Part I: “Live or Die”
I had just got to sleep when the alarm blared. Flashing red lights poked at my closed-eye vision, I groaned, and a friendly female computer voice intoned: “Warning, warning: UFO detected.” Some peppy music started playing, and that was the last straw. I leapt out of the cot--the prison bed had been more comfortable!--and shouted at the first figure my sleep-deprived eyes made out.
“Whoa, Lester,” the man said. It was Robert Reynolds. I ran a hand across my eyes, and saw my erstwhile cell mate raising his hands in mock surrender.
“Rise and shine,” said Armand, his cheerful Gallic accent clashing with his kicking the giant Russian out of bed. “Vladimir, we’ve got things to kill.”
“We do?” I said over my shoulder. I’d spotted Masanori yelling in his Asian gibberish at the rest of the guys. “What’s going on?” I asked. One of these hours I was going to get an answer to that question.
But not this hour. The lights went out and the door to the cramped room opened, and we ran toward the light and into a long corridor. The doors leading off were sealed, so we were herded out into a hanger. A craft waited for us, the entry ramp open for us.
“Looks like a C-150, smaller,” said Robert.
“No,” shouted Masanori, sounding oddly angry. “That a Skylane’jah.”
“What the fu--”
“Skyranger, you dumbass,” I said, figuring it out. “Prototype. Supersonic.”
“UFO Detected,” intoned the computer lady. “If you would--” here an angry male voice took over, growling “--get in the damn ship, you sons of bitch assho--” the computer lady came back “--please.” We piled in, finding uncomfortable seats along the hull.
“We get weapons now?” Vladimir shouted at the ceiling.
“Have a nice flight,” said the computer lady, as the door closed and the ship took off.
“I guess not,” said Armand, buckling himself in, then it was too loud to talk for a couple minutes while the transport got up to speed.
“Wonder where we’re going?” I asked as the plane hit cruising speed, and for once I got an answer.
“You’re intercepting a UFO, gentlemen. UFO-2, to be precise.” It was the asshole from the video, but this one was live, albeit on a screen at the front of the plane. Some in-flight movie. “One of our fighters was shadowing it and we were lucky enough to spot where it set down. You are to go secure the area and the enemy craft itself.”
“Enemy? Aliens?” scoffed Armand. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Yes,” said the man evenly, steepling his fingers. “It’s night. They’ll know you’re coming once you land, so move in fast before they can get back to their craft. Capture that craft, gentlemen.”
“Is that all?” I asked, sarcastic in my terror.
He favored me with a sardonic look. “Bring an alien back alive. That part of the mission should take priority over your own lives. You’ll be landing in 5. Arm yourselves.” The screen blanked, and we heard the click of the overhead lockers unlocking. We scrambled to open them as the plane slowed, drawing out some M16s and, to Vladimir’s delight, a massive belt-fed auto-cannon.
“That mine,” he said, picking it up and slapping one of the heavy clips in. I noted the red warning: High Explosive, but his nod of satisfaction told me that he’d seen it already. He grinned a toothy grin as the plane set down.
“Yes, you ‘strong like bear’,” said Armand, making a fair mockery of the Russian’s accent. The man growled, but Armand only smiled, reaching up to grab a Beretta pistol out of a locker. “Bring it, tough guy,” he said, slipping a spare clip in the pocket of his jumpsuit.
The bay door opened, and the front guys rolled out into the dark forest. I spotted an unopened locker and put my rifle down to pop it open. “Stun rods here,” I shouted, and tossed one each of the long sticks to Armand and Robert, then slipped it across my back, out of the way.
We must have looked ridiculous, hustling out of the ship with the tall blue poles poking above our heads, but before I could think on that, the damp night was blasted apart by rifle fire. One of the guys was hit, his arm seared off at the shoulder, and a green fire licking up from the wound and into his face as he staggered away to fall into a clump of bushes. Then I heard a horrible groan somewhere in the forest to the right. “Stop fie’,” shouted Masanori, motioning me and Armand to investigate. It was as good an order as any, so Vladimir set himself up to cover us while Masanori yelled and pushed the rest of the guys into a search pattern.
Armand had sprinted ahead. Man, that guy could move. “Shot a kid, looks like,” he said, and I hustled on up to shine my rifle-light on the tiny grey corpse. The giant eyes stared back at me out of a big round head, and I saw the alien chest expanding and contracting, sucking at what looked like it had been a rebreather before it was shattered by the gunfire that gutshot the creature. “Huh,” said Armand. “I was mistaken.” Then he put his pistol to the thing’s head and pulled the trigger.
“Aren’t we supposed to take one alive?”
“Not that one,” shrugged Armand as Vladimir came up. I abruptly realized that the deep background thrumming couldn’t be the Skyranger’s engines, and was just starting to try to figure out where it was coming from when a new eruption of gunfire pretty much gave me the answer. “Shall we join them?”
“Da,” said Vladimir, breaking into a hustle after Armand. I followed, hearing two simultaneous screams as we approached. Two more guys down. Then we ran across Masanori, crouched behind a tree, a burned corpse--that plasma was like contained napalm--smoking next to him, and the small Asian himself spraying fire as fast the three-round burst setting would allow. The man was laughing his ass off, and not aiming for shit.
“You’re drawing their fi--”
And so he was, as a hail of plasma sent me diving for the dirt. “There’s only one!” I heard Armand shout, then I heard the click as Masanori’s rifle ran out of ammunition.
“Back ship!” he shouted, scrambling back. “Mo’ ammo!” We ignored him.
Armand dropped his pistol next to me, and I saw he was holding his stun rod. I arched an eyebrow, and he nodded, grinning. He seemed to be having a wonderful time. “Got it. We’ll cover you, Armand,” I shouted over the renewed hail of plasma. He was off like a shot into the dark, and I laid down suppressing fire. Vladimir was about to pop off an explosive shot when we both saw a blue spark and then Armand whooped a French curse of triumph.
I heard Robert shouting in the distance. “Found a ship, guys! Get the hell over here!” We passed Armand kneeling over another of the big-head child aliens and I returned his pistol, then me and Vladimir could see the grey metal of the ship ahead, and there was Robert Reynolds and another guy. “Here’s a door.”
“Open, shoot in?” offered Vladimir.
“No. We’ve got to take the thing intact,” I said. “The door opens. Stack up,” I shouted at the other two, and we pressed ourselves on the side while Vladimir covered the surroundings. I ran my rifle-light along the smooth surface until it illuminated a projection. I reached out my hand out: “Ready? One, two--” I popped it open and the curved panel slid down. “Go go go.”
Oh, the first guy was splattered six ways to beyond, but me and Robert didn’t take time to grieve, we just rolled in and sprayed the interior of that ship down with bullets. The other two aliens didn’t stand a chance. “You guys captured one back there, right?” said Robert. He sounded so concerned that I cracked up, putting my rifle down and staggering back outside and laughing out loud. Vladimir joined in, slapping me on the back.
That’s how the Army clean-up guys found us.
Once we’d landed, some lab coats had got me and Vladimir to drag the captured alien to a containment facility on base, at which point Armand had been taken aside by another set of lab coats for a private debriefing and Vladimir had wandered off somewhere to do whatever it was that giant Russians do when stuck in an undisclosed location.
That left me staring at the alien, sans rebreather, floating in a reinforced glass tank full of some kind of jelly. I could see it breathing, and I could see it watching me. What was it thinking? Kill all humans, aliens rule, blow up their shit, Earth Sucks. I put a hand on the glass, and the thought popped into my head: ‘sucks to be me. I’m stuck in a tank.’
“You and me both, pal,” I muttered. Then: “Sucks to be us.”
Next Friday -- I-3 "UFO-3"