Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #28

Ramon held the Loro, their best long range scanner, level as he panned it across the wall of Ehvow growth. The Ehvow coral had taken the remains of the Paco Imperial, the Candelaria Church, Cinelandia Square, really the entire Centro of Rio. He captured the walls of coral topping the ruins, barrels of constructed Ehvow ground artillery, and tall spires with Ehvow ships circling and landing.
The Loro could take clear images and videos from over thirty kilometers away. Thornseeds wandered the Ehvow building sites. There were smaller, darker Ehvow creatures there too. They didn’t have the bulk and defensive armor, so they must be a lesser variant of the Aliens. He took more images and video of the other beings that filled him with bile and unwholesome dreams: the greenskins. The former humans that  the Ehvow had turned. The Ehvow clearly wanted more. They’d begun collecting wounded survivors, dragging them away. They still indiscriminately slaughtered anyone who was armed and resisted them, but anyone unarmed or wounded that they could capture was taken to the Centro. Ramon focused particularly on their colors, some instrument to keep them under control.
“Ready to upload?” Paolo asked.
“Do it,” Ramon said, sending it to the Clandestine Awareness Sensor Suite, or the “Classy” as it was called. Ramon set the Loro down and rested on the roof of the battered and abandoned hotel they’d been camped out at the last few days. Sensor-dampening space blankets were draped around their bodies. So far they’d kept the Thornseed patrols from detecting them too easily.
“You know, when we first started out at this a few weeks ago, I just thought you were nothing but an overpaid office manager, Paolo,” Ramon said. “But you’re alright. You can handle yourself.”
“We can’t all be badass spies, not even in intelligence work,” Paolo said. Ramon could detect the resentment in Paolo’s voice. They hadn’t exactly been close. They’d worked the UAS Central Intelligence Department’s regional office together, and Ramon’d made Paolo the butt of his jokes to coworkers a lot. Most of the others were dead, charging off on a half-cocked suicide mission, and here he was fighting to survive with the man he’d mocked for years. “You think Narcisa will be back?”
“It’s been more than 24 hours,” Ramon said. “I want to hope, but it’s not looking good.”
“Tell me something,” Paolo said. “Is your lack of ability inspire morale why you never got promoted?” Ramon had been a handler for operatives his entire career after he’d joined the UAS CID, only making the mediocre post of Team Lead. Paolo knew his paints points.
“Maybe,” Ramon said. “I was all about work, not about people. Tell me something in return. Why did you join CID if you didn’t want field work?” Ramon asked. “You know tech support, budgeting, whatever it is the front office had you doing, but why not do that for a corporation? Make more money?”
“A question I’ve asked myself for sure,” Paolo said. The sound of Ehvow guns spun in the distance, audible from miles away. “One advantage we do have. The Ehvow don’t understand the concept of ‘covert’ operations very well, do they?”
“Nope,” Ramon said. “All the reports say they’ve got terrible senses. Maybe they think they’re quiet.”
“I read the same,” Paolo said. “Went through the highlights CID gave us on the Tarrare’s packet. They always overwhelm by brute force, attrition. They’re plants at the bottom of all of that, even if carnivorous, invasive ones. I guess no need to evolve complex sensory organs. But we got the footage of the mastermind, whatever it is.”
“One,” Ramon said. “I only got video of one of those so far, with the yellow-orange-red colorations strutting outside one of the spires.”
“Betting they’ve got all the senses and all the brains,” Paolo said. “They send those Thornseeds, their muscle, out to do their will without question. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what we are.”
“The brains or the muscle?” Ramon said. “It’s hard to say whether we’ve got either left in this war anymore.”
“Ramon,” Paolo said. “Why didn’t you follow Octavio when he went to attack the Ehvow the Centro?”
“Paolo, you’ve made it abundantly clear that you think I’m a thug,” Ramon said. “But I didn’t follow Octavio for two reasons. He didn’t have authorization to do what he did, even if he was the station chief. Our orders were to observe and report, exactly like we’re doing now. He also took the entire station on a clear suicide mission. Octavio was always one to delegate, one to call for executive summaries. He wasn’t a details man, he relied on others for that. Yuko and Jim convinced him they could take the base at the Centro. He didn’t bother checking their work. Almost none of them did. You and I, even if our pasts are different, are about the details. We want to know before we act. That’s why you, me, and Narcisa are still alive and the others aren’t.”
“So we watch,” Paolo said. “Until when? The Ehvow stronghold’s radius expands every day. The patrols increase.”
“We watch until we can’t or we get orders otherwise,” Ramon said. “Somebody has to.” The Classy’s proximity alert triggered. Ramon waited for Paolo, who already had his interface connected to it.
“Narcisa’s back, but not alone,” Paolo whispered. “Another bio signature following.”
“Human?” Ramon asked.
“Uncertain,” Paolo said. “Not Ehvow, this has the settings from the Tarrare patch a week back. It’s something different.”
“Greenskin,” Ramon said. He snatched the Thunderbolt rifle as he took a defensive position.
“What exactly are you doing?” Paolo said.
“You don’t know,” Ramon said. Paolo was too young. He didn’t remember the bad old days of terrorists and insurgents that had followed the UAS’ formation. Ramon did. He’d been a child himself, but he remembered the deaths. All through south, central, even north america were groups that had tried to fight it off. Sleeper cells and infiltrators from the extremist groups had been everywhere. People who would do anything to block the super-state’s formation. That wasn’t even a real war, not like this. “If she’s brought a greenskins back, it could be leading the Ehvow right to us. Or it could be infected, here to spread diseases to the rest of us. We don’t know anything about them yet but what we’ve seen from a distance.”
“So she’s a spy and a disease vector?” Paolo said.
“Could be anything,” Ramon said. He had his interface up, and had put his lenses in place to take direct tactical input from the Classy’s overlays. Narcisa and her guest were slowly making their way up the crumbling staircases of the old hotel. Still no signs of anything else, not even an Ehvow patrol.
“Listen to yourself, Ramon,” Paolo said. “We’re all on edge. It could be a survivor, it could want to help. Whatever a greenskin is, it was a person once. Hear it out.”
“I’ll listen,” Ramon said, not really comfortable with it but not willing to gun down Narcisa in the crossfire. “But the second I hear something I don’t like …”
“Maybe give it longer than a second,” Paolo said, picking up his M-Swell. They hadn’t scavenged many weapons from the station and then the city, but the M-Swell, with its focused microwaves, really hurt the Thornseeds. It was supposed to be a non-lethal weapon for crowd-control, a more powerful version of the Pax, but it had done wonders to help them survive when they’d had to fight. Ramon even had to admit that Paolo was skilled with the energy weapon. “I’ve got your back.”
Narcisa opened the door slowly, Ramon pointing the gun at her. “You’ve been gone awhile,” Ramon said.
“I had trouble,” Narcisa said. Her sensor-dampening blanket was wrapped around her like a poncho, too. She had a loaded up backpack. “But I’ve got supplies. I suppose a ‘nice to see you’ would be too much to ask.”
“You’re not alone,” Ramon said. His lenses displayed the thermal outline of the visitor in the stairwell behind her.
“A Thornseed patrol saw me, and they followed me for hours,” Narcisa said. “They almost trapped me but my new friend distracted them and got me out of there. She’s escaped from them. I only thought it was fair to lead her somewhere safe.”
“Or lead them here to kill us all,” Ramon said.
“Really?” Narcisa said. “Paolo, anything on the Classy? Do you detect any weapons of any kind on my friend here? Any patrols inbound?”
“Nothing on both counts,” Paolo said. “But you got to admit, Ramon’s not totally off-base having suspicions.”
“Lower your gun and I’ll come out,” a brittle voice hissed from behind Narcisa. “I’m unarmed, and I have no more love for the Ehvow than you do.” Ramon glared into the thermal outline in the darkness. Narcisa came onto the roof, dropping the heavy backpack with a clunk. A few Ehvow Doomblooms and Pod bombers started to zoom, coming away from the Centro but changing course before they came to the hotel. That did relax Ramon a little. If they were about to be attacked, the Ehvow could easily shred them from the sky.
Ramon lowered the Thunderbolt some, but not all the way. The greenskin stepped out, her body faintly shimmering in the dusk from the last remains of the sunlight. He’d seen so many of them through the Loro, but never one this close. She barely had any clothes on, the shredded remains of whatever she’d been wearing. “Ramon, this is a big win,” Narcisa said. “She’s been inside and she can give us more intel on their base than we’ve gotten in the last week from watching. She’s ready and willing to cooperate.”
“Whatever it takes,” she said to Ramon. She held out her collar, the same ones he’d seen the ones at the Centro wearing. It was broken, shattered. She dropped it to the ground with a clink. Her eyes were pure darkness, no whites or irises. “I’ve seen what they did to me, what they did to my family. They kill most, as you’ve probably seen. Those they don’t kill, they drag to the Centro. Those that don’t survive the spores in the Centro like I did, they eat them. They are filth.”
“You sound ready to fight,” Ramon said. “But how do I know you’re not telling me what I wanted to hear?” She seemed human enough, aside from the voice, the eyes, the skin, and that glow of photosynthesis on her skin. “But if I get any sense that you led Thornseeds here-“
“My name is Rafaela,” she interrupted. “And if the Thornseeds come here, I’ll fight them with you. I’ll kill them with my bare hands if I have to. I can do things, all of them like me can. The Ehvow didn’t expect that, and they still don’t know how to stop it.”
“She can,” Narcisa chimed in. “I’ve seen her do it to one of them.” Ramon sighed. She seemed fit and more nourished than most people he’d seen lately. Likely because she could feed off the sun like the rest of the Ehvow. He wasn’t about to give her a gun, but if she could fight and if she could tell them about what was happening on the inside of the Centro, it could be worth the risk.
“Alright then,” Ramon said. “We’ll need to interview you about what happened, send a recording to our superiors up the chain as soon as possible. If you’ve got half the information Narcisa said you do, then you can certainly help us. Let’s all get down to the penthouse room before those damn Ehvow ships see us.”

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #24

<ENCRYPTED MESSAGE>

MEMORANDUM

FROM: GENERAL ADAM SLADE, ACTING SUPREME COMMANDER,  HER MAJESTY’S ARMED FORCES

TO: ALL STANDING ARMED FORCES FIELD COMMANDERS AND SURVIVING MEMBERS OF HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

ATTACHED: 

TARRARE INTELLIGENCE PACKAGE 5EHVOWC

EHVOW CRAFT SURVEILLANCE DOCUMENTATION PACKAGE

EHVOW NEUTRON WEAPONRY SPECIFICATIONS PACKAGE

Friends, 

I speak to you no longer as a military commander, but as a fellow survivor. The situation is dire. As London and Liverpool have fallen, we fear that Yorkshire and Manchester are likely the next targets. Any recipients of this communique in those cities are to seize whatever printer, assemblers, and CBRN survival gear they can before evacuating. These will be crucial for keeping us all alive and for organizing any form of counter-offensive.

I acknowledge that the Ehvow have dealt us a blow that we will never fully recover from. It may feel like retreat or surrender, but I applaud your rapid disbanding of our larger forces into smaller companies and your diligence in avoiding conspicuous concentrations of military personnel and resources. Those of you who continue to spread the word to civilians to avoid such concentrations as well are doing a service to the entire human race. Soon, I promise, we will find ways to strike back. I have contacted my UAS, AU, and EU counterparts and the Tarrare as we all begin to envision what our counteroffensive will look like, but it will take much preparation and no doubt we will face many trials along the way.

For now, there are many key pieces of intelligence I must share with you accompanied by the relevant annotated selections of the Tarrare intelligence data on the Ehvow and more data we have collected over the past several days. 

First, we witness no end to the depravity of these Ehvow “Thornseed” soldiers. While they exhibit signs of fear, anger, and other emotional expressions when ambushed, wounded, and killed, do not mistake this for a shred of “humanity.” They will not hesitate, they will not show mercy, and they seldom retreat. Communicating with them, approaching them, even trying to surrender to them will end in disaster. Many of you have no doubt witnessed these Thornseeds eat our dead and our living. Whether they do this as a form of psychological warfare or out of biological necessity is uncertain, but understand that it is real and no rumor. 

Second, thermal directed-energy weapons are largely ineffective. It is especially dispiriting that this is the case given the recent deployment of the Sunfire as our standard assault rifle, but it is a reality with which we must live. The Ehvow’s home world, as far as the Tarrare have been able to locate it, is much hotter than this world and exposed to solar storms. As a result, they have evolved a bark and coral-like skin covered both inside and outside by multiple layers of membranes that dissipate thermal energy. They also secrete a resin that further aids in protecting them against heat-based weapons. Instead, use explosives and the older HK Thunderbolt assault rifles if you can locate them.  I’m told a weapon of joint human-Tarrare design that is even more effective will be incoming shortly. This is one reason among many that securing printers and assemblers for constructing these weapons should be considered mission-critical. 

Third, it should be noted that if attacked in broad sunlight, the Ehvow can regenerate from wounds using biological processes powered by their photosynthetic bodies. This recovery is not instantaneous, but prolonged battles in direct sunlight have proven very unfavorable. If combat cannot be avoided, it must be swift and focused.

Fourth, as most of you have reported back to me already, engage the Ehvow from as far a distance as possible. For the few of you out there who have not witnessed it, Thornseed soldiers often rupture when killed and deploy spores as a bioweapon of sorts. It seems that exposure to these spores results in death or some form of coma, though I’ve recently received reports that it changes the survivors into something we’re still trying to understand. We are still awaiting confirmation on this, so more data is appreciated if you have it. The living or dead bodies of individuals who are exposed to these spores should be considered biohazards and avoided for the time being.

Lastly, as we’re all aware, the Ehvow have begun deploying weapons that resemble neutron bombs. These explosives come in both man-portable forms carried by Thornseeds and also dropped from the oval, pod-shaped bomber craft we have seen deployed in the last several days. We have attached surveillance images of these bomber craft and the other types of Ehvow assault craft such as the “doombloom” strafers that have so far claimed total air superiority to aid in reconnaissance efforts.

These neutron weapons have been used numerous times on fortified positions, leaving infrastructure only slightly damaged and killing unshielded personnel in a very large area of effect. Most troublingly, the detonations of these weapons are often difficult to observe until fatal radiation spikes occur. Additional documentation detailing the range of these weapons is also provided with the attachments to this message. Effects on the Ehvow themselves caught in the kill zone of the weapon seem minimal due to the aforementioned thick membranes and bark/coral like skin that seems to protect them from the type of radiation the bombs emit as well. The bombs themselves resemble large rocks covered in lumps, which will open and reveal glowing spheroids when they near detonation. 

To protect against these nuclear-radiological weapons and the spores released by Ehvow Thornseeds, all personnel are advised to obtain any CBRN protection suits from whatever supply caches they may come across and keep them close at hand. Orders are still not to engage the enemy except as a last resort. This should change in the near future, but for now keep yourselves alive and gather what resources you can. We’re going to need everyone and everything we can get our hands on for this fight. 

Carry On,

General Adam Slade

Acting Supreme Commander

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA

Acknowledgements: Luca Limatola, Budeanu Cosmin Mirel

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #22

“Of course,” was all Sandra Abreu said. They stood outside secured gates. On the other side of them were blasted-out buildings, vehicles, missile batteries, and downed Ehvow starships. They’d traveled so far. Burning through a few cars, then a military transport when they met some soldiers until they ran out of usable road. They finished on foot for two days through the New Mexico desert. Thankfully it wasn’t the middle of summer, the heat merely hovering between intolerable and unbearable. The moisture-leeching Hydralator bottles and other survival gear the soldiers had with them were the only reason they’d survived.

“Welcome to Colin Powell Proving Ground, everybody,” Sandra said. She opened the gate, the secured fence nearly falling apart from the force of her hand. An aerial drone had crashed into a portion of it about ten meters from where they were standing.

“This place is supposed to be a sanctuary?” was all Julia could say. She was too tired to be angry. “This is what my lost-ass parents have been trying to drive to the whole time?”

“It was,” Sandra said. “I didn’t know much about it except they were supposed to be a shelter of some kind. I saw lots of redacted reports. Senator Alvez was opposed to the project.” She let out a sad, single chuckle thinking of the debates over it. 

“But isn’t that Tarrare colony underground? Like in the mountains or something? Maybe this is too,” Julia said. She pawed at her interface, trying hard to access something. Sandra imagined she was trying to contact her parents. 

“It’s worth a look, isn’t it?” Lieutenant-Colonel McCorvey said. He was average height but muscular, his dark skin glistening with sweat. His voice was low but soothing. “We came all this way. Might as well check it out. Even if there’s no sanctuary maybe we can salvage some supplies.”

“You’re right,” Sandra replied. They walked inside, weaving around the road barricades. Lieutenant Rivers marched beside Sandra. She was an imposing young woman at two meters tall. She’d been really quiet so far but Sandra had heard her crying last night in her tent in a covert display of emotion. Sandra couldn’t imagine what all of this would’ve been like if she’d still been in the military. It was bad enough being a civilian. Being told to abandon your post while watching your friends and fellow soldiers fight for their lives and lose had to hurt. She understood the logic, the futility of making a big stand right now when they were still understanding the threat. Logic never soothed raw trauma, though.

They walked past a burned-out Ehvow starship, keeping their distance. It was one of the smaller cone-shaped ones ones, a dropship that Thornseeds would jump out of. Julia using her interface to take pictures of it. “Rivers, give me an SAA, overlays with the Proving Ground Map.”

“Yes, sir,” Rivers answered, thumbing at the sensor-laden goggles over her eyes to bring up her advanced interfaces. Wires followed down her neck and into the electronics situated in her field pack. “About a klick ahead we should take a left. There’s activity.”

“Hostiles?” Sergeant Kekes asked, his scrawny body charging forward. He scanned the horizon for any fight he could find. Like most short men given an assault rifle, he had a real inferiority complex and the violent impulses to make it sing. She’d known a lot of men like that during her tours of duty, but not many of them kept it all the way to middle-age like Kekes had. 

“No hostiles,” Rivers answered. “It’s some kind of active power source. Giving off a faint thermal signature and I’m seeing what might be encrypted comm signals coming from it. I can’t make out any more than that. Partial ID that it’s Tarrare, but not certain. Maybe when we get closer.”

Julia gave a sigh of relief, digging through her interface more. “My dad,” she said, to no one in particular. “He and my mom are still alive, but they just had a really close call and are back headed this way.”

“That’s great,” Sandra said, forcing a smile. “First good news we’ve had in a long time.” 

They passed the husk of a burned personnel carrier. “I should be used to it now,” Julia said, choking on the smell of burning bodies inside. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be.”

“Neither will I, if it’s any consolation,” McCorvey replied. They prodded forward to the site Rivers had identified. It was a small out-building, like a pump station or storage shed. Even from a distance Sandra could see reinforced blast doors on its front. 

“Dead Weeds,” Sergeant Kekes said, their feet squishing in a brown trail. 

“They sure are,” Rivers answered. A sizable pile of dead Thornseeds were clustered around the entrance to the building. 

“There have to be almost a hundred of them,” Julia said, counting the burned piles. It almost looked like they’d cooked from the inside out. Sandra tied to imagine what sort of weapon would do that to Thornseeds.

“They’re all in a single spread pattern,” McCorvey said, finishing Sandra’s thought. “Something took them all out at once.” 

With a roll of clicks, camouflaged plates in the ground around the entrance opened. Six rod-like arrays with spinning appendages emerged. The arrays bathed them in flashes of light. Sandra winced, expecting something terrible was either happening or about to happen to her body. 

“This can’t be good,” Kekes added. They all had their weapons pointed at where the arrays were, but they were gone. Too fast. Sandra realized that, miraculously, she was intact. The blast doors made a series of zipping noises, hissing open. 

“Subjects identified as human, standard,” a synthesized voice announced. It sounded close to the “voices” the Tarrare used to speak when they interacted with humans. “Welcome to Sanctuary B. Others await you inside.”

“Oh my God!” Julia said, almost hopping up and down. “It’s real!” 

“I’ll drink to that shit,” Rivers answered. 

“Entrants, please note that this facility is only 70% complete,” the synthesized voice continued. “In case of full-scale assault, safety not guaranteed.” 

“I’ll take that over the outside,” McCorvey answered. “What does that 70% mean,  Ms. Abreu?”

“Tough to say. I couldn’t glean much with all the redaction on the status reports. Last progress report I saw, there were mentions of supplies, sensors, an arms cache, and communication systems,” Sandra answered. “I assumed it was the post itself, not something like this.”

“What’s it supposed to have at 100%?” Rivers asked. 

“Way above my security clearance,” Sandra answered. “The Senator was allowed to see complete schematics only once. The project charter promised self-sustaining algae and micro-farming techniques that could deliver a food supply that would last decades, a power source based on Tarrare tech, even manufacturing.”

“Sounds like a doomsday prepper’s wet dream,” Kekes muttered. “Wonder why they didn’t finish it.” 

“Alvez said they were money pits,” Sandra said. The group of five crossed the threshold and followed the steps down, the doors sealing themselves behind them. Lights swelled as they approached and faded as they passed to guide them down the tunnel’s steps.  “He insinuated that it was a Tarrare plot to build something we wouldn’t understand the purpose of until it was too late. He noted that they were strategically placed, maybe secret Tarrare command centers for an invasion.”

“Or as muster points to defend against one,” Rivers whispered. “I’m willing to bet these stairs are loaded with more hidden defenses.” 

“Yeah, seems obvious now,” Sandra said. 

“I can’t believe I volunteered for that dick’s campaign,” Julia said. “Both of my parents wanted him to be President.”

“I told myself he was a good leader with one weak point,” Sandra said. “He became obsessed with whatever hidden agenda he thought the Tarrare had. That obsession cost us all. Wiped out all the good he did in his career.”

“Politicians for you,” Kekes said. “They have a gift for making the worst call at the worst time.”

They came to another secured door, a yellow grid of energy passing across them before more blast doors hissed open. A wary bunch of soldiers stood on the other side with Thunderbolt assault rifles trained on all of them. 

“Easy, brothers,” McCorvey said. “It’s been a little while since I’ve showered but last I checked we don’t look much like Ehvow.”

“The Alien system told us you weren’t hostiles, but you can never be too safe, sir,” the ring-leader said. He was auburn-skinned and muscular. He saluted McCorvey, noticing the LTC’s dust-covered rank insignia. “I’m Major Ralston. You’re welcome to come in. This place is really impressive and there’s lots of room to spare. Too bad we didn’t find out about it until after nearly the entire post was lost in the attack. The Post Commander sent it out over the comms right before he and all the MPs were KIA. I was the highest-ranking officer in here until you walked through the door.”

“At the moment I’m not so concerned about rank and more concerned with shelter,” McCorvey answered. He stepped through the inner doors, the rest following. The inner blast doors obediently shut and sealed. The rest of the soldiers dispersed and setting down their weapons on an improvised rack to return to whatever they’d been doing

“It’s good to see some friendly faces, “ Ralston said. “The comms and feed access we have here are telling us we’re not alone, but it’s hard to see it that way. Some of us managed to get our families down here during the attack. Others weren’t so lucky. Anything we can get you?” Ralston said. 

“Right now, I think we all want some rest,” Sandra answered. “We might have more survivors coming soon, though.” Relief crossed the teenager’s face. “Looks like you can finally point your parents at something real.”

Image Credit:

ESA/NASAESO and Danny LaCrue

Spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns - #20

“We can’t hold it!” Sergeant Kilmedes bawled, tears streaming down his face. He was smeared with blood. His face and body with the red kind. His feet with the dark-green sludge from Ehvow. 

“For fuck’s sake,” Chief Inspector Downes shouted back at him. He didn’t really have anything to follow that exclamation up with as his verbal and mental arsenals were very much out of ammunition, much like the single clip left in his gun.

“We’ve been fighting these damn Ehvow for almost a week,” Private Liz Jameson said. “We’ve lost every piece of ground we’ve stood on. Typical that we’d die here. Backed into godforsaken council flats that’re almost an exact replica of the building I grew up in.” 

“South London isn’t exactly where I planned to end my days either,” Downes replied. They’d started out under command of some Captain in the SAS, pulling in territorial military, police, basically anyone he could into some impromptu militia. Of course as soon as they’d really engaged the Ehvow the dashing SAS officer’d been killed promptly. Their group of hundreds had fallen to 18. 

“Trying to think of everyone else,” Jameson said. “Those civilians hiding a few floors up. There’re almost a hundred of them. We’re all that stands between them and those things out there.” 

“No way in hell we can save them,” Private Roarke said. “Or ourselves.” Downes had thought Roark a psychopath when they’d first met. He still did, but psychopathy was starting to sound more and sensible. 

“It’s all bollixed up,” Bob Finch, an MI-5 agent with them mumbled. “The chain of command’s become so diluted no one’s really in charge anymore. Take our merry little band. Highest up is technically the Sergeant over there, and he’s clearly broken. We can’t even follow the orders to evacuate and disband or rendezvous with other poor sods still in this city. Nowhere for us to go that doesn’t involve cutting our way through hundreds of those Aliens out there, and there’s no way the civilians left in this high rise can follow us through that even if we could make it out alive. We have no choice but to make a stand here.” 

A chugging whir started outside. Eric Downes crumpled even further to the floor as the Ehvow guns pulverized the walls and windows near him, the Thornseeds firing into the building from the streets. “Christ,” Private Jameson said, trying to cover her ears even over her helmet. The sound was like hundreds of tiny jet engines coming at them. “If I survive this there’s no way I don’t go deaf from those guns.” It stopped after awhile, like it always did.

“Like I said, all bollixed up,” Bob Finch said. He was the only one who’d kept them alive this long. He really knew the city,  leading them around passages and back-alleys not even Downes knew from all his years on the force. 

“What are they doing?” Jameson asked. 

Downes decided to be the brave one. He slid across the floor and peeped out a gaping hole in the exterior wall. “Nothing,” Downes said. “They look like they’re waiting for something. Maybe more so they can charge the building.” He counted around thirty outside, far more than their group could handle and certainly more than the unarmed civilians in the floors above them could face. 

“Probably doing their equivalent of calling in an airstrike,” Private Jameson said. 

“She’s probably right,” Finch said. “Last I checked the MI-5 feeds they were hitting military and civilian convoys trying to leave the city. Only remainders like us left now.” 

“Wait,” Downes said, seeing two new Thornseeds arrive, each of them holding something. The other Thornseeds tried to take up a more defensive posture around them. “They’ve got boxes of some kind and they’re headed into the lobby.” There were two loud pops as the improvised bombs they’d placed in front of the lobby entrance went off, taking a few more Thornseeds down in a splash of sludge and glowing particles. 

“They’re really coming in,” Roarke said. “I think this is it.”

“Whatever they’ve got must be explosives,” Finch grumbled, after thinking it over for a minute. “For all we know, they’ve got tactical nukes or worse.” Finch rose to his feet. Everyone did the same, following him instinctively at this point. The group gathered themselves, all of them smelling ripe from the blood and sweat they hadn’t had a chance to wash off for the past week. “Territorials, you’re the best armed so I’m going to need you to go first.” Kilmedes had gotten back to his feet, but looked shaky as he lurched toward the stairwell.

“Yes sir,” Private Jameson said, pushing ahead of her Sergeant. Downes followed them, marveling at the pyramid-shaped tunnels taken out of the walls and stairwell from the barrage of the Thornseeds’ guns. The cheap construction wouldn’t stand for much longer. 

Downes thought he could almost taste his heart beating in his throat, his London police uniform and riot gear looking worse than the soldiers’ given all the filth he’d waded through. He heard the gunfire, remembering his tactical training as the territorials lit into the room. They were using old Thunderbolt caseless assault rifles. Eric himself just had one of those new SMGs they’d deployed a few months ago. He wasn’t up on gun manufacturers, but they seemed to be at least slightly effective. 

The gunfire resumed, the Thornseeds doing the usual and barely taking defensive positions. Casualties didn’t seem to matter to the Aliens. As he fanned to the side and leveled his gun he saw Kilmedes take a direct hit from a Thornseed weapon. It took his body completely apart, some of it splashing off the wall and onto the side of Downes’ head. His interface on the right side was clouded with a red film. The combined fire from the soldiers was precise, drilling into the Thornseeds’ midsections in squeals and toppling bulks. They’d learned a lot from all the skirmishes they’d had with the Aliens, Downes himself cutting into the middle of one in a way that burst it open and painted the big windows at the front of the lobby a dark brown-green. As he found his way to a small hallway near the elevators. Cover was minimal, a few load-bearing columns and drywalls all that protected them in the lobby. His weapon stopped firing, the last of his ammunition gone as he ducked through a half-collapsed maintenance room. 

 The Thornseeds began to back away, retreating with shrill warcries. “Got them!” Private Jameson shouted. When Downes crawled from the maintenance room he saw everyone backed as far from the lobby entrance as they could, clouds of spectral yellow-green bits floating around. They settled to the ground after a few minutes, fading to a harmless dull. “I think we took down four of them,”  Jameson said. The broken remains of three of the plant-based creatures were on the ground leaking everywhere. 

“They got six of us,” Private Roarke said. Downes scanned with his interface, identifying Kilmedes among the loss, four others, and then a name in critical condition that made him stop. 

“Fuck!” Downes shouted, seeing Bob Finch’s body on the ground trembling. Downes looked down at Finch’s body, watching blood leak from his eyes, nose, and mouth. The glowing spores pulsed under his skin as they filled his bloodstream. He was dying. 

“He almost made it,” Private Jameson meditated. “It’s not enough that they shoot you, when you’re lucky enough to take them down that happens.”

“That may be the least of our worries,” Downes said, realizing that they’d overlooked the obvious. The two boxes the Thornseeds had dragged into the building were opened, a floating orb popping out of them. The orb was spinning faster and faster. “Anyone have a clue how we shut something like that down?” 

Jameson went to his side, the other soldiers starting to back away. He searched through his police interface and found the the bomb disposal application. “Alien Object Detected” was all it said back. “Really now?” Downes said, pounding his fist into it. There were no buttons, no control panel. 

“I’m out,” Private Roarke announced, sprinting out of the building as fast as his legs could carry him. Downes didn’t think as he watched the energy in the orbs grow brighter and their spinning orbit turn blindingly fast. Instinctively did the same as Roarke, scrambling out of the lobby. The Thornseeds were running in the opposite direction down the street, uninterested in taking any shots at them. 

Downes ran a hundred meters or so in a blur before he stopped. No one was with them, the other soldiers and police officers all still in the building. Then he remembered the civilians. He’d just run, leaving all those families in there. He’d abandoned everyone. Roarke kept running, leaving Downes far behind. 

A flash, brighter than any Downes had ever seen, rumbled the council estates building as it pulsed out of every one of its windows. It hurt Downes eyes even though he hadn’t been looking directly at it. Heat and wind flowed up the street. He had expected the whole building, maybe even the streets to be disintegrated or on fire or covered in spores or some other deadly scenario. 

His interface began to flash warnings, everyone in the council estate’s life signs flickering out. His own body began to fail him, heart racing as his skin flared in itches and then burns. He turned back in the direction Roarke had run and saw that he’d slowed down.  “Warning: Lethal Radiation Levels,” Downes’ interface told him, far too late for him to do anything about it. He fell to his knees as his legs ceased to work and all he could feel was fire, pain, and nausea. His eyes settled on the completely intact buildings around him as he started to go into spasms before they went blind.

Image Credit:

Akira Fujii

spacetelescope.org

Movement 1: Weeds and Thorns #17

“Thornseed” was what was coming over her interface’s radio. She didn’t care for the name, but people were using it all over the comms.  As dawn rose over the landscape of toppled buildings and fire, Sergeant Alicia Kent stared down the scope of her sniper rifle. It was anti-materiel grade, the Hecate IV. Affectionately known as The Witch, or the Motherfucking Witch if you were so inclined. More lances of light fell onto New York from the sky. She hardly noticed the bombardments since they’d been coming every few minutes for almost a full 24 hours. 

There’d been 18 more snipers in the area with her until one of those orbital bombardments had fallen on them a few hours ago and an Ehvow starship had come by and strafed them to make sure. Even the small ships had guns so powerful they tore building supports apart. Only Corporal Danae Malvo and Alicia had survived. They had been assigned to watch and guard the George Washington Bridge after three national guard units had been wiped out. The bridge had almost collapsed but the Ehvow ships zipping by had left it standing so far. She wondered if it was just to lure as many people to it and kill them. If so, their strategy looked to be working. It had been hours since they’d seen anyone even try to cross it. 

Alicia looked sickeningly at one of the dead, Lieutenant Keith Lin. He was still bleeding out and had exposed, broken bones from the triangular gouges in his body. That was the wound the Ehvow guns left. Over the comms they’d been saying that the Ehvow bullets expanded after firing into spinning, three point objects that were about 15 cm long. Made it hard not to miss your target, which the skyrocketing UAS military casualties in Alicia’s combat interface feeds told her. She hated to even think about the number of civilians. The Thornseeds killed everyone they saw, regardless of whether they were armed or unarmed, adults or children. Alicia had positioned herself behind a scorched series of drop barricades that normally stopped every small arms fire humans had designed but were more of a mild annoyance to the bigger Ehvow guns. They weren’t cover so much as a hiding place. 

They came into view, four of the lumbering things. Their blocky bodies surged forward, squatty limbs holding their guns. “You ready, Danae?” Alicia said over her comm. “We’ve got some friendlies that need help.” They were chasing two men and a little girl. “Christ, a child.” One of the men was wearing the shambled remains of a UAS uniform. Her combat interface identified it as diplomatic security. 

“Got them in my sights, ma’am,” Danae said. “Nothing’s happening to her on our watch.” She had a larger Steyr anti-materiel railgun that packed more of a punch than Alicia’s but it couldn’t fire as fast. 

“Damn straight, soldier. I’m picking my target,” Alicia focused in on the closest one to the trio of survivors. Her combat interface showed their targeting choices, Danae aiming for the one behind Alicia selected. She knew it’s head with the dead colorless eyes and the toothy maw was far from the weak point. She aimed first at one of its legs, squeezing the trigger. She’d killed people with a Hecate before, turning them into a red mist with one shell. It was different with the Ehvow. The charged railgun shot burst from the sniper rifle across the bridge in a smoky trail, shearing off the thornseed alien’s leg off in gush of green fluid. The Thornseed took a knee, Alicia taking another shot that burst the Alien open as it squealed that horrible sound. Even almost a km away she could hear that ear-splitting cry. Green fluid leaked out of it and it began to fire indiscriminately at the survivors as they ran through a series of toppled and burned buses. Alicia took another shot, splurting more Ehvow fluids and finally the tell-tale glowing-green viral spores into the air. One down. 

Danae got lucky. She fired one shot into her target’s gun arm, taking the limb and its intimidating weapon with it. A second hit from the Steyr blasted its center-mass clear off it’s legs in a shower of more death spores. Alicia took another one’s leg off, Danae backing her up with a shot that took half of the thornseed’s head off. Alicia used her last round from her clip to finish it off in another cloud of death spores. That left one more. Alicia reloaded. Fortunately she had lots of ammunition. Unfortunately it was all the unused from the rest of her dead squad mates. The last Ehvow was close to the survivors. “Dammit, dammit, dammit,” Alicia spat. Her interface told her Danae was reloading too. 

She couldn’t panic, she finally finished reloading, chambering a round just in time to take a shot into its midsection, then it’s head. The first shot was a good one, but the second was hasty and only grazed the target. It barely slowed the creature down as it bounded forward and leaked slime over everything. 

One of the survivors, the one in UAS uniform, turned. He had an old Thunderbolt assault rifle and he clearly planned on buying the other man and the girl a chance to make it. He backed away slowly as he sprayed random shots in the Thornseed’s direction. Alicia tried to help him, grazing the Alien’s leg as rounds from the Thunderbolt hit home. The Thornseed stumbled around as it took the hits, its insides rupturing. 

“No, no, run you fucking idiot,” Alicia hissed under her breath. The guy with the Thunderbolt was still trying to shoot at the Thornseed, even as the Alien burst open in a cloud of sparkly parasites. The spores flew free, showering him and burrowing into his skin. He began crying out in pain, dropping his gun and falling to his hands and knees.

The other survivor and the girl stopped. Alicia watched the him shout and wave at them. The downed diplomatic security officer was telling them to leave him and run. Alicia, against her better judgment, zoomed into them as far as she could. The girl tried to run to him, the other man holding her back. Through her scope watched the girl mouth “daddy” and yet another piece of her died. There wasn’t much left in Alicia, but she let out a defeated exhale. They did leave him, right as his body flapped in spasms. The spores did whatever they did. He didn’t look like one of the lucky ones who died in seconds. The spores were doing something to his body, poisoning him slowly. 

“We did what we could,” Alicia murmured into her interface, her voice scattered. 

“They’re going to make it,” Danae said. Alicia knew they were. They were close. She became aware of them running through and around her and Danae’s barricades. They’d crossed the bridge finally. They weren’t stopping, running as far and fast as they could. Trying their best to leave the bloody spectacle behind them. Her combat interface lit up with worse news from the nearby scanner arrays. There were Ehvow drop ships coming, and they were slowing as they approached Danae and Alicia’s location. Finishing the job. 

“We helped, what, two or three hundred people across that bridge?” Danae said. “Maybe more. There were a lot in the beginning. Maybe even a thousand.”

“Yeah, at least that much,” Alicia answered. More Ehvow ships were coming, the round strafing ships that had an energized, beaming core and dozens of gun barrels arranged around it. 

Alicia reloaded the Witch, switching it to full auto mode and positioning several clips next to her ready to load in an instant as she changed her orientation to behind them. With her interface and relays nearby, she prepared herself to fire the Hecate’s railgun power through her own barricades. “They’re coming for us, Danae.” She loaded the SMG, watching the pods fall from the dropship through the tangles of her barricades. They were less than ten meters away. She hoped the two last survivors would escape in the mayhem, but she knew that she and Danae weren’t making it out. 

“Ready to give them hell, ma’am,” Danae said. The Thornseeds climbed out of their pods, pointing their guns in Danae and Alicia’s general direction. Alicia took aim from the tangled barricades as their guns shredded everything around her, ready to take down as many as she could. Feeling the barricades and debris shredding around her, shrapnel digging into her arms and helmet, the sound of the Ehvow’s guns drowned out even her own gunfire as she aimed at the closest Thornseed and emptied her entire clip. 

Image Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA

Acknowledgement: Kathy van Pelt