said, without conviction. He still hadn’t taken her hand. “We left orders that anything said by captive superior officers was to be disregarded.”

“He would still have considerable influence,” Pepper said, gamely. She leaned forward and grasped his hand, surprised at her own daring. “We couldn’t run the risk of the aliens creating a new government based around the legitimate President, either of them. You have to stay here, please.”

She saw the President's expression and hated herself. He deserved better, but then, they all deserved better. The men and women of the modern-day Lidice deserved better than they’d gotten. No one would dare to go back and bury the dead for fear of being thought a resistance supporter. The survivors would be traumatised, yet who would take them in and help them? Americans pulled together to help one another in the wake of a disaster, but this…this was the dawn of a new dark age.

A vision ran though her mind, one of Americans turned against one another by the aliens and their puppets. They’d shown the stick and now they were offering the carrot, rewards and promotions for those who helped defeat the resistance. Who could be trusted when anyone could betray his or her friends, for money or safety or even just for a quiet life? Who would not look upon the pictures and consider doing anything, even selling out, to save their wives and daughters from such a ghastly fate?

She pulled him into a hug, which he awkwardly returned. The President’s wife had died before he’d entered the White House and there had been no children. As far as she knew – and the Secret Service knew almost everything about how their principals lived their lives – there had been no lover, not even a casual encounter, since the day he’d taken the Oath of Office. Becoming involved with her principal was against both regulations and common sense, yet she felt the same cabin fever he felt. She was drawing closer to him, almost against her will. It would have been easy to take the final step…

“And they want me to send Karen orders to help the resistance,” the President said. Pepper fought to keep herself under control, cursing her sudden burst of irrationality. She’d liked Karen when she’d met her. “How can I put her in such danger?”

Pepper let go of him and took a sip of her reconstituted coffee. “She’s already in danger,” she said. “She was in danger from the moment she sent you the first email. If the aliens cotton on to her activities, there’s nothing we can do to save her from their wrath.”

“I know,” the President said. “She never volunteered for this. She never took an oath to serve and protect the United States. She…just started to send messages and information out of the Green Zone, information we need to help people. We don’t even know if she can do what they’re asking.”

Pepper said nothing. She knew that Karen’s messages had been gold. The aliens – working through their puppet government – had been sweeping up humans with valuable skills and putting them to work. Some of their choices had been understandable; others had been more than a little odd - why would they want engineers, doctors and astronauts? Karen had helped them to save countless scientists from going into alien hands, sent instead to Britain or up into secret redoubts in the mountains, and if she took a more active hand, all of that was placed at risk.

But on the other hand, accessing and understanding the alien computer network was important as well, vitally important. They had to learn how it worked so that they could defeat it, or use it as a source of information. If it required moving someone into Washington, near the Green Zone – perhaps in the Green Zone – it would have to be done, whatever the risk. Pepper wasn’t blind to the possible dangers, but the possible benefits were fantastic. Did they have any choice?

“Then you could ask her,” Pepper said, seriously. “If she can’t do it, she can tell us so and we can think of another plan. There must be other ways to get someone into Washington and close to the Green Zone.”

“Perhaps not,” the President said. “They have Washington locked down pretty tight these days.”

Pepper remembered the bunker they’d used as a hiding place after the aliens had landed in Washington and the White House had been destroyed. She’d seriously considered remaining in the bunker, yet that would have eventually guaranteed their discovery, with no hope of escape. Now, everyone in Washington had an ID card and worked for the aliens, either as collaborators or grudging workers. The city itself was actually being cleaned up as thousands of men were put to work clearing rubble, rubbish and bodies from the streets, although the aliens were still keeping people away from the wreckage of their crashed ship. Pepper had a private suspicion that the aliens feared that humans would learn something useful from the wreckage, even though the monstrous spacecraft was now a burned-out wreck.

And the President was right. The Order Police and the aliens patrolled the streets of Washington carefully, checking and rechecking papers. Anyone caught without papers was immediately arrested and taken to a detention camp, where their identity would be checked and, if they were lucky, they were released and fined some of their rations for losing their prior identity cards. There was a steady stream of horror stories about what happened to young men and women who fell into the Order Police’s hands, with rape and daylight robbery – and bribes – being common. If Karen could get someone papers and an ID card without setting off any alarms, it would make getting someone within that cordon easy. If she couldn’t…they’d have to think of an alternative plan.

“Ask her,” she repeated. “If she can’t, we’ll think of something else. Washington can’t be the only command node on the face of the planet.”

The President shrugged. The mothership still floated in high orbit, unloading its passengers in a steady stream. Karen’s latest report still suggested that the aliens were going after Israel, perhaps in preparation for landing more of their population in the Middle East. She concluded by noting that there were rumours of even more invasions and expansions being planned, perhaps taking Canada, Australia and Russia. If they landed in China, with the civil war underway, part of the population would welcome them. The remainder would fight to the death.

And even without the mothership, there were three massive command ships, floating within Earth’s atmosphere. They were easy to track; one was over the Indian Ocean, a second was over the Atlantic Ocean and a third was high over Antarctica. The British analysts had suspected that they were trying to recover material from their wrecked base, although a minority opinion was that they intended to colonise Antarctica as well. Pepper rather doubted it. The aliens seemed to like it hot, not cold. They’d certainly landed enough of their people in warm countries.

“I’ll ask her,” the President confirmed. “And now…now, we have to make another broadcast.”

Pepper nodded, concealing her own feelings. She’d never thought of herself as a reporter before, but she was now pretty much serving as the President’s Press Secretary, along with several other roles. It wasn't easy to record footage of the President and every time they transmitted a message, it reminded the aliens that they were still at large, even though it was necessary. The country had to believe that their President was still alive.

She reached out and gave the President another hug, feeling him sagging against her. If there had been something she could do…but there was nothing. All she could do was be there for him, and hope that she could keep back the darkness. There was no other choice.

“Yes, Mr President,” she said. “What are you going to tell them?”

The President’s voice was savage. “What I’ve always told them,” he said. “I’m going to tell them the truth. I’m going to tell them what happened, and why, and who did it to innocent American civilians. I'm going to urge them to make it very clear that such acts of terror do not work! I’m going to tell them to give the bastard Orcs hell.”

***

The news had been all around Mannington even before the official broadcasts had deigned to mention it, but then, everyone in the area had friends or relatives in the destroyed town. Two of the women and their children – all of the male children had been killed in the brief bloody massacre – had limped into Mannington to stay with their relatives, telling their stories to anyone who cared to listen. The Mayor had held a Town Meeting and invited one of them to talk, discussing details that had made Greg blanch. As soon as he could decently leave, he’d left. He hadn’t been alone.

He’d stumbled home feeling as if he were drunk. No one did that in America, no one…and yet someone had! He’d chosen to live in Mannington for a number of reasons, but security had been among the highest. His father had taught him – and Nicolas had added to the lessons – that big cities would be the first to suffer catastrophic effects if the country had a major crisis. The old man hadn’t envisaged an alien invasion, but he’d been right nonetheless. Anyone who had remained in the big cities was trapped and under close supervision by the aliens.

The ID card in his pocket seemed to burn against his flesh, a reminder of his – and Nancy’s – vulnerability. They couldn’t leave Mannington or the surrounding area without permission, and it hadn’t taken long to discover that such permission cost a fairly heavy bribe. Some of the Order Police had taken it in goods to barter; others had made the oldest transaction of all with female petitioners. The images of what had happened to some of the female children in the nearby town rose up in front of his eyes and he felt his gorge rising. It was all he could do to vomit into a flowerbed, rather than on the pavement. He wasn't sure how he’d made it home, but he finally opened the door and saw Nancy sitting on the sofa, watching the second Simpsons Movie. Sideshow Bob was prancing across the screen and she was giggling happily, but when she saw his face, she sobered.

“Dad?”

“Never mind,” Greg said. Nancy wasn't his, yet he loved her. He’d always hoped to have kids of his own one day, but even so…he loved his little girl. Her father loved her too…

Her father…

The thought of Nancy’s body, broken and spread-eagled, rose up in front of his eyes and he ran into the toilet, throwing up everything he'd eaten until he was left doing dry heaves. The thought refused to fade, taunting him, reminding him of how he could keep her safe, at a cost.

Her father’s life.


Chapter Thirty-Two


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 159


“Enough games,” the alien said. “This farce has gone on long enough.”

Commissioner Ted Hanks struggled to keep his face under control. The cold alien voice sent shivers down his spine, leaving his head feeling as if it were trapped in a vice. He couldn’t meet the alien’s eyes. He doubted that the aliens could read minds, as some had suggested, yet staring into his eyes was somehow impossible. They seemed to drain the life and soul of any human who gazed into them for too long.

Beside him, General Imen Houssam looked little better. He’d been in command as Arab forces had advanced through the city, only to suffer humiliating setbacks and catastrophes. His forces had been winnowed, with over seventy-percent casualties, and atrocities on both sides. His noble intention of keeping down the bloodshed as much as possible had been worn down by the constant attacks, sniping and bomb explosions that echoed through the city. The insurgents in Iraq had been amateurs compared to some of the Chicago Resistance. Many of them would have fought in Iraq and picked up some of their tricks, others had developed newer weapons and technology. Ted still shivered at the thought of the remote-control airplane that had flown into his office and come within a hair’s breadth of killing him outright. Four police officers had been killed and seven more had been badly wounded. He’d gotten off lightly in comparison.

And then, of course, there was the dead alien leader. No one knew what he’d been doing in the war zone, not even his fellow aliens, or so they said. They’d interrogated all of the humans nearby when the alien had been shot, leaving them all trembling wrecks, but they’d found nothing. The mystery was driving the aliens mad, Ted knew, and their rage knew no bounds. He’d found himself wondering, just after the alien leader’s death had been reported, how long Chicago would still be standing. If it hadn’t been impossible to evacuate his family, he would have done so. He didn’t want to leave them at Ground Zero if the aliens decided to drop antimatter bombs on the city, or even old-fashioned nukes.

He looked up at the map he’d stapled to the wall, back when they’d been forced to move out of the Green Zone and into the suburbs. It had been a tacit admission of defeat. The resistance had been launching mortar rounds into the complex on a daily basis, making life hell for the inhabitants, along with a number of nastier tricks. The Order Police had lost its local commanders when one of their number had turned on the others, while the rank-and-file had been winnowed by drinking wood alcohol that someone had thoughtfully told them was safe to drink. They still hadn’t found out who’d been responsible for that act of terrorism, which meant that the Green Zone might as well have been in the heart of the fighting.

“Sir,” he said, finally, “you might wish to consider a political solution…”

A pair of dark eyes turned to stare at him. It was impossible to read emotion into the featureless dark orbs, but he was somehow sure that the alien was annoyed. They didn’t seem to react like humans; something that he’d decided was hardly surprising. They put up with comments and critical remarks from their Walking Dead, uncaring of the possible implications, or the loss of face. On the other hand, he wasn't one of the Walking Dead and seeing his wife staring nervously into his eyes every night only strengthened his determination not to become one of them. It was very tempting just to keep his mouth shut.

“Explain,” the alien said, finally. There were no vocal cues, no hint of the alien’s true feelings. He might have been genuinely interested, or he might have been giving Ted enough rope to hang himself. “Why?”

Ted tried to find the words, wishing he’d spent more time as a debater. “You launched this offensive with the aim of bringing Chicago under control,” he said, carefully. The alien still showed no sign of a reaction. “You intended to crush the resistance and you brought in local help to do it. Yet…you also convinced the resistance that they had nothing to lose by continuing to fight, leaving the streets running red and green with blood. They know that those who go into detention camps never come out again. Why should they not fight?”

“This world is ours,” the alien informed him. The air shook slightly as a massive alien craft passed overhead. “We must settle our people upon this orb. We do not have time to deal with problems caused by the human race.”

The voice was still emotionless, but Ted recognised the threat underlying the words. “Then tell me,” he said. “What do they have to lose? Why should they not fight?”

There was a long uncomfortable pause. It was broken, oddly, by Houssam. “Ted is right,” he said. “You have the choice between coming to a political agreement with the insurgents, or crushing them like bugs, along with most of the city. If they have nothing to lose, why shouldn’t they fight?”

The alien turned his great head to stare at the Arab. So did Ted. He’d realised that Houssam was a cut above the ordinary Arab soldier when he’d first met him, but he hadn’t recognised that he had a sense of…honour, or even justice. It would have been easy to disagree with the American and take the alien side, but Houssam had chosen to support him instead. Ted made a private promise that he’d treat him better, if they both survived the next few moments.

“There is no acceptable political solution,” the alien said finally. “We cannot surrender this world. There is literally nowhere else to go.”

Ted looked at Houssam helplessly. “There is an incident from the history of my country that may be worth considering,” Houssam said. “We had problems with fanatics who believed that their way to worship Allah was the only way to worship Allah, and any who chose a different way were sinners who deserved to die. They didn’t care how many Muslims they slaughtered in their mad campaign, for any good Muslim who died at their hands became a martyr and went to heaven. They were nasty opponents and fearsome savages.”

“Your primitive superstitions are of no concern to us,” the alien informed him. Christian and Muslim shared a surprised look. Neither of them had seriously considered the existence of an alien religion, or lack thereof. “What is the significance of your story to our situation?”

Houssam showed no sign of anger. “The Brotherhood kept telling everyone that they could govern better than the government and they gained recruits,” he said. “We gave them a certain amount of control over a few areas and allowed them to show us what they could do. They proved spectacularly incompetent at managing the affairs of human beings – some had to be removed by force, with the full support of the people, others mellowed and became part of the mainstream political process. You could try the same with the Chicago Resistance.”

The alien swung his gaze back to Ted. “Do you concur?”

Ted took a breath. “I feel that there is room for compromise,” he said. “You could offer Chicago limited autonomy and…”

“You do not understand,” the alien informed them. “There is no room for compromise.”

“But why?” Ted demanded, heedless of his own safety. “Why can’t you meet them halfway without wrecking the city?”

“There are priorities that must be met,” the alien said. “You will await the arrival of warriors who will complete the task of burning out the resistance.”

“But…”

Houssam interrupted before Ted could go too far. “A question, if I may,” he said. “Do your people not believe in a single all-knowing God, Lord of the Universe, Creator of Everything?”

“Our race evolved from a combination of related species on our homeworld,” the alien said. “It was a result of semi-random development and later careful cross-breeding between different castes. We learned how to improve ourselves and reach for the stars. Your race was held back by your belief that a Creator-God would reach out an invisible hand and save you from the consequences of your own actions. We have no need to believe in an unknowable, unproven entity. The crimes your people commit in the name of your benevolent God, who actively forbids such evil, is proof that such an entity does not exist. He would hardly have tolerated such blasphemy.”

There was a pause. “You may leave,” the alien said, finally. “Go.”

Ted asked a question he’d been wondering about for days now. “Sir,” he said, “did you learn why one of your leaders was in the war zone?”

“He did not belong to our faction,” the alien informed him. Ted stared at him. It was the first hint he’d heard that not all of the aliens thought the same way. “His actions and intent remain unknown. You may leave.”

And if that wasn't a hint of frustration in the alien tone, Ted knew, he’d eat his hat.

“Perhaps that’s the solution,” Houssam said, as soon as they were outside. “We should convert them all to the faith and the war would end.”

Ted snorted. Perhaps the aliens were listening to them, but he no longer cared. After what the aliens had done to a harmless town, his entire police force would be branded as worthless collaborators. “How would you get one of them in a Burka?”

“It would be an improvement,” Houssam said. Ted couldn’t help himself. He laughed out loud. “Or you could get them converting to Christianity. Perhaps they could even become Jews!”

“How,” Ted asked, “would we circumcise them?”

“Allah would show us the way,” Houssam said. They stepped out of the alien building, past a pair of silent warriors who peered at them from under their protective facemasks, before returning to their positions. “Who else could help us now?”

Ted looked over into the distance, towards where yet another alien transport craft had landed and begun to disgorge another unit of warriors. The alien force seemed impossibly huge, marching towards staging areas for their attack on Chicago. They looked utterly ruthless and implacable, focused on just one objective. Victory.

“No one,” he said. They were tainted with the same brush. They would both be treated as treacherous collaborators if the human side won. The remaining police – those who hadn’t deserted – would be lucky if they were only lynched. He was due to visit the hospital later and visit the wounded policemen. What would they say, he wondered, when they heard what the aliens had done? “There’s no one at all.”

***

Abigail watched as a flight of alien fighters raced overhead, heading towards Chicago and buzzing the city. They’d been doing it for hours now, yet it had taken her almost as long to realise why. The resistance had responded to the alien fighters by launching SAM missiles at their craft, but the aliens had merely accelerated and left the missiles behind, allowing them to fall harmlessly to the ground. It forced the resistance to either expend their limited supplies or allow the aliens free reign over the city’s skies. She hoped they had the sense to hold their fire and wait for the crucial moment. The weapons would be useless if they were fired off too soon.

She looked down at the article she’d written in her PDA, a puff piece covering the deployment of alien medical staff and technology to human hospitals that housed insurgents and collaborators alike. It promised that alien tech that could restore sight, lost limbs and even sexual potency would soon be available to all, free of charge. It would have been an impressive promise, one that would have won the aliens thousands of new allies, except there was one little flaw. It was all lies, damned lies.

Abigail had finally been allowed to visit the hospital two days after her tryst with Percy. She’d seen emergency rooms before, housing hundreds of victims from fires or worse, but the hospital had been right out of the Crimean War. The Order Police were the luckiest, while the Arabs tended to be treated like dirt by their own leaders and American doctors and nurses alike. The thousands of wounded – she’d heard that the resistance had left them alive purposely, just to put a drain on their resources – lay on beds, cots or even the bare floor, permanently waiting for treatment that would never come. The trained medical staff tended to ignore their complaints or pleas for help, although one of the nurses had told her that there had been a nasty incident and all the female nurses insisted on an armed escort before they tended to any of the Arabs. The hatred wasn’t all one-sided either. Someone with a nasty sense of humour had included outdated medicines in the supply packages and hundreds of wounded had died before the trick was discovered. The Order Police, apparently, hadn’t found out who’d carried out the mass poisoning. Rumour had it that they hadn’t even bothered looking.

She could well believe it, for it was blatantly obvious that no one cared about the Arabs, once they were wounded and out of the fight. She’d spent only twenty minutes in the ward, moving from bed to bed, before she’d finally given up and left the hospital tent. The sight had been sickening. No one, not even the worst collaborator, should have to go through such an experience. It reminded her of just how much humanity had accomplished since developing technology. Life in the Dark Ages had been nasty, brutish and short. The Arabs had little hope of survival.

And no one knew what happened to the resistance fighters who were taken prisoner by the aliens. Few surrendered in the first place – the vast majority of captured insurgents were badly wounded – and those that did were transported out of the area, to…where? Abigail had no idea and she suspected that no one else human knew, even Percy or one of the other minders. The aliens might have taken them to a detention camp, or they might have simply dumped them into space. Who knew what the aliens did with their prisoners? For all she knew, they might just ritually slaughter them and eat their hearts.

She glanced down at her watch and hurried out of the area, wincing slightly as another alien craft passed overhead. They’d been told that the aliens were bringing in reinforcements – aliens this time, not more humans – and that they would be expected not to mention that fact in any of the puff pieces they’d been writing about the war. If the official figures were to be believed, the entire city had been depopulated several times over. It wouldn’t take much research to discover that Chicago had suddenly acquired a much larger population, one that only existed in the minds of propaganda writers. She reached the main hotel and stopped. There was a commotion taking place ahead of her.

The Order Police had arrested people before in front of the reporters – they hadn’t been allowed to mention them, of course – and the experience had always been traumatic. And they’d arrested reporters too, just to show them who was boss. A male reporter had been snatched off the streets, taken to a basement interrogation cell, and put through his paces before being released, without explanation. A female reporter had been taken into an Order Police van and ordered to give them all oral sex, or spend the rest of her life behind bars. Abigail suspected that the only reason she’d been spared was because Percy had marked her out for greater things, or perhaps simply as his. After they’d destroyed an entire town, the reporters had become a great deal more careful around the Order Police, shunning them whenever possible. It wasn't easy.

She found a vantage point and stared. The person being dragged out, in handcuffs, was Percy, shouting about his innocence all the way. Abigail felt her heart beating faster as she covertly sought cover, for she knew what had happened. Her little time bomb in his computer had been traced back to him and he'd been blamed for being one of the secret writers. The Committees of Correspondence would probably end up hailing him as a martyr, turning him into a hero. They wouldn’t know the truth. No one would, if she had a say in it. Percy might have forced her into his bed, and she wanted him to pay for that, but turning him into another alien victim would make them wonder how many other humans they could trust.

The van was parked just outside the hotel, but it took four policemen to subdue him and finally toss him into the rear of the van. The doors slammed loudly enough to deafen anyone inside and the policemen glared around them, forcing the crowd back through strength of will – and fear. Abigail melted away with the remainder of the crowd and didn’t breathe easily until she was safety back in her room, such as it was. Her mind was spinning. Percy would never call her back to his bed again. Her promised promotion would probably never materialise. She might become a suspect if they believed his claims of innocence…

She shook her head. It didn’t matter. All she had to do, now, was write a new article hailing Percy as a hero, and watch as the aliens scrambled to test their human allies. Their paranoia would do the rest. They might reduce Chicago to rubble, but they’d never feel safe again. No matter how many towns they wrecked, no matter how many lives they destroyed, Earth would never be their home.

Poor bastard, she thought. Now that Percy was gone, she almost felt well-disposed towards him. Your death will not be in vain.


Chapter Thirty-Three


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 162


Edward Tanaka ducked instinctively as an alien fighter craft roared over Chicago, searching for enemy targets. He silently prayed that none of the remaining SAM teams would unleash one of the few remaining Stingers against the alien craft, for they’d learned through bitter experience just what the aliens were doing. The moment the alien craft detected an incoming threat – a missile or even antiaircraft fire - they would gun their engines – or whatever they used – and race away at hypersonic speed, leaving the missile to crash somewhere within the city. It was too much to hope that it would come down on an advancing enemy unit’s head.

He scowled as he scrambled back up to his vantage point. The alien craft were normally silent, although he’d heard people say that they produced a faintly audible hum when someone was far too close to one. “Close enough to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye,” they’d said, and he was starting to suspect that they were right. The alien craft would have done much more damage with better weapons, yet even just screaming over the city, they were keeping men and women awake. Some of the resistance fighters had had to be sedated to allow them to get some sleep, which resulted in them having to be dragged to the next hiding place as the ground forces advanced. Chicago wouldn’t be a bastion of resistance for much longer.

The aliens were through playing games and it showed. Thousands of alien warriors had joined the Arabs and the Order Police, pushing in towards the Lake…and trapping the resistance against the impassable water barrier. The alien craft floating over the water silently blocked any hope of escape. The warriors rarely bothered to check ID any longer, let alone their human opponents. Anyone they caught in the area was lucky to be taken prisoner. He’d allowed most of the non-combatants to surrender after the assault had begun – he would have had a riot on his hands if he’d insisted that they stay – and the aliens were starting to shoot all humans on sight. A handful of resistance fighters had even launched suicide bombers against the aliens – they’d taken to ordering surrendering humans to strip naked, just to insure that there were no explosives strapped to their chests.

Another series of explosions echoed out, suppressing another of the resistance mortars that had been moved from place to place, throwing a handful of shells at the alien positions before it was hastily moved again. He hoped that the team manning the weapon had gotten away in time, but as the aliens advanced, their counter-battery skills improved rapidly. They’d been learning, all right, learning how best to tackle the next city that decided to rise in rebellion. Who cared about the atrocity the Order Police had committed in Virginia? Chicago had given birth to a thousand atrocities on both sides! He saw a series of moving vehicles on the ground and winced. Alien tanks were tougher than anything Americans had built, armoured with plating that could absorb all, but the luckiest of hits, and they hovered just above the ground. The messages they’d received from the wider world had asked them to try to recover part of an alien tank if they had a chance, but the aliens had rapidly learned to ensure that their tanks were escorted by ground-pounding infantry, keeping humans away from the few vulnerable points. Very few humans survived long enough to get into position to launch a missile. Even a Javelin exploded harmlessly against an alien tank’s forward armour. Only the rear was even slightly vulnerable.

He watched grimly as one of the small turrets on the armoured hedgehog swung around, unleashing a series of brilliant plasma blasts into a nearby building. The explosions shook the building violently and nearly sent it crashing to the ground. He hoped that the resistance fighters who had dared to provoke the armoured vehicle had had the sense to fire their weapons and then run, but he doubted that even a squad of Marines could have escaped in time. The aliens didn’t play fair. Buildings that could have stood up to machine gun fire and missile hits couldn’t stand up to bursts of superheated plasma. He blinked the afterimages away from his eyes and cursed under his breath. Within five days, perhaps less, Chicago would fall.

A group of alien warriors advanced towards an unsecured building and checked it out with their handheld sensors. Edward privately envied them for that particular piece of technology, for it would have saved thousands of American lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and places where few Americans realised their fighting men had served. The sensors sampled the air for residue that suggested the presence of guns or explosives, and then alerted the user at once. They never seemed to get it wrong, although there had been some odd incidents. The aliens had almost allowed one of the resistance’s bomb makers to slip through their hands. If he hadn’t been carrying a handful of tools with him, he might have escaped entirely.

The aliens paused and waved the Arabs forward first. They looked like dead men walking – not Walking Dead – and clearly suspected that they were being sent in to detonate any traps before the aliens stepped inside. Some of them glanced at the aliens in ways that suggested they were on the verge of mutiny, but none of them dared to resist or disagree with their alien masters. Edward didn’t blame them. The reports from the few Arabs the resistance had taken prisoner – and then killed – had told him that the Arabs were kept under strict tight discipline. The aliens were quite prepared to kill them if they stepped out of line. The Arabs who operated without alien supervision were on the verge of collapsing into a disorganised mass.

Edward flinched as the first bomb detonated, shattering the building and bringing the roof down on top of the Arabs. The former housing block had been completely wrecked, transformed into a pile of rubble, leaving the aliens themselves completely untouched. The alien leader – he was starting to recognise senior alien warriors as crosses between Leaders and Warriors – seemed to make a hand gesture to the other warriors and moved on to the next building, a giant shopping mall. Once, it had allowed men and women to spend as much money as they liked, but now…now it was just another possible trap. The sign nearby exploded as one of the aliens moved too close, knocking a pair of aliens to the ground. They both appeared stunned, but unhurt. It was very good body armour.

“Bastards,” Edward muttered. He wished for a sniper rifle, but he’d only brought his pistol and a belt of grenades. “Damn you.”

He turned and slid down the drainpipe to the ground. He’d have to get back to the base before the aliens secured control of the roads and made escape impossible, except through the tunnels. If they continued…he didn’t want to think about retreat, but if he could save as many resistance fighters as possible, they’d be useful elsewhere. The basic primer on insurgency warfare had been simple enough. Where the enemy is strong, it had said, do not attack. Attack where the enemy is weak and force them to disperse their resources trying to hunt you down. If Chicago had to fall, it didn’t mean that the resistance had to accept defeat.

No one was in sight as he touched down on the pavement, but he drew his pistol and moved from side to side anyway, watching for signs of a possible threat. The resistance fighters might mistake him for an enemy, the aliens might correctly identify him as an enemy, or one of the gangs of looters might decide to have a go at him. With the police off the streets, the aliens closing in and the resistance being hammered, the looters had returned to the streets. Edward had shot several of them personally and given orders that others were to be shot on sight, but they were like cockroaches. They sprang up like dragon’s teeth.

The ground shook as yet another explosion blasted out over the city. He turned and saw a massive fireball rising into the air. Someone had placed a bomb in the aliens’ path and detonated it at the right moment. If it had killed enough aliens, perhaps they would step back and give the resistance some extra time. Or maybe the horse would learn to sing.

Shaking his head, he hurried on towards the base.

***

I don’t want to die, Mathew Boyd thought, clutching a rifle in his hand as he stared towards the west. The small resistance unit had been told to take up position at one end of the shopping mall – among a collection of artificial plants and robot animals – and ambush the aliens when they burst in and searched the place. In happier days, Mathew had brought some of his girlfriends to the mall, where he’d spoilt them by buying lingerie and jewels. Girls were more willing to put out, he’d discovered very quickly, if they were treated well, and an expensive gift and a good meal would go a long way towards turning a girl on. His status as his school’s prime football player – and his prospects towards a college football scholarship – had cemented his position. He’d never considered joining the military. Why should he have? Any fool could use a weapon and the last thing Mama Boyd’s little boy wanted was to have his legs blown off. How could he play football without his legs?

And then the aliens had landed, and then Chicago had become a war zone, and then he’d discovered that all of his classmates were signing up with the resistance. How could he refuse to join them, they’d asked; he’d been a tough guy at school. He remembered pushing one of the nerds into the drinking fountain for some imagined slight and how much he’d laughed at the time. It didn’t seem so funny now. That nerd had taken his rifle with far more assurance than Mathew had shown and walked off to be a sniper. It might even have been Mathew’s fault that the nerd had been such a good shot. God knew that he had given the poor bastard incentive to learn how to kill.

“Remember, don’t shoot until I give the word,” the Sergeant said. He’d been in a genuine military unit and had seen through Mathew at once. His bluff and bluster had been useless when he’d been confronted by a short man who could have broken him in half with ease, who’d told him in no uncertain terms to shut up and listen. He might have learned something. “If anyone fires before I give the command, I’ll cut the bastard’s balls off.”

Mathew believed him. His father, a high-priced lawyer, had always gotten him out of trouble before. Now…his father was gone, perhaps serving the aliens as a collaborator, perhaps dead and lying in a mass grave somewhere. He would have collaborated if he’d been given half the chance, but there always seemed to be someone nearby, keeping an eye on him. Did they suspect that he was a coward inside – the realisation didn’t come easily, but it had come – or was he merely being paranoid? His hands felt cold and sweaty as he clutched the rifle. A single mistake would damn him forever.

He heard a shattering sound from somewhere ahead and braced himself, gritting his teeth together to avoid whimpering out loud. The mall seemed dark and eerie, even with bright sunlight blazing down towards the direction the aliens – they hoped – would come from. Perhaps it would blind them long enough to allow the humans to get in a shot or two before they all died…he almost started to shake at that thought. He peered down the line of shops – all closed and looted now – into the distance. Was he imagining it, or were there dark shapes advancing towards them? He felt a warm trickle in his pants, and then a rush of shame. No one had ever lost control and wet their pants in combat, he was mortally certain. Only him. The Sergeant and the nerd would laugh their heads off at him. The girl he’d been bedding in-between football games would giggle and tell all of her friends. He would be a laughing stock.

They can see us, he thought, as a new wave of near-panic bubbled up in his mind. He couldn’t believe that they were invisible, even though the Sergeant had promised them that they would get the advantage of surprise, and the thought made him shake again. His entire body was trembling so badly that he was surprised that no one could hear it. He couldn’t hold himself together. The aliens were going to kill him and the Sergeant was going to kill him and the aliens were going to kill him and…

He pulled the trigger down and held it down as blind panic consumed him, firing a spray of bullets towards the aliens. The aliens seemed completely surprised, but without precise targeting most of his bullets either missed or pinged off their body armour. They dropped to the ground and started to fire back, brilliant flashes of red and green that seemed to light up the entire mall before they raced over his head and smashed into the rear wall.

“Boyd, you fucking asshole,” the Sergeant hissed. Mathew realised, in horror, that he was right. He’d gotten them all killed, for nothing. “Fire! All of you fire!”

The noise rapidly became deafening as Mathew tried to change the clip. The resistance had hoped to give the aliens a bloody nose, except the aliens had been engaged too early and had had a chance to react. They crawled forward, their weapons fire burning through the fake plants and animals, starting fires all around the resistance position. Mathew felt the last remnants of his mind snap and he stood up, trying to flee. It was already too late. A burst of green light struck him right in the chest and blew his body apart.

***

Dolly watched from her vantage point as the aliens invested the mall, systematically isolating the handful of resistance fighters and wearing them down, before crushing them like bugs. The mall itself was starting to burn, but the aliens seemed to be relentless, determined to destroy their enemies personally. She’d seen enough alien warriors through her scope to realise that they showed their emotions more openly than other alien castes…and these warriors were angry. It didn’t seem to affect their performance. They came, they saw, they cut their way through the resistance and destroyed them, leaving a handful of survivors to flee to the next strong point.

She moved her scope from target to target, looking for a senior officer among the aliens. It wasn't easy, but she’d finally realised that the senior warriors tended to have bigger heads than the more mundane warriors, along with a handful of other differences. They didn’t look quite as intimidating as the mainline warriors, but they made up for it in skill and intelligence. They had been bred, she’d been told, to be the perfect commanders. They never panicked, they rarely allowed themselves to be bullied into making mistakes and they were obeyed without question. And they were considered expendable. A source on the far side of the wall had told them that the aliens had been furious about losing one of their leaders to a sniper – she’d taken the shot personally – yet she’d killed warrior-leaders before and the aliens hadn’t seemed concerned. It was just another mystery surrounding the aliens. If she kept looking…

There, she thought. One of the aliens was very definitely a warrior-leader. He or she – she had never been able to tell the difference between the two sexes at a distance – was calmly issuing orders, bringing up a replacement unit of Arabs and ordering them to secure the area while the warriors moved on to other targets. Or so she thought. Lip-reading had never been her speciality even before aliens had landed and the world turned upside down. She focused her scope on the alien and started to squeeze the trigger gently. The last thing she needed was to be mesmerised for a second time.

The rifle fired once and she saw the alien collapse. She pulled herself to her feet as a hail of brilliant plasma flashes raced over her head and dived for the emergency chute. She realised – too late – that she had committed the cardinal sin of sniper-hood; she’d loitered too close to the enemy ground forces. If she didn’t move very quickly, they’d block all of her escape routes before she could escape. If she was lucky…

She came out of the escape chute and raced for the exit, drawing her pistol as she moved. It was just possible that she could sell her life dearly if she was caught. The door burst open just before she reached it and three Arab men burst in, coming right at her. She levelled her pistol at the leader, only to have it knocked from her hand and lost somewhere in the darkness before she could pull the trigger. The leader knocked her to the ground, slapped the side of her head hard enough to stun her, and started to pull down her pants. She tried to kick out, only to be slapped again and have her hands wrenched behind her back and secured with a plastic tie. His hands roamed over her body, grasping her breasts hard enough to make her scream as he positioned himself for entry. The other men gathered around, shouting encouragement and awaiting their turn. She closed her eyes, trying to block it all out. It wasn't happening, it wasn't happening to her…

The rapes lasted for bare minutes, but she was still shaking hours later.


Chapter Thirty-Four


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 164


“Here he comes again,” Sergeant Andrew Ramage muttered, as the alien craft banked over Chicago and headed back towards the city. The oddly-shaped craft had been keeping his kids – the small group of teenagers he’d tried to turn into fighters – up for the past few nights. It was a simple trick and one that none of the resistance fighters had anticipated. Had the aliens thought of it, or had it been one of the Walking Dead?

“Yes, sir,” the kid said. Andrew had given up trying to get them to stop calling him ‘sir.’ He was a positive role model for kids who had often grown up in single-parent families – their fathers having left them, or died, or never even known that they had a kid – and so he was ‘sir.’ It broke his heart to see how badly the children had been abandoned. They needed a strong father figure, someone who could keep them out of the gangs or jail. By the time they became adults, most of them would have a criminal record longer than his arm. They had never had a chance. “We’re ready.”

“Keep your weapons on safety until I give the command,” Andrew said. The alien craft was drawing closer, mocking them, howling over the city even as it seemed to drift effortlessly through the air. His older brother, who had become an aviation engineer, would have loved to get a look inside the alien craft and see what made it tick. No one, as far as he knew, had even begun to figure out how the alien tech went together. “We’ll want to get out of here as soon as I fire the missile.”

Andrew had once served in an Air Defence Artillery unit and he’d been recalled for the war, before the unit had disbanded and scattered to join the resistance. He’d seen enough of the alien craft to know how they flew and how they could best be surprised and destroyed. They were fast and nimble, yet they had limits. If he was lucky, he'd have a chance to bring one of them down before it was too late and Chicago became a death trap. He glanced over the city and winced at the billowing clouds of smoke rising up from a hundred locations. It was already a death trap. Someone had detonated a massive bomb in the Green Zone and wrecked the collaborator infrastructure, what was left of it. He liked to think that one of the Order Police had had an epiphany and realised that he was on the wrong side, but there was no way to know for sure. For all he knew, someone had dug a tunnel under the secure zone, packed it full of gunpowder, and lit the fuse from a safe distance.

“Yes, sir,” the kid said. “We’ll be ready.”

Andrew frowned inwardly – he couldn’t remember having been so young and trusting himself – before he hefted the Stinger missile and activated the sensor mounted on the launcher. The batteries never lasted very long – an enterprising engineer had managed to adapt an alien battery to power human equipment, but there weren't enough to waste on a SAM – but they would be long enough. The trick was timing the launch. Too early and the craft would veer away; too late and the craft would power up its engines and go hypersonic, leaving the missile behind. It would probably lock onto one of the fires and come down hard in the midst of devastation.

The tone sounded and he pulled the trigger. The roar of the launcher echoed in his ears as the missile lanced up towards its target, leaving a trail of fire and smoke behind. He watched – he couldn’t have taken his eyes off it – as the missile struck the surprised alien craft and sent it flipping over and down into a nearby building. The building crumpled like paper as the craft crashed, shattering into a pile of bricks, glass and debris. He threw himself to the ground in fear that the craft would explode, before picking himself up and running for the ladders. They had to get out of the area before the aliens responded to the new threat.

“Run,” he snapped. He’d seen how the aliens reacted to SAM missiles before. “Keep running and don’t look back!”

The kids had learned to outrun cops and outraged shopkeepers; they could give him a run for his money. He watched their retreating backs as they fled towards the secure base – although it wouldn’t be secure for very long with the aliens advancing towards the Lake – and looked up as a dark shadow fell from overhead. A pair of alien craft were already heading into their attack run, firing pulses of brilliant plasma into the surrounding buildings. They’d shot down fighter jets and sunk aircraft carriers, he knew; the buildings presented no problem at all to them. The ground shook and heaved madly as the aliens swept the nearby area and destroyed every building that could possibly have housed a SAM team. He allowed himself a moment of relief before he turned and kept running. They’d missed him!

Another alien craft – one of the large transporters – moved overhead, already releasing its force of alien warriors. They’d secure the crashed ship, judging from previous experience, and hold the area until the advancing wall of steel flooded over it, unless they decided to abandon and destroy their former ship. He didn’t know how they thought, but he and his unit had pulled security at a base that had housed one of the crashed alien ships after the war had broken out, and the aliens had made no attempt to recover their lost vessel. It still worried him. Were the aliens so advanced and so numerous that they could afford to lose so many craft without worrying about the losses? They’d deployed human soldiers to support their efforts, which suggested that the answer was no, but perhaps they’d merely decided that they wanted to get rid of the Arabs. Why not send them to Chicago and deploy them against the resistance?

The sound of shooting and incoming shells grew louder as he ran towards the warehouse. The aliens had taken to bombarding parts of the city, apparently no longer concerned with preserving as much of Chicago as possible, shattering hundreds of buildings and destroying lives. There were children and their parents caught up in the fighting, children who would be lucky to see the next week, let alone the rest of their lives. Even if the aliens didn’t kill them, they were on the verge of starvation, or dying of a disease caused by the dead bodies lying around the city. The aliens had the answer to that, at least; they cremated human bodies, or took them out of the city and buried them in a mass grave.

“We got the bastard, sir,” the kid said, as he entered the safe house. A tiny mark on the door proclaimed that it was safe, even though a handful of Green Berets and Force Recon were booby-trapping as much of the remaining city as possible. “We killed them!”

“We certainly shot down a craft,” Andrew agreed. He looked from face to face, seeing the same shining hope reflected in each of their faces, regardless of their ethnic origin. Black and white had learned to work together in harmony when grey had shown up to take over the world. The thought was bitterly amusing. “You all know where to go now?”

“But we could stay,” one of the kids protested. “Sir, you trained us…”

“And you could serve the country best by surviving to fight another day,” Andrew said, knowing that most of them would be dead within the week. If the resistance couldn’t smuggle them into another city or a hiding place in the countryside, they’d starve unless they were caught and killed by the Order Police. None of them had registered with the aliens. “Now, go. I’ll see you all on the outside.”

He leaned forward. “And for what it’s worth, you made pretty good soldiers,” he added. “Don’t let anyone tell you any different, ever.”

***

The map had been updated only an hour ago, showing alien forces regrouping before they advanced against the final bastions of resistance. The writing was on the wall – no, Edward realised, it had been on the wall for days now – and there was no longer any point in holding out. The Resistance Council had been destroyed and, as far as Edward knew, he was the only one left alive. The Bitch Queen had gone out with a grenade strapped to her chest and had blown herself up when a few Arabs had come too close. The others had died in one engagement or another, fighting to the last. He was the only one left.

Marines didn’t run, he’d been told. Marines stayed and fought. History had dozens of examples of famous last stands made by Marines, yet he was contemplating abandoning Chicago and sneaking out to carry on the fight elsewhere. The few thousand civilians left in the sack would have to face the enemy without his help, while the fighters who were too badly wounded to escape would have to hold the line before the city finally fell. He wanted to stay behind, but the orders had been clear. He was to escape with as many trained fighters as possible, leaving the wounded and a small number of volunteers behind. Perhaps some of them would be able to hole up and escape after the advancing aliens overwhelmed their hiding places…no, he was deluding himself. The alien technology gave them too many advantages. They would probably discover all of the fugitives and capture or kill them, before they could escape.

“It’s time to go,” he ordered, softly. “Get the first team down to the tunnels and get them heading out of the city.”

The aliens hadn’t discovered the extent of the sewer network, as far as they could discover, although it was an odd oversight. The resistance teams had done their best to delete any reference to the system in official files, yet no one had had any illusions about just how many references there were, let alone living memories. A handful of the right people converted into Walking Dead would have been able to tell them everything they could want to know about the network. They might not even need to go so far. The city’s sanitation department was very pro-resistance, yet they needed jobs as much as anyone else. The real danger was that the aliens knew where the network was and had done nothing, just to keep an eye on it from a distance and see who went through it…and where they went afterwards. They’d have to be extremely careful when they came out of the network and filtered out into the countryside. An alien spy in their midst, willing or unwilling, could do far too much damage.

“Yes, boss,” David Dunagin said. His past was rather shady – he’d hinted that he’d done mercenary work and he clearly had military experience, dispelling Edward’s fear that he was nothing better than a poser – but there was no doubting his competence. “Come along, you lot.”

The building was, from the outside, unmarked, but it really served as part of the sewer hub responsible for cleaning the waste before it was transported out of the city, or something like that. Edward had never been really clear on the details – the important thing was that, with a little care, the resistance could use it as a base of operations. He’d refrained from using it for more than the most urgent tasks – an alien missile right on top of the plant would have wrecked everything – but now hundreds of the remaining fighters were filtering their way down into the system and walking out of the city. It wasn't going to be a pleasant walk – fifteen miles of walking through semi-darkness amidst the waste from the entire city – but it would get them out of the alien bag. They’d be able to fight again, or so he’d promised them. They’d have a chance to hurt the aliens in the future and avenge all their lost friends.

A sense of hopelessness raged up within him and, for a moment, he sagged. Was life always going to be like this now, with the aliens hunting them ruthlessly while the resistance struggled to hit back as best as it could? Was America going to be hammered relentlessly until the majority of the population joined with the Order Police and the aliens to destroy the resistance? How long could the resistance survive without the active help of thousands of civilians? There were places where the resistance could endure indefinitely and places where they’d be lucky to even mount one attack before they were caught and exterminated. What if the aliens actually realised that they could appeal to human nature and make human lives better?

He shook his head angrily. The battle might be lost, but the war was far from over. America had suffered defeats – some minor, some serious – before, yet the nation as a whole had never lost a war. Vietnam and Korea had been painful, but hardly fatal – Iraq had been declared a defeat years before it became apparent that it had actually been a win. The aliens and their collaborator government might try to paint what had happened as a defeat for the resistance, but the truth was that an insurgency was very hard to obliterate completely. As long as they were alive, they were ahead.

He stood up and slipped out of the building, carefully ignoring the next group of men entering and heading down to the tunnels. No one knew how closely the aliens were monitoring their location – the only proof he had that they weren't was that they hadn’t tried to bomb the plant and cut off their line of retreat – but it never hurt to take precautions. The next building hosted thirty-seven men who had been wounded, but could still use a gun. They’d all volunteered to serve as a rearguard, yet leaving them behind galled him. They all deserved better.

“Don’t worry about it, Eddie,” Tommy Brooks said, when he confessed his guilt to the former Marine Captain. “We all knew the risks and accepted them when we chose to keep fighting. You just make damn sure that the Orcs pay for this, you hear me?”

“Yes, sir,” Edward said. He hated being called Eddie, but he’d take it from a wounded man. The Captain’s leg was bandaged and set using crude techniques. He’d never be able to dance or run again, not that it mattered. “Have you got everything set up…?”

“Yes,” Brooks said. He tapped the detonator by his side. “We’re ready. Now get your ass out of here and make sure that they write another stanza in the hymn for us. I want to be remembered as more than just another Captain.”

“Yes, sir,” Edward said. “I…”

“Get out of here,” Brooks repeated. “Semper Fi!”

Edward turned and left. Outside, the noise of the guns was getting closer. He struggled with the temptation to remain and fight, but Brooks had been right. There was no point in throwing his life away in a futile gesture. The aliens, unknowingly, would be making their way through the final line of defences now. He looked into the distance and saw another skyscraper collapse in a pile of dust, trapping or killing anyone foolish enough to remain inside. Grimly, he turned and ran towards the plant, racing into the building and nodding to the two soldiers who had been assigned to wait for him and serve as his escort.

“Set the final charges and then let’s get out of here,” he ordered. They wouldn’t want to be around when the charges exploded. The darkness of the tunnels would be very welcome just now. “Let’s go.”

***

Brooks had terrible difficulty in moving, but with a little effort, he could peer down from his hiding place towards the street. The sound of explosions and other surprises were dying away as the aliens disarmed the final traps, perhaps wondering if their human opponents had actually started to break. The orders had been clear; the traps were to be placed carefully, yet in a position where they could be seen. It had to look like a panic, like an enemy in retreat, not like a trap. He could hear the hum of alien vehicles long before they finally came into view, defiling Chicago by their mere presence.

Shots rang out and some of the aliens tumbled to the ground. Others jumped behind cover and concentrated on returning fire, clearing the walking wounded out of their way. There seemed to be thousands of aliens and their Arab allies – Allah Allies, he though, derisively – on the streets, closing in on the resistance headquarters. They didn’t know – couldn’t know – what was waiting for them. They would never have come in so completely.

An alien appeared at the foot of the stairwell, dark eyes flashing from corner to corner. Unlike untrained humans, the aliens took care to look up as they checked out the buildings, and the alien saw him. For a moment, their eyes locked, before Brooks broke the connection. There was nothing human in the warrior’s gaze, no hint of emotion or even interest. It saw no weapon in Brooks’ hand and made a gesture with his rifle, ordering him to put up his hands and come down to be taken prisoner. It hadn’t realised how badly Brooks was wounded – walking down to the alien was literally impossible.

“Fuck you,” Brooks told the alien, and let go of the detonator. “You utter…”

The charges detonated. The resistance hadn’t been able to smuggle all of their explosives out of the city before it was too late, and they’d packed all of the remaining material into the area. The resulting explosion shook the city and vaporised both of them, and thousands of others. The access to the sewers was firmly blocked, permanently.

***

Miles away, jogging down the tunnels, Edward felt the ground shake and knew what had happened. The charges had detonated.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he muttered. Dust was shaking down from high above and he coughed. “I won’t forget it.”


Chapter Thirty-Five


Chicago, USA (Occupied)

Day 165


“The enemy resistance has been completely wiped out,” the new minder informed the reporters, as they gathered in what had once been Chicago. The city had been devastated. Many famous landmarks had simply ceased to exist. Hundreds of alien warriors, Arab soldiers and Order Policemen crawled over the city, while prisoners – wearing bright green jumpsuits – pulled bodies out of the rubble, transferring them into trucks. They’d be taken out of the city to a mass grave, she’d been told, unless the aliens actually did intend to eat them. Who knew? “They have been exterminated.”

Along with most of the city, Abigail thought. She had never thought much of Chicago, but no city deserved such a fate. There were places where hardly a building was left standing. Did you have to destroy the city in order to save it?

The minder walked them from place to place, extolling the virtues of those who had served the aliens, pointing out the scene of a bold assault here and a last stand there. He rhapsodised over the fate of policemen whose only sin had been trying to prevent a bloodbath, cut down in their prime by the insurgents who wanted to kill as many reasonable – collaborating – humans as possible. The official broadcasts would turn as many of those men as they could into symbols of human suffering, but the underground newspapers would either hold them up as men placed in an impossible position, or traitors. It wasn't something she intended to write about, at least not until she returned to Washington. She hadn’t dared write anything for the underground newspapers since Percy had been arrested and taken away. It might have suggested to the aliens that they’d picked up the wrong man.

“Here, the terrorists detonated their final bomb,” he said, finally. There was nothing left of that part of Chicago, but a massive hole in the ground and a pile of rubble. The blast had shaken the remainder of the city and she’d felt the shock even from her camp. The surrounding area was littered with the remains of alien tanks and vehicles, picked up and crushed by the blast; no one had accurate figures for how many aliens and collaborators had been killed in the final moments of the battle. “They killed themselves to prevent us from liberating the city and rescuing the hostages.”

Abigail kept her face blank as he ranted on. The official version of events was that the terrorists – the resistance – had kept the civilian population of the city as hostages, threatening to kill them if the aliens took the city. She knew better – most of the civilians had either joined the resistance or fled the city – yet it was the version of events that she had to support, at least in public. She’d added a note about how the civilians had actually acted to the document she’d sent from Percy’s computer, but she had no way of knowing how much impact it had had. There was no way to get a copy of Committees of Correspondence in Chicago, not any longer. It would have to wait until she got home.

She looked down at the map of Chicago that had been issued as part of their briefing notes, but it was impossible to relate the surrounding landscape to the map. There was just so much devastation that she could barely pick out her location, and even then she suspected she’d gotten it badly wrong. The Lake was off to the north – she thought wistfully about unoccupied Canada and freedom – yet where was she? She looked over at a broken skyscraper and shivered. The building looked as if it could collapse at any moment. Modern buildings were far stronger than most gave them credit for – she’d heard of people who refused to live in skyscrapers because they got vertigo – yet they weren't designed for all-out war. The aliens might have fired on it, or the resistance might have mined it, but in the end it didn’t matter. It would have to be knocked down for the safety of everyone remaining in the city.

The thought bothered her badly. No one had said anything about rebuilding Chicago, yet it was something that would have to be faced, and soon. Would the aliens commit resources to rebuilding a city that had defied them, or would they leave the rest of it as it was, calling it an object lesson? The cost of rebuilding would have been astronomical even without the underground war and the collaborator government. Now…she couldn’t imagine any of the collaborators choosing to try to rebuild Chicago. The surviving residents would be lucky if they were re-housed somewhere else.

She looked over at the minder and shook her head. It wasn't a question she could ask. The reporters had once known that they could ask any question they liked without suffering the consequences, but now…now they’d been broken. Freedom of the Press had once been one of America's foremost principles, even though it had been abused more often than not, but now it was just an illusion. The reporters didn’t bother to ask even planted questions. They’d go back to their rooms and file stories that reflected the official line, regardless of their own personal thoughts. And after that, she knew, they’d go down to the bar and drink heavily to forget what they had become.

And she was as guilty as the rest. She’d written stories for the Committees of Correspondence, yet how could she tell them that, or encourage them to do the same? Her name was linked to articles that praised the aliens and lied about how much devastation they’d brought in their wake, leaving her branded as a collaborator or worse. She thought – again – about fleeing, but where could she have gone? The Canadians no longer took in refugees from America. Mexico was in the midst of a civil war. What did that leave? It wasn't as if she could swim the Atlantic and reach Britain. Besides, if some of the underground reports were accurate, the British were no longer accepting immigrants.

Damn you, she thought, looking at the minder. She wanted it all to be over, so she could go back to her room and have a drink. She wanted to drink enough to smash her brains out and dull the pain, but she didn’t quite dare. Someone who was drunk might blab all their secrets to the world, and that would have been the end of her. The aliens might kill her, or they might take her onboard one of their ships and then someone else would look out at the world through her eyes. No one would care what happened to her afterwards. The Committees of Correspondence had been clear on that point. The Walking Dead were to be killed on sight.

Despair welled up within her and she found herself blinking away tears. Percy had promised her a new position, yet with his arrest, she no longer knew if she’d get the position…and she wasn't sure if she wanted it. How long could she carry on working for the aliens openly, and sabotaging them behind their backs? She no longer wanted to live.

***

Dolly looked down bitterly at her hands and saw the shaking. They had once been as steady as a surgeon’s hand as he prepared to cut open a patient and start mending whatever damage they’d suffered, but now…now she trembled all the time. She felt dirty, filthy and violated, hoping and praying that her contraceptive implant had lasted long enough to protect her from carrying one of their children. Dull rage welled up within her, matched by fear and hatred. No one had ever even tried to rape her before. The closest she’d ever come had been an ex-boyfriend – Mathew, she thought his name had been – with wandering hands and a nasty disposition. She’d kneed him in the balls and told him never to come anywhere near her again, before walking off and leaving him moaning in agony on the ground. She hadn’t even landed a blow on the Arabs before they’d had her helpless and worked their will on her. The pain…

The Arabs had marched her back through the streets and handed her over to a group of alien warriors. Dolly had been almost relieved to see them, rather than the Order Police or other human collaborators. The Arabs hadn’t bothered to give her back her jeans and the cold air had been a stark reminder of her vulnerability. The aliens had put her in one of their vehicles with a dozen other prisoners and eventually transported her out of the city into one of their POW camps. A kindly nurse had cut her hands free and given her what medical treatment she could, but the camp was overflowing with wounded prisoners. The only good sign was that the camp was strictly segregated by sex. The male prisoners went elsewhere.

There was nothing in the POW camp to inspire confidence, apart from the aliens who guarded it and Dead Arab Tree, which they could see in the centre of the camp. Five Arabs had been hung on it only a day ago by their own people – the stink didn’t seem to bother the aliens – for crimes against the civilian population. She couldn’t tell if her Arabs were hanging from the tree, but she liked to hope that they were. It suggested that the aliens did have some idea of justice, or perhaps it was just punishment for soldiers who broke discipline in the field.

She wandered back over to the showers and undressed rapidly, standing under the hot water until she felt scorched. She hadn’t felt clean since the attack and had been showering several times a day – hot water was one thing the camp never ran out of – yet it made no difference. She’d scrubbed herself until the skin was raw, washed soap all over her body, but she still felt dirty. She wanted the Arabs in her sights and a chance to pull the trigger personally. The way her hands shook, she might not be able to pull the trigger.

There were a handful of other women in the camp who had been raped as well, and two of the nurses had tried to organise a circle where they could talk about their experiences in the hopes that it would help them come to terms with it, but it hadn’t helped. The entire population seemed to be in shock. Things like that didn’t happen in America. They just didn’t happen…except they had. Bad times had come and the civilian population was bearing the brunt of the suffering. It didn’t matter that she was an American, she had come to realise; there was no natural law that promised her a good life, free from suffering. She dressed slowly – the camp had a stockpile of clothes, collected from the city – and wandered back out into the open. It wasn't as if there was much to do in the camp, but some of the kinder Order Policemen had passed in game boards, footballs and other things they could use to distract themselves from their fate. None of them believed that their treatment would be pleasant.

A whistle echoed over the camp and she found herself running towards the assembly ground. They’d been told, firmly, that when the whistle blew they were to drop whatever they were doing and assemble for inspection, or else. Latecomers received a single stroke from a whip-like device an alien warrior carried, somehow causing terrible pain. Very few dared be late twice. She joined hundreds of other women as she stood in line, waiting to see what was about to happen. If nothing else, it would break up the monotony. Along with all the others, she placed her hands on her head and waited. No one wanted to know what the aliens would do if their orders were not obeyed.

The gate opened and a line of alien warriors marched in, carrying long swords and other bladed weapons. They looked like a science-fiction writer’s nightmare come to life, yet she could see the underlying reason behind the choice of weapons. If the prisoners overwhelmed them and took the swords, they wouldn’t be able to escape the camp and threaten the aliens’ security. She winced slightly as a faint spicy smell drifted across her nostrils. The aliens stank of spice, and decay, and corruption. They were very far from human.

A whisper ran through the crowd as another set of aliens stepped in. Two of them looked to be crosses between the Leader and Worker castes, the third was very definitely a Leader, just like the one she’d killed. His dark eyes swept across the gathered women and she flinched back. If they could read minds, he’d know what she’d done to his fellow Leader and take her away…she tried not to think of it, but it kept bubbling to the surface of her mind. The dark eyes flashed over her and kept going, running right down the line. The sense of relief was so profound that she almost fainted. They couldn’t read minds!

One of the smaller aliens stepped in front of her and grabbed her arm, lifting it up and examining it. If it had been a human, even a human doctor, she would have screamed after everything she’d been though, but somehow the dry alien touch was bearable. She turned around as he poked her gently and felt his hands running down her back. It was a cold and dispassionate examination, one that made no sense to her. Other women were getting the same treatment and a handful were becoming hysterical, struggling to get away from the alien. One of the nurses took her hands off her head and tried to help one of the victims and an alien warrior started forward, whip in hand.

The alien doctor – she thought of the newcomers as doctors, although she wasn’t sure why – held up a hand and hissed something in their language. The warrior bowed once and stepped back to the line, allowing the doctor to continue his work with the nurse’s assistance. They moved down the line, examining some – but not all – of the women. Dolly tried to concentrate on the puzzle and realised that all of the women they were examining were young, the youngest being around fifteen. There were no children in the camp. Where, she wondered, did they go?

An alien stepped back in front of her, looked her up and down, and held up a hand in a beckoning motion. Dolly stepped forward and was pointed towards one of the alien warriors. Slowly, reluctantly, she kept walking forward until the warrior held up a clawed hand – they’d be fearsome hand-to-hand opponents, she realised – and stopped her. One hand grasped her arm, turned her around, and secured her hands behind her back. She was so stunned that it took her a moment to realise that other young women were getting the same treatment. She felt herself being pushed to her knees and shivered, twisting at the uncomfortable position. It was hard to see, but it looked as if the aliens had collected over thirty women, all young and reasonably pretty.

“They’re going to give us to the Arabs,” one woman shouted. She broke down and cried, while others pulled at their bonds, trying to escape. Chaos was spreading through the camp when one of the alien doctors walked up to the first woman and touched her forehead with a small stick-like device. She let out a gasp and collapsed to the ground, completely out of the world. Dolly stared in amazement. She’d never seen anything like it before. The unbound women, the ones who had not been chosen, were waved away with threatening swipes of the whip, leaving the bound women alone.

“Stand,” one of the aliens ordered, in oddly-accented English. Dolly tried to get to her feet, but with her hands bound it was almost impossible. One of the aliens came up behind her and helped her to her feet, pushing her into a line of bound women. “Follow.”

Dolly followed as the camp gates swung open, allowing them to step outside and start walking. It was the first time she’d been outside the camp since she’d been put inside it, yet nothing seemed to have changed. Arab soldiers still swaggered around, escorted by the Order Police, taking sly glances at the women while they could. They didn’t try anything stupid – the presence of the alien warriors would have deterred anyone, but a man with a death wish – but they hooted and cat-called. A pair of Order Policemen joined in with wolf whistles. Dolly hunched herself down as best as she could, ignoring the noise as they rounded a corner and saw an alien craft resting lightly on the ground. The hatch somehow flowed open and the aliens encouraged them into the craft. They were taking them away from Chicago!

She wanted to run, but there was no way she could outrun one of the aliens, even without her hands bound. She looked back, towards the drifting smoke clouds that covered her hometown, and felt new tears trickling down her face. They were taking her away from everything she’d ever known – and she’d never see what remained of her family again. An alien hand pushed her towards the hatch and she stumbled onboard, feeling the world spinning around her. The alien compartment was little more than a cargo hold, allowing them all a place to sit, but nothing else. There was no way out.

“Where are they taking us?” One of the women asked. She sounded as if she were on the verge of panic. “Why…?”

“I don’t know,” one of the other women said, “but they singled out the young specifically. They didn’t take anyone older than twenty-five. That bodes ill for our future, doesn’t it?”


Chapter Thirty-Six


Washington DC, USA (Occupied)

Day 165


“Excellent work, just excellent,” Daisy exulted. “With Chicago crushed, it will be a long time, a very long time, before anyone dares to question us again.”

Karen said nothing. Keeping her face blank was becoming an art form for her – after all, if she showed any trace of her real feelings, the best that would happen was that she’d be sacked and thrown out to spend the rest of her life as a common labourer. The worst…well, General Howery showed exactly what could happen to her if the aliens suspected her loyalties. She didn’t want to become one of the Walking Dead.

“That is not entirely accurate,” General Howery informed her. Daisy listened attentively. She could be a real bitch to anyone lower on the pecking order than herself, but when her superiors spoke, she listened. “A considerable number of known resistance fighters remain unaccounted for.”

Karen smiled inwardly. The official reports continued to paint a rosy glow over the whole affair, claiming that every last resistance fighter had been either killed or captured. She knew better – the aliens knew better – even though she understood why Daisy and the Public Relations people were pushing it so hard. If enough people believed that the resistance was finished, it would be done for, yet how could anyone believe that Chicago was the whole nation? Even if the aliens had been telling the truth, even if they had obliterated Chicago and the surrounding area, they wouldn’t have wiped out the entire resistance. The only way to do that would be to wipe out America itself, yet with tens of thousands of their own people on the ground, it would have been suicide.

“They’re not important,” Daisy informed him. “Who cares if some of them are hiding in basements somewhere?”

“We care,” General Howery said, firmly. “The problem with dealing with an insurgency is that if you take the boot off the back of its neck, it rapidly recovers and grows stronger and then you have another insurgency on your hands. We have hurt the beast badly in Chicago, yet we have not impeded the growth of other resistance groups. The…the…the…”

Karen looked at him, concerned. She’d liked him before he’d become one of the Walking Dead, and for a moment, he’d sounded almost normal, as if he was trying to get words out that disagreed with the alien programming. General Howery staggered slightly, before he recovered himself. She wondered if he was on the verge of a breakdown.

“The…misstep in Virginia might have terrified many, but it also made them furious and angry,” General Howery said, finally. Karen realised that he had been trying to criticize the aliens directly, something that his programming would not allow him to do in front of others. “The insurgency in Virginia and the surrounding area will have grown – has grown – into a far more serious threat. Attacks on the Order Police and even patrolling units have become more common. It won’t be long before they start hitting bases again, and then…and then, we’ll be back where we started.”

He sat down heavily. “Counter-insurgency warfare is often confusing,” he admitted. “You need to win hearts and minds, yet you cannot afford to be too gentle; you have to be strong, and clearly fair. There are places where the mere provision of effective public services would win you as many friends as you wanted, and places where you couldn’t do anything to please them, places where the only real cure is mass slaughter.”

One hand waved vaguely in the air. “It’s a balancing act,” he said. “You have to offer the stick and the carrot in equal measure. Too many mass slaughters and people will think that they have no choice, but to fight you, believing that you’re going to kill them anyway. Too few and they won’t fear you. We cannot afford to lose that balancing act.”

Karen felt sick. She had never seriously thought about the military as a career, yet she was sure that normal – unaltered – American officers would never casually propose mass slaughter as a solution to all their woes. The Walking Dead didn’t care about morality, or even anything else, but efficiency. How long would it be, she wondered, until they brought out the poison gas and started deploying it against the insurgents?

“Very well,” Daisy said, tightly. “What do you intend to propose to our lords and masters?”

If General Howery heard the underlying tone in her voice, he gave no sign. “We start by targeting a specific area and crushing the insurgency there,” he said. He studied the map for a long moment, nothing the red dots that marked resistance attacks. There were a lot of them. “Virginia is probably the best place to start. They’re already disposed to believe the worst of us. We start rotating new Order Police units into the area and surge them forward, occupying the towns and villages, before we start chasing the insurgents all over the state. We establish checkpoints, secure areas and keep pushing them outwards. The insurgents can either fight or concede the game to us.”

Daisy frowned, considering it. “Why not one of the other areas that seethes with terrorist activity?” She asked. “What about Texas or New Mexico, or even California?”

“We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew,” General Howery said. “As we continue to expand the Order Police, we’ll start taking them down into Texas and up into the Rocky Mountains, but the territory there favours the insurgents. It’s a question of resources. Ethos may provide us with additional warriors to back up the Order Police, or it might just be us on our own. If the latter…”

“I’ll provide whatever support I can,” Daisy said. “Thank you.”

General Howery nodded, saluted her, and left the room. “A pity he didn’t show that level of thinking earlier,” Daisy commented. “It would have made our lives so much easier.”

“Yes,” Karen agreed, neutrally. “He’s an experienced commanding officer.”

“That was beyond dispute,” Daisy snapped at her. “Do you have the figures for reopening the industrial plants?”

“Here,” Karen said, passing over the folder. “We can have the country back at roughly eighty percent of pre-war production within a month, and then we can start working on the various orders we received from the aliens and overseas.”

“Thank you,” Daisy said, absently. “Take a seat and wait.”

Karen nodded, keeping her thoughts to herself. Americans had been complaining for years about jobs being outsourced to China or India or other countries where the international corporations didn’t have to pay their workers a living wage, but the truth was that America still produced a vast amount of material that the rest of the world – and the country itself – needed desperately. With China in a state of civil war and India threatening to launch nuclear strikes against Pakistan, America needed to build up other industries again, forcing Daisy to work to organise a massive reclamation effort. It would bring the puppet government considerable support if they actually managed to lower the unemployment rate to nothing, yet how efficient could a command economy be, in the long run? The answer, history suggested, was not very efficient at all.

And then there were the aliens themselves. They hadn’t wasted any time before placing vast orders with various American corporations, demanding that they dropped everything and started supplying them with a list of items. Karen had studied them carefully – and forwarded them on to the President – yet they made no sense to her. Alien tech was more advanced than human tech across the board, so why would the aliens want human systems, let alone items that had been outdated even before they arrived? She was sure that there was a single unifying factor, but what was it?

“Good enough for the moment,” Daisy said. She looked relieved. Karen had to remind herself that Daisy’s position and power depended on pleasing the aliens. If she failed them, they’d be quite happy to replace her with someone who would try to do better, knowing the price if he or she failed. Or perhaps they’d just turn her into one of the Walking Dead. “With the draft underway now, we can start filing people into the proper jobs and training up more engineers and technicians.” She grinned nastily. “The social scientists can go fuck themselves.”

Karen smiled at the weak joke. Daisy had told her, at great length, about how badly the social scientists had fucked up the American education system. It was geared to producing lawyers, teachers and other people who couldn’t actually do anything useful, rather than doctors, engineers or…hell, even good teachers. They’d been turning America’s education system into an indoctrination system for years, while the men and women they churned out at the end had been unable to find jobs – because there were too many lawyers and teachers already. She remembered a teacher she’d had to study under for a year, one who had taught them all the Gospel According To Marx, Lenin and Stalin, and had forced them to regurgitate his teachings in order to pass. A few of her friends had come up with a random word generator and used it to write their assignments. They’d been complete nonsense, yet they’d passed with high marks.

“All of this is approved,” Daisy said, finally. She passed the folder back to Karen, who took it carefully. Losing it would make them both look bad in front of the aliens. “Take it down to the departments, and then report back to me in a couple of hours. I want to verify the propaganda myself before we put it out on the airwaves.”

Karen concealed her smile as she walked down the stairs towards one of the main offices. Daisy wasn't just content to run the Department of Human Resources, but was trying to expand her empire into other departments as well. The aliens didn’t seem to care. Karen had been quietly trying to encourage her to keep trying to absorb the other departments and bring them under her authority, reasoning that infighting among the collaborators would only benefit the resistance. She handed over the folder and walked back to her rooms, where she threw herself on the bed and started to shake. The President had asked her to…

The thought was impossible to escape. The President had asked her to do something far more than just spying on the collaborators. He wanted her to get someone onto the system, help them to hide in Washington, and then…what? Daisy had set up the system to make it difficult for someone to remain unnoticed for very long, but Karen had the right access codes to make it seem as if someone had been there since the beginning. There were thousands of people trapped in Washington by the alien blockade and it would be easy to slip one more onto the system, yet…what if the Order Police realised that they’d never actually seen him before? They weren't encouraged to think for themselves, or question the system, yet…what if?

She could think of a hundred different possibilities, none of them good. The thought kept surfacing in her mind. She could be killed outright, she could become one of the Walking Dead, she could be handed over to the Order Police for their fun and games, she could be taken to one of the alien bases and used for medical experiments or…there were just too many possibilities. She couldn’t get them out of her head. What if she was caught? What if…what if…

The bed felt comfortable under her back, yet she tossed and turned, not daring to speak aloud. There was no way of knowing if the room was bugged or not. The aliens wouldn’t have had any problem emplacing surveillance devices throughout the complex to keep an eye on their people; hell, they’d be insane not to be a little suspicious of their willing collaborators. The President had warned her to take nothing for granted and she’d even taken to never using a computer inside the Green Zone. Who knew who could be monitoring her every electronic footprint?

She couldn’t see any way around the problem. The aliens had provided devices that allowed the Order Police to take someone’s biometric readings and check them against the central database. Every time someone’s ID was checked, they took new readings and checked them against the main database, making sure that the card matched the person holding it. Karen could get a new card produced – new people were registered all the time in the more rural areas – yet getting the readings to match the card would be tricky. The more she thought about it, the more she realised that there was only one solution. She’d have to take one of the devices to the newcomer, take the readings and prime the card herself. And that risked everything.

The Order Police knew better than to even try to molest her – they knew who she worked for – yet they’d certainly want to know where she was going. They knew she walked outside the Green Zone at least four times a week – she didn’t always go to the internet café, just in case she was being tailed – but would they know if she took a registry device outside the compound? Would they even care? It would be out of the ordinary and that would tip off anyone, or would it?

A thought occurred to her and she smiled. Years ago, while she’d been in college, they’d looked briefly at the infamous McDonalds Strip Search Case. A store manager had received a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, who’d ordered her to take a young female employee into the backroom and strip search her for hidden drugs. The manager’s boyfriend had then arrived and, under orders from the caller, put the girl through a series of humiliating poses and acts, culminating in oral sex. She’d thought at the time that only a complete moron would have fallen for such a trick – she was pretty sure that the police couldn’t issue such orders and wouldn’t even if they could – but the Professor had actually provided an explanation. The employees had been trained to do nothing, but follow orders. All McDonalds stores had to be exactly the same in all respects, from food that tasted like cardboard to decorations and uniforms. The people who made working in such places a career were not the type to question orders. The manager hadn’t been trained to think or question authority. Faced with a situation outside her worldview, she had surrendered and gone along with the mystery caller. It went without saying that the caller had hardly been a police officer and the whole thing had been a hoax, and a very embarrassing public relations disaster for McDonalds.

But the Order Police were organised in exactly the same way! She’d been thinking about sneaking out of the Green Zone as if she’d hidden the recorder in her panties, while she could quite literally have a recorder placed outside the Green Zone, waiting for her. It wouldn’t even attract attention if she placed the orders from her own computer – after all, she had to sign off on hundreds of different orders each day. With a little care, it might even seem like a perfectly routine request, and the recorder would be returned before it was missed. She chuckled to herself as she came to her feet. They’d never even know what had happened!

There was a knock on the door and she tensed. A moment later, Jasmine poked her head around the door and smiled at her. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s just a routine cleaning check.”

Karen nodded. “Of course,” she said. She’d entered that particular order in the work log herself. Neither of them mentioned, aloud, that the only purpose of that order was to give Jasmine and her friends a few hours away from the more perverted collaborators in the hotel. “I need to take a shower. Just get on with it.”

Jasmine looked up at her. This time, her outfit was cut so low that Karen could just see the tops of her nipples. “Sure,” she said. “Do you want me to join you in it?”

Karen blushed. “Is that what others have been demanding from you?”

“Yeah,” Jasmine admitted. It had never occurred to Karen that you could make love in the shower; hell, she’d never made love to another woman, full stop. It was more tempting that she’d expected, for she didn’t dare try to find a male suitor or a boyfriend within the hotel, yet it would be taking advantage of her friend. “Some of them have been really rude about it too.”

She made a face and Karen giggled. “If you want to join me, then come in,” she decided. It might be fun. “If you don’t want to come in, then don’t. I won’t mind.”

She stepped into the shower room and turned on the shower, pulling off her clothes and feeling the warm water cascading down her body. A moment later, she felt someone stepping in behind her and bare breasts brushing up against back. She leaned forward, despite herself, as gentle hands started to stroke her breasts. It sent a wave of strange emotion racing down her body. Part of her wanted to pull away, part of her wanted to surrender to the strong gentle hands.

“I’ve never done this before,” she admitted, as warm lips touched the back of her neck. She reached behind her and stroked Jasmine’s breasts, marvelling at their feel under the hot water. A pair of very hard nipples pressed into her back. “I haven’t…”

“Don’t worry,” Jasmine said, her voice deep and throaty. It sent delightful shivers down Karen’s spine. Jasmine’s hands reached down between her thighs and started probing between her legs. She gasped, unable to help herself, as the sensations started to overwhelm her. “I have. Just relax and let me do all the work.”

Karen could not, but obey.


Chapter Thirty-Seven


Alien Base, Western USA

Day 165


Dolly had lost track of how long they’d been sitting in the alien craft. There was no sound of flight or life, nothing but a deep bass hum that seemed to come from all around them. The light seemed to come from nowhere, shining into the room from invisible parts of the compartment, casting an eerie alien tone over the entire experience. No one had anything to say, lost in their own thoughts, as they flew onwards, leaving homes and families behind forever. None of them expected to ever return to what was left of Chicago.

She tried to count the seconds, but it was hopeless. She’d read books that suggested that one could develop a time sense that would allow a person to tell just how long they’d been waiting, or wake up at just the right moment, but they had been short on details. It was something that was learned from experience and her experience was limited to sniping and trophy shooting. The resistance had tried to give them a crash course in survival tactics and instruct them in how to remain alive, yet none of it seemed remotely applicable to her situation. There didn’t even seem to be a way out of the compartment.

Her bonds were as strong and inflexible as ever. Once, on a dare, she’d been handcuffed in school for a charity event and that had been alarming, and fun. This was terrifying. The aliens could do anything they liked to their human captives and they’d have no way of stopping them. The other women had clearly had the same thought. They were nothing to members of another race, not even sex objects. God alone knew what the aliens would consider acceptable treatment of their captives. If they realised that it had been her who shot their leader…

A thought occurred to her and she smiled. She hadn’t needed to go to the toilet yet, not since she’d been picked up from the camp. Logically, she decided, they couldn’t have been flying for very long – she hadn’t even needed to go to have a pee! A healthy human – and she’d been healthy, if lacking in food over the last couple of days before her capture – had to go to the toilet regularly, yet she didn’t need to go. They hadn’t been flying for very long, but with the alien craft and their fantastic speeds, that meant nothing. They could be on the other side of the world, or on the moon, or even on another planet altogether. The possibilities seemed to grow in her mind. If the aliens had brought Arabs to America, why not send Americans to the Middle East? Her instructor had speculated that the aliens had chosen Arabs to serve them because they would have no friends in America, and America had few friends in the Middle East. There might be no prospect of escape at all.

She opened her mouth to mention this to the others, and then changed her mind. What possible good would it do to scare them further? Some of them were clearly already on the verge of panic, whimpering quietly to themselves; others looked ready and willing to fight, if an opportunity presented herself. Dolly shifted and tested her bonds again. There would be a moment when she was free and able to take action. When that moment came, she would be ready.

“There are no dangerous weapons,” her instructor had said. “A weapon is what its user makes of it. There are dangerous men and there are men who will believe that holding a weapon makes them dangerous. Pray that you fall into the hands of the latter. They will grow overconfident and make mistakes.”

He’d cited several cases to prove his point, but she couldn’t remember any of the specifics. The aliens might not be careless – or they might want to simply dissect the humans at once – yet there would be an opportunity. I will be ready, she thought to herself, over and over again. I will be ready.

The humming sound seemed to grow stronger as a faint shudder ran though the craft, but otherwise there was no change in sensation. She couldn’t decide if they’d reached their destination, or if the craft had merely altered course to avoid running into a resistance ambush. She’d heard rumours that entire ground-to-air missile batteries and their crews had escaped into the wilderness and had been taking shots at alien craft ever since, although she wasn't sure if she believed them. A single SAM missile couldn’t do much damage unless the aliens flew right into the trap. The thought of being shot down by her own side was humiliating, but at least it wouldn’t be as bad as whatever the aliens had in mind for them. Her body ached, remembering the final humiliation at the hands of her captors. No, it wouldn’t be as bad as that.

Another faint shudder ran through the craft and the humming sound faded away to nothing. She felt a faint sense of seasickness, gone almost before she could recognise it, and then another burst of dizziness that almost had her on the ground. If she hadn’t been seated already, she would have collapsed as her legs gave way underneath her. She heard some of the whimpers growing louder and she winced. The last thing she wanted was to be stuck in a small compartment with thirty terrified girls.

“We must have landed,” one of the women said. She sounded scared out of her wits. “What are they going to do to us?”

“Stick probes up our butts, probably,” an older woman said. Dolly had met her briefly in the camp and had been told that she had something of a criminal record and had been in and out of jail since she’d turned eighteen. “Aliens and cops always go in for anal probes, my dear. Get a handsome police officer and they can really make your day.”

“You’re sick,” the first woman burst out. She paused. “You don’t think they’re going to give us to the ragheads, do you?”

“Nah,” another said. “They have enough whores to keep the fuckers happy. We’re probably going to be thrown to the Order Police…”

The side of the compartment flowed open before the discussion could become any more depressing and a pair of small aliens stepped in, followed by a taller alien. Dolly flinched away from the Leader, remembering – again – the one she’d killed, the one whose face haunted her nightmares. She didn’t want to look into the new Leader’s eyes and fall under his spell. The aliens were not only terrifying, but fundamentally wrong, creatures from a dark and dismal world. She wished she’d taken one of the suicide belts with her before she’d fallen into their hands. She could have made the Arabs pay for their crimes.

One of the smaller aliens helped the first woman to her feet and pointed her gently towards the door. Despite not being much bigger than a seven or eight-year-old child, the alien seemed to have no difficulty in picking up the human. Dolly forced herself to watch, noticing that the smaller aliens were much stronger than they looked, strong enough to be dangerous even without their technology. The alien motioned for the woman to stay where she was and helped a second to her feet, and then a third. When Dolly’s turn came, she flinched from the touch of alien flesh, and then winced as the alien poked her with sharp fingers to force her to her feet.

Another woman screamed as she collapsed into hysteria, struggling against the alien who was trying to help her up. Dolly watched, fascinated, as the smaller alien was knocked back, and then clearly looked up at the Leader, asking for instructions. The degree of non-verbal communication made her wonder if the aliens were telepathic, although humans also shared meaning through body language and hand gestures. The woman kicked out at the alien and screamed abuse; the alien cowered back, shaking. It would have been comical if it hadn’t been terrifying. The woman might get them all killed.

The Leader stepped forward and stared right into the woman’s eyes. Dolly saw her eyes go strange, as if she had been hypnotised, before the Leader helped her to her feet. The Leader didn’t seem as strong as the smaller castes, although Dolly had to remind herself that he simply might not have been trying to show off. The woman looked completely spaced out; bitterly, she wondered if that had been what she’d looked like, before she’d broken the spell.

“Come,” the Leader said, walking out of the compartment. “Follow me.”

After a moment, the line of stunned and scared women followed him, passing through a second compartment before they stepped out of the craft into a blast of warm air. The spicy scent that seemed to accompany the aliens was overwhelmingly powerful and Dolly found herself breathing it in before she could stop herself. It reminded her of her mother’s attempts to cook Indian food, and how badly it had tasted when she finally had been allowed to try it. She pushed the memory and the pain aside and looked around her, realising that they were at the heart of an alien base. She wasn't even sure if she was still on Earth. They couldn’t have built so much in a few months, could they?

The buildings were…odd. They didn’t look as if they’d been built, but grown, moulded together like molten plastic. The proportions were all wrong, making her head spin when she looked at them. There was a subtle feel around the entire complex that reminded her – as if she’d needed reminding – that she was standing in an alien-built complex, not a human building or POW camp the aliens had taken over. She wouldn’t have wanted to live in the city permanently. Just looking at some of the buildings was giving her a headache. They seemed normal until she looked closer and realised the truth. They seemed to defy the law of common sense.

And there were thousands of aliens! She hadn’t believed, not really, that the aliens came as colonisers until she saw the city. They seemed so…natural there, their unbelievable nature fitting in perfectly with the impossible city. Leaders, Workers, Warriors…and types she didn’t know, types that seemed new and exotic, thronged through the city, some of them glancing at the human captives before moving on. Dozens of smaller aliens, smaller even than the Workers, seemed more inclined to be curious than the others, but the Leader they were following made a curious set of sounds and the aliens departed. It was impossible to be sure, but were they alien children?

Her head was spinning by the time they reached a smaller building that looked like a melted piece of Lego. The escorting aliens urged them inside without hesitation, into another room. This one was more…human-compatible, but it still sent shivers down her spine when she looked closely at it. The weirdest building that any human culture had ever produced was practically part of her hometown compared to the alien building. It was just odd. It was so odd that she didn’t realise that there were dozens of other aliens looking down at them until they started to move.

“You,” one of the women said, finding her voice. It was so hard to think that part of Dolly’s mind was wondering if they’d been covertly drugged. “What do you want with us?”

The Leader turned his great head to look at her, forcing her to twist her head to avoid his gaze. “You will cooperate with us,” he informed them all. “It is for your own good.”

“Why?” The woman demanded. “How is kidnapping us for our own good?”

There was no answer. The smaller aliens were suddenly all around them, their hands somehow slicing through their clothes and sending them falling in tatters to the ground. Dolly flinched at being stripped naked, and then one of the aliens grasped her hands and removed her bonds. She was so relieved that she could almost have kissed the ugly little creature, yet she could feel the gaze of the other aliens on her body. She lifted her hands – noting the bruises on her wrists with a moment of dismay – and covered herself as best as she could.

“Please do not fear,” the Leader said. It sounded terrifyingly sincere. Dolly distrusted the statement on principle. The aliens had had years to learn how to manipulate humans. “We mean you no harm.”

Dolly found herself shivering, despite the warm air. They’d all been broken. Any hope of mass resistance had been lost along with their clothes. She crossed her hands over her breasts and struck a defiant pose, but the aliens – damn them – didn’t seem to even notice. One of the smaller aliens poked her and pushed her forward into another room, one that looked as if it was intended to serve as a prison. A moment later, soapy warm water gushed down from above and washed her body, cleaning away all the dirt and grime. She could have sighed with relief, even though she suspected that it was a preliminary to other humiliations. At least they weren't going to be handed over to the Arabs.

She looked over at the other women and saw their reactions. Most of them were scared stiff; others looked as if they were on the verge of collapse. The woman the alien had hypnotised still looked as if she were completely out of it, obeying orders as if she were nothing more than a robot. The prospect was terrifying. Was that, she wondered, what the aliens had in mind for all of humanity? They’d all been stripped naked to break them and prepare them for…what? None of the possibilities seemed good.

“You will follow the blue light to the next room,” a voice said. It seemed to come out of nowhere. “You will follow the blue light to the next room.”

“I heard,” Dolly muttered, as she looked up. A single blue light was shining in front of her. It reminded her of a little fairy from an animated cartoon. “I’m coming.”

She followed the light into the next room, where she was hit with a blast of hot air that seemed to come from all around her. She squeaked aloud as it played over her nipples and between her legs, before it cut off, leaving her body warm and dry. The blue light glinted in front of her and she followed it, only dimly aware that none of the other women had followed her. The alien complex was like a maze, only worse. The walls became doors and then became walls again at the slightest opportunity. She realised that they’d been tricked into separating from each other…not that they’d ever had a choice. If the aliens wanted the women separated from each other, all they had to do was make it happen. The prisoners couldn’t hope to escape.

Dolly looked down at her wrists and blinked. Her hands had been bound for at least an hour, yet the bruises had already faded away. There was a dull ache, but little else, not even a stab of pain. What had they done to her already? Had the water contained something to speed up the healing process? She stopped and examined her legs where she’d been bruised by the Arabs and found nothing. The marks had faded completely away.

The light bobbled impatiently and she followed it into the next room, suppressing the absurd desire to apologise to it. The next room was brightly lit, with four aliens standing around a table, waiting for her. She realised at once what they intended to do and shrank back, causing one of them to beckon her over impatiently. She looked behind her, but the door was already gone, melded back into the wall. There was no escape. She looked back at the aliens and saw…nothing. No concern, no anticipation…there wasn't even polite interest. She was nothing to them.

All right, she told herself. It’s an examination. You’ve had them before. You can handle it.

Carefully, she stepped forward and climbed onto the table. The aliens leaned over her, their eyes running coolly and dispassionately over every part of her body. She kept reminding herself that they were aliens and they wouldn’t be interested in her, even though her mind kept reminding her of the incident four years ago with the gynaecologist who’d abused two of the girls she’d known as a kid. Alien hands touched her head, turning it this way and that, before moving on to the rest of her body. She flinched as cold hands moved over her breasts, poking and prodding at them, before moving further down. She wanted to scream, but she didn’t quite dare. How would the aliens react…?

Oddly, it was easier to tolerate because they were alien. Their touch felt odd, but it didn’t make her flinch as badly as if it were another human touching her. They seemed to spend more time examining her vagina than anywhere else, yet they didn’t hurt her at all, even when they brought up something and inserted it inside her. She found herself going slack, unable to move, as they produced scanners and ran them over her body. One of them spent hours – or so it felt – studying an old injury on her arm, where she’d fallen off a bike and broken it as a kid. The alien seemed to find it fascinating.

“You are healthy,” one of the aliens said, finally. “The limited damage that your body has suffered can be repaired easily. We will perform the required procedures at once.”

Dolly found herself able to speak again. “And then what?” She demanded. “What are you going to do with me?”

There was no answer.


Chapter Thirty-Eight


Virginia, USA

Day 170


Nicolas crouched behind a car and waited as the sentry completed his circuit of the building. The Order Police hadn’t had any real trouble in this town so far, although that was about to change – and would have changed sooner, if the townspeople had known which particular Order Police unit had been billeted on them. Nicolas and his team had been tracking them for days now, after they’d committed the war’s first major atrocity. He wanted payback and he wanted it bad!

The team had argued about it for hours, so loudly that he’d feared that they’d be heard by the aliens or their human collaborators, bringing them down on their heads. Some had argued that they had caused the atrocity by attacking the aliens; others had called for committing a few atrocities of their own, whatever the cost. Nicolas had been caught in the middle, knowing that it could shatter the team’s unity, and he'd finally ruled that they’d hunt down the Order Policemen who’d carried out the attack, but they’d try to avoid committing any atrocities of their own. Not everyone had agreed and several had left the group to fade back into the general population, yet enough had remained with him to allow the war to go on. It wouldn’t be long before they’d get their chance to bleed the enemy.

His goggles tracked the sentry carefully, noting that the man wasn't wearing night-vision goggles of his own. As far as they could tell, the aliens hadn’t given the Order Police much in the way of night-vision gear, but it was possible that they’d scattered sensors around that put the CIA’s latest designs to shame. If that were the case, then they’d be being tracked right now, with an alien QRT already on the way. The Order Police unit might have been stuck outside as bait, luring the resistance into a trap. Nicolas had considered it for hours before deciding that they couldn’t afford to pass up on the chance to exact revenge – and administer justice. They couldn’t allow the opportunity to slip away.

A handful of locals who had joined the Order Police had reported that the unit was supposed to be garrisoning the town, but it hadn’t been too active, not since committing the atrocity, weeks ago. It might have been scared – the sheer number of blood-curdling threats directed against them was something to see – or they might have been getting as drunk as possible in a ‘safe’ area. Most of the Order Police were amateurs, as far as any trained soldier was concerned; they didn’t even know enough to vary their patrol times. Nicolas could have taken an entire infantry company through the gaps in their defences and they wouldn’t have been any the wiser.

All right, you bastard, he thought, as the sentry came round again, regular as clockwork. It’s payback time.

He’d honed his skill against some of the most fearsome operators in the world. Moving silently was hardly a problem. The guard was actually listening to music and had absolutely no clue that there was anyone behind him. Nicolas caught him, covered his mouth with one hand, and rammed a knife into his back with the other. The blade had been coated with a nasty and very fast-acting poison, but it was hardly necessary. The Order Policeman stiffened against him and tried to break free, yet it was already too late. He collapsed silently against Nicolas’s body and he lowered him to the ground. Nicolas crouched over him and searched him quickly, removing a pair of ID cards, a device of unknown purpose and a wallet. It was bulging with the new dollars that the provisional government had been pumping out over the last few weeks, declaring them legal tender all over the United States. No one would take them unless they had no choice. The inflation rate was already too high.

Nicolas glanced back into the darkness and held up a hand. The other three members of the team were watching him through night-vision gear of their own; they moved forward and were with him in a second. Nicolas had already planned their entrance and nodded towards a window, allowing Brian and Neddy to start silently working it open and allow them to slip inside the old school. The Order Police couldn’t have forgotten to secure the entrances – they couldn’t be that incompetent – and so he had no intention of doing the obvious thing. The course in covert entry – what everyone else called Practical Burglary – was coming in handy. And to think he’d thought it was a waste of time at the time!

The inside of the school was dead and cold. Hardly any schools were open in America now, although the provisional government kept promising that they’d reopen as soon as the new unified curriculum was worked out and teachers were trained to the right standards. Nicolas knew what that meant; the teachers would be taught to brainwash the kids, and any who refused to play along would be sent to a re-education camp. It was the nightmare that had gripped dozens of countries during the Cold War and afterwards, a nightmare that even America hadn’t been entirely able to avoid. He remembered a teacher who’d considered that all males had to pay for their ancestors’ crimes against females and graded accordingly. She’d been untouchable. No one had been able to fire her, despite countless complaints. In the end, she’d found herself a comfy post at one of the weirder colleges and vanished.

He listened carefully for the sound of footsteps, but all he could hear was music being played at a shockingly high level. The thought made him smile. They really weren't trying to take precautions, were they? He even recognised the heavy metal singer, remembering a time when they’d flown into combat to the strains of Kill Them All by Dennis and the Din-Makers. It reminded him of a time before the aliens and he felt an odd lump in his throat. Glancing back at his team, he realised that they felt the same way too. Life had been good once…and few of them had appreciated it. They hadn’t known how bad life was going to become.

“On three,” he signalled. “One…two…three!”

***

Jason Pickering was drunk. He’d been in a state of near-permanent drunkenness for the last ten days, drinking endless bottles of beer, wine, and home-brewed liquor that should have been poured back into the horse. He knew he was drunk and he didn’t care. The next crate of bottles were singing to him, calling for him to stagger to his feet and start drinking his way through them. Why not? It kept the ghosts away.

The Walking Dead man who’d ordered the slaughter and mass rapes had been promoted – insofar as promotion mattered anything to the Walking Dead – but the remainder of the Order Police had proved to be something of an embarrassment. They’d been transferred to yet another town with orders to shape up or else, but Jason no longer cared. The others felt the same way too, apart from four of the men who’d been transferred after admitting that they’d enjoyed themselves. Jason saw the faces of the men and boys he’d killed – and the women he’d raped – every time he closed his eyes. They haunted his nightmares, tormenting him, reminding him that whatever high ideals he’d had when he’d joined the Order Police, he was forever tainted by what he’d done. He’d committed murder. He hadn’t killed a man who was trying to kill him, he hadn’t accidentally shot someone in training, but he'd cold-bloodily fired into a crowd and killed…how many? The official figures felt way too low. He thought that he’d killed thousands upon thousands of men.

And then there had been the women. He tried to tell himself that there had been no choice, but the truth was that he could have killed the Walking Dead man and escaped. He’d forced them to the ground, one after the other, and forced his way inside them. Some of the Order Policemen had even taken the children, the little girls…he felt his stomach heave and then he was violently sick, remembering the tiny broken bodies on the ground and the screams of their mothers. Had there ever been a day when he’d been without such a burden on his soul? What had he done?

He thought about the pistol at his belt and how easy it would be to point it at his head and pull the trigger, yet something deterred him from taking that final step. It was a bitter thought, but he was too cowardly to kill himself and face God’s judgement, even though he had never been very religious. He wanted to throw himself on the ground and pray to a God he’d never really believed in for absolution and redemption, but the truth was that he had no hope of either. He hadn’t erred; he’d sinned, sinned so deeply that there was no hope of forgiveness. He wanted to go back to the town and beg forgiveness, yet he could hope for nothing from the survivors, but a quick death. Perhaps it would be for the best.

The bottles were still calling to him and he staggered to his feet, stumbling over to the old MP3 player and smacking it impatiently with his hand. The noise of the music wasn't helping the permanent headache between his temples, but it did help to down out his own thoughts. The next tune blinked up on the screen and he winced. The kindest thing that could be said about it was that it sounded like two cats fighting over a mouse. Naturally, it had been a global hit, before the aliens had invaded and – just incidentally – put a stop to the music companies, as well as pretty much everything else. If there had been other prospects, he told himself, he would never have joined the Order Police.

A black shape appeared beside him and he started to turn, before a fist slammed into his face and knocked him to the ground. He vomited again, unable to control himself, before his attacker rolled him over and secured his hands with duct tape. Jason opened his mouth to try to say something and was rewarded with a slap that left him reeling. He must have blanked out for a second, for the next thing he saw were the other nine men in the building, kneeling beside him with their hands bound behind their backs. They were all prisoners.

***

“Two of them are dead,” Brian said, tightly. “I slapped them around a little too hard.”

“I wanted them alive,” Nicolas snapped back. “We needed to interrogate them first!”

“Fuck you, with the greatest of respect, sir,” Brian said. “You know this isn’t easy!”

Nicolas looked down at the nine Order Policemen. He’d expected more, even with the pair Brian had killed, but it would do for starters. They didn’t look so orderly now that they’d been knocked about and tied up; they looked as if they were on the verge of panic, expecting that they would be killed at any moment. One of them had vomited badly all over himself and two of the others had clearly wet themselves. His nostrils wrinkled as the smell drifted over his nose. It never got any better.

“Let me make this as clear as I can,” he said, watching nine pairs of eyes following him. The one who’d been badly drunk was sobering up quickly. “You are in a world of shit!”

He drew his pistol and shot one of them through the head. The Order Policemen looked as if they were going to faint. They would have been screaming if Nicolas hadn’t taken the precaution of wrapping duct tape around their mouths. He switched his pistol to a second target and held it right between his eyes, watching as the man shook in fear. He felt no sympathy. The man had been part of a gang of looters, rapists and – most importantly of all – traitors. They weren't worthy of even the kind of respect Nicolas would have offered to a terrorist from the Middle East. At least the terrorists had had grand dreams, even if they were tinged with madness. And the United States had been in no danger of losing.

“Under the authority of the President of the United States, I am authorised to terminate your sorry fucking butts whenever I feel like it,” he thundered. “I am authorised to cut off your fingers one by one until you can’t jerk off to the memories of girls who would never have let you touch them unless you had more money than Bill Gates! I advise you strongly not to piss me off!”

He looked from face to face, looking for the weakest. “You will tell me exactly what I need to know, understand?” He snapped. “I will hurt you until you tell me everything I want to know.”

His hand alighted on one of the Order Policemen and he yanked the duct tape away from his mouth. “You,” he snapped, so close that he could practically kiss the man’s face. “What did you do to those poor people?”

“We had no choice,” the Order Policeman protested. Nicolas was mildly surprised that the man had been able to come up with anything reassembling a coherent response. “We were only following orders…”

“Not good enough,” Nicolas said. He stepped back, and then placed a nasty kick right against the man’s arm. It broke in several places and he howled in pain. “What did you do to them?”

The story came out in fits and starts, but most of it tallied with what Nicolas had heard from the underground network. They’d been ordered to the village and ordered to carry out an atrocity. The man he was interrogating had even been stupid enough to confess that he’d enjoyed the raping and would do it again, if he had half a chance. Nicolas had no intention of giving him any hope at all. Finally, he bound up the man’s mouth again and moved on to the next Order Policeman. The next one spoke rapidly, unable to meet his eyes. The stories matched in almost every particular.

“Your leader, the Walking Dead man,” he said, finally. “Where is he now?”

“We don’t know,” the man said. Nicolas casually broke two of his fingers. He screamed in pain. “We don’t know, I promise!”

“I think I believe him,” Brian said. Nicolas bit down several responses that came to mind. “He’s telling the truth.”

Nicolas nodded, sickened despite himself. Battlefield integration was a rare art, one practised only on covert missions or when a terrorist was badly wounded and wanted to confess before discovering that Allah didn’t provide seventy-two virgins to scrum bags who’d killed hundreds of people who followed the same religion. Normally, they would have used truth drugs, yet there was no time. They didn’t know how long it would be before the aliens realised that something was badly wrong and dispatched a QRT from their nearest base.

“Doubtless,” he sneered finally. He bandaged up the man’s mouth again. “Now, you all just sit there and wait, ok?”

He stalked out of the room and produced a small cylinder from his belt, using it to spray liquid through the building. When he’d been a kid, he’d had fantasies of blowing up his school. Now, he got to actually live the dream. He’d thought about simply cutting their throats or finishing them off with bullets, but he needed to send a message. Atrocities would not be allowed to go unpunished.

“Everyone out,” he said, producing a detonator from his pocket and setting it for five minutes. “It’s time to go boom.”

He put the detonator inside the school, glanced around for signs of an incoming alien force, and then led the way back to the base, running for their lives. Who knew how quickly the aliens would respond?

***

Jason groaned as he struggled against his bonds, but it was hopeless. He thought that if he kept licking at the duct tape, he'd be able to get rid of the gag if nothing else, but the taste was disgusting and he had a nasty suspicion that it was probably poisoned. The men who’d beaten them and left them tied up had also left them alive. Why? The thought kept going round and round in his head. Why had they been left alive?

They'd known what they’d done, they’d known what he’d done, yet they’d left him alive? It made no sense at all. He wanted to be sick again, but he swallowed desperately, trying to avoid being sick inside the gag. Perhaps it would burst the gag off his mouth, yet it was far more likely that it would choke him and he’d die, suffocated by his own vomit. The mere thought caused the gorge to rise up and he swallowed again and again, until he smelled smoke. Something was burning…

Sheer panic struck him as a wave of bright fire washed into the room, as if it was following a line someone had drawn on the floor. Sheer naked panic rose up inside him as the flames spread rapidly to the beer crates and papers he’d left lying about, and then the floor and ceiling itself. A wave of heat washed against him as the fire started to burn away at his clothes, sending searing pain washing down his body. He jerked away desperately, but it was too late. The flames were already burning his body…he looked up and saw the fire licking around the roof, threatening to bring a ton of burning rubble down on their heads. Books, desks and chairs were catching fire and it was becoming increasingly hard to breathe. The floor creaked alarmingly underneath them…

He tried desperately to scream, but it was too late. He saw, just for a moment, the faces of those he’d hurt, raped or killed laughing at him, and then there was nothing, but the fire.


Chapter Thirty-Nine


Tel Aviv, Israel

Day 175


“Surrender or die, in other words.”

President Ehud Barak of Israel looked around the table. The War Cabinet looked back at him. Even deep under the city, in a bunker that was supposed to be proof against all of the threats that threatened Israel’s very existence, no one felt safe. The ultimatum had arrived only an hour ago and time was running out.

“You’ve read the note,” he continued. “They want us to surrender our nuclear weapons, our air force and most of our ground-based weapons systems. They want us to open up our facilities, computer files and operational bases to inspection, now and at any time in the future they deem fit. In short, they wish to strip us naked – and if we refuse to strip for them, they will launch an immediate invasion of our territory. We have one hour left to reply.”

He paused. “There seems to be no way of delaying action or obtaining help,” he concluded. “What do we do?”

He saw the same thoughts played out across the faces of his friends, political enemies, and colleagues. Israel had been threatened before, her name blackened by a skilfully orchestrated media campaign that portrayed them as total monsters crushing Arabs for the sheer hell of it, while none of the provocations were ever reported outside Israel itself. From the moment Israel was born, the country had been threatened and attacked time and time again, saved only by the grace of God and the incompetence of her enemies. The endless Palestinian question hung over the region like a cloud, used by Arab leaders to justify keeping their own populations under control – not that any of them cared about the Palestinians, of course. They were just there to make useful tools and if a few thousand of them died at a time, who cared? Only the bleeding hearts in the West, who were happy to blame everything on Israel...

And then aliens had arrived and America had fallen. They’d acted at once, locking down the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, before making a global announcement that if there was the slightest sign of a threatening move, they’d launch a mass nuclear strike all around the Islamic Crescent. He hadn’t been bluffing either. The launch codes had been prepared, missile bunkers and strike aircraft had been placed on alert, and the entire country had girded itself for war. The threats had worked where blandishments and politely worded notes from the West had failed. The troubles in the West Bank had been kept under control and no Arab army had moved to threaten Israel. The Arabs had had problems of their own with street protests and civil war.

And then the aliens had landed in the Middle East and crushed the Arabs overnight. Ehud had served in a tank regiment and he had a low opinion of much of the Arab military forces, but having the aliens beat them so quickly had been alarming. A handful of Arab fighter jets had even flown to Israel and begged for sanctuary, a sanctuary the IAF had been willing to grant, just to learn what they could of the alien tactics. After what had happened to America, no one would ever take the aliens lightly again. And now…

He looked up at the map of the surrounding area, with all of the disputed territory carefully marked out. It showed hundreds of alien installations and cities, all of which seemed to have sprung up overnight. The aliens had landed and just started to expand out from their landing sites. They were having problems with insurgency movements of their own in the various Middle Eastern states, but none of them posed a significant threat, even with covert Israeli support. He’d never thought he’d see the day when Arabs and Jews worked against a common foe – it was just like something out of a bad American science-fiction movie! But the Americans were beaten and Israel was on her own. Her other allies couldn’t or wouldn’t help.

“I believe that the question is simple,” Amir Shkedy said. The Foreign Affairs Minister looked over at the Israeli Air Force Commander, Elyezer Benny. “Can we beat them?”

Benny hesitated. “Perhaps we can make them bleed,” he said. “We took care to analyze all of the recordings from the battles over America and came up with some new weapons and tactics that might – I say might – make a difference. We can increase the odds of scoring a kill by packing additional explosives into a missile, or even resorting to nuclear-tipped SAM missiles, but overall…they have too many advantages that we cannot overcome easily. We will find it hard to keep control of the airspace over our country.”

“Yet if we surrender and give them what they want,” Golda Livni pointed out, “there’s nothing to stop them from taking the rest of the country any time they liked.”

“Yes, Defence Minister,” Benny agreed. “We’ve have the choice between stripping naked, as the President said, or being stripped naked.”

He looked over the table at her. “The IAF stands ready to fight – we all knew that it might come down to a final battle to hold the line as long as possible – but it is my duty to inform you that the odds of success are not high. Our only hope for standing them off remains Operation Masada and…that will seriously piss them off. We could discover that we’ve bitten off far more than we could chew.”

“It’s not as if we could launch a strike on their airfields,” Golda said, crossly. Israel had opened the Six Days War by striking Egyptian airfields, but the aliens based their craft well out of reach, even to the best of Israeli technology. “You’re talking about striking directly at their civilian population.”

“Yes, Defence Ministry,” Benny said. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

Ehud shivered. Operation Masada had been conceived during the Clinton Years, when it had seemed all-too-likely that Israel would be abandoned and left to face the Arabs on her own. It called for nothing less than the deployment of two-thirds of the Israeli nuclear weapons against every Arab city, military base and army group within range. As Israel’s technology improved, the circle of guaranteed destruction had widened until it reached all the way to Iran, Yemen and even Libya. Millions of Arabs would have died if the plan had even been implemented. Every Israeli President or Prime Minister had gone into office knowing that they might be the one to unleash mass slaughter – a second Holocaust – on a vast scale. The thought kept him from sleeping at times. No one, not even Hitler himself, could have conceived of such a nightmare, or comprehended the scale of destruction. The Arabs had almost nothing in the way of civil defence planning and training. They’d die in their millions.

And now…now the plan had been altered. They would fire, not on Arab cities, but on alien bases and cities, housing – he assumed – their civilian population. How many aliens would die in such strikes? How many could they afford to lose…or would they merely bombard Israel into dust and ash in response? He had always known that he might face a chemical or biological strike that would demand a nuclear response – how could he expect the aliens to think differently? They’d want blood, Israeli blood.

He looked over at the head of the Mossad, the most feared and hated secret service in the world. It would have appalled the Arabs to know that the director of the organisation was a young woman - Rivka Brennen – who looked much younger than her fifty years. Her smile hid a mind like a steel trap, filled with total devotion to Israel and a willingness to do whatever was necessary to hurt her enemies.

“We have the covert links to the Arab resistance groups,” he said. “Can’t we use them to push the aliens hard enough to force a delay?”

“I doubt it,” Rivka said. “The alien bases are well-secured by now and while they might mount a few strikes, they won't be able to inflict much damage. The alien technology is simply too powerful. I don’t think they really care about uprisings and insurgencies within the cities themselves. Only their collaborators get hurt.”

Ehud nodded. He knew which group would quite happily serve as collaborators, even without their radical leadership, which had departed en masse for Mecca and the struggle to liberate the Islamic Holy City from the aliens. The Mossad had been quite willing to facilitate transport – another alliance made in Hell – under the theory that either the radicals, the ones committed to the destruction of Israel, or the aliens would die. Either way, Israel came out ahead.

“This is an issue that touches upon the survival of our country itself,” David bar Elias said. The Prime Minister was older than most of the men in the room, yet he was still in full command of his faculties. “This is the moment of truth for all of us.

“I was born just before they came for my family and put them in the camps,” he continued. “I grew up under the iron control of the Nazis. I wouldn’t have survived if some of the others in the camp hadn’t given up their rations to keep me alive. A woman whose newborn child had died was convinced to allow me to suckle at her breast to gain what milk I could; a man who was on the verge of death gave me all of his food, accepting his own fate so that I might live. My memories of the camp remain a blur of images, of pain, of starvation, of the certain knowledge that our lives could be ended at any moment on a whim. The finest memory in my life was the moment when the camp was liberated by the Americans, who arrived one day like gods come to free us from hell.

“By then, it was too late for many others. My older sister had become the plaything of one of the guards – which she used to gain favours for the family, whoring herself so that we might live – and her lover had cut her throat, a day before they abandoned the camp and tried to flee. My mother had been beaten to death for not working hard enough for one of the SS goons. My uncles and aunties and most of their families had been transferred, we thought, to another working camp with better conditions. We know now that they went into the gas chambers. My survival – mine and my father’s survival – was nothing less than a miracle. My father took me and we emigrated to our country, along with a handful of other survivors who had banded into a family unit. I was nine years old at the time.

“And since then, Israel, my country, has been attacked time and time again, by foes as merciless and as implacable as the Nazis themselves. We were not the ones who broke the UN’s truce during the first war. Where was the UN when rockets and missiles were making life intolerable in our settlements? Where was human decency when they were using suicide bombers to kill our young men and women? We learned that we could never rely on anyone to defend us from our enemies. We made concessions; they lapped them up and demanded more. We refused to submit to blackmail; they painted us as the enemy, foes of peace, people who refused to accept the peace of the grave! The aliens are just another threat in a long line of threats!

“If we accept theses terms, we render ourselves defenceless, once and for all,” he concluded. “We cannot – we must not – accept them! Why do they even want Israel anyway? We’re tiny, compared to the territory they have already overwhelmed and occupied, yet we’re tougher. We didn’t stand up for ourselves when the Nazis came to kill every Jew in the world, having given us more than enough warning, and six million of us died! Not again. Never again!”

Ehud rubbed the side of his head. “You do know that the aliens don’t seem to have extermination in mind,” he said. “They might be willing to compromise.”

“The only bargains worth making are the ones we can enforce,” David bar Elias snapped. “If we agree to those…insulting terms, we will be surrendering every hope of preventing them from simply taking the rest any time they feel like it. Why would they consider us a threat to them? Who cares how many Arabs they kill?”

“The general theory among the analysts is that they’re concerned about the prospect of a mass nuclear strike – Operation Masada, shall we say?” Rivka said. “They may have realised that we have a plan to strike at their cities and decided that the risk is unacceptable, or they might have discovered that we have been supporting insurgency movements against them. The few sources we have within the collaborator governments don’t know anything worth mentioning.”

“The bottom line,” Golda said, “is that it doesn’t matter what their actual motives are – they’ve given us due notice. We can either accept their terms, or prepare for war.”

“We are as prepared as we will ever be,” Benny said. “Aircraft have been dispersed; ground-to-air missile batteries have been sited around vital locations and cities, while civil defence teams are ready to start evacuating sections of the population. The British, French and Greeks have said they’ll take as many refugees as we can send; the Turks have offered to serve as a clearinghouse, but they cannot allow refuges to stay for long. Besides, the security situation in Turkey and Kurdistan is somewhat unstable…”

Ehud nodded bitterly. Turkey and Israel had had their disagreements, but they’d also been close allies, sharing information and technology from time to time. They’d even discussed a joint invasion of Syria back when the Syrian Government had shown signs of aggression, launching Scud missiles towards Israel before cooler minds had realised that it might provoke Israel into taking off the gloves and just hitting back. He’d hoped that the Turks might be willing to assist against the aliens, but with a mass insurgency in Kurdistan and the Turkish Army bogged down in a counter-insurgency campaign that seemed to reach as far as Saddam’s old hometown, it wasn't going to happen. Iraq and most of the Middle East had collapsed into a state of absolute chaos. The Americans and their allies had done a good job of beating the Iraqi insurgency and rebuilding the country. Ehud wished that they hadn’t done such a good job.

“Very well,” he said. “We have to take it before Parliament, but…what do we tell them?”

“We fight,” Golda Livni said. “We cannot, we must not, allow Israel to be rendered defenceless. If the price of remaining ready to defend ourselves is fighting, then we have no choice, but to fight.”

“Against an overwhelmingly superior foe?” Amir Shkedy questioned. “We could lose this war.”

“And if we lose, what happens? Occupation. If we surrender our defences, what happens? Occupation. If we win, or convince them that we’re too tough to take out without massive losses…we gain our freedom, freedom not only from the aliens, but from the Arabs as well. We can try to negotiate – there has to be something we can offer them, even if it’s just the loan of trained soldiers – but we cannot compromise our own safety.”

“Our safety has been compromised ever since the mothership entered orbit,” Amir Shkedy snapped. “We cannot win this war…”

“And to lose means the end of the world,” David bar Elias snapped. “Losing means the end of the Jewish State! Losing means that Jews will no longer have a safe place, free of pogroms and harassment from people who think we run the world and are to blame for all of their woes. Losing means that the rest of the world will declare open season on Jews once again! You saw where it was going before the aliens arrived; Jews fleeing Europe, terrified of attacks on their homes and property. “Lose,” means the end of the world!

“There is no country, but Israel, that puts Jewish interests first, none. We cannot allow that to be lost, even if it means having to launch Operation Masada and risk mutual destruction. We have to tell them that we won't be bullied, that we won't allow ourselves to be pushed around, and that if we go down, we take them down with us! We have no choice.”

Ehud silently canvassed the group and counted their opinions. “We refuse their terms,” he said, finally. “We try to talk them into accepting more reasonable terms, but if they refuse…we fight.”

He stood up. Israel, hyperbole aside, hadn’t come close to total destruction since the Yom Kipper War, years ago. The endless war against the Palestinians had been a pain, but it had never been fatal; the Arab States had learned not to tangle with the IDF directly, after they’d been beaten repeatedly on the battlefield. Israel might die of the death of a thousand cuts, but a single overwhelming blow wouldn’t crush her – until now. He thought of the men and women of the IDF he’d reviewed only last week and felt like crying. How many of them would live past the coming week?

“Come,” he said. He could have challenged their decision, but that would have sparked off a political crisis at the worst possible moment. Israel politics tended to lean towards the heavily conservative when it came to defence, encouraged by the certain knowledge that they were surrounded by homicidal maniacs on three sides and the sea on the fourth. The maniacs kept talking about driving Israelis into the sea…and then the West wondered why the Israelis were so paranoid. “It’s time to address the country.”


Chapter Forty


Over Israel

Day 176


“Alpha-One, be aware that we have multiple contacts closing in on your position,” the AWACS operator said. “You are cleared to fire at will.”

Captain Menahem Kapel braced himself as the alien craft started showing up on the HUD. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II seemed to jerk under his touch as it turned to face the incoming alien craft, preparing to go to war for the first time since the IAF had purchased forty of the advanced multirole fighters from the Americans. There had been those in the IAF who had questioned the wisdom of the decision at the time – Israel’s normal opponents didn’t have access to front-line jet fighters or the training to make real fighter pilots out of their people – but they were keeping a low profile now. The aliens were on their way.

He’d heard the President's broadcast to the nation and agreed with him, even though he knew that the coming battle was going to be the hardest of his career. They couldn’t surrender everything they’d built to defend themselves, or the aliens would simply take Israel whenever they decided to reach out their hand. The only way to stop them was to make them unwilling to pay the price it would cost to occupy Israel, which brought it right back to the fighter pilots. The IAF was, once again, the first line of defence.

“Stand by to fire at my command,” he said, to the remainder of the squadron. The alien craft were entering range now, barely slowing as they closed in on the Israeli fighter jets. There was no way to know where they’d come from, or which alien city had launched the fighter craft; at their speeds, they could have come from the dark side of the moon. He silently envied the alien pilot his craft even as he prepared to destroy it, rapidly sharing information with the other fighters to designate targets. “Stand by…”

His thumb came down hard on the trigger. “Fox-Three!”

The aircraft jerked as the AIM-132 ASRAAM missile shot away from the Lightning, racing towards its target. He’d been nervous about the extra explosive that had been packed into the warhead to ensure a kill, but the technicians seemed to have been right and the missile was behaving normally. So were the aliens; their craft seemed to slow rapidly, then started to duck and weave as the missiles closed in. A second later, they started to fire pulses of superheated plasma back at the Israeli jets, forcing them to evade themselves. A brilliant explosion flashed out ahead of him as one of the alien craft died, followed rapidly by three more. The remainder evaded their missiles and raced towards the Israeli jets, firing as they came.

“Alpha-One, we assess you have around four hits,” the AWACS said. Menahem tuned it out. There was no time for an interruption. “Good hunting.”

The alien craft was much closer now, firing flashes of multicoloured death towards the Lightning. Menahem selected a second missile and launched it, just before yanking his aircraft to one side to avoid a plasma bolt that scorched the side of his aircraft. By some miracle, it didn’t explode and take him out permanently. His opponent twisted, spun like a corkscrew, and rocketed off into the distance, leaving the missile behind. It would either acquire a new target or fall to the ground and explode harmlessly in the desert.

“He’s on my six,” one of the pilots said, his voice breaking into the communications channels. “I can’t shake him!”

“Hold him for a second,” Menahem said, twisting his aircraft around and coming in behind the alien craft. Training told him to open fire with the Lightning’s cannon, but experience had shown that cannons were useless against the alien craft. “I’m coming right up behind you.”

The alien craft seemed unaware of his presence, or perhaps the alien pilot thought that he could accomplish a kill and vanished before Menahem could put a missile up his tailpipe. He felt an odd moment of kinship with the alien pilot before selecting a third missile and firing it at close range, breaking off a second later and diving for the ground. The explosion shook his aircraft and he had to struggle to pull out of the dive, but he’d survived…and so had the alien’s target. For a moment, the two IAF jets flew unmolested, allowing him to try to grasp the overall tactical position. It didn’t look good. The Israelis were down at least nine jets…and they hadn’t been the sole focus of the attack. The aliens had pressed in from all directions and hammered the patrolling aircraft, forcing them back towards their bases. He glanced at the live feed from the AWACS and winced again. The IAF hadn’t suffered such losses since it had been founded, years ago. The most modern and well-trained air force in the Middle East was having its head handed to it.

Damn you, he thought, as the squadron regrouped. The aliens seemed to have abandoned them, choosing instead to head inwards towards Ramat David Airbase and hammer the IAF’s support facilities. He wanted to call them cowards for refusing to tangle any further with the jet fighters, yet their tactics made perfect sense. Jet fighters couldn’t fly without fuel or fight without weapons and knocking out their bases was a cheap way to ground the IAF. He hoped that the Air Defence Network was ready and waiting. The aliens might discover that they’d stuck their heads into a hornet’s nest.

“Return to base,” he ordered, swinging the jet around. The ground defences might need some help and they were dangerously exposed where they were. The IFF systems should prevent the ground-based forces from accidentally shooting them down. He hoped. Two years ago, the Air Defence Network had come within microseconds of shooting an American helicopter carrying one of their congresswomen out of the air, after her pilot had forgotten to file a flight plan. The Air Defence Network took its job seriously. “There’s still work to be done.”

***

Rahat Rasul wasn’t exactly a prisoner, but no one had gone out of their way to make him welcome either. The last place he’d ever expected to end up was on Ramat David Airbase, but it was where the three Egyptian pilots had been vectored to after they’d flown into Israeli airspace and begged for sanctuary. The Israelis had confiscated their aircraft and personal weapons, yet they didn’t seem to have come to any decision about what to do with them. Two of the pilots remained in their quarters, expecting to be arrested and brutally tortured at any moment, but Rahat had decided to wander the airbase and see what he could learn. No one seemed to care about the security risk, not now the Egyptian Air Force and Egypt itself was no longer a going concern. The cool contempt would have been humiliating if he hadn’t been beyond humiliation, or any other emotion. He'd been told to stay away from some of the secure areas, but otherwise he could wander as he pleased.

He’d watched the Israeli jets taking off and wished he could feel emotion. He would have envied the precision of the IAF if he’d still had his own jet, or his own air force, but now all he felt was sorrow. The IAF had debriefed him and the other pilots extensively and he'd told them everything he knew, yet how could they stand against the aliens? They didn’t understand how powerful they were, or how much damage they could wreak on a squadron of jet fighters. Perhaps no one could understand until they actually saw the aliens in action. He found himself praying to Allah that some of the young Jewish pilots would survive and live to fight another day. They might have been Jews, but at least they weren't aliens. To the south, the aliens occupied Mecca, an offence to every true Muslim. Thousands had gone, the Israelis said, to join a great Jihad against the demonic aliens, but Rahat knew that it wouldn’t be enough. How could mortal man fight such creatures? Even the Americans had been broken.

A siren echoed across the airfield and he recognised it at once; incoming enemy attack. He braced himself as a roar echoed over the airfield. Streaks of light rose into the air as the Israelis fired Patriot and Arrow missiles towards the incoming alien craft. He turned to face the missiles and saw tiny black spots in the sky racing down towards the airfield. A wave of brilliant flashes of light lanced down and he found himself on the ground, surrounded by explosions. The entire air base seemed to be on fire as the aliens worked it over thoroughly, destroying the missile batteries first before wiping out the hangars and carpeting the runways with thousands of tiny potholes. Rahat knew what that meant after studying the Israeli strike against his own people during the Six Days War; the aliens intended to make it impossible for the airbase ever to launch another air strike. Their tactics had improved, he noted numbly; they’d taken much longer to take out American bases in America.

He saw a soldier, half-maddened by the sight, firing up madly with a rifle towards one of the alien craft. It didn’t seem to notice as it passed over the base, firing down pulses of light towards any reasonable target. The ground shook, as if there had been a massive earthquake, as a new fireball rose up into the sky. The aliens had hit the underground ammunition storage deport! The chain of explosions seemed never ending; he curled up on the ground, covering his ears, and waited to die. Somehow, the Angel of Death never touched him.

When he opened his eyes, he saw flames everywhere and ground crews working desperately to repair what they could. A female nurse grabbed his arm and started to work at him, before realising that he was uninjured and pulled him to his feet. She barked an order at him and he nodded, running over to assist with pulling the wounded out of the wreckage and getting them to a makeshift hospital station. Hardly a building on the airbase was still standing; the aliens had wiped out control towers, hangars and support buildings with a remarkable degree of viciousness. He'd never seen anything like it in his life. It would take months, perhaps years, to rebuild the base and get it operating again. The aliens wouldn’t let them have the time.

He found himself detailed to another medical term and started to help move the lightly wounded out of the base. The Israelis didn’t seem to care any longer that he was an Arab; they just kept pushing tasks at him, along with the rest of their people. The entire civilian population of the surrounding area seemed to have come out to help the military personnel, not something that would ever happen in Egypt. He felt a pang for his lost family and friends, and then pushed it aside. He winced as jets flew overhead and would have thrown himself to the ground if he hadn’t been carrying a stretcher. Others seemed to have had the same reaction, even though they were clearly Israeli jets rather than alien fighters. Most of the ground crew looked shell-shocked. They couldn’t believe what had happened to them in less than a few hours. Rahat could barely believe it either. The IAF was regarded with fear and awe all across the Middle East and the aliens had wreaked havoc in less than a day. They hardly needed anything from humanity if they could do that!

The base seemed to have been totally wrecked. Like other air bases around the world, it was massive, large enough to soak up multiple hits and keep on operating, but this time he doubted that it could be repaired in time to make a difference. How long would it be until the aliens sent in ground troops to occupy the bases and pen the Israeli population in their cities, as they had done to the Arabs and Americans? How long would it be before they found willing collaborators and built a puppet government…?

He shook his head as he carried the stretcher towards the waiting ambulances. Whatever happened would happen. All he could do was try to help as best as he could. There was nowhere else to go.

***

Colonel Ester Goldfarb looked down at her orders and made a face. She had been warned that such a day might come, yet she had hoped that it wouldn’t come on her watch. No one could blame her for feeling a certain…concern about deploying nuclear warheads, not after the world had held them in such total fear and awe after their first deployment. Three nuclear weapons had been deployed against enemy targets and the results had been terrifying, every time.

She looked down at the console and scowled. A day – just a day – and the IAF was already being pushed right to the limit. Four airbases were completely out of service for the foreseeable future – which was looking very short – and three more had been badly damaged. Supplies of men and weapons were being burned up at a terrifying rate. The aliens seemed to come and go as they pleased through the Air Defence Network, daring the Israelis to stop them and forcing the defenders to expend irreplaceable missiles on fast-moving targets that just accelerated out of range when fired upon. She couldn’t believe that it had happened so quickly. A week ago, everyone in the IDF had been cheering the aliens for terminating the threat from the Arabs. They should have known better. The aliens wanted the entire planet and that meant Israel too. They’d keep pouring on the attacks until the IAF collapsed and they could send in ground troops. Rumour had it that they were already preparing to deploy Arab soldiers to the streets of Israel to keep the peace, although she had to admit that that would be insanely stupid of them – unless they wanted humans to kill each other off.

“Confirm launch authority,” she ordered. Her unit wasn't – technically – part of the Air Defence Network, although they drew data from the integrated radar system that protected Israeli airspace. The network was already starting to look frayed as the aliens took out radar bases and AWACS aircraft. “Clear it with the secure link; make sure that the codes are verified and confirmed twice.”

“Yes, Colonel,” the operator said. There was a pause as he worked the console. “The launch codes come directly from the playbook, Colonel; everything has been verified.”

“Understood,” Ester said. The Government had just put enough power to destroy a fair-sized city in her hands, with clearance to even decide the target! The radar network might be frayed, but it could still track clusters of alien craft marshalling over the surrounding area before flying into Israel. “Beginning confirmation procedure…now.”

She wiped her fingertips and pressed them against the sensor, half-hoping that it would reject her identify and automatically crash and burn the entire system. It didn’t; a computer keypad blinked up on the touch-sensitive screen, inviting her to enter the next set of codes. Her fingers danced over the console, activating the system and priming the warhead. The missile, hidden in a secure complex half a mile away from her position, was ready and waiting to be fired.

“Enter the targeting coordinates now,” she said, quickly. If they delayed too long, the alien craft would be gone and the weapon would be wasted. There weren't enough of such weapons to waste. “Confirm them, and then enter the secondary code.”

“Confirmed,” the operator said. “Code inserted, now.”

Ester looked up at the symbols representing the alien craft, gathering for an attack on Israel. There were thirty of them, nearly a complete formation, assuming the Mossad’s data was correct. There was no time to lose.

“Fire,” she ordered.

The missile showed up clearly on the display as it raced towards its target. She’d primed it carefully, ensuring that it would miss cleanly – if it had been carrying a conventional warhead – and deterring the aliens from dodging or trying to shoot it down. They seemed to ignore missiles that weren't actually tracking them, but that would change very soon. The Americans had dreamed up the concept for defending their airspace against the Soviet Union, but no one had ever actually put the concept into practice, until now. It was about to be tested.

“Detonation,” the operator said. The screen went white and fuzzy. A moment later, they heard the sound echoing through the air. “The warhead detonated.”

Ester said nothing. The missile had been tipped with a nuclear warhead, configured to produce as much blast as possible. If the aliens could only absorb a certain amount of energy before their drive systems overloaded and collapsed, the nuke should have been enough to overwhelm every last drive field in the area. She hoped – no one, not even the Americans, had tested the concept against alien craft. If they’d survived that, well…she didn’t know what they’d do, or how they’d retaliate. They hadn’t retaliated against the Americans, after all…

The screen cleared slowly. The nuclear warhead had been configured to produce as little EMP as possible, but the detonation had produced a torrent of energy that had blinded the radars. Now, she looked up into open air, and saw nothing. The alien craft were gone. They might have fled, but she knew, somehow, that they hadn’t had time to flee. They’d been caught in the blast and destroyed. Perhaps the rest of the aliens would learn a little caution, or perhaps they’d just keep on hacking away at Israel until the country fell.

“Contact the Jericho Compound,” she ordered, suddenly feeling very tired. “Inform them…mission accomplished. All targets destroyed.”


Chapter Forty-One


Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Occupied)

Day 177


“She’s nearly there,” Sergeant Kalid Burke muttered, watching from his vantage point. “Don’t stop her now.”

The truck had passed through the first checkpoint without incident, much to his relief. The last time the resistance in Saudi Arabia had tried to slip a car bomb through the defences, the alien sensors had picked up the explosive residue on the vehicle and they’d blown it up from a safe distance – safe, at least, for them. Over twenty humans had died in that explosion. Kalid and the rest of the team had packed the truck as carefully as they could, then washed it thoroughly, moved it to a second location, and washed it again. Unless the aliens possessed technology that could actually see inside the truck – they’d used lead shielding to block out x-rays – they shouldn’t have the slightest idea that they’d just allowed a bomb to slip inside their security perimeter. He watched, bracing himself for disaster, as the truck was briefly inspected by a pair of collaborators, who flirted with the driver before waving her through. They hadn’t noticed!

His grandfather had recommended the driver, promising Kalid that she was a religious fanatic who would have gone to Iraq to die, if her parents had granted her permission to go. Saudi women still tended to surprise him; some were submissive, at least in the open, some fought for everything they could get from their parents and the religious authorities, and some were more religious than any man, praying at all hours of the day. His mother had told him that Saudi women tended to suffer from mental health problems as their lives wore on and they realised they’d never be anything more than things – as far as their menfolk were concerned – yet things had been improving, until the aliens had arrived. They’d found some allies among feminist groups, but mostly their collaborators had savaged Saudi women as much as the men. Kalid found it hard to blame them. The powerless always tended to kick those lower than them.

The irony struck him and he smiled dryly. Years ago, one of his instructors at Hereford had told him a story about the Middle East. He’d been on deployment to the region during the Gulf War and he’d been attached to an Egyptian unit when Saddam started tossing missiles at Israel. The Egyptians had shouted ‘Allah Ackbar’ in delight, forgetting, for the moment, that they were on the same side as the Israelis. Saudi Arabia seemed to be having the same problem. With their tormentors beating up the Israelis, some seemed to find it a cause for cheer, before remembering that the Israelis and Saudis shared a common enemy. Some of the resistance had even seriously suggested halting operations until after Israel was destroyed. Kalid had refused, pointing out that the Israelis wouldn’t survive forever and when they were finished, the aliens would deploy more of their strength to the streets of Saudi, perhaps even obliterate the fighters in Mecca. They had to take advantage of the Alien-Israel War while it lasted, and the reports suggested that it wasn't going to last very long.

He checked his watch as the truck advanced through the checkpoint and towards the target, the main alien governmental building in Riyadh. It had served the last government well – although most of the real decisions had been made in the hundreds of palaces the various princes had built before the aliens descended and forced them to flee or die – and had been shamefully surrendered to the aliens without a fight. But then, perhaps it wasn't surprising, for many of the mundane positions in the building had been held by guest workers. The Saudis had even relied upon outsiders to run their government! Kalid couldn’t understand why the country had lasted as long as it had.

Time’s nearly up, he reminded himself. It was true in more ways than one. It was hard to get any accurate information on the progress of the war over Israel – the BBC was maintaining a studied neutrality that somehow failed to provide any useful information – but by all accounts, it didn’t look good. Israel had used nuclear weapons against clouds of alien craft, a tactic that smacked of desperation, yet the aliens had adapted and started shooting down any missile that came in their general direction. Israel had almost no depth at all that it could trade for time. The aliens could just keep hammering away at their defences until they finally collapsed. There was even a report that suggested that Israel had pressed Arab aircraft into service to help stem the alien attacks, and yet it had accomplished nothing.

He looked back down at the truck and winced inwardly. His one meeting with the driver had been…odd. She’d worn a heavy veil and refused to even think of looking directly at him, while her father had stood behind her, half-scared of his own daughter. Kalid hadn’t sensed such fanaticism in the worst male terrorists he’d taken out back when the world made sense, back before the aliens. He didn’t even know how she could drive – women weren't allowed to drive in Saudi, although plenty had been caught behind the wheel dressed as men – but so far she hadn’t made a single mistake. Even if she were caught now, it wouldn’t bring the entire plan crashing down. The poor bitch had done her part splendidly.

The tricky part had been bribing the local Order Police. The collaborators often refused bribes from the Saudis themselves on principle, beating or killing the men who attempted to offer them money or goods. He’d had to send Gavin to offer the bribes, fearing that his friend would be taken into custody or killed, but the bribes had gone down nicely. Corruption was a fact of life all across the Middle East and even an alien invasion hadn’t been able to change that. In exchange for gold, jewels and some rare bottles of wine, their source had provided them with papers that would allow a supply truck to enter the governmental building. He shook his head again as the truck reached its final destination. He wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen it. How could they be so stupid?

“Now,” he said, and covered his eyes. The world seemed to turn white for a moment even through his hands, and then the light faded away into fires and the sound of shooting. He opened his eyes to see the burning building – the blast had knocked a massive hole in the side of the building – and dead or dying collaborators and aliens. The blast alone would have wrecked the collaborators and their operation, but Kalid had a far deeper plan. He keyed his radio and issued a second command. “Engage.”

He heard more shooting breaking out all over the city as the various teams produced weapons and started to engage their targets. Alien patrols, Order Police units, known collaborators and people who worked with the aliens…all were targeted for death. The aliens would have so much trouble sorting out which was the real attack – and separating it out from the hundreds of seemingly random attacks – that they’d have time to get in a heavy blow. He drew his pistol and ran down the stairs as the shooting outside grew louder. The first assault teams, concealed in other trucks well away from the blast, were already dismounting and moving into position. A handful had even been soldiers who’d somehow escaped the round-ups after the aliens had landed. He was privately grateful for their presence. The ones who’d thought quickly enough to escape were the ones he needed. Naturally, they had never been offered a chance at promotion.

“Get in there now,” he snapped, to the leader of the first unit. “Kill all of the collaborators and free the prisoners!”

The compound looked far worse now that the fire had really caught hold, sparking old memories in his mind. Hundreds of dead collaborators – and innocents who had only been visiting for the day, his mind insisted on reminding him – were strewn around the area. He nodded to the second team as he reached the first alien bodies and motioned for them to carry out their mission, stripping the aliens of anything useful and transporting it to one of the safe houses in the city. If the aliens didn’t track it down in a hurry, he’d have it transported out of the city to the coast, where a Royal Navy submarine would pick it up and transport it to Diego Garcia. The researchers there would be glad of an insight into alien technology.

He ran through the bomb crater – there was nothing left of the driver or her truck – and into the wrecked building. It creaked alarmingly as the flames licked away at the base structure – if his grandfather had been right, the contractors would have skimped on the work and used substandard materials – but he kept going. Gavin and several of the former soldiers came up behind him and joined him, moving from room to room. A pair of stunned collaborators lay on the ground, staring up at the insurgents with wide terrified eyes. He didn’t give them an opportunity to beg for their lives. The soldiers fell on them with drawn knives and cut their throats.

The next room held a pair of stunned alien workers, who had been working on a strange mix of human and alien technology. Kalid shot them both before one of them could try to fight – experience had shown that the workers could fight if they had no choice – and studied their machine, wishing he could transport it out of the compound and get it to the submarine. There was no hope of even getting it out of the room, so he pulled a timed detonator out of his pocket and thrust it into the middle of the odd device. It would explode when they were gone and add to the confusion.

“Down here,” one of the former soldiers called. “I found the cells!”

The building had once held a particular kind of prisoner, a person who had dared stand up for their right to be free. Now, the collaborators used it to hold people who displeased them, including many of their former masters. The stink was horrifying as they forced open the doors and allowed the naked men and women to stagger out, shaking on unsteady legs. Islam ordained that its adherents were to wash regularly and thoroughly, yet the collaborators had denied their prisoners any soap or water. Some of the girls looked really bad. It was easy to guess what they’d been through. He hoped, despite himself, that they’d been former mistresses. No one could have inflicted such damage on a person without a degree of personal hatred being involved. They had paid for their crimes now.

“Get them up and out of the building,” he ordered, tartly. The one thing they could be grateful for was that the former justice system – the injustice system, more like – was permanently defunct. The raped girls would not be tried for the crime of being raped. “Did you find anything else?”

“A pair of collaborators here,” someone shouted. “They’re not in any state to talk.”

Kalid looked up. The air was growing thick and the building was creaking alarmingly. “Shoot them and then let’s get out of here,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to have much more time before all hell breaks loose.”

They ran back through the building and out into the open. The sound of shooting had only grown louder and he realised that some of the collaborators had attempted a counterattack, bringing in guards from other checkpoints to engage the resistance teams. Some of them were pinned down under heavy and accurate fire from several nearby buildings, others were deploying rapidly. They’d have some problems operating the armoured cars, he hoped; they’d bribed one of the mechanics taking care of them to put grit in their fuel tanks. He doubted that the mechanic would have been able to get to every car, however, and then there were the alien tanks. How long would it be until they redeployed their vehicles to put down the insurgency?

He felt a moment of professional envy. A tank that could literally cross water, mud and quicksand without getting bogged down had been the holy grail of tank designers ever since the first lumbering beast had churned into action on the Western Front. The aliens could have tank columns heading towards the city now, backed up by their aircraft and thousands of warriors, or they could have decided to simply write off the city and drop a nuke on it. He looked over towards the west and saw hundreds of plumes of smoke rising up into the sky. Whatever else happened, it would take the aliens time and effort to regain control of the city. The hundreds of mines and IEDs they’d scattered around would see to that.

A bullet whistled past him and he threw himself to the ground, rolling over to see a collaborator wearing a black uniform shooting at him. He snapped off a pair of quick shots and saw one of them strike the collaborator in the belly, sending him to the ground vomiting blood. The counterattack was growing more orderly now and it wouldn’t be long before they drove the resistance out completely, so he keyed his radio and issued a second instruction.

“Go,” he ordered. “Go now.”

He pulled out the flare gun and fired a green shell into the air. Green was the colour of Islam, but it also had another meaning, at least as far as the resistance was concerned. Retreat at once. He fired another shot towards a collaborator and crawled as fast as he could towards the remains of the checkpoints. The other trucks would already be on their way and no one wanted to be in the area when they arrived. They’d been positioned in a car park, their engines idling, for far too long, but no one had been able to think of an alternative. They had to be in position to reach the governmental compound quickly. He pulled himself to his feet and ran with the rest of the fighters, running for his life. The first truck was already turning the corner.

He’d never been comfortable near any amount of high explosive, a trait his instructors had taught him to use to his advantage. The trucks were packed with enough explosive to take out a city block, each. He ran past them and onwards towards the safe house, hoping that they could meld back into the city’s population before the aliens clamped down hard. Behind them, the trucks kept moving, driving right towards the Order Police. There was a brief burst of gunfire…

The shockwave knocked him to the ground. Cursing, he picked himself up and kept running. Someone had been stupid enough to fire at a truck driving right towards them…but then, they’d had little choice. The other trucks detonated in quick succession, completing the destruction of the compound and the defending Order Policemen. The aliens would have to rebuild large parts of their organisation from scratch. The other attacks all across the city would have bled them white.

Two massive alien craft roared overhead and came to a sudden stop over the burning compound, dropping hundreds of warriors down towards the ground. The pre-positioned mortars opened fire at once, dropping high-explosive shells among the warriors before they could react, killing or wounding dozens of them. The shells kept coming until one of the alien craft opened fire on the mortar’s location, blowing away entire buildings to silence the mortar. Kalid felt a moment of envy – they’d never been allowed to do anything like that to silence mortars back in Afghanistan – before he turned and kept running. There was no point in a stand-up battle with the aliens. They held the advantage now.

Bet we put a fucking knife in your pride, you wankers, he thought, as he ran. Behind him, he could hear the sound of alien weapons as they cleared away the last insurgents, the ones who had disobeyed orders and carried on fighting. They’d be coming out after the rest soon and by then, he wanted to be off the streets and looking as innocent as possible. He heard a thunderous roar in the distance and saw a skyscraper collapse as an explosion blew away its supporting structure, leaving him wondering who had destroyed the building and why. His grandfather wasn't the only person plotting against the aliens by a long chalk. There were religious factions they considered too radical to be trusted.

And then there were the ones who thought the whole invasion was the righteous punishment of Allah. Kalid privately wondered if they had a point. His mother had been fond of telling him that the oil that had been found in Saudi Arabia was not Allah’s gift, but his punishment. She’d had a long theory as to why that was the case and Kalid didn’t really disagree. What that oil wealth could have done in other hands…

He checked his radio one final time, and then switched it off. They didn’t dare risk any transmissions now that the aliens were on the scene, looking for the insurgents; he’d just have to hope that they all made it to the various safe houses before it was too late. The aliens were expanding out now from their landing zones, looking for trouble. He said a silent prayer for anyone they caught and kept moving. It wouldn’t be long before it became unsafe to walk anywhere.

“I made it,” he said, as he finally reached the safe house and slipped inside. Several of the former prisoners had been brought to the house and were being examined by doctors. “How are they?”

“Bad, but they’ll live,” the doctor said. “You did well today.”

Kalid snorted. “Thank you,” he said. “Now we’ll just have to lie low for a few weeks.”


Chapter Forty-Two


Over Saudi Arabia (Occupied)/Tel Aviv

Day 179


The night sky above was clear, with thousands of stars – and the lights of alien spacecraft, high overhead – shining down on the Lightning as he flew into Saudi Arabia at subsonic speed. No one knew for sure how the aliens tracked human aircraft, but IAF analysts had wondered if they had problems tracking subsonic stealth aircraft. The aliens had tracked the Raptors and Lightnings the Americans had deployed easily, yet they’d had problems tracking refurbished F-117s. Personally, Captain Menahem Kapel thought that they were grasping at straws, even though he had to admit that they had no choice. Night was finally falling over Israel.

Three days, he thought. It had been three days since the alien craft had come over the border and engaged the IAF. In those three days, the IAF had been critically weakened; the Air Defence Network had been hammered so badly that it could no longer hold the line and dozens of bases had been wrecked. The IAF was now flying out of civilian airports and airfields, which meant that the aliens targeted them as well. It was a strange war – the aliens didn’t seem to want to cause civilian casualties – yet the outcome was no longer in doubt. Israel was on the verge of losing her independence once and for all.

He thought about the single weapon under his wing and winced again. They’d practiced deploying nuclear weapons against human targets, but he’d hoped that he would never have to take the responsibility for launching a nuke in anger. It would be the ninth nuclear warhead Israel would deploy in anger – the others had been used to try to swat more alien craft out of the sky – and it would be targeted on one of the alien cities. Almost all of Israel’s nuclear arsenal was being deployed against the aliens in hopes that if Israel were to be lost, they could at least take thousands of the enemy down with them. He thought about the men and women in the hidden launch silos under the ground – those that the aliens hadn’t targeted and destroyed – preparing to launch their missiles towards alien targets. They had braced themselves to destroy Arab cities, to commit mass murder so that Israel might live, but now…the alien retaliation might eliminate Israel once and for all.

“You will fly as low as possible along the preset course, using no active sensors of any kind,” the briefing officer had said. “When you reach your target, you will go to full military power and deploy the weapon as soon as possible. Be careful of ground fire or any CAP force orbiting the alien base. Once the weapon is deployed, return to base.”

Menahem had laughed at that, for it didn’t take a genius to know that there was little hope of escape. The aliens would come after him, intent on shooting him down and exacting revenge…and if he somehow managed to eject in time before he was killed in the blast, he’d fall right into a free-fire region that covered the entire area. Down below, alien collaborators battled Islamic fanatics, criminal gangs and the remnants of the professional armies of the Middle East. Israel had tried to track and direct their activities as much as possible, but it had proven impossible. A single Israeli pilot who crash-landed in the area would be lucky if he only ended up dead.

He looked down at his HUD, wondering if he’d have any warning before a patrolling alien craft scythed him out of the sky. Part of him wished that that would happen and save him from having to deploy the nuke. They weren't talking about killing invading warriors, but women and children, even if they were alien women and children. Did they deserve to die because their leaders had launched a war of aggression against Israel? He’d trained on the assumption that Israel would face the Arabs one final time and that the Arab populations would be cheering for the destruction of Israel, not aliens who might have been innocent, of everything apart from having been born the wrong race. Human racism was stupid, the folly of a diseased mind, yet was racism directed against other intelligent races a survival trait?

The IAF pilots had discussed the question endlessly, wondering if the American pilots who’d destroyed two Japanese cities had asked themselves the same question. It had been easier then. The Japanese had not only launched a war of aggression, but they’d refused to surrender when the war was clearly hopeless and were still making insane proclamations of victory to their own people. An invasion would have killed millions of American and Japanese – soldiers and civilians, in the case of the latter – and a blockade would have starved the Japanese to death before their leadership surrendered. The nukes had been the best of a set of bad options. Here…he was talking about unleashing nuclear fire on a race that might not have chosen to invade the Earth. No, that was absurd; they could have dealt fairly with humanity. He wiped his sweaty forehead and looked down at the timer. There were seven minutes until he was over the target, if he wasn't shot down by then. It occurred to him that he could just fly the aircraft into the ground, yet training and discipline prevented it. If Israel was going to be lost forever, he’d made sure that the aliens knew they’d paid a high price for it.

His hands gripped the stick firmly as the timer ticked down. No one knew for sure how protected the alien bases were, but no one was prepared to gamble that they were undefended. Reports from America suggested that they had ground-based plasma cannon systems and perhaps ground-based lasers as well, although if the latter were present, he was dead the moment he rose above the horizon. Plasma cannons could be evaded, laser beams – which moved at the speed of light – could not be. Building a laser system that could shoot down missiles and aircraft was the holy grail of defence researchers all around the world. If the aliens had succeeded…

Now, he thought, and hit the afterburners. The Lightning rocketed forward, the force of the acceleration pressing him back into his seat, as he rose up towards the alien city. It was a strange ugly mass on the ground, glowing faintly with illumination that seemed somehow…wrong, or perhaps he was just imagining it. He keyed the weapons box with one hand and armed the warhead. There were bare seconds to go…

The ground lit up with sparks of brilliant green light and he started to flip the aircraft from side to side, evading the incoming ground fire. The aliens could pump out a hell of a lot of pulses, he realised; sooner or later, he’d steer out of the path of one bolt and right into the path of another. They seemed to have surrounded their city with defences that just poured fire towards any intruder, even if there was no sign of a CAP. They were probably all out attacking Israel. The timer ticked down the zero as he flew right over the alien city and released the bomb. The technicians had coated it in stealth composites, hoping that the aliens would miss it being deployed instead of trying to destroy it – unlike conventional bombs, a nuke couldn’t be set off by a nearby explosion – and it was untouched as it fell towards the city. He triggered his afterburners again and fled, barely evading a plasma bolt that came so close that it scorched the wing. Alarms sounded in the cockpit, but he felt fairly certain that he could still fly home…

Behind him, the world lit up as the bomb detonated. A brilliant evil-looking fireball rose up, rapidly forming into a glowing mushroom cloud. Just for a second, he imagined he could see a laughing face within the glow reflected on his cockpit, mocking him and all of humanity. The shockwave struck the plane and he fought for control, dismissing the illusion as the Lightning threatened to dive into the ground and explode. A cold deadness gripped his heart. He’d never really believed that he could make it. Now he’d dropped a nuke in anger…

His threat receiver lit up with a warning, too late. The alien fighter behind him had materialised out of nowhere. He started to throw the Lightning into an evasive pattern, but it was too late. A plasma bolt struck the craft’s tail and the world vanished in a massive fireball.

***

President Ehud Barak was shivering as he looked up at the massive display. It was impossible to forget, yet hard to remember, that each of the red flashes on the display meant that a nuke had been detonated. It was beyond comprehension. How many aliens had they killed in each flash?

“We are two hours into OPPLAN Masada,” the operator said. Ehud wondered how the young man felt about the mass slaughter that was being carried out under his watch. “We hit five alien installations, but they’re now aware of the threat and are taking counter-measures. We lost five Jericho missiles to their craft as they gave chase to the missiles. Four other nukes were detonated by commando teams against targets of significance…”

Ehud looked at the display. Another pair of outgoing tracks was closing in on an alien installation. One vanished minutes before it could reach its target, the second exploded, allowing the sensors to register a nuclear detonation. The incoming tracks – alien craft attacking Israel – were becoming more and more numerous as the aliens targeted everywhere that could hide a nuclear silo. The country was being ravaged by the aliens and the remainder of the IAF couldn’t stop them. It was the end of days.

“And four more missiles are being readied for launch now against surviving targets,” the operator continued. “They’re being primed…”

“Enough,” Ehud snapped. “How many did we kill?”

“Unknown,” the operator said. “We have no figures for how many aliens are in each of their cities. They don’t allow humans inside their bases…”

“How wise of them,” Ehud said. “Find out!”

He’d given an impossible order, but the operator nodded and left the room, leaving the President alone with his thoughts. The nightmarish hours wore on, with fewer and fewer missiles reaching their targets. The Air Defence Network had been cracked open and shattered, allowing the aliens unfettered access to all of Israel. New windows opened on the display as he watched, reporting base after base knocked out of commission, with thousands of civilian deaths for the first time as airports were targeted as well. They’d targeted the Aswan High Dam in Egypt in hopes of drowning a pair of alien cities – the risk of flying aircraft or missiles was too high with so many alien craft in the area – and they would have drowned Cairo as well. How many more were going to die in the war?

The other display showed scenes from Israel’s handful of ports. Ships were loading up with refugees and transporting them to destinations in Europe, away from the aliens. Ehud had spoken personally with political leaders from all across Europe, begging and pleading for them to take as many refugees as could be salvaged from Israel. They'd all placed caps on how many they’d take permanently, although they’d said they’d provide transit camps for as many as possible for the first few weeks, at least until they knew what would happen to Israel. Ehud doubted that it would be anything good. His actions had made sure of that, yet…what other choice had he had? If Jews had fought the Germans when they had first come to take them away…

He shook his head. There was no point in second-guessing himself. He’d launched Operation Masada against the aliens, using missiles, aircraft and commando teams, and killed hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of the People. Israel was rapidly running out of nukes to deploy and, now that the aliens were ready for them, they were being wasted. He picked up the keyboard and typed a single command. No more nukes were to be deployed against the aliens. It was growing increasingly pointless.

There was a knock at the door. “Mr President,” the operator said, “one of the big alien craft is moving overhead!”

Ehud almost ordered the Air Defence Network to target it, before realising how foolish such an order would be. The alien craft was in Low Earth Orbit, completely out of reach, hanging over Israel like the angel of death. No one knew why the aliens didn’t simply use their advantage, the complete control of space, to bombard humanity into submission, although Ehud had his own private theory that the aliens wanted human social structures to remain fairly intact.

“I see,” he said. The alien craft was larger than anything humanity had ever put in space, by far. It was humbling to know that it was smaller than the massive alien mothership, which was still holding station above the North Pole. Humanity had refused to develop space and gain access to the infinite resources there. The aliens had reaped what humanity had refused to sow. “What is it doing?”

“We don’t know,” the operator said. “We…”

He broke off as something separated from the alien craft, falling down towards the Earth. “Sir, they launched a missile towards the city,” he added. “We have to get you out of here.”

“There’s no point,” Ehud said. The Prime Minister and the remainder of the Israeli Government was scattered around the country, those that had survived the alien attacks. “Where would we go?”

He watched as the red icon fell towards Tel Aviv, knowing what it was. The aliens had deployed a kinetic bunker-busting weapon against NORAD in the United States, smashing their way through the rocky mountain and destroying the base beyond any hope of repair. They knew about his bunker and they intended to kill him – and destroy the Israeli Government – except his bunker was deep under a populated city. They’d not just wreck the bunker, but kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians…

Slowly, he closed his eyes and waited for the end.

***

Shahar Shaindel threw herself to the ground as white light flared up in the distance, trusting in the old Civil Defence courses she’d taken during her military service to keep her alive. They’d been taught how to survive nuclear hits – assuming, of course, that they weren't at ground zero and therefore almost certainly dead – and she rolled under the table, hoping that it would protect her from falling debris. The hospital had been built to survive incoming mortar and rocket rounds from terrorist forces, but no one had tested it against a nuke. The ground shook violently as the blast wave blew out windows and sent equipment flying, yet somehow she remained unscathed. The aftershocks echoed backwards and forwards for a long moment, and then faded away.

Carefully, she pulled herself to her feet, checking for any injuries. She breathed a silent prayer of thanks when she realised that she was uninjured, and then ran towards the first of the wounded, lying on the floor. The hospital had been overflowing with wounded from the war ever since the first day, men and women who had been injured in combat against the aliens, and supplies had been on the verge of running out. They'd even had to start turning away patients and directing them to emergency facilities, praying that none of them would die in transit. The doctors and nurses were hopelessly overworked. They all needed sleep desperately.

Some of the patients had been hit by flying glass and she did what she could for them, hunting for plasters and improvised bandages. She’d never seen the hospital so short of supplies and she knew that her superiors would complain if she gave them any painkillers or morphine, not when there were so many more deserving cases about to be pouring into the hospital. She stopped as her mind caught up with events and turned to stare out of the shattered window. She found herself looking out onto a scene of complete devastation. The city’s centre had been completely shattered and hundreds of buildings had been knocked down. It occurred to her that she could be breathing in radiation, so she checked the emergency case’s Geiger counter. It recorded nothing more than the standard level of radiation. Whatever had hit the city – and she was mortally certain that it had been an attack – it hadn’t been a nuke.

She lost control of herself and broke down, feeling tears trickling down her cheeks. There would be millions of walking wounded out there, all descending on the hospital, and they couldn’t even begin to treat even a tiny fraction of them. She’d seen patients die from lack of supplies and proper treatment – was she going to have to see the same thing again and again and again? What had Israel done that the aliens would call down so much punishment on their city? How many would die in the next few days from lack of treatment? How many…?

“It’s all right,” a voice said, from behind her. She turned to see one of the doctors, an older man whose parents had both died at the hands of the Nazis. “We’ll help as many as we can, I promise.”

Shahar wanted to scream at him. Didn’t he see the truth? Didn’t he see that there was no way they could help even a tiny percentage of the patients? Didn’t he see? She looked into his eyes and realised that he knew it as well as she did. They could only help a tiny fraction, but they would help them, and as many others as they could. It was their duty.

Sternly, she wiped her face and returned to work.


Chapter Forty-Three


Washington DC, USA (Occupied)

Day 180


Karen found her heart beating rapidly as she walked towards the Order Police station, one hand clutching the authorisation papers she’d produced. Her heartbeat felt so loud in her ears that she was surprised the Order Police couldn’t hear it, or know that she was nervous just by the look on her face. They might have been specially picked to take orders and not ask questions, but her mind refused to believe its own assurances. Only the thought of disappointing the President, and perhaps getting one of his hand-picked people killed, kept her going. It would have been far too easy to just turn and run.

She’d checked the computers carefully before inserting her own orders and discovered that none of the Walking Dead were anywhere near this particular station, unless they’d somehow managed to drop off the grid. She doubted that any of them would have chosen to do so – the aliens seemed to like knowing where their toys were – but she’d been warned to watch for the unexpected. A Walking Dead man might have questioned her authority – they were completely trusted by the aliens and allowed to ask questions – and then the game would be up. In a bad movie, she kept reminding herself, the heroine would have been able to obtain a grenade to blow herself up if captured, but she hadn’t been able to figure out how to obtain even a single pistol. If she was captured, so much would be lost…

The Order Police had taken over a building once operated by the Washington PD and turned it into a chamber of horrors. The ordinary citizens still living within Washington had become reluctant to enter a police station on any pretext, knowing that the Order Police could do whatever they liked, provided that they served the aliens. The aliens themselves were almost loved compared to the Order Police, something that Karen suspected was intentional. It wouldn’t be long before humans started turning to the aliens rather than their fellow humans; after all, aliens didn’t rape or molest people who desperately needed their help. The horror served two purposes; breaking humanity’s trust in humanity and their faith in human institutions.

In the long term, Karen suspected, it would work, for a while. The aliens – and their collaborators – would establish such complete control over the country that no one would be able to do anything without their permission. They might allow humanity to continue to exist on Earth, but only as their slaves, the lowest caste in a caste-based society. Karen had read enough about Ancient India to know what that meant. The lowest of the low – the untouchables – had no hope of rising to the top, or even of obtaining a voice in their society. They were held down by centuries of tradition and the crushing pressure of a religious-based aristocracy.

Human states that had become fascist or communist hadn’t lasted long – although some had shown extraordinary resilience – and they’d always been outmatched by the democracies. Earth would no longer have any democracies under the aliens; now that they’d taken out Israel, it wouldn’t be long before they turned on Europe, or Russia. Their control and influence wasn't limited by borders – what were human borders to them? They had come for the entire world and they’d have it in the end. Humanity’s crutch – nuclear weapons – hadn’t saved Israel or America. It would have been easy to surrender and serve Daisy for the rest of her life, but somehow she kept going, sending intelligence to the President. It was the least she could do.

“Your papers,” a voice said. She looked up to see an ugly Order Policeman gazing down at her, his eyes falling to her breasts. She was tempted to point out that her eyes were actually on her face, but there was no point. His superiors probably had to tie his shoelaces for him every morning. “Your papers, now!”

Karen reached into her pocket and produced her ID card, watching with carefully-concealed amusement as his eyes went wide. He was probably illiterate – or at least she told herself that he was illiterate – but anyone could recognise the gold band wrapped around the card, signifying a Very Important Person indeed. A word from her in the right pair of ears could have him transferred to latrine cleaning duty, or hunting insurgents in the Rocky Mountains, or even dismissed from the Order Police and transferral to a work camp in another city.

“You can pass,” he said, all the fight draining out of him. “I’m sorry…”

“Think nothing of it,” Karen said blithely. It was easy now to joke and conceal her inner terror. “It’s good to know that our people are on the alert.”

She stepped inside the police station and looked around with interest. She’d never seen the inside of any police station, apart from one she’d visited while she’d been in school, and part of her was curious. A line of chairs were filled with handcuffed men and women, some of them looking as if they’d been brutally beaten, while a number of Order Policemen watched them without particular concern. Other chairs held family members, come to bribe their relatives out of jail before they were transferred to a detention camp or a work gang. The Order Police might not have been the most corrupt organisation in human history, but they would certainly give any other organisation a run for its money.

“Good afternoon,” an Order Police Captain said. His goon at the door must have tipped him off that a VIP was coming in, for he showed no sign of anything, but rapt attention. He had much more to lose than the hired thug at the door. “What can I do for you?”

“I have a package to collect here,” Karen said, holding up her papers. They were official, in the sense that she’d produced them using the same system that produced actual orders, but too much could go wrong. “Check the papers and then pass it over to me.”

The Captain knew better than to argue with a person of her authority and waved for one of the Sergeants to take her to the storage room. The package was marked out for her, as she’d ordered, and she checked it quickly, confirming that it was all there. She couldn’t believe her own success and nervously waited for a hand to fall on her shoulder, arresting her, but no one attempted to bar her way out of the police station. She waved at the goon outside, who had been shouting at a pair of little boys for no apparent reason, and walked off down the street. She sagged as soon as she was out of sight and struggled to catch her breath. It had worked!

Well, partly, she thought, and started to walk again. Washington no longer had any transport apart from official transport, a measure intended to help keep the population under control. Karen could have ordered a car and had a driver transport her to anywhere she wanted to go, but that would have risked Daisy asking questions about what she’d been doing with it. Karen hadn’t been able to think of a good excuse for using an official car, so she walked. Besides, it gave her time to catch her breath and steady her breathing. She felt as if she was on the verge of passing out from hyperventilation.

A flight of alien craft passed overhead as she walked onwards, heading out towards the Atlantic Ocean. The aliens seemed to have decided to allow the Israelis to clean up their wrecked city before they moved in and occupied the country, something that suggested they intended to make an object lesson of Tel Aviv rather than anything else. The official broadcasts had been very limited, merely noting that Tel Aviv had been destroyed in retaliation for the nuclear destruction of several alien cities and bases, but the internet had been full of horror stories about shattered lives and a ruined city. Karen had known people back in California who would have cheered any thought of Israel suffering, yet even they would have balked at such devastation. The aliens hadn’t needed to provoke or fight the war. They’d done it simply to remind the rest of the world that they could knock over a first-line military and occupy a country any time they chose. The rest of the world would probably do whatever the aliens demanded, just to avoid another invasion.

She found herself glancing around as she entered a near-deserted area. The aliens – and the collaborator government – had been parcelling out sections of Washington to people who worked for the aliens, assigning abandoned apartments and homes to their servants, regardless of whatever had happened to the original owners. Karen felt a moment of sympathy for men and women who’d fled Washington and lost their homes to alien collaborators, before cursing her own mistake under her breath. If she’d fled Washington, perhaps she would have ended up a resistance fighter somewhere in the countryside, rather than a permanently exposed spy under sentence of certain death if – when – they caught her. Or perhaps she would have died when the aliens started their mass counter-insurgency campaign. A slightly different turn of events might have had her in Chicago, if her father had accepted that job offer, years ago…

The symbol – a flowerpot sitting on top of a dustbin – was where she’d been told it would be. She braced herself as she walked towards the apartment block. She’d known that the President had had other agents in the city, including a pair of resistance fighters who kept putting IEDs in place for the aliens to stumble over, but she knew nothing else about them. She didn’t know names or faces and – she hoped – they knew nothing about her. If she didn’t have to handle it in person…she stepped into the lobby and pulled on the mask she’d obtained from one of the open stores, pulling up her hood to conceal her hair and a pair of gloves. It wasn't a perfect disguise, but there was no other choice. She was the only person who could obtain a pass for the President’s mystery agent.

She flinched as a voice spoke from above her. “Mata?”

“Hari,” she replied. “Are you Flypaper?”

“Bluebottle,” the man said. She saw him beckoning her up the stairs, lowering a stubby gun as he did so. He’d been prepared to shoot her at once if she gave the wrong answer. “Is this building safe?”

“It hasn’t been assigned to anyone yet,” Karen said, carefully. The man looked every inch a soldier, nothing like any of the Order Policemen she’d seen. She had no doubt that he would die to complete his mission. Masked and gloved, he was far more intimidating than anyone else she’d ever seen. “I’ll assign it to our friend upstairs and no one should decide to visit.”

“One can only hope,” the soldier agreed. “Come on.”

The apartment looked as if it had once belonged to a teenager in his mid-twenties, decorated with science-fiction posters and several collectable plates. The looters hadn’t been through before the aliens and the Order Police had secured the area, for several valuable computers and other items had been left in the apartment. There was a roaring trade going on in the black market for looted items stolen from abandoned buildings, often owned and operated by the Order Police. Karen had been offered enough jewellery to outfit a heavy metal band by one of the other collaborators, who’d had designs on her body. The thought reminded her of Jasmine and she shivered inwardly. She couldn’t tell her friend about her work for the President. In many ways, the relationship only served to underline how alone she truly was.

“Hi,” a voice said. She looked up to see a teenager and thought, for a moment, that the owner of the flat had somehow managed to remain hidden in it ever since the invasion. “I’m Robert Nguyen. I am very pleased to meet you.”

“No names,” the soldier hissed, angrily. “Not here, not now!”

“Sorry, boss,” the teenager said. Karen rolled her eyes inwardly, grateful for the uncomfortable mask. “Are you the…?”

“I’m from the Order Police,” Karen lied. Hopefully, if Nguyen were to be captured, it would mislead any investigators. “I’m here to register you as a citizen of Washington.” She opened her bag and sat down at the table. “This is a registration process that will add you to the official system. I’ve diddled the computer records a little and every department will think that you belong to another department. There’s enough competition between the various departments to make it hard for anyone to track down precisely what you’re meant to be doing.”

“How very human of them,” Nguyen commented. “And what if they do catch me?”

Karen didn’t bother to lie. “You’ll go right into a detention camp and never see the light of day again,” she said, flatly. “If you’re really unlucky, they’ll take you into one of their operating rooms and transform you into one of the Walking Dead. I want you to remain in this flat unless you have absolutely no choice, but to leave. Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” Nguyen said. He looked a little more subdued now. Karen lifted up the registering device and held it in front of his face, capturing an image of his features for the ID card. The alien technology was far more precise than anything humans had ever built along the same lines, making it harder to fool than human tech. Karen suspected that once the aliens had started to produce more of their technology on Earth, they’d cover the cities with cameras and track every human on the planet, wherever they would go. “How does that thing work?”

Karen held up the image of his face. “Far too well,” she said. Nguyen would have been cute if he didn’t have the indefinable attitude of knowing far more than she did. “Give me your fingers.”

She pressed his fingers against the sensor and waited nervously. Nguyen shouldn’t have been on the system at all, but if he had been registered and somehow forgotten to inform anyone, the game was up. The mainframe would realise that it was being diddled and sound the alert. The chime when the system accepted his fingerprints as being new and unique almost made her faint with relief. All she had to do now was complete the process and she could leave and get back to the Green Zone.

“All right,” she said, as she passed the card through the machine and allowed it to complete production. “This is your ID card. Do not lose it. There is a steep fine under normal circumstances for losing it, but in your case they might realise that there is something odd about it and start asking the wrong questions. I’ve constructed a legend around you that should stand up to casual scrutiny, yet if they push at it too hard, they might realise that you’re not supposed to be in the city at all.”

She looked up at the soldier, and then back at Nguyen. “I’ve cleared you for basic rations and food packs as well, which should keep you fed,” she continued. “I’d advise that you don’t go to any of the communal food kitchens and eat with the civilian population. Someone might realise that they’d never seen you before and report you to the Order Police, who will start asking questions about where you came from. I’ve put some vague notations in your file about special duties and shit like that, but believe me, it won’t stand up to a thorough investigation. Don’t get caught.”

“I won’t,” Nguyen said. She was relieved to see that he looked a bit less sure of himself now. “How do I get in touch with you if I need help?”

“You don’t,” Karen and the soldier said together.

“But…”

He trailed off under her glare, even through the mask. “You don’t try to find me, you don’t try to identify me and you don’t have anything to do with me,” Karen said, firmly. “If you need help from anyone, drop an email to the emergency server and let them take care of it. If we see each other again, it will probably be in a transport taking us both to our final resting place. Good luck.”

She stood up, packed up the device, and put it back in her bag. “A final word of warning,” she added. “Be very careful. This isn’t like anywhere else in the world. The aliens and Order Police are crawling over the entire city. You can’t go a block in places without being asked for your ID card. Don’t let it get to you. Just remain calm and trust in the system.” She grinned. “It’s working for you.”

“Thank you,” Nguyen said. “I won’t let you down.”

He was already setting up his system when she waved goodbye and headed out of the apartment and onto the street, pausing only to take off the mask and dump it in her bag. She’d drop it in the incinerator later and get rid of that piece of evidence. She hoped that Nguyen would be safe in the apartment – she’d rigged the computers to show that he had the right to stay there, but if someone decided to loot it, what could he do? Everything depended on chance now…chance, and no one questioning what was in the computer files. If they questioned the data…

She reminded herself that no one in the Order Police was trained to question the data and walked home. She’d done everything she could. The rest was in the hands of God.


Chapter Forty-Four


Area 52, Nevada, USA

Day 181


“He’s in,” Santini said. “We got an email from Robert this morning. He’s successfully penetrated the alien security system and is currently exploring their system.”

“And thank God for that,” Alex said, relieved. He’d seriously considered vetoing sending anyone into Occupied Washington, even with help from a source high up in the Order Police. Nguyen didn’t know anything that would reveal the location of Area 52, but he knew too much to be risked, at least in his opinion. The President had disagreed. “Maybe it’ll all work out and we’ll learn what we need to know to beat them.”

Jane Hatchery nodded tightly. “We may have learned enough about their society to start looking for weaknesses,” she said. “We have finally prepared a report on what we have learned from our alien captive.”

“It’s about time,” Alex said, dryly. “You’ve only been promising the data for…oh, the last month or so.”

“I know,” Jane admitted. “The problem is that we have only limited communication with the captive – we’re still not sure what his name, rank and serial number is – and Jenny refused to sign her name to anything until she could swear that it was as accurate as she could make it. A translation mishap now could have disastrous consequences later down the line.”

“True,” Alex agreed. “What do you have for us?”

“A security nightmare,” Jane admitted. “Alex, if any of this data is released and the aliens realise that we have it, they’ll know that we have a captive. There’s no way we could have obtained the data without successfully capturing and interrogating one of their people. They’ll certainly start searching for the missing pilot at once.”

Alex nodded slowly. No other aliens had been taken captive, even on the ground. The aliens in the crashed UFO that had started the entire war had died, even though there had been no obvious reason why they’d died, along with the occupants of every other crashed alien ship – apart from one. The analysts had studied the bodies and concluded that they’d been killed by the plethora of implants inserted into their brains, preventing any live aliens from falling into human hands. One, just one, had survived the experience and been transported to Area 53. He didn’t like the implications of a race that was prepared to kill its own pilots rather than trade for them after the war. It suggested unpleasant possibilities about how the alien society worked.

Human history showed a wide spectrum of precedents for prisoner treatment. The Japanese in World War Two had regarded anyone who surrendered as dead and lost to the world; they’d treated their POWs with uncompromising brutality and thousands had died. The West had generally treated POWs much better than either the Nazis or the Soviets, even during the worst days of the War on Terror. They certainly hadn’t engaged in mass torture of terrorist suspects. A handful had been mistreated, yet Alex had little sympathy. Terrorists didn’t fight by honourable rules.

And no one in their right mind would have mistreated a captive from a far more powerful race with uncertain motives. Alex had drawn up the code of conduct himself long before a live alien had fallen into human hands. The aliens were to be kept prisoner, yes, but they were to be treated well and cared for as best as they could, even though humanity was fighting and losing a war against them. They represented a priceless source of intelligence, one that could not be rejected, for any reason. They also represented a chance to convince the aliens that humanity could be civilised too.

“They probably think he’s dead,” he said, finally. It was the only reason he could understand why the aliens hadn’t started searching for their missing pilot at once. They’d implanted their pilots with suicide implants and if the implant hadn’t failed…the humans would have recovered nothing more than another dead alien with melted brains. “I take your point.”

“We tried verifying what we found out against information we collected from other sources, but there was very little collaboration,” Jane continued. “I suspect that we won’t ever have collaboration until we manage to capture other aliens or liberate a Walking Dead man from his mental prison. That said, we haven’t managed to disprove anything he told us, so…”

She clicked on the display and started the presentation. “I spent an hour putting this together so I hope you appreciate it,” she said, dryly. “PowerPoint was the only Microsoft Office product that I was ever able to use properly.”

“We should have had Microsoft make the tender to produce the alien computers,” Alex said, with a grin. He’d once spent days trying to fix a particularly nasty virus that had exploited a security weakness in the latest Windows before giving up and switching to a different operating system. “We’d beat them easily.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “The aliens, as we deduced, are a caste-based system, but what we didn’t understand was how their society actually fits together,” she began. “There seemed to be hundreds of different castes, some very common and some rare and almost unique, yet it didn’t seem possible to sustain such a system. It took weeks of back-and-forth discussions with our captive to gain even a vague picture of how the alien society works, and I have to caution you that we could be completely wrong. A single translation error could have misled us completely.”

She clicked the display and three aliens appeared, with two more empty boxes marked with question marks. “The aliens appear to have five baseline castes, pure castes,” she said. “We’ve seen Warriors, Workers and Leaders on Earth. The other two – Thinkers and Brooders – apparently stay on the mothership, although our captive thinks that they might be in some of the alien cities by now. Thinkers, from what we can tell, are genius-level intellects and are responsible for most of the scientific breakthroughs and developments; Brooders serve as wet nurses and bring up the children. Thinkers don’t seem to fight; Brooders will fight like mad bastards if their children are threatened. The other castes seem to hold them in deep respect.”

Alex held up a hand. “Hang on,” he said. “The Brooders are the only ones who have kids?”

“Not as far as we can tell,” Jane said. “They all can have kids – well, either get pregnant or get someone pregnant – but the Brooders bring up the children and take care of them. That makes a certain amount of sense. The aliens don’t seem to have any significant dimorphism between the sexes, although they obviously do between castes, and female warriors presumably deliver their children and return to duty. I suspect that sexism and feminism would be alien concepts to them, quite literally. They just don’t have the inherent trend towards patriarchy that we do. Their society seems to form into…well, we’re calling them tribes…that encompass a sizable number of each of the baseline castes, all banded together for mutual support and protection. The community that landed on Earth is simply a very large tribe.

“From what our captive says, all children are born looking identical and are placed in the care of the Brooders. This continues until they reached maturity and start going through the transformation into one of the castes, whereupon they are separated and transferred to their new castes. At some point, they merge back into the mainstream of society and catch up with all their old friends. The captive got a bit vague about this point and I think they find it a little embarssing, just as we can find passing through puberty.”

She chuckled. “The really interesting part is what happens when two individuals from separate castes breed together,” she continued, clicking the display. “They don’t produce someone from a single caste, but a child who is actually a bridge between the two castes. Our friend in Area 53 is actually a Leader-Warrior, someone who is both a fighter and a commander. My guess – they don’t seem to realise that this happens themselves – is that the hybrids between castes are the ones who end up taking the lead in specialised areas. They’re genetically selected for their roles in society.”

“Disgusting,” Alex commented. “I can’t imagine how their society works without falling apart.”

“It’s the way they’re made,” Jane pointed out. “You might as well quarrel with God himself and demand to know why He created woman with periods and multiple orgasms.”

“Point,” Alex said. “None of this seems to make sense, but…”

He shrugged. “Carry on.”

“From what we can tell, the hybrids tend to push the tribes forward,” Jane continued. “A Warrior-Worker might be their version of a combat engineer. A Thinker-Worker might be their version of a mad scientist or inventor. A Leader-Thinker might be a political statesman or theorist.” She chuckled. “They might come up with equally absurd political theories as our own political theorists do.

“Their society seems a little odd, which is one of the reasons why I hesitated to bring this before you or anyone else. The Leaders are clearly in charge, yet there seems to be a certain amount of democracy in the system as well, even equality before the law. Our own caste systems – which were far less set in stone than their caste system, which is a reflection of their genetic make-up – were effectively natural aristocracies, with the highest caste looking down on the lowest. Theirs…doesn’t seem to have so much inequality and…well; we only have one theory to explain it. All of their children look identical until they mature, so it could be that they remember being the same as the other castes. Or perhaps we’re completely wrong. This is an alien society and God knows that there are parts of our societies that don’t make sense either.”

“This is very interesting,” Santini said, “but it doesn’t answer the important question.” He leaned forward. “Why did they decide to invade Earth? If they’re so…democratic and sweet and cuddly, why did they decide to take our world?”

“I asked that question,” Jane said, slowly. “The captive was told that we refused to allow them to land and condemned a billion of their race to die in space. They were also bombarded with stories about how stupid we were as a race, how we’d never bothered to develop space and how we were inherently inferior to the People. Their leaders were quite happy to play on their fears and turn…public opinion against the human race.”

“We never said that they couldn’t land,” Santini pointed out, angrily. “We just didn’t want them taking over the planet!”

“I think it’s pretty clear that their leaders chose to sell the war to their people with such…distortions,” Alex said, before another argument could break out. “If their leadership decided to fight a war with us, I don’t think that the other castes could have dissented, not if they knew they’d die in space if they couldn’t get people out of the mothership soon. They might have reasoned that it was them or us.”

“Perhaps,” Jane agreed. “Or we could have it completely wrong. What I just told you took weeks to gather and process, then verify and cross-check. Only a handful of details were verifiable.”

She frowned. “They don’t seem to have a religion,” she added. “That matches up with what our sources in the Order Police told us. They don’t have a religion and they look down on us for believing in God. It’s not just us either. They didn’t think to bring along prayer rugs for the Arabs, or provide them with prayer rooms or even proper Islamic food. If the Arabs hadn’t managed to provide it for themselves, the aliens might have ended up with a riot on their hands.”

“A wasted opportunity,” Alex said.

“Perhaps not,” Santini disagreed. “The average Arab soldier knows perfectly well that his officers don’t give a shit about his welfare, or even his rights, such as they are. It doesn’t matter if they’re a dictatorship or a theocracy, they share that understanding. We could probably use it to create some black propaganda about their rations being made from pork or something like that. If it worked in the Indian Mutiny, it should work here.”

Alex blinked. “No one would fall for that,” he protested. “Not in a theocratic state…”

Santini grinned. “True story,” he said. “Back in the Gulf War, the Saudi Army had a problem; they couldn’t deploy to the borders with Kuwait and Iraq without running out of food. The Prince in charge rang up Washington and paid top dollar to get packs of MREs sent out from the States. None of these packs were suitable for Islamic consumption, but when someone pointed that out, the Prince was unconcerned about the faith. All he cared about was feeding the troops.”

He chuckled. “And then the MREs arrived and they realised that half of them were clearly marked as including pork,” he added. “So…they gave that half to American soldiers in Saudi and fed the rest – which were also not suitable for Muslims – to their own and the Egyptian soldiers. They just didn’t give a shit. It’s certainly something to work on after they crushed Chicago. If we could convince them that the Arabs are on the verge of changing sides…”

“It’s worth trying,” Alex agreed. He ran his hand through his hair. “Jane, did the captive have anything to say about the kidnapped women?”

“Nothing at all,” Jane said. “I think it came as a complete surprise to him.”

Alex scowled. The aliens generally kept very good track of who was in their various detention camps at any one time, yet at least seven hundred young women – from fifteen to twenty-five years old – had dropped completely off the grid and remained completely unaccounted for. They hadn’t been released, they hadn’t been transferred to other holding camps in the Middle East or North Africa, they hadn’t been given to the Order Police or the Arabs as sex slaves…they’d just vanished. The resistance had been working on putting together a comprehensive picture of just what the aliens were doing, but the analysts were completely stumped. The best theory anyone could come up with was that the aliens intended to use them for medical experiments, but to what end? And why all young women?

“We’ll just have to keep an eye on it,” he said, finally. “Thank you for your time.”

“There was another issue,” Jane said. She sounded…scared. “My team has been dissecting the alien bodies we recovered after the invasion began, looking for possible angles of attack. They found…something we might be able to use against them.”

She leaned forward, meeting Alex’s eyes. “The aliens are completely immune to our viruses, as far as we know, so any hope of them all catching the common cold and dropping dead is pretty much unlikely,” she said. “But we dissected several aliens and found some of their own bacteria in their bodies, some of their own diseases. We might be able to transform one into a biological weapon we could use against them.”

Alex caught his breath. “How sure are you that it’s even possible?”

“I’m not,” Jane said, miserably. “The aliens may be humanoid, but large parts of their biology are very different from ours. We know so little about their bodies that we might well be completely wrong about what we’ve found, but…I’m fairly certain that we have found something we can turn into a weapon. If we manage to warp it into a new disease, they’d have no defence against it.”

“Are you sure?” Santini said. “How would we even begin to test it?”

Jane shook her head bitterly. “We have a captive, don’t we?”

“You want to see if you can make him ill,” Alex said. He understood why she was miserable now. She was a doctor, trained to heal, not deliberately infect someone with a virus intended to kill them. “And what if it fails?”

“We know not to try to infect them,” Jane said. She was still shaking her head in denial. “If we didn’t infect them all, if they didn’t die before realising what was happening, they’d strike back and wipe us out. Or the disease might be completely ineffective and they won’t even notice. Alex, God help us, but I think we could win this completely, or lose everything.”

***

Her words were still ringing in his head hours later as he prepared for bed. He’d been trained to believe that biological weapons were obscene, both in conception and deployment. A biological warhead could so easily swing out of control and infect the good guys as easily as the bad guys, no matter what the designers promised. He’d heard rumours in the FTD that China had been working on developing a disease fatal to all, but Han Chinese, or South African factions had been working on a disease that would wipe out all blacks, everywhere. The very idea was obscene. The whole Chalk Doctrine and the Eulachon Program was designed to prevent such weapons from ever being deployed.

And yet, it had a tempting promise. A disease based on alien DNA couldn’t cross from the aliens to humanity. It would be the perfect biological weapon, guaranteeing the slaughter of the aliens while leaving humanity alone, committing genocide to save the rest of the human race. And yet…how could it be deployed? Could they be sure of exterminating the entire alien population before they realised what was going on and struck back? A single uninfected alien ship would be able to completely destroy the Earth and exterminate the human race. There would be no promise of a cure to deter retaliation. Jane wasn't even sure if they could actually develop a weapon, let alone a cure.

It would be genocide, he thought. It would be obscene.

And yet…he was tempted. They had to explore the possibility.

He just hoped they could control whatever they discovered.


Chapter Forty-Five


Near Mannington, Virginia, USA

Day 182


The streaks of light came down from high above.

Nicolas barely had a moment to realise what they were before they struck the ground and exploded into massive fireballs. He’d been under air attack before in Iran and Yemen, but this was different. The aliens had somehow moved one of their assault craft into position without being detected, and had then started to bombard the resistance camp. The flames spread rapidly as the aliens hit the fuel supply, destroying carefully horded gas in a second fireball. He felt a wave of heat strike his face as he crawled towards the centre of the camp, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before the alien ground forces arrived to cut off all escape.

The camp had been organised along the same lines as a Boy Scout Camp – there were actually hundreds of civilian camps existing out in the countryside, away from towns and cities, hiding from the aliens – but he’d believed that it had been impossible to detect from the air. The network of sentries and ambush points should have made it impossible to reach without one of the watching sentries sounding the alert, yet the aliens had somehow found them. Perhaps their sensors were better than humanity had realised, perhaps they’d seeded the area with hundreds of tiny remote probes…or perhaps it was simple old-fashioned betrayal. It might not even have been a willing betrayal. A person, no matter how strong, would eventually break under a combination of drugs and torture, or they might have simply captured someone who knew and turned him into one of the Walking Dead. The thought horrified him, even as more streaks of light shot down from high above; one of his former comrades could be leading the aliens right towards his position, taking advantage of the confusion to exterminate an entire resistance cell.

“I can’t get a lock,” one of the Stinger operators shouted. “The bastard is too high to take out!”

“Don’t waste the missile,” Nicolas snapped. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the camp was completely untenable. They couldn’t risk remaining there much longer. God alone knew how long it would be before the ground forces arrived. “Pack the item away and head for the evacuation points, now!”

Another explosion, deeper and darker, echoed out in the distance. “Sir, they just breached the first network of mines, at Point Lee,” Matthew Amsel snapped. The former Marine Recon Lieutenant was checking the wired terminal, linked to the network of mines and sensors they’d scattered across the area. “They’re coming up in at least company strength; they’ll certainly have more in reserve.”

Nicolas keyed his radio. They’d been so completely compromised that there was no longer any point in maintaining radio silence. “Deploy the Mortars and call down preset fire on Point Lee,” he ordered. He’d do anything to delay the enemy and buy time for the vast majority of resistance fighters to escape. “Don’t worry about exposing the weapons now; we can’t take them with us.”

A burst of static swept over the radio and jammed it, but a moment later the mortars opened fire anyway, firing shells off towards Point Lee. He saw flashes of light in the distance as the first shells came crashing down on top of the advancing aliens, before another streak of light came down from high above and blew the mortars into flaming plasma. He saw a man running from the impact point, screaming while his body burned with unquenchable flames, and drew his pistol, taking aim and shooting him through the head. There was no other choice, yet it killed him to shoot one of his own men.

He rekeyed the radio and was almost deafened by the sudden burst of static. The alien jamming system was hellishly effective…and they’d had almost no warning at all of its existence, even though he’d used jammers himself in operations against terrorists. It didn’t happen very often. Terrorists displayed a touching faith in cell phones and short-range radios, believing them to be perfectly secure, and it wasn't uncommon for assault forces to be tracked right up to their targets.

“The radios are down,” he snapped, removing the headset and wincing at the sound of heavy gunfire in the distance. It sounded as if the advancing aliens had run into the first set of ambush sites, with carefully hidden machine guns pouring fire into their advancing units. It wouldn’t be long before their friend from high above destroyed the machine gun nests and cleared the way – indeed, he was surprised that the camp was still largely intact. The only explanation that made sense was that the enemy wanted to take some prisoners and interrogate them, or they would have wiped out the entire camp in the first pass. “Sergeant?”

“Yes, sir?” Sergeant White said. He was a short unflappable man, armed with a heavy machine gun and two pistols strapped to his belt, giving him a vaguely piratical air. “Sir?”

“Start the evacuation procedure,” Nicolas said, calling to mind the surrounding area. He’d walked through it often enough to learn how it could be used for defence or offence, and he was fairly sure that the aliens or the Order Police would be unfamiliar with the area. “Group One heads north; Group Two head south. We’ll meet up using the covert rendezvous point at Point Shiloh.”

“Yes, sir,” Sergeant White said. He looked over a bunch of newly-awakened soldiers carrying weapons and looking eager for the scrap. “You lot; get to the evacuation points now and get ready to leave. Sir?”

“Designate my group as part of the rearguard,” Nicolas said, coldly. He saw the reluctance on the Sergeant’s face and felt his temper flare. They didn’t have time to argue. “You take Group One and get them the fuck out of here – don’t argue, just do it!”

“Yes, sir,” the Sergeant said. “Don’t hang about too long.”

Nicolas nodded and raced towards the command tent. The flames were still spreading through the camp, but luckily they hadn’t obliterated the command tent yet. He’d been on enough secret missions to know that nothing, but the strictest of precautions would maintain operational security, even if the mission was thoroughly compromised and they were trying desperately to get the hell out of Dodge. Two former clerks from the army looked up at him as they struggled to get papers into a secured case, silently hoping that he’d tell them that it was all fine and they didn’t have to destroy anything. Nicolas shook his head.

“Grab your weapons and get to the evacuation points,” he ordered. The two men had been practicing their shooting ever since they joined up with his forces, but part of him considered them a liability. He’d have let them go if he hadn’t known that they’d be swept up by the alien dragnet and they’d be given, at the least, a life sentence in one of the alien detention camps. “Get out, now!”

They fled, leaving him behind in the command tent. He worked like a demon sorting out the small collection of maps and encoded notes he’d made, thoughts about what the cell could do to the aliens in the next few weeks. Those plans would all have to be abandoned now, with the maps and notes utterly destroyed. Luckily, they were produced on paper that burned easily and completely, leaving nothing, but grainy ash. He sprayed flammable liquid around the tent anyway – paused long enough to pick up a picture of Nancy when she’d been a baby – and dropped a detonator on the floor. The heat of the other fires was much closer when he left the tent, and the sound of shooting was much closer, yet he kept moving. A moment later, a wave of fire consumed the command tent in a blaze of white-hot heat. There would be no traces left of the documents and nothing to betray their future plans to the enemy. They wouldn’t even be able to locate any DNA traces they could compare against their massive database of Americans.

“Sir, the charges are all set and the two groups are on their way out of here,” Sergeant White said. “I left Group One with Pilgrim…”

“I thought I ordered you to lead the group out of here,” Nicolas said, dryly. The sound of an alien plasma gun echoed out in the distance and he cursed under his breath. “You shouldn’t have stayed behind.”

“My job is to make damn sure that you get your ass out of here, if you’ll pardon my French, sir,” Sergeant White said. Behind them, the fire had spread to the remaining tents. It wouldn’t be long before the charges detonated and the ammunition supply went up like a bomb. The thought of losing the carefully-stockpiled supply of military-grade high explosive – and explosive produced by locals with some knowledge of advanced chemistry – was heartbreaking. “There’s nothing left here for the rearguard to defend.”

“True,” Nicolas agreed. The enemy were drawing closer, and losing patience. The alien craft high above was firing down now, carefully eliminating each ambush position one by one. The shooting seemed to be coming from all around them, which suggested that Group One and Two had run into enemy ambushes and had been forced to try to punch their way through. “Come on, then.”

He blew a whistle as loudly as he could, hoping that it would be heard over the din of battle. Only a handful of men had been ordered to take part in the rearguard – the noisemakers that were being detonated even now should have convinced the aliens that there were far more humans in the camp than there really were – and they should be making their way to the third evacuation point now. He picked up a modified cell phone and glanced down at its display, noticing how it still showed that it was linked to a satellite high overhead. The collaborators had claimed that the aliens had restored cell phone networks – and even improved on the various contracts being offered by the different providers – but it hadn’t escaped the bloggers’ collective notice that all calls would be routed through an alien-designed computer network. The bloggers had encouraged kids to make phone calls where they gleefully used words that would trigger any observing program – everything from ‘bomb’ to ‘alien bastards’ – and hopefully annoy the aliens and force them to waste their time. A handful of kids had been picked up and disappeared by the Order Police and that put a stop to that. Their grieving parents had been natural recruits for the resistance.

“Time’s up,” he said, clicking the phone. “ET; phone home.”

He pushed down hard on the button. A moment later, carefully emplaced charges detonated around the camp, blowing up right in the face of the advancing aliens and obliterating anything they might have been able to use to track the resistance fighters down. They’d have seen the fireball for miles around. He picked himself off the ground – the shockwave had knocked him over - threw the cell phone away as hard as he could and ran towards the third evacuation point. Only four men were waiting for him there, clutching their weapons with grim determination. The others had clearly been killed in the fighting.

“Sir, Lewis didn’t make it,” one of them said. “Jason and Tom bought the farm; Lewis was wounded and volunteered to stay behind and cover our retreat. He would have been on top of one of the charges when it blew.”

“I understand,” Nicolas said. They’d mourn later, if they lived until the dawn. The sound of shooting was growing louder again, even through the ringing in his ears. “Move out!”

Sergeant White took point as they slipped down the ravine towards the east. They’d picked the location for the camp because it would have been very hard for an enemy force to completely encircle the camp and trap them, although he knew that it would have been possible if the enemy deployed enough men and supporting equipment. It didn’t sound as if they were completely surrounded, but judging from what little he could hear, the enemy had caught at least one of the escaping groups and had engaged them in a thunderous firefight. Every particle of his being screamed for him to go to their aid, but there was nothing he could do. Quite apart from his final duties to his people, he couldn’t do anything, apart from escape. Trying to fight a stand-up battle with the aliens would have been suicide.

He smiled as he saw the lights of an alien craft high overhead, descending towards the remains of the camp. Even now, the camp was nothing more than a blazing ruin, yet they seemed to believe that they could recover something from the fire. The aliens had certainly been able to transport vast amounts of water from the sea to put out fires in Washington – they’d done it after he’d shot down their massive command ship over the capital city – and he wondered if they’d do the same thing in Virginia. It might not make any difference to the final outcome, but at least it would show them that they took the resistance seriously.

“Here, sir,” Sergeant White said. “We’ll cover you.”

The hole had been dug by a rabbit months ago – the rabbit had been caught, trapped and eaten by the soldiers - but it hadn’t taken long for the resistance planners to realise that it had other uses. Someone with a sense of humour had wired one of the covert communications network nodes down in the rabbit hole, providing a secret communications system that should have been impossible for the aliens to tap, they hoped. Even if they uncovered some of the wiring, they wouldn’t be able to tap into it without making their presence obvious. He pulled his PDA out of his belt, plugged it into the wire, and tapped a pair of keys to send a pre-composed message. They had to know that his group had been compromised and all of their joint planning had to be abandoned. They would also have to prepare for the dangers of discovering that some of his people had become Walking Dead and had been converted to serving the aliens, rather than fighting them.

He sent the message and then sent a second command into the network. They’d linked it to the second set of charges under the camp itself, detonating them and blowing up the remains of the camp. It was overkill, but if they were lucky, they’d taken out as many alien warriors as possible, perhaps even an alien transport. His lips twitched bitterly as he triggered the PDA’s self-destruct and tossed it away from their position. There were only a billion aliens, after all, and if they kept killing them, America would be free inside a hundred years. Perhaps they'd even give up and go live on Mars instead.

“Time to move,” he said, grimly. “Run!”

They ran. In the pale moonlight, it was hard to find their way through rocks and trees, but somehow they avoided serious injury. The night seemed brightly lit by the towering inferno that had consumed the camp, yet shadows seemed to leap out at them, threatening their very lives. Nicolas nearly put three rounds through a tree that had looked, in the darkness, alarmingly like an alien warrior. The soldiers nearly shot a deer before realising that it was harmless. He looked up at the stars, trying to get his bearings. They were far too close to Mannington…

The ambush took them completely by surprise. Alien weapons pounded out from the shadows, illuminating the entire area in flickering multicoloured light. Sergeant White was struck by two separate bursts of light and exploded, his body literally disintegrating into dust. Two soldiers managed to fire back into the darkness before they too were blown away. Nicolas dived for cover and started to crawl away, expecting to feel an alien blast in his back at any moment, or hear the sound of alien footsteps coming after him. There was nothing, but the sound of distant shooting and faint hisses from the aliens, seconds before an explosion marked the death of his final escort. The man had triggered his grenades and blown himself – and the aliens – to hell.

They’re everywhere, he realised, as he crawled towards Mannington. The town looked eerie in the moonlight, under curfew. The Order Police had sealed all of the entrances to the town, using the blockades that the citizens had built in the early days before the invasion, but gaining entry was no problem. He needed, desperately, a place to lie low long enough to catch his strength and plan his escape. The aliens might have successfully blocked him from making his way to one of the emergency rendezvous points, or perhaps they had them staked out as well, waiting to see who walked into their trap. The sense of being completely alone rose up within him, a sense that there was nowhere he could risk going without danger. A thought surfaced in his mind and he tried to push it away, but it refused to face. There was one place he could go. He could even see his daughter again before the end.

Greg’s house was on the outskirts of Mannington, but making his way there was still a nerve-wracking experience. He slipped from shadow to shadow, watching out for the Order Police and their patrols. They might be keeping a strong profile on the streets to prevent exactly what he was doing, or perhaps they were looking for a pretext to harass the citizens. He couldn’t understand the mindset that led them to betray their country so comprehensively. What drove them to abandon the American Dream and embrace the Global Nightmare?

He finally reached Greg’s house, slipped into the back garden, and picked the lock. He wasn't surprised to see Greg sitting on the sofa, staring at a blank TV; the entire town must have heard the shouting. Greg snatched for a pistol he'd kept beside him and Nicolas held up his hands in surrender. The last thing he wanted or needed was a gunshot being heard all over town.

“It’s me,” he said, mischievously. “Can I crash at your place for a few days?”


Chapter Forty-Six


Mannington, Virginia, USA

Day 182


Greg stared at the apparition in front of him. It didn’t match his mental impression of his daughter’s father. It was caked in mud, wearing an outfit that couldn’t be called a uniform by even the most charitable observer, looking as if it had been through the wars. If it hadn’t been for the voice – and the fact he’d clearly picked his way into the back door – he would have lifted the pistol and shot him. Or at least he would have tried to shoot him. He hadn’t spent much time at the range before the Order Police had closed it down and forbidden any more gunnery practice in Mannington.

“Nicolas?” He said, finally. He knew he sounded stunned, and not a little terrified, but he couldn’t help himself. “What are you doing here?”

“They broke the nearby resistance cell,” Nicolas said. Greg found himself shaking again, more in anger than in fear. Rumours that a resistance cell was based near them had been spreading through the town for weeks – and he had known that Nicolas was somewhere nearby – but he hadn’t expected to come face to face with the reality. “They broke my resistance cell.”

Greg stood up and returned the pistol to his pocket. “Put the safety on first,” Nicolas advised, dryly. Greg flinched and drew the pistol, carefully clicked the safety back on, and put it back in his pocket. “Keep it with you at all times. You might need it.”

He looked down at the floor. “They just overran us,” he added. “I could be the only survivor left from my cell.”

Greg wanted to scream at him, to demand to know how he dared come to his house and endanger his only child, but something prevented him from screaming out loud. If the Order Police searched Mannington – and it seemed likely to them that they would search Mannington, again – they’d find Nicolas, and know that he was related to Nancy. They'd know that Greg himself had known about the resistance cell and said nothing to them. Nancy would lose both of her fathers in one day, if she weren’t taken into custody herself. There were vile rumours surrounding what the Order Police did to young girls. No one knew how many of them were true.

“I see,” he said, finally. He wanted to shoot Nicolas and bury the body, if only to protect Nancy, but even in his tired and worn state, Nicolas could have eaten him for breakfast. A SEAL was a master at unarmed combat. “Would you like a drink?”

“Just a small one,” Nicolas said. “What’s life like here?”

“Bland,” Greg said, as he led the way into the kitchen. He’d purchased several bottles of home-brewed beer from one of the local farmers and picked one of them off the shelves, passing it over to Nicolas. The local brewing efforts had started out rivalling paint stripper, but they’d rapidly produced something that was much more drinkable. “They’re talking about bringing in new school teachers for the local school and having them design a new curriculum for the kids.”

“Give me the child at five and he will be mine for life,” Nicolas misquoted. Greg nodded grimly. It wasn't hard to know what would happen. The children would grow up on a diet of pro-alien propaganda and become good little slaves for their alien masters, living in a world where fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night was normal, part of life. He thought about Nancy, growing up in a world that saw humans as second-class citizens, and shivered. How could he condemn her to that? “How are the Riley Families taking that?”

“They took away Papa Riley last month,” Greg said. Papa Riley was the patriarch of a clan of God-fearing Christians, God-fearing to an extent that they sometimes worried even their closest friends. They home-schooled their children and watched any new developments in the schools like hawks, often loudly campaigning for prayer in schools and compulsory bible classes for all children. “The remainder of the clan decanted somewhere to the west and we never saw them again. They’d hate it. They wouldn’t be allowed to home-school their kids any longer. They’d have to go breathe in the poisoned atmosphere at alien-run schools.”

The frustration welled up within them. “God damn them,” he snapped. “What the hell did we do to deserve it?”

Nicolas shrugged. “Which answer would you like?” He asked, dryly. “Would you like the answer about America exploiting the rest of the world, keeping the poor as poor as we can because…hey, we’re just that evil? Would you like the answer about how powerful we were on Earth and how we made ourselves the first target for alien invasion, or would you like the answer about sheer random chance?”

He snorted. “If…oh, I don’t know, Germany had won the Second World War and taken over the entire planet, it wouldn’t have made any difference,” he added. “The mothership would have set out hundreds of years ago, before humans were even on the verge of realising that flies didn’t actually materialise on rubbish heaps. The Germans would have gotten clobbered first instead of us, but what else would have changed? We were just the unlucky ones who got clobbered first. It would have happened anyway.”

“You know what I mean,” Greg said, tightly. “Why did we deserve to lose our society?”

“Winner takes all,” Nicolas said. He paused. “You know, they don’t care about us, I mean…not really. They don’t give a shit about you, or me, or even the President…well, maybe they care about our leaders. They don’t give a damn about our personal troubles, or who lives or who dies, or even who won the last football game. They just consider us…disposable resources for their use, which they won by right of conquest. It’s nothing personal. They don’t care enough about us to make it personal.”

“That is not a cheerful thought,” Greg said. He changed the subject rapidly. “What do you think of the beer?”

“Beats hell out of the shit I used to buy for a dollar fifty back when I was a teenager,” Nicolas said. “I used to love Coors, but most of the rest should have been pumped back into the horse or given away for free.” He shook his head tiredly. “How long can I stay here?”

It was on the tip of Greg’s tongue to tell him that he couldn’t stay at all, but the odds of him being caught as he sneaked out of Mannington were too high. Only four nights ago, he’d been woken by the sound of shooting…and, in the morning, they’d discovered that a young couple who’d been necking outside in his car had been gunned down, after having been mistaken for infiltrators. For once, Greg believed the Order Police’s account of what had happened. It would have been out of character for them to shoot a young woman instead of taking advantage of her.

“Tonight, certainly,” he said, finally. “Go get out of that…garment and get a shower. The water still works even if little else does. Do you need something to eat?”

“Anything would be welcome,” Nicolas said, seriously. He stepped outside to start shedding muddy clothes. “Umm…do you have anything I could wear?”

“I think so,” Greg said. “My dressing gown should be behind the bathroom door. Wear that for the moment and I’ll find you something in the morning.”

He watched as Nicolas walked upstairs, and then turned back to his cooker. It was simple enough to make a quick dish of scrambled eggs – plenty of farmers kept hens and sold eggs to all comers, allowing them a supplement to their rations – and wait for Nicolas to come back downstairs. He’d thought he’d made enough for an army, but Nicolas devoured it all and some seed cake Greg had been keeping for visitors. He’d been starving, far hungrier than he’d let on.

“Get some sleep,” he said, finally. He normally kept the guest bedroom ready for visitors. Nicolas had slept there so often that it was practically his second home. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

The noise of the door closing seemed terrifyingly loud as he returned to the sitting room and sat down in front of the TV. It was blank – the collaborator government didn’t bother to broadcast propaganda at night, choosing instead to run endless reruns of comedy classics, which Greg disliked on principle – and Greg tried to focus his mind. He wanted, desperately, to escape having to make a decision. There was no good decision for him to make.

He knew what might happen if Nicolas was discovered in his house. His mind couldn’t escape the possibilities. He’d be taken away alongside the SEAL and thrown in an alien detention camp, or simply killed in front of the townspeople like others who had dared to try to help the resistance. Nancy would lose her father – both of her fathers – and be left alone in the world. It was no longer a safe place for a seven-year-old girl. Perhaps one of the other families in Mannington would take her in, yet he knew that it would be dangerous to place too much faith in human nature. The ration card system ensured that she would be a burden on anyone who took her in, without any reward or additional rations. Mannington wasn't a big city and it should be possible for someone to accept her, yet…how could he trust that she would be fine?

And what if the Order Police took her for themselves instead? What if…what if…what if…his mind shrank from hundreds of possibilities, each one nastier than the last…what if they took her and disappeared her? Would she die lost and unknown in an alien detention camp, separated from all she knew and loved?

He looked up at the single picture on the wall. Nancy stood there, five years old, held by her mother, with Greg and Nicolas flanking them. God knew that it was an odd relationship that had bound the four of them together, before Nancy’s mother had died, yet they had all agreed that they wanted the best for Nancy. So many other divorces had ended in bitter fights over custody, or violence between the partners, but this one had worked. But then, Nicolas hadn’t been a jerk or an abusive husband. He was a good person and the mere thought of betraying him made him feel sick, yet it all came back down to Nancy. What would happen to her if her fathers were taken away?

There wasn't much time, he knew. If the aliens had mounted a major sweep of the area, they would probably order their collaborators to search the town, or do it themselves. Greg had no idea how Nicolas would conceal himself, or even if he could. The Order Policeman who stumbled across him might regret it for a very short violent moment, but even a SEAL couldn’t outfight an entire Order Police force. No one would come to his assistance. Everyone in Mannington knew just what would happen to them if they rose in futile rebellion. They all knew about the town that had been massacred by the aliens, and thousands of smaller atrocities committed by the Order Police. In the end, there seemed to be no choice at all.

Hesitantly, he reached for the phone and picked it up, dialling a single number. The phone network was rather erratic after the invasion – they all knew that calls were routed through alien-controlled computers – but one number was burned into his mind, one that would always be open. The Order Police had thoughtfully provided them with a number to call if they had anything to say to them, and offered a reward for any actionable intelligence. Greg didn’t want a reward, or anything other than safety for Nancy. He waited for the answer and then started to speak, hoping that he was doing the right thing, and then fearing that he wasn't. It was too late.

He was committed now.

***

Nicolas had always loved Greg’s guest bedroom, even though there wasn't really very much to it beyond a soft bed, a chest of drawers and a single lamp. He didn’t turn the lamp on, not knowing whether a sudden power drain would attract attention; he just dropped the dressing gown in a heap on the floor and climbed into the bed. It was cold – Greg hadn’t known he was coming – yet it felt like a foretaste of Heaven itself. There was nothing like spending time sleeping on rough ground, or marching twenty miles in one day, to make one appreciate comforts. He said a silent prayer of thanks as he pulled the covers over his eyes, focusing his mind on awakening just before dawn. He had to be out of Mannington before the Order Police sealed the town off and began a house-to-house search.

He’d conducted them himself as a young soldier and knew the drill. The Order Police were largely untrained animals from the dregs of society, yet they were led by the Walking Dead, men and women who knew how to handle such a task, and were utterly loyal to their alien masters. They might well learn new tricks and improve as the war wore on, not least because of Darwin. War tended to kill the stupid, incompetent and unteachable very quickly. Nicolas was the product of one of the most rigorous and harsh training programs in the entire world. The average Order Policeman was lucky if he knew anything about guns before he signed up to serve the aliens. He feared the alien warriors, with reason, but not their human slaves.

SEALs learned how to fall asleep quickly – it was something that all soldiers learned – and the horrors of the day faded away into dreamless sleep. It seemed like bare moments before his eyes snapped open, alerted by…something. He hadn’t had such a chill running down his neck since the day he’d been awoken by someone’s foot breaking a twig on deployment in Columbia. The rebels who had been attempting to sneak up on the American position were greeted with a hail of gunfire, although the CO had had a number of sharp things to say about sleeping on the job. It hadn’t been fair, Nicolas had thought at the time, although he knew better now. The politicians had promised them that the local army units could be trusted. They should have known better.

Silently, he felt under the pillow and removed the pistol he’d concealed there. He strained his ears to hear something – anything – but heard nothing. And yet, somehow, the shiver at the back of his neck refused to face. Something had woken him, but what? He felt the reassuring weight of the pistol in his hand, yet he didn’t quite dare point it towards the door. What if it had been Nancy, woken up by his discussion with Greg, coming to see her father before he slipped away? He regretted slipping away the last time they’d met, yet there had been no choice. What if…?

He heard it then, a brief snatch of conversation, too quiet to mean anything, but trouble. He was still bringing up the weapon when the door exploded inwards and three members of the Order Police charged in, yelling their heads off as if they expected him to be sleeping and wanted to awaken him sharply enough to disorientate him. Perhaps it would have succeeded if he had been sleeping, but instead he shot the first one and rapidly moved to the second one. There was no way out that didn’t involve going through them, so there was no choice. He was drawing a bead on the third one when he found himself bathed in a blue-white burst of light from the wand in the third man’s hand. His entire body went limp and he collapsed onto the bed, helpless.

“Damn it,” he heard his captor said. “He got Chuck and Brad!”

“Never mind them,” a cold dispassionate voice said. Nicolas could still hear, but no matter how hard he strained, he couldn’t move. The voice was unmistakably that of one of the Walking Dead. “Bind him, hands and feet, and then prepare to transport him out of here.”

Sheer fury flared through Nicolas as he realised just how badly he’d fucked up. It didn’t matter how they’d caught him, if he’d been tracked to Greg’s house or if one of his neighbours had realised that he had company; he’d fucked up completely. The paralysis prevented him from even killing himself! He’d be taken into an alien compound and emerge as one of their devoted slaves, leading them from resistance camp to resistance camp, helping them to break the back of the underground. He’d become a Judas Goat leading his men to the slaughter.

Strong arms gripped him and turned him over, allowing the policemen to lock his hands behind his back and then shackle his legs. If he’d been able to move, he might still have been able to fight, but instead…he just had to take it. A new pair of Order Policemen entered and started to kick at him until the Walking Dead man told them to quit it and start carrying him out of the house. Helplessly, raging inside, he watched as they picked him up – not without effort, part of his mind noted with amusement – and half-carried, half-dragged him outside to the waiting van.

Just for a moment, as his head lolled from side to side, he caught sight of Greg…and knew. He didn’t know how, but somehow he knew exactly who had betrayed him. The sense of knowing that he’d somehow put himself right in the enemy camp stabbed at his heart, leaving him feeling alone and utterly helpless, trapped by his own useless body. The Order Policemen checked the shackles, secured him to the van’s metal floor, and closed the doors with a bang.

A minute later, the van started up, driving him into captivity.

He had never felt so alone in his entire life.


Chapter Forty-Seven


Washington DC, USA (Occupied)

Day 183


The office was all that she had ever dreamed of, which was unsurprising; the collaborator government, unlike pre-invasion stockholders and editing staff, had allowed Abigail to design and build the office of her dreams. Hundreds of carpenters, tradesmen and workers had slaved over the plans, renovating an office building that had belonged to a major corporation and turning it into a newspaper office. The Washington Times had been born.

Looking out across the network of desks, computers and eagerly-working reporters, she felt the warm glow of ownership, tempered by the caution of knowing just how exposed she had become. The collaborator government expected her to produce a newspaper that seemed independent, but in reality followed the government line. In the open, she’d have no choice, but to do just that. In private, she would turn the office into the local Committees of Correspondence node and spread information through the Internet into the hands of people who could use it. The reporters she had hired were not only known to her personally, they were known for challenging the establishment, any establishment. Some of them had spent time in foreign jails for asking the wrong questions of the wrong people, others had made names for themselves challenging the government whenever they saw an opening. Some of them had the reporter’s version of Stockholm Syndrome – they attacked the government because they believed that the government would never take the gloves off and just hit back – while others had suffered for their beliefs. She would create an inner team from the ones she knew and trusted and slowly infest the alien propaganda machine with her own people. They wouldn’t know what had hit them.

Washington had been starved for real excitement recently and she wasn't unaware of the need for some pageantry. The celebrations she’d ordered made a fitting cover for some work of her own, including smuggling older printing presses into the building and burying them on the thirteenth floor. She wasn't superstitious, but the original owner of the building had clearly been reluctant to even acknowledge the existence of the thirteenth floor. The elevators didn’t stop there and the stairs just went past boarded-up doors. It had been easy to secure it for the inner circle, yet she knew that if the Order Police decided to search the building thoroughly, they’d probably locate the hidden floor. She wanted to rig explosives in the building to destroy all the evidence, but it would be a pointless exercise. If the Order Police discovered her role in the underground news network, she’d be dragged out and shot. Or perhaps turned into one of the Walking Dead. She was still surprised that they’d trusted her with as much responsibility without making sure of her loyalty.

Or perhaps they wanted to give me the illusion of freedom, she thought, as she slipped back into her office and closed the door behind her. The aliens wanted her to feed the American public crap – no difference there, then, the humorous part of her mind whispered – and convince them that she was a truly independent editor, running a truly independent newspaper. It would be a lie, and yet, people would want to believe. The reporters she’d hired would want to believe otherwise, but they'd know the truth soon enough, at least until she let them in on the secret. It was so hard to know who could be trusted these days.

She glanced down at the report on her desk and winced. One of her best writers would have to put a glowing spin on the report, and it wouldn’t be hard. The aliens and the Order Police had launched a massive counter-insurgency operation in Virginia and had systematically wiped out a number of resistance camps. They hadn’t included any figures for how many aliens and collaborators had been lost, but some of the other reports she’d read had suggested that hundreds of them had been killed in heavy fighting. The resistance was a fluid network and could probably re-establish itself in time – the aliens were hardly winning hearts and minds – yet any pause in activities would give them time to consolidate what they’d won. It might be months – or years – before the resistance spread back into Virginia.

Or perhaps they’re lying through their teeth, she thought, trying to remain hopeful. She still had her links to the underground newspaper and they suggested that there was still hope. Eliminating an insurgency completely was nearly impossible – it required a political solution better than offering people a choice between permanent servitude and death – yet it was definitely possible to cripple it. Given enough time, the aliens and their collaborators would establish a police state that would dwarf the worst that humanity had ever produced. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union wouldn’t come close to the sheer level of horror that would be unleashed across America.

There was a knock on the door. “Your latest appointment is here, editor,” her secretary said. She’d hired an up-and-coming young woman who freely admitted that she knew nothing about reporting, but she knew how to manage an office. Abigail had hired her purely at a whim, but so far Dana had more than proved her worth. “And I have to remind you that you’re expected in the Green Zone in two hours.”

“Thank you,” Abigail said, seriously. “I’ll be out in an hour, so please have my car brought around to the front entrance for then and I’ll be on my way.”

She looked up as one of the new Captains of Industry – as the alien news broadcasts had termed them – entered the office. She’d met him before when she’d been a lowly reporter and she was mildly surprised that he had chosen to collaborate – he’d once opened every stockholder’s meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance – but he’d had millions of people working, either directly or indirectly, for him. The aliens had probably given him a choice between working for them or having his company taken away and given to someone more inclined to be loyal. And perhaps he was working for the resistance. It was the one question she couldn’t ask.

Don’t ask, don’t tell, she thought with wry amusement, and settled back to listen to him. He had no surprises for her, merely trading a few snippets of information and hinting at more, in exchange for favourable reviews in the newspaper. It wasn't quite up to the standards of bribery practiced before the invasion – most newspapers had had ethics policies that were supposed to prevent reporters from accepting favours, gifts or bribes, all of which were widely ignored – but he probably didn’t want much from her. A few favourable mentions would help him to rebuild his shattered staff and help him to serve the aliens – and perhaps the country.

She leaned back in her chair, feeling a sudden wave of depression that must have showed on her face, for he looked concerned and even worried. The longer the occupation lasted, the more and more Americans who would be forced into collaboration, willingly or otherwise. They wouldn’t be men and women drawn from the dregs of society like the Order Police, but the men and women who made society work, collaborating because there was no other choice. The memories of an independent America and a world without alien life forms would fade away, replaced by tolerance, acceptance and finally accommodation. The United States would die, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Resistance would become pointless and futile.

“I shouldn’t worry about it,” she said, finally. “I’ll make sure you get all the mentions you could possibly want.”

They shook hands firmly and he allowed her to lead him out to the door, before she walked downstairs and into her own car, savouring the luxury for a long moment. There were few cars left running in Washington now – the fuel shortage had seen to that – and those that were running belonged to the elite. She wasn't unaware of the dangers – someone had shot an antitank rocket into a collaborator’s car in Los Angeles, destroying it utterly – yet not using the car would have looked suspicious. She leaned back and breathed in the smell of the leather seats, trying to relax. It was going to be a long day.

It was hours later when she was finally allowed to leave the Green Zone, having been given her marching orders, without even a trace of politeness. Daisy Fairchild – the collaborator-in-chief – had been bad enough, but coming face to face with the former Vice President had been worse. If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought that she was looking at a man with severe learning disabilities, not one of the Vice Presidents of the United States. The Vice President was normally about as useful as tits on a bull – hence the many jokes about them having been chosen for the wrong reasons – but whatever had happened to him wasn't funny. It made her wonder how many other men had been converted into Walking Dead…and how often the process went badly wrong.

Her driver drove her back to her apartment and escorted her up the stairs. Now that she was formally part of the collaborator government, she was probably entitled to much better quarters, but she simply hadn’t had the time to organise a move. Besides, the hidden printing presses and other equipment in the basement would have to be destroyed or moved before someone else was moved into the apartment. She checked her laptop quickly, consulted a pair of trustworthy web forums discussing the implications of the alien operations against Israel, and jumped into the shower. It was such a relief to just allow the warm water to run down her body and forget everything else. She wanted to remain there forever. Sadly, she turned off the shower, dried herself, and headed for bed. Tomorrow was going to be another busy day.

She was half-asleep when she heard the knock at the door. It wasn't soft, but hard, loud enough to send a chill down her spine. Men and women in Washington had learned to dread the sound of someone knocking at night, knowing that it meant that the Order Police had taken an interest in them. She thought about hiding under the covers, or trying to sneak away, but it would do no good. They had authority to knock down the door if she didn’t open it quickly enough for their liking. She pulled herself out of bed, picked up her blue nightgown and donned it quickly, suddenly aware of how revealing it was. The knock came again and she pushed the thought out of her mind. If she didn’t open the door quickly, she’d be lucky not to be arrested on the spot.

“I’m coming,” she said, as she pulled the sash around her midriff and walked to the door. She’d installed bolts as well as the standard lock, but they wouldn’t stand up to a determined attempt to break down the door. “I’m coming…”

She opened the door to see four Order Policemen standing there. She opened her mouth to demand to know what they thought they were doing, but two of them stepped forward, grabbed her and pushed her backward into the wall. She squawked in protest as rough hands spun her around, pushed her face against the hard wall, and cuffed her hands behind her back. She kicked out before remembering where she was and was rewarded with a boot in the rear that left her gasping in pain. Cold gloved hands searched her rapidly, before a hand returned to her back and held her firmly in place.

“Stay where you are,” a voice growled, in her ear. Abigail could barely hear him over the racket. It sounded as if an entire army had barged into her apartment and was searching the place roughly, tearing their way through her clothes and supplies. “You’ve upset the Big Eyes and they aren’t very happy with you.”

She caught her breath, feeling pain trickling down her cheek from where it had been banged against the wall. The cuffs felt as if they were cutting off her circulation, leaving her hands feeling numb, reminding her of her sudden helplessness. The Big Eyes were the alien leaders, slang that Abigail herself had helped spread through America. If they weren't happy with her…what did they think that she had done? Several answers suggested themselves and she shivered, feeling cold air blowing through her nightgown. If they knew everything she’d done, she’d be lucky not to be simply turned into one of the Walking Dead and then put back to work.

“I don’t understand,” she said, finally. “I have their permission…”

A rough hand pushed her head against the wall, hard. “I said be quiet,” the man hissed. Abigail opened her mouth to point out that he hadn’t said any such thing, and then closed her mouth, knowing that it would just earn her a beating, or worse. “They told us to arrest you and search your flat. Is there anything you want to tell us?”

One hand slipped down to her buttocks and gave them a squeeze. “Or is there anything you want to do for us?” He asked. “We can be quite…accommodating to anyone who treats us right.”

Abigail shook her head slowly. “No?” He asked. “Very well. Don’t say we didn’t make the offer.”

Another Order Policeman entered from her bedroom, holding one of her laptops in one hand. “We only found this and two other laptops, sir,” he said. “The bitch has quite an interesting taste in underwear, but we found nothing else incriminating.”

Abigail found herself blushing furiously. She hated it when she blushed at the best of times, let alone when leering men were holding her captive. She’d been arrested before – it was one of the risks of being a reporter who went where the story was – but even the most repressive regimes had thought twice about hurting American civilians. The worst she’d had was a week in a Columbian jail with a pair of sadistic female guards. She would have almost have had preferred male guards.

But the Order Police…they could do anything to her, anything at all, and they wouldn’t face any punishment or sanctions. The one holding her could drag her to the bed and rape her, or do anything to her. Her mind kept racing through the question, over and over again; how had they found her? How had they known what she was doing? How had they known?

“What a disappointment,” the one holding her said. She guessed that he was the leader, or at least the others seemed to take orders from him. He pushed two fingers up between her legs and she yelped in pain. “Perhaps we should inspect your cavities and see what you might be hiding there…?”

Abigail cringed, but a new voice spoke before she could say anything.

“That will not be required,” it said. It was cold and utterly inhuman, yet oddly familiar. “You will merely prepare her for prisoner transport.”

Strong hands gripped her and turned her around. The Order Policemen were wearing masks, perhaps intended to terrify, or merely intended to hide their identities from the resistance, but the Walking Dead man wore no mask. Somehow, she knew who he was before she saw his face, remembering him as a living human being. It all made sense now. They’d taken him away in handcuffs and converted him, only to discover that he’d been innocent all along. It wouldn’t have taken them long to deduce who was truly to blame.

“Percy,” she said. The cold eyes were nothing like the ones that had gazed upon her body with lust, yet the face was the same, if expressionless. No, there was an expression there, something she’d never seen on the face of a Walking Dead man before. “I’m sorry.”

“You betrayed me,” he said. His voice was almost emotionless, but she could hear the faintest trace of…anticipation, perhaps even gloating at her downfall. “They altered me. Made me better. Told me of you and what you’d done for me. We allowed you to run free for a time so we could watch you, learn who you would bring into your newspaper, see which reporters could not be trusted. You have been selected for something special.”

Abigail stared at him, knowing what that meant. She’d become just like him. “You will prepare her for transport,” Percy ordered the Order Policemen. “You may not have your fun with her. Her destiny lies elsewhere.”

She cringed back as the Order Policeman holding her produced a knife and cut through her nightgown, leaving it lying on the ground behind her. Her panties followed a moment later, leaving her completely naked and exposed. She tried to bring up her knee to knee him in the groin, but he just slapped her down and then slapped her face, hard. She fell to the ground and he grabbed her feet, shackling them together and making it hard to walk – and impossible to run. There was no way out of her position. They helped her to her feet – taking the opportunity to run their hands over her body as they did so – and gently pushed her towards the door. She’d have to walk downstairs in the cold completely naked. Under other circumstances, the thought would have humiliated her beyond belief. Now, it hardly seemed to matter.

“Keep moving,” the Order Policeman snapped, when she looked back at her door. A handful of her neighbours had looked outside, saw her and her escorts, and looked away. She wanted to ask them to lock the door, but it was the least of her worries. She’d never see the flat again, or if she did, a stranger would be looking out of her eyes. She looked over at Percy’s expressionless face and shivered. Was that what she would look like, after the aliens had finished with her?

“Do not fear,” Percy said, as she was pushed into a van and forced to sit on a cold metal bench. “Soon, all your fear will be gone.”


Chapter Forty-Eight


Alien Base, Western USA

Day 183


Dolly lay on the bed the aliens had provided and tried to distract herself from her thoughts. It wasn't working. The aliens had given her a small room – shaped rather like an egg – and had made it clear that she wasn't allowed to leave. The door seemed to open in a different place each time and she hadn’t been able to figure out how to open it for herself, which made sense if the aliens considered her a prisoner, or perhaps even less than a prisoner. She had a nasty feeling that the real word was ‘experimental animal’ as that seemed to suit her circumstances perfectly. Every so often, they took her out of her room, ran her through a series of tests that made little sense to her, and then returned her to her quarters. She’d lost count of how many times they’d tested her, or even how long she’d been in the alien installation. Her previous life was starting to seem like a dream. Had she really been a sniper battling advancing Arabs, Order Policemen and Warriors – and killing an alien Leader – or had it just been a fantasy?

She closed her eyes and tried to think of the last film she’d seen, carefully nitpicking away at the plot. It had been a drama about the war in Afghanistan, written by someone who hadn’t been closer to Afghanistan than Kansas and directed by someone else who knew about as much of the military as Dolly did about the far side of the moon. American soldiers had been portrayed as killers, slaughtering the local population for shits and giggles, while the Taliban fighters they’d engaged had been noble heroic men defending their homes and families from the thugs the President had unleashed upon them. It had been nothing less than enemy propaganda intended to smear American soldiers. Dolly liked to think that she wouldn’t have fallen for it anyway, but Chicago had played host to a few Afghani refugee families and some of their girls had gone to High School with her. The tales they’d told of life under the Taliban had been horrific. Dolly knew that there were plenty of jocks in High Schools who thought of girls as nothing more than attractive social symbols, but they didn’t come close to matching the murderous misogyny of the Taliban. And she had been intended to think of abusive bastards like that as heroes!

And she would almost have welcomed the Taliban now, for the aliens simply didn’t care about her. They took her into their labs, ran their tests, and then returned her to their room. She’d tried to talk to them and they hadn’t replied – hell, she wasn't even sure that they’d heard her voice. The larger aliens, the leaders and the other castes she didn’t know, seemed to watch as she was put through her paces, ordering a handful of changes from time to time. One test had caused her to orgasm suddenly, with an intensity that had brought her to the brink of collapse, while a second had made her feel as if her body had been ducked into acid, leaving her convinced that she was on the brink of death. She’d worn her throat raw screaming, yet the aliens hadn’t cared. They’d repaired the damage, somehow, but she knew that they hadn’t done it for her. They’d repaired her for their own reasons, and somehow she was sure that those reasons weren't good ones.

It would have been easier to bear if she’d had human company, or even something to distract her from her predicament, but the aliens hadn’t allowed their different human captives to meet and talk, let alone share their experiences. She’d seen a handful of other humans – including women she was sure hadn’t come from the prison camp – in the alien compound, but only from a distance. The aliens hadn’t allowed them to even exchange more than faint smiles. They’d just hurried their captives on and continued with their experiments. The racial diversity among the human women was worrying. She’d seen women who looked as if they came from Africa, the Middle East and even India. Had the aliens extended their hold as far to the east as India? Endlessly, she tossed possibilities around in her mind.

She stared down at her bare breasts and wondered why being unclothed permanently didn’t worry her. Her mind didn’t seem to be damaged, yet she should have been on the verge of madness or hysteria, and she hadn’t lost her mind as far as she could tell. It had occurred to her that if she had lost her mind, she wouldn’t know about it, but she was sure that she was still sane. The aliens had done something to her to ensure that she would be permanently calm and compliant. Logic suggested that they’d drugged her or implanted her with something – perhaps a post-hypnotic command of some kind – to ensure that she didn’t get out of hand. They might even have inserted a tracker implant into her to make sure they didn’t lose their experimental subject. Her hand twitched down between her legs, but she pulled it away, convinced that the aliens were watching her. They might have her under observation permanently, just to see how she would react.

And her period hadn’t come.

She didn’t want to think about it, but she’d been three weeks into her cycle when she’d been captured and raped. The medics at the camp hadn’t been able to tell her if the Arabs had impregnated her or not, but she’d had a contraceptive implant inserted ever since she’d become sexually active and it should have been impossible. She certainly hadn’t become pregnant when she’d been sleeping with her last boyfriend before he’d dumped her for a blonde with bigger breasts and a nicer smile. She should still have had at least a mild period, however, and it hadn’t arrived. Was it stress…or something more sinister?

Her mother had been very frank with her, perhaps too frank. Her period could be delayed if she became very unhealthy, or if she was under considerable stress. She’d been healthy before she’d been transported to the alien base and she’d been fed human foodstuffs, including fresh fruit and other luxuries. She shouldn’t have become unhealthy and while it was tempting to speculate that her body was refusing to have a period to avoid giving the aliens something to gawk at, she knew better. Perhaps she’d only been their captive for two days or less – it was impossible to know for sure – or perhaps…she didn’t want to think about the other possibilities. They were just too scary, even if it seemed to be impossible for her to get scared. She wanted to escape and get back home, but how? There was no way out of the alien base without their help. What, she wondered, would Buffy the Vampire Slayer do?

The wall flowed silently back, revealing a pair of the little worker aliens, who looked at her with expressionless eyes. She’d felt revulsion when she’d first seen the augmented cyborg aliens, but now she was almost used to their presence, preferring them to the Arabs who’d taken advantage of her. The lead alien beckoned her to her feet and she reluctantly complied, remembering the time she’d lain on her bed and refused to move. The aliens had jabbed her with an electric prod and forced her to move before they jabbed her again. The experience had been unpleasant beyond words.

“Hello,” she said, as one of the aliens turned to lead her out of the room. She pushed as much brightness as she could into her voice. “What are we doing today?”

They didn’t answer. They never did. Instead, they led her though a series of twisting corridors – the complex seemed to be different every time they took her out of her cell – towards one of the alien chambers. She looked from side to side, trying to memorise the layout, even though it was futile. Hundreds of aliens swarmed about, some of them turning to look at her with cold dark eyes. The feeling in the air was almost surreal, as if it wasn't quite real. She had long since given up hoping that she was just having a bad dream. The nightmare was far too real.

“Hey,” she said, suddenly. She’d caught sight of another human, a young woman she thought she recognised from the camp. “Can you hear me?”

Her escort jabbed her in the behind with pointed fingers and forced her onwards before the other woman could react. She might not have been able to react anyway. She had had a slack-jawed expression that suggested that she was taking refuge in madness, falling into a state where her mind could no longer grasp what was happening to her. Dolly wasn't sure if she should envy her or pity her. It would have been nice to just let go of the world and forget everything.

They stopped suddenly outside a blank wall. Dolly knew what would happen before it did, watching without surprise as the wall somehow moved out of the way, revealing…not another medical centre, but a garden. The scent of plants and flowers was almost suffocating, yet they were strange, utterly unfamiliar. She looked down at a long flower that looked like something out of a cartoon fairyland and shivered. The aliens had brought their ecosystem with them.

But why, she asked herself, should that have been a surprise? Humanity had always brought their own plants and animals wherever they had colonised. She remembered watching movies about Native Americans before the coming of the Evil White Man and how they’d ridden majestically across the plains…except they’d never done any such thing. The horses they’d ridden hadn’t been introduced to America until the Europeans arrived and started to colonise the continent. They’d also brought smallpox and countless other diseases with them, diseases that had wiped out hundreds of thousands of Native Americans. The diseases, more than anything else, had ensured that a hardier breed of humanity would settle the continent. Had the aliens brought diseases of their own from their homeworld?

Her escort paused and pointed one long cybernetic finger towards something moving in the plant life. For a moment, Dolly thought that she was looking at a massive tortoise, before it came out into the open and she could see it clearly. It was horrific, so alien that she could barely look at it, a mixture of spider, crab and dog. It moved on six clawed legs that worked to propel it from place to place, while a masticating mouth munched its way through the vegetation. A long tentacle with an eyeball on the end glided upwards to peer at her, almost disturbingly human. She stared at it, then reached out a hand and batted it away. The creature, whatever it was, emitted a high-pitched hooting noise and scuttled away. She watched it go, feeling sweat trickling down her back that had nothing to do with the warm air. The alien creature might have been able to catch her if it had come after her.

They walked on into a clearing. One of the taller aliens was standing there, waiting for her. She thought that it was the one she thought of as the Doctor, the one who carried out the medical tests on her, but it was impossible to be certain. The aliens seemed indistinguishable from each other, as far as she could tell. They might have recognised one another through scent, or perhaps even telepathy. She was sure that they didn’t recognise each other by facial cues. They were just too similar for that to work.

“This is our world,” the Doctor said. Dolly stared at him. It was the first time the aliens had spoken to her beyond issuing simple orders. “This is where we were born.”

Dolly looked around, up into a bright blue sky that looked as if it was subtly the wrong colour. They couldn’t have been transported to the alien homeworld, could they? If the aliens had that sort of power, the war wouldn’t have lasted very long at all, nor would they have needed Earth. There would have been countless planets they could settle without invading the Earth. It dawned on her that she was inside a biosphere on an alien base, where their plants had been grown on Earth, and she felt stupid. Now she knew what she was looking at, there was an artificial tinge to the light burning down on her naked back, convincing her that she hadn’t left Earth at all.

“It’s pretty,” she said, truthfully. There was something fantastically magnificent about the whole area. It was just…beautiful. “Why…?”

“These plants will be introduced to your world,” the Doctor informed her. “They have been engineered to grow rapidly, perfectly adapted to your planet’s atmosphere, and spread through your biosphere. They will bring a little of home to this world and adapt it for long-term habitation. Your crops will share their world with our plants and other aspects of our ecosystem.”

Dolly stared at him. “Why…?”

“We wish to live on your world,” the Doctor said, flatly. “We are adapting it for our use.”

Dolly felt her head spinning. The aliens had tricked the entire human race. They’d launched an invasion of the planet and mounted a massive attack on Chicago – she remembered the alien leader she’d killed and felt a surge of rage – just to decoy humanity, while the real invasion, the terraforming – alien-forming – of planet Earth got underway. She couldn’t remember much from her ecology classes – too many teachers had concentrated on the political aspects rather than the practical aspects – but a quote from a famous writer came back to her mind. If the introduction of rabbits to Australia had been intended as an act of ecological warfare, it would have been the greatest success in the history of war. The rabbits had been introduced into an environment that wasn’t prepared for them and they’d torn through it, breeding rapidly and nibbling away at the crops. She couldn’t remember if they’d threatened the Australians with famine, but they might well have done.

“You can’t do that,” she protested. “You’ll wreak havoc!”

“The process is already underway,” the Doctor informed her. Dark eyes rose to meet hers, staring into her very soul. “You are part of that process. The child you carry within your womb will bind our two races together.”

She felt her entire body go numb. He couldn’t mean…he just couldn’t mean that they’d made her pregnant, could he? They couldn’t have impregnated her. They’d never had sex with her – the thought of having sex with one of the aliens caused her to feel queasy – and yet, they could easily have inseminated her with sperm during one of their experiments. The thought was disgusting, sickening. What would a human-alien hybrid look like? Was it even possible to create such a being? It seemed impossible, yet if the aliens could live on Earth, and introduce parts of their ecosystem into Earth’s biosphere, why couldn’t they start adapting the human race as well?

“You made me pregnant?” She repeated. Hysterical laughter bubbled up within her throat and she found herself giggling helplessly. “I’ve been raped by a bunch of creatures out of a bad science-fiction movie?”

“You are bearing one of our children,” the Doctor said, severely. He hadn’t laughed at her joke, but she was starting to think that the aliens had nothing reassembling a sense of humour. She touched her belly and wondered if she’d feel anything, before realising that she was being silly. It would be months before she could feel the baby inside her. “You will help bring our races closer together.”

She caught herself and stared at the alien, wishing she could feel real anger. Just for a second, just long enough to lunge at the Doctor and snap his neck. The anger refused to form in her mind. The drug, or whatever it was they’d done to her, was hellishly effective. It was all she could do to form one question.

“Why?”

“Your race must learn to fit in with the People of the Races,” the Doctor said. “The children will be a step towards total synthesis of the Races. You should be honoured to be part of the grand design.”

“I don’t want children,” Dolly said, very definitely. She’d had her life planned out for years. She would win sharp-shooting competitions, become an instructor herself and perhaps marry and have kids later in life. She had been quite happy to enjoy herself with her boyfriends, but children…no, not yet. “Get rid of it.”

“I cannot do that,” the Doctor said. “You should be honoured to be part of the grand design.”

“I'm not honoured,” Dolly said, angrily. Her mother’s advice on sex had been simple. Think through it before you commit yourself, she’d said, and always take precautions until you wanted to get pregnant. It saved months of agonising over having an abortion or an early baby. “I don’t want this kid. Get rid of it.”

For a moment, she could have sworn that the alien hesitated. “I don’t love the child,” she said. She could bluff. Why not? Perhaps the aliens could be tricked. “My body might absorb it or reject it without my love. You’d end up without a child and perhaps without me.”

There was a long pause. She looked down, away from the dark alien eyes. If they could look into her mind, they'd know she was lying. Women had carried unwanted children to term ever since the human race had appeared on Earth. There was no way she could force her body to abort the hybrid child.

“No,” the Doctor said, calling her bluff. He made a complex hand gesture to the two workers and one of them gripped her arm, pulling her back towards the door. “You will carry our child. That is beyond dispute.”


Chapter Forty-Nine


Mannington, Virginia, USA

Day 184


“The reports aren’t that clear,” Pepper said, “but we’re looking at over five hundred captured or killed, and at least a dozen resistance camps destroyed. It doesn’t look good.”

The President nodded. He was not unaware of the irony of his position. A day ago, a company of Order Policemen had moved into Mannington, taking over a school and a couple of other buildings and using them for billets. They were right on top of the man they most wanted to catch and they didn’t know it. It worried him more than he let on, despite the growing cabin fever. If they stumbled across the bunker, they’d have no route of escape. The designers had never built a tunnel leading out of the bunker that came up somewhere outside the town’s borders.

“No, it doesn’t,” he agreed, dryly. The resistance was flexible, spearheaded by men who’d been through the toughest training courses that the United States had designed, yet losing so many people had to hurt. The countryside was a network of interlocking families and relations who might serve as the base of a new resistance network, yet the aliens and their collaborators were clearly moving to capitalise on their success. The news bulletins announced new regulations and controls on movement every day, binding the American population into a trap made of red tape. There was another irony there, he concluded; the people who elected him had told him, time and time again, that there was too much red tape from Washington. He’d even cut as much of it out as he could. Now…the entire country was drowning in red tape. “What do we do now?”

Pepper looked down at the latest report. “We wait,” she said, firmly. “There’s no way we can sneak out of the town now, but they can’t keep that force on our heads forever. Sooner or later, they’ll have to pull it out and then we can breathe easier, for a while.”

The President shrugged. The latest electronic edition of Committees of Correspondence had included a set of pictures of Jacob Thornton, taken by someone who had sneaked a camera into one of his few press sessions. It was easy to see why such images had been banned; the Vice President of the United States looked as if he was on the verge of collapsing into a drooling moron. On one hand, the President was silently relieved that his old friend hadn’t betrayed the country willingly; on the other, it was a reminder of the fate he could expect if he fell into enemy hands. No one knew why Jacob Thornton had become…that, instead of another of the Walking Dead, although the doctors had had several theories. The one the President suspected was correct was the most depressing; the process didn’t always work perfectly and the other failures were simply disposed of by the aliens. They took far more prisoners than emerged as Walking Dead. The Vice President couldn’t simply be removed, not if they wanted – needed – to use him to give their government some form of legitimacy.

He looked down at the list and smiled at the faint image of a Japanese man carrying a executioner’s axe. The Little List section of the newspaper included a list of known collaborators and Walking Dead, urging every halfway decent member of American society to execute all collaborators without mercy. The list bothered him more than he cared to admit. He had no objections to executing traitors and collaborators, but some of the people on the list – including Karen – were sources for the resistance. Karen had been a stroke of luck, but others had been deliberately inserted by various resistance commanders, hoping to gain inside information. It had worked from time to time; others, less lucky, had ended up as Walking Dead and become false informants leading their superiors into traps. The intelligence war with the aliens was the nastiest such war humanity had ever fought, one where people could be induced to change sides almost at will. It was not a civilised time.

The newspaper’s advice on the Walking Dead was simple. Forget, it urged, that they had ever been friends or family. Forget, even, that they’d once been human. Whatever the aliens had done to them could not be reversed, leaving them trapped inside their own bodies while the aliens manipulated them to use them against their own people. The readers were urged to kill them as mercifully as possible – they hadn’t asked to become alien slaves – while slaughtering the willing collaborators with as much brutality as possible. Some of those words were already being heeded. He’d read reports of several Order Policemen vanishing, only to turn up days later with their genitals cut off and stuffed into their mouths. Others had been shot at from a distance, or been poisoned by their slaves. One girl, who’d somehow tempted them into taking her as a sex slave, had poisoned an entire platoon of Order Policemen and escaped in the chaos. She’d get a medal if the United States was ever free again, the President decided, assuming she survived the war. She’d be well advised to go somewhere well away from civilisation and hide out there until the end of the war.

“I just feel helpless,” he admitted. As a soldier, he’d been able to act or react, according to circumstances. In the White House, there had been far more restraints on his actions than outsiders had realised, yet he’d always had options. Now, trapped in a bunker, he was President only in name. “How the hell do we get out of this one?”

Pepper smiled at him, dryly. “As I have told you every time you bring up the subject,” she said, not without a certain trace of irritation, “you serve the resistance far better by remaining out of sight and free of alien control. How many of them would turn in their arms and surrender if you told them to surrender? The aliens could make you stand up and tell them all to surrender.”

“Very few,” the President said. “We did order that any such orders were to be ignored until the aliens evacuated America and called it a day.”

He looked down at the pair of white books resting on one of the desks. Total Resistance had been written by a Swiss Army Officer in the years following World War Two, the world’s first guide to insurgent warfare and civilian resistance to occupation. The Swiss had been ready to fight to the last against Hitler, Stalin or any of his successors and everyone had known it. It had helped keep Switzerland neutral. The second book – War To The Knife – had been highly classified until the aliens had started the war. It was the brainchild of an American officer who’d started to compile a manual on insurgency tactics, ones that could have been used just as effectively against the federal government as against any invader. The Pentagon had forbidden its distribution outside the military until the moment when they’d known that the USAF would be defeated and America would fall to alien occupation. Millions of copies had been printed out and distributed all over the country, teaching American civilians how they could best harm the aliens.

The President hadn’t been too impressed when he’d read it – most of it had been in the public domain, one way or the other – but he had to admit that it was comprehensive and interesting. The author had drawn on the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as British, French, German and Russian experiences in their wars, and used them to note what worked and what didn’t work. An aspiring insurgent could learn how to form a resistance group, how to limit their exposure to an enemy police state and all the other tricks of the trade. They could learn how to produce explosives, mine roads, interrogate captives…the book explored everything. The mere act of possessing it in some countries would be enough to have someone arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist. If terrorists had gotten their hands on it…

He shook his head. It hardly mattered. Quite apart from the fact that terrorists knew most of what was in the book, the main priority was to throw the aliens out of America. He would sooner surrender to radical Islam than to aliens – at least Muslims were human too. If being a figurehead was the best he could aspire to, he’d be the best figurehead he could be.

And he knew that no one would accept an order to surrender. He’d made that clear back during the official briefings for the first resistance leaders. No one was to accept surrender orders that purported to be from the federal government or any of its personnel. Each cell was to resist until the aliens were evicted or they were wiped out. A Walking Dead Andrew Chalk wouldn’t be able to force a surrender – he hoped – but it would mean the end of him personally. Perhaps it would be the best outcome.

“And there is the British plan,” Pepper reminded him, breaking into his thoughts. “Can we get it to work?”

“We don’t have any other choice,” the President said. The promise of a biological weapon that might take out the aliens was tempting, but he knew enough about the reality of biological weapons to know that it wouldn’t guarantee victory. There was too much chance that large parts of the alien society would avoid infection before the disease became apparent. They’d take a horrible revenge on Earth. The same could be said for the Yellowstone nuke. It would be blowing up the planet and calling it a draw. It wouldn’t be much of a victory. “The question is…can we organise our side of it?”

The aliens had been reaching their tendrils into American factories and corporations, steadily rebuilding them and pushing them to support the alien agenda. His opponents had been fond of claiming that everything American was produced in China – until China had collapsed into civil war – yet the truth was that America led the world in hundreds of areas. No one else matched the sheer sophistication of some parts of the American productive plant. The British plan – to produce craft that could take on the alien craft on even terms – would need components from America, components that could only be produced under the aliens’ collective nose.

“Karen can help us do that,” Pepper reminded him. “She can insert the right orders and use their own system against them.”

“One can hope,” the President agreed. “Let’s just hope we don’t end up with a pram.”

The British officer who’d dreamed up the plan had referred him to the old story about the German Air Force, back before Hitler took the gloves off and started rearming openly. An engineer at one of the aircraft plants had believed that they were really making prams for the children, so he’d stolen all of the different components over a period of weeks, intending to put them together at home. When he’d finally completed the collection and built his ‘pram,’ he’d been astonished to find himself looking at a fighter aircraft. The story was almost certainly exaggeration, but the idea fitted together remarkably well. Have hundreds of different factories produce the separate components, then bring them together at a central location and put them all together, producing the fighter craft. If they could get it to work before the aliens caught on…

But they shouldn’t catch on, Jones had argued, and the President couldn’t disagree. They’d have to be very careful, but it should be possible to keep a coating of secrecy over the entire operation. No one apart from a handful of people would know the truth. The aliens would have no one to interrogate, no way of knowing what was being prepared for them. They wouldn’t be expecting the sucker punch…and, if all went badly wrong, there would always be the biological weapon to fall back on.

“Maybe not,” Pepper agreed. “What would we do with one?”

The President snorted. He’d never had children. His wife had wanted kids, but she’d died before they’d been able to make time to produce a family. It was something of a relief now, because there were no hostages to fortune outside the bunker, or trapped in alien hands, yet…if he were caught, there would be nothing left of him.

“I don’t know,” he said. He looked back down at the map and winced, realising that he was seriously considering a way they could escape the bunker. The delusion seemed to grow more tempting every time he looked at it. “I just don’t know.”

Pepper walked over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Relax,” she said, and gently started to massage his neck. “Just relax and let your cares slip away for a while.”

The President closed his eyes. A hundred good reasons why he shouldn’t allow it to go any further rushed through his mind. She was his subordinate. He’d always despised superior officers who’d taken advantage of their juniors. She was his only company in the bunker. They couldn’t afford a lover’s quarrel. She was, at the bottom line, expendable. He might have to order her into a hopeless position to save himself. He opened his mouth to protest, to gently push her away, and then closed it again. It had been too long since he’d been with a woman. His wife had died far too long ago and the President could hardly go courting. He’d never been able to understand how Clinton or Kennedy had ever found time to chase interns around the Oval Office. There was just too much to do.

Her breath was warm on the back of his neck. He was suddenly overwhelmingly aware of her femininity. Urges he’d thought safely buried rose up within him and he turned, pulling her closer, expecting her to push away at any time. The cold dispassionate part of his mind whispered that they’d been too close for too long and that stress was pushing them together, but he no longer cared. Her lips came down to meet his and he relaxed. Whatever happened, later, everything was going to be all right.

***

The Order Police had taken over the local sheriff’s office and converted it into a jail and interrogation centre. Greg sat in a chair, surrounded by bright light, while figures hiding in the darkness tossed question after question at him. There was a certain pro forma feel to it all, but he answered each question carefully, trying to avoid the central truth. He knew now that he’d made a terrible mistake. There was just too much evidence in his house to suggest that he and Nicolas were more than just passing acquaintances. His story simply wouldn’t hold water if they poked at it long enough, yet they didn’t seem to care. There was no real sense of threat emitting from them, no sense that they were going to bring out the rack and thumbscrews, just…a sense that they were asking questions purely for the sake of asking questions.

“Enough,” a voice said, finally. “You have served us well.”

The lights dimmed, revealing four figures standing in the room. Three of them were normal, all wearing the black uniforms of the Order Police; the fourth was clearly one of the Walking Dead. Greg felt another pang of guilt and fear as he looked into the cold dead eyes. Had he condemned Nicolas to such a fate? The conclusion seemed inescapable and so did the consequences. Nancy would grow up hating him even as she hated herself for the safety he’d bought her, with her father’s sacrifice. The Order Police could have dragged him off to a detention camp or simply taken him out and shot him and he would have thanked them. It would have saved him growing old alone.

Or perhaps the resistance will catch and kill me, he thought sourly. The remains of Nicolas’s team would certainly want revenge, if they ever found out the truth about who had betrayed their leader…did they even know about Greg’s existence? He’d been terrified of the possibility of Nicolas being captured and interrogated by the aliens, revealing his existence and the fact that he’d ignored orders to report resistance activity…well, ignored orders until now. It should count in his favour, in a fair world, yet no one knew better than him that the world wasn't fair. He’d had to betray his friend to save his friend’s daughter – his daughter – and all the justifications he could produce wouldn’t change that. He imagined himself facing Nicolas alone, shouting powerful arguments of self-justification, only to realise that nothing justified what he’d done.

“You may leave,” the Walking Dead man said. “We will call you if we need you.”

Greg got up on suddenly wobbly legs and staggered out of the police station, feeling as if someone had ripped apart part of his soul. Nancy had been left with a friend’s family and his children – he’d known, when he’d been allowed to leave her, that she might never see him again either. He saw a glance of sympathy from a passing woman and knew that she didn’t know the truth. She thought that he’d just been hauled in for random questioning. If she’d known the truth, she would have spat on him. The entire town would have risen up against him. Perhaps they’d even shave Nancy’s head, as a handful of collaborator girls had been treated in other towns. It wouldn’t matter to them that she was innocent, not after what he’d done. He’d betrayed a man whose only crime was fighting the aliens and their human puppets. No one would ever forgive him…

Oh Nicolas, he thought, bitterly. He wished, now, that he could trade places with him and suffer whatever the aliens had in mind for him. Instead, he would have to live with the guilt. What are they doing to you?


Chapter Fifty


Andrews AFB, USA (Occupied)

Day 184


Nicolas rattled his chains mournfully in the hope that it would attract some kind of response from the aliens guarding him. The warriors showed no reaction. They were either too well-trained or simply too alien to react to such an irritating noise. He made it again in the hopes that repetition would get on their nerves, or perhaps just to pass the time. His future didn’t look very bright.

He looked around the small compartment and scowled inwardly. It was a human building, yet it had clearly been renovated in a hurry and hadn’t been prepared for prisoners. The chains binding his wrists and ankles together – preventing both escape and suicide – were proof of that, as was the shock collar locked around his throat. It made him feel absurd, yet there was nothing laughable about the accursed device. One of the aliens had poked a button, sent a nasty shock running through his body, and informed him that if he managed to get away from his guards, he’d be crippled by repeated shocks. It struck him as overkill. He’d tested the chains and discovered that whatever they were made of, escape was impossible. He could barely walk upright, shambling along like a puppet, and even without them, outrunning an alien warrior wasn't easy. Those who had fought them hand-to-hand – and survived the experience – had reported that they were very fast and very strong. He looked up at his guards and silently considered taking them, before dismissing the thought. They wouldn’t even have to kill him to prevent him from escaping. They could just trigger the shock collar and send him to the ground in agony.

Bastards, he thought, glaring at one of the warriors. He’d shouted insults in a dozen different languages at them, cursing their parents, their wives and their bastard children, but they hadn’t shown any reaction at all, even to his hostile tone. A human would have realised that the words were hardly complimentary, reacting to the tone if not to actual comprehension, yet the aliens didn’t seem to care. He wasn't sure if it was an admirable trait or something to laugh at. He’d seen POWs who had been grateful to be captured alive and made no trouble, and POWs who should have been shot out of hand, hardcore terrorists who tried to carry on the fight inside the POW camps. They were the ones who went on hunger strike, shouted and spat at the guards and afterwards, when they were released, went on television to complain about having been tortured because their asses hadn’t been wiped with silken handkerchiefs. For every actual incident of prisoner abuse since the War on Terror had begun, there were a million alleged incidents, and the world media had lapped them up, without even bothering to question the motives of the people making the accusation.

The thought didn’t keep him from thinking about what the aliens might have in store for him. It was hard to be certain, but he thought he’d been at the alien base for over a day, yet they hadn’t bothered to implant him and turn him into one of the Walking Dead. They hadn’t even shouted questions at him, let alone tortured him, although he knew they hardly needed to bother. One implant and Nicolas would have told them everything they wanted to know, enough to damage the resistance in Virginia so badly that it might never recover. He hoped that the remaining leaders had enough sense to go to ground and escape, abandoning bases and supply dumps they knew he knew about, but what if they hadn’t? The thought kept buzzing through his mind. What if they didn’t know he’d been captured? What if…what if…

He’d tried to kill himself by holding his breath, but the shock collar had shocked him awake and forced him to gasp for breath. There was no hope of throwing himself off a tall building or drowning himself, or even provoking the aliens to kill him. The thought kept nagging at his mind. They’d take him to one of their bases, implant him, and turn him into a willing slave. He couldn’t avoid it. There was no way out. Even if he somehow broke the chains, even if he somehow got rid of the collar, even if he somehow took out the warriors guarding him…a naked guy running across the base would be noticed. He didn’t even know where he was.

It had occurred to him that he’d already been implanted and that the Walking Dead conversion was underway, but he still hated the aliens. He still thought that the warriors were the ugliest monsters he’d ever seen, he still wanted to wring the worker's necks and he still distrusted the leaders. Perhaps it was an illusion, perhaps it was the last of his mind struggling against the conversion process, perhaps…there was no way to know how it felt to be one of the Walking Dead, unless he became one. Perhaps they thought they were operating perfectly normally and saw nothing odd in arresting their friends and waging war on their own country, or perhaps they were trapped in their own minds, watching with horror as alien minds used their bodies as puppets. He had a nasty feeling that he’d find out soon enough.

He looked up as a line of Order Policemen entered the room, jogging through as if they jogged through every day. Their discipline was an improvement on the last bunch of Order Policemen he’d seen, although they still had their weaknesses. Two of them glanced at him and looked away, fearful of being snared by the aliens as well. He thought about calling out to them as if they were friends, to convince the aliens that one of the Order Policemen was a spy for the resistance, but it would have been petty spite. Besides, it might have convinced them to turn all of the Order Policemen – including resistance spies – into Walking Dead.

As if his thoughts had summoned him, one of the Walking Dead appeared in the room and spoke rapidly to one of the warriors, who listened and then made a complex hand gesture. The Walking Dead man disappeared, while the warriors turned to Nicolas and helped him to his feet. He shivered at the feeling of clawed hands helping him to his feet. The warriors, unlike humanity, had armour and weapons as part of their bodies. Some of them, he’d noted, even had implanted weapons and other systems. DARPA had experimented with such systems, but the invasion had put an end to it, or perhaps they were working for the underground. There was no way of knowing.

A clawed hand poked his back and urged him forward. He walked as upright as he could, but it wasn't easy. His hands were chained and linked to his leg chains, a position that was lousy for his back. His old trainers would have laughed at how the proud SEAL had been brought low, before ordering him back to the field to get over it and get back to the fight. The aliens led him out of the building and he realised that he was on an airbase. The wrecked hangers – being repaired by swarms of human and alien workers – and the runways made that clear. He glanced around hopefully, but there were no signs that showed where he was, or where he was going.

He stopped, just to see what would happen, and was rewarded by another poke in the back. Muttering curses under his breath, he staggered onwards across the field until they reached another hangar, and then moved beyond it. It was easy to deduce that he was on an airfield that had been worked over by the aliens during the invasion, but which one? There were several near where he’d been caught – and, with alien technology, any airfield in America would be nearby. He didn’t even know why they’d bought him here. The aliens pushed him around a corner and he saw a small alien transport sitting on the runway, waiting for him. He wanted to run, but there was no escape. They’d just stun him and put him onboard the transport anyway.

“Tell me something,” he said, looking at the lead warrior. “Why?”

The warrior ignored him and pushed him into the craft. The interior was surprisingly smooth and attractive, as if the craft had somehow been grown rather than produced in a factory. They pushed him into a sitting position at one side and stepped back. There was a sudden hum and he found himself trapped, held firmly in place by a powerful magnetic field. He had to admire the elegance of the system even as he hated it. It was a simple way to restrain even the most violent prisoners.

He watched as the aliens left the craft, leaving him alone. He pulled desperately at the magnetic field, but it still held him firmly in place. He looked out of the hatch towards the ruined buildings and tried to place his location, but it was impossible. He only knew a handful of airfields and none of them had been wrecked when he’d seen them, taking part in exercises intended to test the defenders. A moment later, the aliens returned and pushed in a second prisoner. Nicolas felt his eyes go wide. She, whoever she was, was not a standard prisoner.

She was tall, only slightly shorter than himself, with long brunette hair and a very scared expression. Like him, she was naked, her hands and feet bound. She took one look at him, flushed, and tried to hide from his gaze. Nicolas took one look at her and looked away. There was no point in staring at her and terrifying her even more, although his body insisted on reminding him that it had been a long time since he’d slept with a woman. It wasn't as if they could do anything while they were chained and bound. He wanted to talk to her, to learn who she was and what she was doing on the alien craft, but he knew she could be a spy, or worse. Her eyes hadn’t looked dead, but did that prove anything?

A faint hum ran through the craft and it launched itself into the sky. The woman let out a cry as the side of the craft turned transparent, revealing that they were flying up into the air. Nicolas remembered the President’s account of his first visit to the alien mothership and how he’d seen something similar. The alien craft moved hellishly fast. Bare seconds after they’d taken off, he could already see the eastern seaboard spread out below them, showing no sign of the alien presence that infested the countryside. It was chilling and utterly terrifying. Where were the aliens taking them?

“Hi,” the woman said. She had a nice voice, Nicolas thought, without a trace of Walking Dead. “I’m Abigail. Who are you?”

“Nicolas,” Nicolas said. They’d have learned his real name from Greg. The thought reminded him of how he’d been betrayed by someone he’d trusted. A stab through the heart could hardly have hurt more. “What do they think you did?”

“Writing for the underground newspaper,” Abigail said, flatly. She sounded as if she was on the verge of going into shock. He was tempted to look at her, but he refrained, granting her what privacy he could. “And you?”

“I can’t talk about it,” Nicolas said, firmly. Down below, they were already high over the Atlantic Ocean and heading west, towards Africa. He’d been there as a young SEAL, back when the world had made sense…well, more sense. He'd met a pretty girl from Morocco who’d taught him that not all Muslims were utterly insane fanatics, and a man who’d risked his life to shelter and protect a SEAL team after a covert mission had gone horrifyingly wrong. “The walls might have ears, you know.”

Abigail gasped, and then sobered. “Does it matter?” She asked, bitterly. “They know what I did.”

“Perhaps,” Nicolas said, vaguely. “What did you write about them in the underground newspaper?”

“I wrote the truth about Chicago,” Abigail said. There was a note of pride in her voice, shining through the pain and fear. “I told the world what was really happening and look what happened to me!”

“That makes you braver than most reporters I’ve ever met,” Nicolas said, seriously. He placed the name now; Abigail Walker, one of the collaborator government’s tame reporters. Except perhaps not tame…he had to remind himself that she might still be working for them. They could have threatened her into cooperating with them one final time. He looked over at her, careful not to look at anything apart from her face. “There are worse causes to die for.”

“I’d sooner live for it,” Abigail said. “I thought the idea wasn’t to die for your country, but to make the other dumb bastard die for his country.”

Nicolas laughed. “Something like that,” he agreed. “Something like that.”

The shape of the Arabian Peninsula rose up in front of them. He looked over towards where Israel would have been, but saw no trace of the short violent war that had raged across the Middle East. The Israelis had deployed nukes; the aliens had deployed some kind of kinetic city-busting system, yet there was no trace of it from so high above. The desert looked as clean and untouched as ever. Down on the ground, he knew, it was a different story. The tyrants of the Middle East polluted on a scale that would have shocked even the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia had entire areas that were no-go zones. The aliens would probably end up having to clear them all, just to make it safe for their own habitation.

“Look,” Abigail said. Dread echoed through her voice. “Just look at that.”

It looked, at first, like a massive island floating on the sea. As they came closer, it took on shape and form, revealing itself as a massive wedge-shaped spacecraft floating high above the Indian Ocean. Nicolas had seen a similar ship over Washington – he’d taken part in the mission that had shot that craft down over the city – but he’d known that the aliens had had four such ships…and the mothership, floating over the North Pole, utterly out of reach. His team’s assault had taught the aliens a new respect for human weapons; in hindsight, it might have been better for them to have waited until all four of the craft had been over land and attacked them simultaneously. He snorted to himself. Hindsight was so much clearer than foresight.

“They’re taking us to their command ship to execute us personally?” Abigail guessed. “Or perhaps they want to gloat a bit before killing us?”

“No way of knowing,” Nicolas said. He was resigned to the inevitable. The aliens weren’t going to let go of their prisoners so easily. He wished for a backpack nuke – he was sure that one of them going off inside even such a massive ship would be fatal – yet one refused to materialize in front of him. Wishing wasn't going to change the world. “Remain calm and wait. Perhaps the horse will learn to sing after all.”

The massive shape grew closer until it blotted out the sky. The smooth shape of the hull became that of a massive city, studied with blocks and strange alien devices that tracked their ship as it came closer. A hatch large enough to pick up an entire aircraft carrier opened up and beckoned them forward, inviting them inside. The craft’s hull shimmered back into view, cutting off the outside world. A moment later, he felt a strange popping in his ears as the pressure equalized. They were trapped. They might as well have been on the far side of the moon.

He watched as the hatch shimmered into existence, allowing the aliens to step into the craft and help them both out. Abigail was pushed into walking ahead of him and he tried to keep his eyes off her behind, concentrating on taking in as much as he could of the alien craft. It was oddly human-like, and yet it was subtly alien. It shouted its true builders to the skies. The proportions were all somehow…wrong. The entire craft looked as if the aliens had grown it out of a metal plant, rather than constructed it in a shipyard. Compared to the alien craft, the most advanced aircraft carrier the United States had ever built looked crude and unfinished.

Thousands of aliens bustled around as they were escorted through the corridors, including castes he’d never seen before. There were no humans, apart from the two of them, leaving him feeling truly alone. He didn’t know if he could trust Abigail or not, yet with only her for company, it wouldn’t be long before he found himself bound to her. The corridor stopped in front of a blank wall. A moment later, a door appeared in the wall and they were pushed gently through into a massive room.

They weren’t alone. There were ten aliens sitting on what looked like a hard sofa, facing them. There were three leaders, four workers, two warriors…and a human being. The human was so out of place that Nicolas hadn’t even realized he was human, at first, yet there was no doubt of it. He was human!

“We are sorry for the way we brought you here,” the human said. He didn’t sound like one of the Walking Dead, but somehow he didn’t sound like a traitor either. “My name is Captain Philip Carlson, formally of the space shuttle Atlantis, and these are my friends.”

He grinned, suddenly, at their expressions. “These are the ones who opposed the war,” he said. Nicolas stared at him in disbelief. “Welcome to the resistance.”


Chapter Fifty-One


Alien Command Ship #2

Day 184


Washed, dressed and sipping a cup of surprisingly good coffee, Abigail felt almost human again, human enough to put the strangeness out of her mind. Her companion, Nicolas, might have asked if they could take a moment to clean themselves up so that he could think, but whatever his motives, she was grateful to him. There was something about being naked and chained that made her feel as if she was utterly helpless – and she had been helpless. The aliens completely controlled her environment and if she displeased them, she might be thrown out of the airlock to the cold sea below.

“I watched as your shuttle was launched,” she said, as the aliens and their human ally came back into the room. “What happened up there? We thought that you were all dead.”

“We pretty nearly were,” Captain Philip Carlson explained. “One of their big command ships – this ship, to be precise – abducted the entire International Space Station, after smashing the shuttle and making it impossible for us to resist. We got taken onboard and discovered that the ship was almost completely controlled by the alien resistance, the aliens who felt that invading Earth wasn't such a bright idea. It took this long to develop a way of making contact with human resistance and so…”

He waved a hand in the air. “And so here you are,” he said. “They need your help and you need theirs.”

“Perhaps,” Nicolas said. He looked much sharper after having showered, but there was a hard glint in his eye. “Explanations first. Why did they invade Earth in the first place?”

“That is a long story,” one of the alien leaders said. The voice was more…emotional than any other alien voice she’d heard, although she couldn’t place the emotion. She had to warn herself to be careful when judging alien expressions and voices, for an alien emotional cue might easily be mistaken for something else. “It is not something we feel comfortable discussing.”

“Ulhash, they need to know,” Carlson said. “They can’t take your words on faith.”

The alien looked up at Nicolas, and then over at Abigail. “Our race evolved along significantly different lines than your own,” he said. Abigail was ninety percent certain she was talking to a male. “Your race all shares one genotype with purely cosmetic differences. Ours consists of several genotypes – castes – that fit together as part of a greater whole. Our…tribes are effectively alliances between castes that blur into a small nation, or super-tribe. We might have had conflicts between tribes, but we never had massive epidemic warfare as your race did. It was difficult for any tribe to reach a position of power from where it could launch a war of aggression.”

“If I understand it correctly,” Carlson put in, “they couldn’t form massive nations that could mount and sustain all-out war for long periods. They could and did cooperate with each other, but they couldn’t form empires or even republics.”

“Our tribes were often dominated by the leader caste, but the other castes always had their say,” Ulhash continued. “No leader could hope to sway a massive audience that tested and retested his every word. They had to learn to compromise in order to lead; a given leader’s influence might never spread very far. The natural competition between leaders, even from within the same tribe, led to…feedback systems that prevented leaders from becoming tyrants. No leader could just issue orders and make them stick.

“Our children were all identical until they began the transformation into their caste, allowing a certain…equality to enter our society. The child of a leader might not be a leader himself; the child of a warrior or a worker might grow up to become a leader. We didn’t understand the genetic basis for the castes and concluded that it was better to treat all castes with respect, while the hybrids between castes helped bind us together. We advanced our technology along similar lines as your own race until we developed an understanding of DNA and our own biology. And then the trouble started.”

Ulhash paused, one hand touching the side of his great head. “We learned what factors influenced a child’s development and determined their future caste,” he said. “The discovery caused what your people would probably call a crisis of faith. There were some who wanted the technology banned and others who believed that it would allow us as a race to reach new heights. They held out the promise that we might be able to change castes after maturity, adding a new level of advancement to our race. While our leaders debated the question, something nasty was growing in the darkness.

“A group of leaders – we called them the Rogue Leaders – wanted to pervert the new technology. They developed techniques that would allow them to select a child’s caste before he or she was even born. They used the technology to ensure that their children would all be leaders, developing a natural aristocracy where none had existed before. Worse, they not only ensured that non-leaders would never become leaders, but they tried to alter their biology to the point where they would accept orders without question. It was so inconceivable that they were well on their way to taking over an entire continent before the rest of our society realised what they were doing.”

“If I could inject a comment here,” Carlson said. “The leaders…can influence, sometimes very strongly, an individual from the lower castes. The more practiced leaders can train individuals from lower castes into accepting orders without question, but it doesn’t work on a group. It’s the reverse of our own situation. Where Hitler could hypnotise thousands of people during a Nazi rally, the leaders could never take over an entire group.”

“Until the Rogue Leaders developed a framework that allowed them to issue orders that were accepted without question,” Ulhash said. “The rest of our society went to war when they realised what had been born. We were at roughly the same level as you were in the 1950s, when we first visited your planet, and the carnage was terrible. The Rogue Leaders took the gloves off and pushed their biological technology to the limit, developing newer and more dangerous castes for the war. The opposition developed space-based weapons and waged war all over our star system. It took ten years of hard fighting to destroy the last of their bases and end the war. In the process, we came far too close to exterminating ourselves. Our world was devastated by the fighting.”

He looked down at the floor, and then looked back up at Nicolas. “The Council of Leaders decided that we could never run the same risk again. They ordered that our massive space-based industry, developed during the war, be turned to producing starships that could take parts of our society to other worlds. We saw no other choice. Our world was injured, perhaps dying, and we were suffering from a major population explosion caused by the war. It took years to produce the first ship – the mothership – and its complement of lesser vessels. And, all that time, the remaining Rogue Leaders bided their time and waited.

“We don’t know for sure what happened next. It’s only speculation. Somehow, a faction of Rogue Leaders survived the war and managed to manipulate events so that they were considered for integration into the new community being formed onboard the vessel. They remained hidden until after the mothership had set out on its long voyage, then took control of the mothership’s Council of Leaders. No one realised what they were doing until it was far too late to stop them. Ethos and his fellow Rogue Leaders are effectively in control of our population and your planet. We need your assistance to stop them.”

There was a long pause. “If this is true,” Abigail said finally, “why do you need us to stop them?”

“The Rogue Leaders built the Command Net that governs our civilisation,” Ulhash explained. “We are unable to take overt action without making them aware of us. They have direct or indirect control over the Council. They control most of the warriors – given time, they will introduce their biological modifications and they will be in undisputed control of the entire population, yours and ours. They will eventually develop a way to engineer similar…submission into your race and resistance will no longer become possible.”

Nicolas frowned. “But you have allies among the other castes,” he pointed out. “And you control this ship. Can’t you subvert others…?”

“Not without warning them of our existence,” Ulhash said. “You do not understand the scale of the problem. We are unable to drop off the net for more than a short period of time and every time we take that risk, we face exposure. One of our leaders attempted to make direct contact with your resistance in Chicago and died in the attempt. Anyone we subvert who stays close to a Rogue Leader for too long might turn into a double agent. It took time and careful planning to bring you two here, knowing that it risked discovery.”

“I see,” Nicolas said. “What happens if you are discovered?”

“Ethos will send his modified warriors to this ship and purge us,” Ulhash said, flatly. “The remaining Council of Leaders will be unable to prevent him from wiping us out of existence.”

“You have ships,” Abigail pointed out. “Can’t you fight?”

“The fighters on this ship are controlled by the Command Net,” Ulhash said, patiently. “We could not fly them without permission from the Rogue Leaders. They will be unlikely to allow us to defend ourselves.” There was a faint moment of what Abigail privately termed humour. “They could simply deactivate the drive and send this ship plunging into the water below.”

“I think I see your problem,” Nicolas said, finally.

“There isn’t much time,” Ulhash said. “The Rogue Leaders will eventually succeed in breaking humanity’s resistance and transforming your race into another caste. They are already working on a program of genetically modified humans who will serve them – who will have no choice, but to serve them – and hold the remainder of your race in permanent bondage.”

“Jesus,” Nicolas breathed. “Your culture will adapt ours to service yours.”

“And resistance will not only be futile, but inconceivable,” Carlson said. The former astronaut looked over at Nicolas. “We can’t let them win.”

“So answer me this,” Abigail said, suddenly. “Half the time, you’re acting as if the Rogue Leaders are all-powerful; the rest, you’re acting as if they’re not completely in control. Why were they even allowed to invade Earth in the first place?”

Ulhash looked over at her, his dark eyes meeting hers for a long chilling moment. “When your world entered scoutship range, we discovered your existence,” he said. “We had had no idea that Earth was inhabited until our ships entered Earth orbit and performed the first recon missions. We arrived during the conflict you called World War Two and saw the barbarity your race produced. We watched from high above as your race seemed to wallow in its own evil. We couldn’t understand what we were seeing. We had no concept of racism, or religion, or the other curses that blighted your world. The Rogue Leaders had no trouble convincing the Council of Leaders that your race was too barbaric to be trusted, that you would either try to turn us away from Earth or destroy us. They secured permission to develop the weapons and technologies they would need to invade your planet.”

“Such as the base at the South Pole,” Nicolas said. “Why…?”

“They wanted to develop an understanding of your people,” Ulhash said. “Over the years, they abducted a number of humans and experimented on them, learning to control and manipulate human beings. The implanted humans who serve them are the fruits of those experiments. The base also served as a place to monitor human activity and base fighter craft for the coming war. Your discovery and destruction of the base – and Command Ship #3 – hampered their operations and embarrassed them in front of the Council of Leaders.”

“Ah,” Nicolas said. “So…what now?”

“So we get in touch with the President, or whoever is running the show down in America, and we figure out a way to take those sons of bitches out before they destroy the entire planet,” Carlson said. “Maybe we can smuggle nukes onto their ships, maybe we can come up with some Death Star super-laser that will take out the mothership, perhaps…we have to get on with it, now.”

“The President is in hiding for a reason,” Nicolas pointed out. “Most of my contacts will have scattered. Making contact won’t be as easy as you think.” He looked over at Carlson. “And it’s not the same country you left down there. You won’t recognise it now.”

“All the more reason to stop them,” Abigail said, surprising herself. “Whatever it takes to stop them, it’s worth the price.”

***

Nicolas wished, just for a moment, that he could talk with the President, or another superior officer. It was ironic, in a way; he’d spent years enduring political interference from people who thought that a SEAL was a furry aquatic mammal, yet the one moment he would have sold his soul for some guidance from high above, it failed to materialise. He was only a junior officer, when push came to shove, and his resistance command had been broken, scattered or captured. His handful of contacts might have gone underground, leaving him floundering around with no more clue where to take them than any random civilian, yet…what choice was there?

He looked up at the alien, wishing he could read that inscrutable alien face. It was possible that it was all a plot to draw the President out of hiding; it was possible that Carlson was simply another of the Walking Dead or a Quisling, but his instincts were telling him that he could trust him. They could have killed or implanted him at any moment. If their story held water – and he couldn’t pick any holes in it – it was a chance to really hurt the aliens, to defeat them and force them off the planet completely. It was a chance to capture their technology and use it against them. He couldn’t let the chance slip away because he was nervous of the possible consequences. The human race could not be transformed into something inhuman. There was no price that was not worth paying to avoid that final fate, that final humiliating defeat. They didn’t have any choice at all.

And yet, might they simply be exchanging one master for another? The reports on the alien mothership had implied that it literally couldn’t go anywhere else – that it was settle Earth or die – and the alien rebels would face the same problem, even if they took over with minimal losses. They couldn’t evacuate Earth and go to Mars, let alone another star system. They’d have no choice, but to remain on Earth, if on better terms. He smiled thinly. The aliens would make much better occupants of the Middle East than the prior owners.

And there was no choice. That helped.

They’d trained him to make up his mind quickly and so he did.

“I’ll help you,” he said, and held out a hand. Ulhash took it with a delicate grey hand that seemed almost childlike, weak enough to snap easily. They shook hands firmly over the table. “As long as there’s the slightest hope of victory, we’ll save both of our races from disaster.”

The Story Will Conclude In

The Slightest Hope of Victory

Coming Soon!


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