Yanni’s Pancake House was on Harcourt near the edge of town. The dry riverbed of Broad River was just a few blocks away and beyond the riverbed was nothing but desert. Pearl’s team was the last to arrive with Pearl on her bike and Vivian, Denise and Ian following in Vivian’s car. In the rear parking lot there were two small dune buggys, a multi-purpose all terrain vehicle, or Muttvee, and two black vans. Pearl spotted Azumi in a crowd of at least twenty people, mercs by their look and demeanor.
Pearl and her group walked up to Azumi. Azumi was wearing black. Boots, shorts, tank top, gloves, belts and web gear were all black. In place of the eyepatch, Azumi sported a bionic eye with a telescoping lens. She wore no body armor. No Xeog ever wore armor. Azumi said “Good, everyone is here now and we can get started. Do you have your phone, Pearl?”
“Sure.” replied Pearl fishing her phone out of one of the inside pockets of her duster. Azumi extended her hand and Pearl handed her the phone. Azumi plugged a data jack from a small device on her belt into Pearl’s phone. Pearl noticed that the device was also plugged into the data jack at the base of Azumi’s skull. She pushed a few buttons and then handed the phone back to Pearl.
“There, you have the complete floor plans of Zygote’s lab complex and real time monitoring of the grounds.” said Azumi.
“Floor plans? How’d you get those?” asked Pearl.
“From the New Hope Planning and Zoning Commission of course.” Azumi cooed with an evil grin.
Pearl remembered the “client” Azumi had thoroughly whipped just a few hours earlier.
“What did that cost? Pearl asked out of curiosity.
“Nothing for me. But you have to join in the next session as my nude assistant.”
“Nude? You mean completely naked?” Pearl responded with disbelief.
“Not completely, you’ll wear heels and a harness.”
“There’s no need to use a satellite.” replied Azumi.
Then Pearl remembered what Detective Blue had said about spacecraft. It made sense that the Xeog would have at least one ship in orbit around a planet they considered to be theirs. Pearl was totally unprepared for what came next.
“All right, people, gather round for our last briefing. This mission is a raid on a corporate facility holding one Margaret Dominique, heiress of the Dominique Galactic Lines.”
“Wait a minute, Margaret Dominique?” asked Pearl.
“Yes, Sara Reid is actually Margaret Dominique, the daughter of Claude Dominique, CEO and majority stockholder of one of the largest shipping lines in Gaea Prime space. I just got confirmation an hour ago.” said Azumi.
Pearl looked at Ian and he appeared stunned to discover his girlfriend wasn’t Sara Reid. “Ok,” said Pearl, “Sorry for the interruption please continue.”
Azumi nodded and began again. “The objective is to retrieve Miss Dominique and transport her to safety. The weakest point is west side of the complex which is against the riverbed. That is where Alpha team will attack. Corporate Security will expect the main attack to be a diversion for a second attack. Bravo team will satisfy their expectation by attacking the south gate. Charlie team will enter the grounds on the east side and perform the actual extraction. We will have at most twelve minutes to get in and get out. assemble with your team leaders for final assignments.”
The mercenaries began breaking up into their teams checking equipment and going over their assignments in the operation. Azumi turned to Pearl, “Pearl, your team is a part of Charlie team. You’re in charge. Come with me to meet the rest of your team.”
They walked over to one of the black vans. Two young ladies were talking near the open side door of the van. “Pearl, these are the twins, Amanda and Samantha. Samantha is driving one of the buggies for Alpha team and Amanda will be with you. She’s a medical technician in case Margaret needs medical care. You’d better go join your team, Samantha.”
“Yes, ma’am.” the young lady replied. She hugged her twin sister and ran off to join her team. Amanda picked up her medical bag and tossed it into the van. Pearl noticed someone shuffling toward them. It was a strange sort of walk. He was wearing dark gray coveralls and had black hair everywhere.
“Ah, Charles, so good of you to join us.” said Azumi “Things well?”
“Things fine.” said Charles emerging into the light.
“A Zhuh-Zhuh!” exclaimed Pearl.
“Yeah, what of it, sister? Got somethin’ against Zhuh-Zhuhs? You racist?” he replied.
“No, nothing, I’ve just never…” stammered Pearl.
“Charles, is your driver and he’s good with a submachine gun.” Azumi said diffusing the situation.
“I’m sorry. I’m pleased to meet you.” Pearl said extending her hand.
“Yeah, whatever.” replied Charles. “Let’s load up and get going.”
As Pearl’s team climbed into the van, Azumi pulled Pearl to the side. “We start at 04:50, lights, power, and comm jamming starts on the mark. I’ll be with Alpha team and we’ll open fire exactly on the mark as well. At 04:51, Bravo team makes their attack. When you hear Bravo team start firing, your team goes over the fence north of the east gate. Penetrate the facility, find Margaret and link up with Alpha team at the loading docks.”
“What about the van?”
“Leave it where you go over the fence. Bravo team will pick it up.”
“How many guards are there?” asked Pearl.
“Maybe eight or ten. Two at the south gate, two at the east gate, one at the back, and two in the lobby for sure. Maybe a few more to cover breaks and check doors. If everything goes according to plan, this shouldn’t be too hard. But, nothing ever goes according to plan, so be on your toes.” replied Azumi.
A young woman approached, another Xeog, but she had green skin and was displaying a lot of it. Black sneakers, black shorts and a black halter top was all that she was wearing accentuated with a short black wig. She handed Azumi a large sniper rifle with a long barrel and said “Bravo team is leaving now and Alpha team is waiting for you, Commander.”
“Pearl, this is my” Azumi paused, “associate, Mai.”
“Nice to meet you.” said Pearl. Mai nodded. “Did she just call you Commander?”
“Purely an honorific. It’s time we took our places for this dance.” said Azumi as she plugged a cable from her data port into the rifle. “That’s a big rifle.” said Pearl. Azumi smiled and patted the rifle. “This is a favored weapon among all of the Xeog. It is called ‘the Finger of Death.'” Azumi and Mai then turned and walked off to join Alpha team. Pearl climbed into the van. Charles turned the key and the van roared to life. “Wish we had gotten here early enough for some pancakes.” said Denise from the back. “Yeah, pancakes would have been good.” said Charles turning the van onto the street.
They had driven past the Zygote lab facility and pulled over onto the shoulder of the road to wait. Everyone checked their equipment. Charles and Amanda put on headsets. Pearl was watching with amazement when Charles asked “Where’s yours?”
“Your headset so you can communicate with the rest of the team.”
“Aren’t we using our phones?”
“Yes, but you don’t expect to be able to dial and hold your phone while assaulting a fortified position, do you?”
Pearl blushed, “Well, I guess we should have brought headsets, but we’ve never had need for them before.”
“Rookie mistake. It’s the only mistake you’re allowed the rest of the mission.” said Charles. His big toothy grin made Pearl feel better. “Ok, just stick close to Amanda and she’ll keep you informed of anything coming over the comm. You’re the boss, Pearl, once I get you over the fence.”
“Right, I’ll be first over the fence.”
“Wrong, boss. I’ll be first.”
“‘Cause I get paid the big bucks and we’re using my ladder.”
The area suddenly went dark as power shut down. They heard the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic gun fire. Pearl looked at the van’s clock. It was 4:50 on the dot. At 4:51, more gun fire erupted as Bravo team made its feinted assault. Charles started the van, turned around and started back toward Zygote’s compound.
They stopped a hundred meters north of the east gate. The doors of the van flew open as Pearl’s team sprang into action. True to his words, Charles set a ladder against the fence and was the first one up and over. Pearl was close behind him. Dropping to the ground, Pearl saw that Charles was already a good twenty meters ahead of her. He signaled for her to hurry. They ran at a break neck pace to the first set of doors they saw. Charles pulled a large pry bar from his bag and inserted it near the lock of the door. “Stand back.” he hissed as he applied the massive upper body strength for which Zhuhs-Zhuhs were known. The door popped open and swung wide. Pearl checked the building plans on her phone for the best route to the lobby. “This way, quickly.” she pointed and her team hurried past her.
There was a single fluorescent light flickering in the lobby. A uniformed guard was busy trying to get equipment to work. All screens were off and there he could find nothing but static on his comm devices. “Excuse me,” said Charles in a playful voice, “we need some assistance.”
The surprised guard whirled around. His sudden movement caused everyone to bring their guns to bear on him. His eyes widened and he stammered, “You, you, you’re not supposed to be here. Who are you?”
“Settle down, friend.” said Charles. “All we need is a little information.”
“I’m not telling you anything.”
“I can handle this.” said Denise reaching into her bag. She pulled a taser out of her bag. “A girl’s best friend.” Denise said with a big smile.
“Oh, Denise, for crying out loud.” said Vivian, “Just what are you thinking?”
“He’ll talk. Probably won’t even take more than one shock.”
“We don’t have time…”
As Vivian and Denise launched into an argument, Pearl stepped forward raised her pistol and shot a terminal beside the guard’s right ear. The guard cringed. Pearl placed the barrel of the pistol on the guard’s forehead. “The girl they brought from Value Jeans. Where is she?” And then she cocked the hammer. “Now, please.”
“Lab D.” replied the guard. “The girl is in Lab D.”
“Thank, you.” said Pearl. She turned to the rest of her team. “Ok, let’s go. Viv, Denise, quit bickering.”
“Yes ma’am.” said Denise quietly.
“Charles, tie up our friend. I don’t want anyone wandering around behind us.”
“Besides,” whispered Vivian, “everyone knows a girl’s best friend is her vibrator.”
Charles pulled out a roll of duct tape. “Ian, give me a hand.” Ian held the guard’s arms while Charles taped the wrists. Charles looked over his shoulder as Pearl continued to try to quiet Vivian and Denise. “Gentlemen, women are strange scary creatures.”
“Pearl!” cried Amanda. “Azumi says a shuttle just landed in the compound, we’re going to have company, and she says to move your ass.”
“Right. Let’s go people. Lab D is this way.”
It didn’t take long to find Lab D. The hallways were dark except for an occasional flickering light fixture. These were the lights with the emergency battery ballasts. Azumi had hit the compound with an EMP blast right before cutting power. Backup and emergency systems were struggling to come on line. The door to the lab was a case in point. Entrance was controlled by electronic security panels. The only way in was to blow the door. Charles placed a small charge of Trumix putty explosive near the bolt and around the handle. As soon as the charge detonated, gunfire erupted from within the lab.
Charles was the only member on Pearl’s team that had night vision goggles. He was the only one able to determine where exactly the enemy was located. It turned out that Pearl was lucky. There were only three men defending the lab and only one, a guard in body armor, had night vision built into his helmet. So they were just as blind as Pearl’s team. Everyone was able to crawl into the lab and find makeshift cover. A lot of gunfire was being exchanged, but no one was hitting anything. Then, without warning, the lights came on.
The firing stopped, everyone blinked and looked around. Pearl saw the guard and two men behind a turned over lab table in the middle of the room. One of the men was Victor. Victor recognized her as well and raised his pistol. Pearl ducked before he squeezed off a round. “You’re one persistent old bitch. I’ll give you that.” he shouted.
“Turn the girl loose and we’ll leave. No one has to get hurt.”
“Ha, she saw too much. Now we have to get rid of her.”
“Why didn’t you just do a mind wipe and turn her loose?”
“Because my friends don’t want their slaves to be drooling idiots. In fact, I think my friends just arrived.”
A set of doors at the rear of the lab opened and in stepped a Hishen raiding party. There were four of them and immediately they began an incessant droning. They were wearing orange and tan flight suits. Their large eyes set in large bulbous heads of bluish gray gave them a sinister erie look. They wasted no time bringing their weapons to bear on Pearl’s team.
Victor used this brief distraction to run to the back of the lab and duck into a room. Pearl began working her way toward the room. Denise screamed. She had been hit and fallen to the floor where her body was convulsing. “She’s been stunned.” shouted Charles. The Hishen, used to hunting for slaves, had their weapons set for stunning targets rather than killing. As one, the Hishen stopped firing to reset their pulse weapons. Charles yelled to get their attention and sprayed withering fire from his submachine gun. One alien went down. A second Hishen also slumped to the floor as Vivian scored a hit with her aging assault rifle. Ian, who was armed with Pearl’s shotgun, roared and pumped round after round at the guard and Victor’s associate. Victor’s associate had had enough and ran for the back door.
Victor emerged from the back room holding a dazed Sara in front of him as a shield. “Here’s your little friend, ready for the Hishen slave markets! You want to join her, stupid bitch?” Victor laughed as he dragged Sara toward another room. Pearl tracked him with her pistols hoping to get a clear shot without harming Sara. Victor stopped in front of the door of the other room. Laughing, he shouted “How would you like a little surprise? Want to see what your friend saw? You can look, but then I have to kill you. Oh, hell, I’m going to kill you anyway.”
He punched a code into the door. When it unlatched, he shoved Sara into the middle of the floor. He opened the door and then fired at Pearl. Pearl fired back and scored a hit in his upper right chest. Victor fell to the floor. He groaned and then laughed. “You’re going to have to do better than that, bitch!” Pearl realized he was wearing a bulletproof vest. Her next shot would have to be a head shot. Still laughing, Victor struggled to stand up. As he was still rising, a set of tentacles came out from behind the door and wrapped themselves around Victor’s neck. His expression immediately changed to one of abject horror. “Nooo!” he screamed and then began clawing at the tentacles while gasping for breath. The tentacles only squeezed tighter. Popping and cracking sounds were heard as cartilage and bones were crushed.
The door was pushed completely open by a huge clawed hand revealing a horrific creature. It was easily two and a half meters tall, over a meter wide and looked like it was hunched over as if it couldn’t stand up straight. The shoulders were massive with arms as big as a person’s legs. The left hand was the size of a large ham with stubby fingers and nails like claws. The right arm was different. Beginning an the elbow, the creature’s lower arm and hand had devolved into tentacles. Tentacles that continued to tighten about Victor’s neck. Victor was obviously dead now, but the creature continued to hold onto the body. Where the two shoulders met, there was a serpentine neck like a giant python. What looked like a head had no eyes, but large nostrils.
Pearl ran to Sara and bent down to help her stand up, but Sara was unconscious. She heard snuffling and looked up to see the creature’s neck moving about sniffing the air. When the neck turned the head toward the Hishen, it opened its huge snake-like maw and hissed revealing rows of sharp teeth. As it began to turn its body toward the Hishen, the two remaining aliens had had enough and ran from the room. The remaining guard laid down covering fire and began to retreat as well. Charles and Ian kept pressure on the guard. Vivian and Amanda were attending to Denise. Denise’s body had stopped shaking with the violent convulsions. Pearl decided she would have to carry Sara. She heard snuffling again and then another hiss. She looked up and the creature took a step toward her.
With the Hishen gone, Pearl and Sara were the closest to the creature. It began to shamble toward them. The creature seemed to be blind. Its gait was an awkward shuffle. Pearl didn’t know how fast the thing could run, she knew she couldn’t run very fast while carrying Sara, so she opted to shoot the thing. As big as the creature was, she didn’t miss. Each hit made the creature hiss in anger, but it didn’t stop. It continued to shamble toward her dragging Victor’s corpse along like a toddler with a stuffed animal. She was down to her last clip. “What will stop this thing?” she thought and then remembered the detective talking about how a head shot was the only thing that would stop a Grath. She began firing at the hissing maw and flared nostrils. She was scoring hits, but the thing kept coming. It was close enough that it could almost reach her with its massive arms and tentacles. Then she saw it. On the creature’s back, between the shoulder blades, there was a human skull. It was pale and the eyes fluttered in the back of its head. This was it, the creature’s Achille’s heel. Pearl took careful aim and pulled the trigger. “Click”, the sound struck horror through Pearl’s entire body. She pulled the trigger again and heard another click. The fluttering eyes seemed to laugh at her. The creature dropped Victor’s body and the tentacles reached for Pearl.
Pearl tensed preparing to struggle tooth and nail. She could run, but she wouldn’t abandon Sara. Instinctively, she dropped her gun flexed her claws and bared her teeth. Hundreds of thousands of years of civilization and evolution disappeared leaving only a feral female protecting her young. Pearl sprang at the creature reaching to claw the creatures eyes. “Blam!” The top of the skull exploded splattering Pearl with brains and blood. The creature tottered as Pearl’s body slammed into it. Her momentum caused the thing to fall over. She felt the tentacles wrap around her leg, but they didn’t squeeze. The creature’s body made a loud thud when it hit the floor with Pearl on top of it. Confused, Pearl looked up and saw Detective Sergeant Sally Blue holding her big ass pistol in both hands.
“Now that was way too close for comfort!” exclaimed Sally. Pearl struggled to her hands and knees on top of the creature and blinked. “Ok, listen up. If you don’t belong here, you had better leave now!” shouted Sally. “This is a police investigation scene and everyone had better be gone before backup arrives. But not Miss Dominque or you, Ms. Lemay. I need you to hold the bag so to speak.”
Vivian and Charles picked up Denise. Amanda and Ian approached Detective Blue. “Ma’am, I’m a medic and would like to offer medical care to Miss Dominque.” said Amanda.
“That’s appreciated, but I have emergency crews arriving as we speak. It would not be good for you to be here. You’d better leave with the others.” replied Sally.
“Detective, I’m Sara’s fiancee, Ian Mackenzie. I want to stay by her side.”
“That’s very noble and loving of you, but I’m afraid it is out of the question. You two need to go now.”
Pearl’s team had just left the lab when paramedics and police arrived. “Ok, Pearl, turn around.” instructed Sally. Pearl didn’t resist as Sally fastened the handcuffs around her wrists. “Follow my lead and you’ll get out of this. I promise” whispered Sally.
“I need medics over here.” shouted Sally Blue. “Secure this area and get me a forensics team, now.”
The lab became a bee hive with flurries of activity. The paramedics were working on Sara. Evidently she had been heavily drugged during her captivity. Pearl sat on the floor with her hands cuffed behind her and began to sob. Detective Sam Richards brought Sergeant Blue a cup of coffee. “Boss, the Lieutenant and a bunch of Zygote security people are here.”
“Fine, Sam, have them come back here. I want them to see this thing.”
Sam reappeared with two men in suits and four Zygote security guards in their powder blue body armor. The two suits did not look happy. One of them was police Lieutenant Robert Leighton. “Blue, what’s going on here? The place looks like a war zone.”
“And a pleasant good morning to you, Lieutenant Leighton.” chirped Sally. “We have an interesting and somewhat puzzling situation here. And these gentlemen?”
“Oh, right. Blue, this is Conrad Snyder, deputy chief of security for Zygote, Incorporated. Conrad, this is Detective Sergeant Sally Blue.”
“Just get to the point Sergeant.”
“Yes, sir.” replied Sally. “So far it looks as though someone was using Zygote facilities for criminal activities. The young lady being attended to by the medics is Margaret Dominique, heiress to Dominique Galactic Shipping. She had been taken by force presumably to be sold to Hishen interests. I have four dead Hishen. Two here in the lab and two just outside the building. This lady here is Miss Dominique’s confidant and bodyguard. She had reported Miss Dominique missing and evidently come to this facility to obtain her release. While here, the power was cut and local gangs attempted to breach the facility.”
“Why would local gangers want to break into here?”
“I’m not sure, sir, but I think it has to do with this person over here.” said Sally leading the men over to Victor’s body. “I believe this deceased person, a Victor Daniels, was an employee of Zygote and using corporate resources for personal activities involving criminal elements. Do you recognize him, Mr. Snyder?”
“We are a very large corporation, Sergeant Blue. I’ll have my people look into this. Since this individual has a Zygote ID badge, he may well have been in our employment.”
“You’ll notice gentlemen, that Mr. Daniels appears to have been killed by this unidentified creature. At first, it looks like an alien we’ve not encountered on New Hope, but it was originally a human being. A human being that has been altered. When I arrived on the scene, this creature was about to harm Miss Dominique and her bodyguard. It refused or was unable to respond to my warnings, so I was forced to shoot to ensure the safety of the two women.”
“You say this thing was human, Blue?”
“Yes sir, Lieutenant. I think it was an experiment gone bad. If you’ll look here…”
“Sir, ma’am?” interrupted one of the paramedics. “We’re ready to transport Miss Dominique to the hospital.”
“Lieutenant?” Sally asked. Lieutenant Leighton nodded. “Ok, you can move Miss Dominique.” The paramedics began rolling the gurney toward the door. “Harrison!” shouted Sally.
“Did you and O’Brian come in a black and white?”
“Good. Take this lady to the same hospital as Miss Dominique and have the doctors check her out.”
“Sure, thing Sarge.”
“Oh, and Harrison, issue the lady citations for not having conceal and carry permits and discharging unlicensed weapons, then let her go.”
“Wait, you can’t let them go.” said Mr. Snyder. “We have questions of our own for them.”
“Uh, Sarge, Lieutenant Leighton, I hate to interrupt.” said Sam. “But Ashlynn Cooper and News Team 3 are outside demanding to see Miss Dominique.”
“Well, since Mr. Snyder wants Miss Dominique and her bodyguard to remain on site. I guess Ms. Cooper can do her interviews here and perhaps she can film this poor grotesque individual.”
“No, no. Let them go. We don’t want the press making assumptions about what happened here this morning. Lieutenant, I’d like to talk to you about Zygote taking over the investigation from this point on.”
With that, the suits left the lab. Sally knew that the Lieutenant would have no choice but to turn the investigation over to the mammoth corporation. She also knew that no one would ever really know who or what was behind Victor and the creature. She had hunches. Hunches that involved people high up in corporations turning New Hope into a ticking time bomb.
<< Back to the Beginning < Previous Chapter Next Chapter >