- ALL HUMAN THINGS
MIKE CHRISTOPHER RETURNS TO EARTH TO BATTLE AN OLD NEMESIS!
Mike Christopher, an artificial Human spurned and abused by much of Earth society, left Earth to become a Galactic explorer.
Now, 25 years later, he returns to battle the Jenregar, an alien enemy he's fought before.
But the key to defeating the alien threat also presents a soul-crushing moral dilemma!
Publisher: Hydra Publications
All human things are subject to decay, and when fate summons, monarchs must obey.
-- John Dryden
As he squeezed his way through the hole blasted into the crippled Jenregar starcraft, Mike Christopher thought, All right, so this is the last place I want to be — but a Human’s apparently a captive in here, so it’s worth the risk. A quick glance behind him — the Earth Unity light cruiser Admiral Susan Kojima was boosting away from the Jenregar craft, a shadow in motion against a spray of stars.
Mike lowered himself carefully through the jagged tear in the Jenregar ship’s skin, being especially careful of the small propulsion unit on his back.READ MORE
The first thing Mike saw in the narrow corridor was the body of a Jenregar individual. It was missing an arm, and bodily fluid leaked from the hard carapace of its body. Its small eyes, which for the Jenregar were secondary sensory organs, stared, unseeing. The slender antennae extending from its forehead, which were smell receptors, hung limply. If the energy bolt from the Kojima didn’t kill it, Mike thought, the sudden vacuum would have.
With the height of an average Jenregar being a bit less than a meter, Mike couldn’t quite stand upright in the corridor. He glimpsed movement down the hallway and pulled his disruptor. Two Jenregar, each of them wearing lifesuits, came around a corner, each carrying a different piece of equipment. They ignored Mike as they passed him and began working on the hole in the side of the ship. One instrument, it seemed, created a mesh over the hole. The other emitted a beam that caused the hole itself to smooth over at its rough edges and begin filling itself in.
Can’t allow that, Mike thought, and aimed his disruptor at the Jenregar. A couple of pops from it, and they fell to the floor.
A voice over his datalink was loud enough to make him wince. “Mike — we read disruptor fire from over there. Are you all right?”
That was the voice of Kelda Lee, the captain of the Kojima, which had punched the hole in the Jenregar ship. She’d “borrowed” him from the exploratory craft Asaph Hall just for this mission.
“Don’t worry, Captain,” Mike said. “Just making sure my escape route wasn’t about to be blocked.”
Mike could hear the relief in Captain Lee’s voice. “Thanks, Mike. Find out what you can, but be careful.”
I will, Mike thought as he checked his wrist sensor. The Human on board was located somewhere toward the front of the ship. Mike headed in that direction. The Jenregar craft was a small one, barely twenty-five meters long, with a crew of only 27. It was part of a swarm of such craft that had been detected out past the orbit of Neptune, headed directly for Earth.
Mike knew the Unity was probably correct in its assessment that the Jenregar was about to attack the Earth (“Was,” because the Jenregar possessed only a single hive mind, with individuals acting only by hard-wired programming and coded chemical messages).
The corridor took a turn, and Mike found himself before an energy field, presumably one that had closed off most of the ship from the part now open to space. I wonder, does the shield also recognize pheromonal cues? He reached out a finger toward the field, and sure enough, it passed through easily. Damn, he thought, I’ll take being lucky over being good any day. But as he stepped through the energy field, his first thought was, Maybe not so lucky after all.
A dozen Jenregar stood within a small room, several of them operating ship’s systems, others just standing around. Looks like the bridge, or at least some sort of command center, Mike thought. But pretty crowded. I’d guess some of these Jenregar were evacuated from the damaged parts of the ship.
The Jenregar recognized one another and imparted information to one another by smell, so Mike’s lifesuit had been infused with what he hoped were the appropriate scents that would allow him to pass as a member of the Jenregar crew. I would have to be one of the few Humans to have made contact with the Jenregar, he thought. Unfortunately, I’m probably the best person qualified for this mission. The alternative was shooting our way in with some Unity Marines and likely getting this Human killed.
Too bad all of my effort is for an ungrateful Earth.
So far none of the Jenregar took notice of him — in the same manner, Humans didn’t normally recognize one another by scent. Another glance at his wrist sensor, and Mike realized he was quite close to the other Human on board, who was probably just down a short corridor to his right. Mike headed that way —
— And found himself nearly face-to-face with that other Human.
The man sat at the end of the short corridor, his head in his hands as if in despair. I can’t blame him, Mike thought. Captured who-knows-where, brought aboard this Jenregar ship, which then comes under attack, with no hope of rescue as far as he knows.
The man seemed to sense Mike’s presence and looked up. He was in his thirties, with pale skin, curly hair, and a wide-eyed expression. Mike knew that in return, the man saw his unusual features that reflected all of Humanity’s origins — light brown skin, tightly curled, nearly nappy hair, bright blue eyes.
But Mike’s next thought was, Did the Jenregar torture this man? He had a series of cuts all around his eyes, and his left eye in particular was swollen, as if he’d been beaten. His clothing seemed to sag around him, as if he’d started out as a much bigger man.
“Thank God,” the man said. “Are you here to bring me out?”
“That’s my intention,” Mike said.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re here — but why am I so important?”
“We need to to find out what the hell the Jenregar are up to.”
“That’s what I was going to ask you!”
Mike took another step forward, but the other man stood, almost bumping his head on the ceiling, and motioned for him to stop.
“Don’t get any closer. If I try to take more than about four steps from this corner, I guess some kind of alarm goes off. The Jenregar come after me.”
“I don’t see anything,” Mike said. “But I’d guess there’s some kind of pheromonal barrier on the floor or the walls.” He looked at the other man. “What’s your name?”
“Jeremy Sheffield — have you heard anything about my wife?”
“I’m Mike Christopher — no, we didn’t know anything about you until a few hours ago. There aren’t any other Humans on this ship other than the two of us.”
“Oh, God — Julia! We were on holiday — it was supposed to be a time we reconnected.” Then Jeremy looked up at Mike. “Your name sounds familiar.”
Mike couldn’t be concerned about that right now. Over his datalink, he said, “Captain Lee, I’ve made contact. I’m about to get him out of here.”
“Heard and understood,” Captain Lee said. “Make it fast as you can. It looks like they’ve got automatic systems repairing their stardrive. You don’t want to take a trip with them.”
“Shit,” Mike muttered. “You’ve got that right.”
Jeremy asked, “Who were you talking to? What’s wrong?”
“Unity warcraft — the Susan Kojima. They’re the ones punched the hole in this ship and disabled it.”
“Warcraft? Oh, dear Lord, has it come to that?”
“That’s part of what we’re trying to find out. Listen, Jeremy — we’ve got to get you out of here. Do you still have your lifesuit tech?”
“Yes, thank goodness.”
“I’m going to risk reaching my arm past that barrier.” Mike pulled a small tube from a wrist pocket. “I’m going to want you to activate your suit, then take this tube and smash it over the top of it.”
“I think I get it — Jenregar pheromones?”
“It’ll be as if you transformed into a Jenregar right in front of them. Ready?”
“Ready,” Jeremy said, and pressed his left middle finger into his palm. His lifesuit formed itself around him, Mike handed him the tube, and Jeremy smashed it over the top of his helmet.
“Com’on,” Mike said. “We’ve got to get ourselves into the Jenregar population where they won’t notice us.”
Mike watched as Jeremy took a deep breath, then took that step. Mike put his hand on his disruptor, looked all around. The Jenregar took no notice of either of them. He told Jeremy, “Let’s get you back to Humanity,” and he led the way back down the short corridor.
“I’m ready for that,” Jeremy said. “You won’t believe how long I’ve been in there, how many times they’ve knocked me unconscious.” He shook his head. “This is like being inside a virt, only not as much fun.”
Great, Mike thought. A virt enthusiast. Well, maybe a dose of reality will do him good. They reached the command center. But as Mike started to hurry through the crowded room, he sensed Jeremy wasn’t right behind him. A look back, and he saw the man standing stock still in the middle of the room. Goddam it, he thought, and made his way over to Jeremy as quickly as he could, trying not to run right into any of the Jenregar.
He grabbed Jeremy’s arm. “Com’on,” he said. “This is no time to lose your nerve.”
Jeremy’s features behind his helmet faceplate were a study in fear. “This is exactly the time,” He said.
Mike eased his way past a couple of Jenregar, got behind Jeremy, and pushed, hard. “Go,” Mike said.
As they approached the energy field that led back to the damaged part of the Jenregar craft, Captain Lee spoke up again. “You’ve got to hurry, Mike — our sensors show their stardrive spinning up.”
“We’re getting there as quickly as we can.”
“You may not have a chance to — “
A tearing, rending sound broke off Captain Lee’s words — Is this what a stardrive jump for a Jenregar ship normally sounds like? Mike wondered.
Mike didn’t even have a chance to get through the energy shield before every nerve in his body felt as if it had caught fire and he screamed in agony as he slumped to the floor.
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul....
— Matthew 10:28
Ramira Espinoza, already nearly breathless, a stitch forming in her side, tried to run even faster, as much in a desperate attempt to distance herself from her “boyfriend” and his brother as from the Jenregar horde behind her.
Goddam this city, she thought — with so many of the lights out in this part of Santarem, she had no idea where she was, or where she was headed.
In the next moment, however, she crossed herself at the blasphemy, a habit that said as much about a childhood habit as any remaining piety.
Ramira looked behind her — Diego Fernandez, her boyfriend-who-was-really-her-pimp, was just a few steps behind her, his brother Julian right behind.
And behind them — the sight that spurred Ramira to put on another burst of speed, no matter how much her heart already pounded, how much sweat already poured into her eyes, how much the wood, metal, and glass debris on the sidewalk tore at the soles of her bare feet.
Dozens of Jenregar poured down the street as if part of a single mass — although shorter than Humans, they elicited a vital fear within Ramira with their bodies like crab carapaces, their tentacle-like arms and legs, and insectile bodies and antennae extending from their foreheads.
“Ramira, slow down,” Diego shouted. “We’ll never make it back to the hotel like this. We have to take shelter somewhere.” Another glance behind, and she saw Diego waving his old-fashioned pistol, an actual slug-thrower, illegal as all hell. I won’t even waste my breath telling him he won’t shoot me, Ramira thought. I’m his meal ticket. The Jenregar were only the latest horror she’d had inflicted upon her since Diego’s promises of riches and an easy life had brought her here to Santarem, the capital of the Amazon Confederation, from her home in Columbia.
Ramira recalled, Diego told my older brother Matias, “All things are possible in a market economy where you’re allowed to make money. With all respect, that’s the problem — unless you’re part of the government or big business, you’re never allowed to make money.” We imagined a life where we never had to live on the dole again like we did in our little village, or where we could leave the country entirely and live in a more modern replicator economy like Brazil where people had freedom as well as food, clothing, and shelter.
It was a tempting vision for an 17-year-old orphan girl.
She recalled Matias telling her, “I know you’ll do as the Lord wishes, Ramira. “You’ll make me proud.”
“Ramira!” Diego shouted again. “Into this building!”
Diego and Julian stood at the entrance to a storefront that was a little less damaged than most in this neighborhood; its door was still solidly on its hinges and none of its windows was broken.
I could just keep running, Ramira thought, running away from everything, from the Jenregar, from Diego, from a life where I’m sexing with a dozen men a day just to keep living, just to keep from being beaten — doing things I thought I’d only do with my eventual husband.
Images tore through her memory — men huffing and puffing over her, spending themselves and tossing money on the bedstand, or forcing her to lean over them for other kinds of pleasure.
Now, Ramira wondered, who would have me for a wife?
But the sight of the onrushing hoard of Jenregar made Ramira stop — she knew she’d collapse from exhaustion within moments, while these aliens seemed tireless.
Diego held the door open for her as she pushed past him and Julian. The two brothers followed her inside to what appeared to have been a jewelry shop, its showcases now shattered, its merchandise long gone. I wonder what the odds are that the owners were the ones who got to take everything, she thought.
Some parts of the city off toward the horizon had retained power, and therefore lights, but the dim glow from that distance didn’t reveal much else here in the store. It did, however, reveal another horror — against the outline of some of Santarem’s taller buildings, she could see the curve of the Jenregar mound in the center of the city.
One of the few things Ramira knew about the Jenregar was that they were leveling the interiors of Human cities and raising their own mounds that provided them a place to live, a base of operations, and, it was rumored, a site in which to perform terrible, horrifying, medical procedures upon Human captives.
I’ll kill myself first, Ramira thought. I won’t become one of their guinea pigs.
Diego said, “We’ve got to find a place to hide — somewhere they can’t break into. I’ll look around — maybe there’s a vault or an attic or something.”
“I’ll guard the door,” Julian said.
Diego gave his brother his gun. “You know how to use that?”
“I’ll give the bastards what’s coming to them.”
“You’ll come back here with us the instant we find a place to hide.” Diego grabbed Ramira’s arm and pulled her along with him — pain from previous bruises and cuts shot up from her wrist to her shoulder. He doesn’t have the gun, she thought. Maybe I can get away.
And then what? Go back out in the street and have the Jenregar tear me apart? Although — would that really be so much worse?
Despair washed over her, and Ramira let herself be dragged along a short hallway to the rear of the building. They came upon steep stairs that led upward to a closed trap door. “I told you we’d find something — we can go up to that attic and close if off against these goddam aliens — Julian!”
“You found something?” came Julian’s response.
“Get back here — we’ve found — “
The door to the jewelry shop burst open, and half a dozen Jenregar came through it. Julian fired the pistol repeatedly, and the impacts seemed to make a couple of the Jenregar take a step backwards, but they quickly recovered and continued toward him.
Diego started toward the front of the store. “I’ve got to help him,” he said, and Ramira found herself about to grab his arm to stop him from heading toward the danger instead of away from it —
— and stopped. Another glance toward the top of the stairs, and Ramira began climbing. She paused just beneath the trap door, looking down as the Jenregar revealed stingers on the thumbs of their three-fingered hands and fell upon Julian, who screamed as Diego hesitated a mere three meters away from him.
Even over Julian’s cries, Ramira heard a hissing sound that she realized was coming from the man’s skin as it melted away. The Jenregar sting is full of acid, Ramira realized.
She pulled down desperately on the trap door, fearful it was stuck even as Diego, however reluctantly, turned from his dying brother and headed back toward the stairs. “Get that open!” he commanded her.
That’s the last command you’ll ever give me, Ramira vowed. And the first one I’ll disobey and get away with. She turned a handle on the bottom of the door and realized the door opened upward, not down, and nearly leaped up the final steps into the darkened attic.
Now’s no time to hesitate, Ramira thought. Not if I want to live. She slammed the door down even as Diego shouted, “Keep that open, you bitch!” She heard the dull pounding of his footsteps as well as a chittering noise, apparently from the Jenregar right behind him.
There wasn’t a lock on this side of the door — Ramira looked all around in the dim light of the attic, spotted an unused display case to one side, and with all her strength in the few moments she had left, she pushed it onto the attic door just as Diego began pounding on it. “Let me in! Goddam it, let me in! They’ll kill me!”
The chittering grew louder, and so did Diego’s shouting and, seconds later, his screaming. Ramira laid her body across the display case, adding her own weight to it, as the pounding from the other side of the door subsided. She thought of the dozens, hundreds, of men who’d been allowed to abuse her for these many months until her only reaction had been a quiet acceptance of what she thought she could never change.
Soon all was quiet on the other side of the doorway, but Ramira kept her body across the display case for a long time afterwards, just as a precaution, and so she could revel in the beginnings of the smile that lifted at the corners of her mouth, ever so slightly.COLLAPSE