by Guy Stewart
It looked like writing to him.
If it was and Earth Government found out about it, they’d wipe the area with an enhanced radiation weapon. With his consent, they would wipe his memory and give him a less harmful one. Without it, they’d kill him.
Kidus Tesfa worked a folded strip of paper free from the string tied around the middle of the flattened, desiccated furry roadkill. Embedded with dried blood and dirt, the paper was marked in charcoal with obvious stick hands, digits crooked once or twice in different combinations, scrawled in a hurry. With a cybernetic eye in place of an organic eye, he took a picture of it. Then he heated his cybernetic hand to three-fifty C and touched the paper. It flashed to ash.
He shunted the image into his encrypted personal file then spoke into his mission recorder. “Assignment recorder,” he corrected himself. Since returning from Mars, he and the other cybernetic soldiers no longer did missions. “Maybe I should just rip the recorder out.” He smirked. That comment would bug hell out of Wyome, his military psychotherapist. She’d probably go all righteous and prescribe more therapy or drugs. It might be fun – but not worth the cost in the end. When they were on Mars, he’d discovered that irritating her was a dicey proposition at best. They’d both been first lieutenants at the Battle of Mariner’s Valley Bottoms. He, Wyome and the other Coldiers came back with serious emotional problems.
His jaw clenched and his pulse raced, but he managed to say, “The criminally genetically manipulated humans the colonists called ‘the new Martians’ are extinct. We saw to that.” There. He’d said it correctly. Wyome had had him practicing for months for just this moment. Even so, the thought of thin-legged spiders with quasi-human faces and high-pitched, Disneyesque voices raised his blood pressure and gave him pounding headaches. His mind still screamed, “Monsters!” but his mouth said the proper phrase.
He turned from the roadkill and with long strides, went to his 1998 Honda Goldwing GL 1500 motorcycle antigrav conversion where he’d parked it on a hill a kilometer from the four silver strips laid out over the old Interstate 35.
He pulled his black T-shirt down tighter, tucking it into black leather pants then arched his back, pressing thumbs over kidneys and taking deep breaths.
Wyome’s voice abruptly spoke from the ‘wing’s onboard computer, “Are you OK, Kidus?”
Kidus started then snapped, “What are you doing monitoring my frequency?”
“My avatar detected elevated pulse rate, sweat gland activity and respiration, paradrenaline spikes and artificial muscle fiber reaction. Something’s bothering you,” she replied.
Her sultry alto voice also had a stimulating effect on his primal brain, so he said, “I found some more evidence.”
He grunted, hummed then said, “I don’t know how much you know, so I’m not sure I can say anything about what I found.”
She laughed, “Sounds like evasion to me. I’m making a note of that.”
“I think you’re a State Trooper, right?”
“Technically, I supposed I am. But EGov won’t let me access Trooper transmissions.”
“Why not? You’re technically a Trooper.”
“So are you – technically.”
Scowling, he snapped, “I’m an independent contractor. Besides, since when has EGov ever stopped you from doing whatever you want?” Kidus replied.
“Even EGov has periods when it gets so twitchy that we can’t fart without filling out a formal request.”
“Coldiers don’t fart,” Kidus said.
“Avoidance again. Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you or am I going to have to call you back to Minneapolis-St. Paul Vertical Village and have a session?”
He didn’t say anything for a while, watching heat waves shimmer on the silent highway. Finally, he said, “I hate scraping guts from the Highway. This time I documented and zapped a smear on Interstate 35 that was once six raccoons; yesterday half a herd of white-tailed deer tried to cross in front of a transport south of Port Superior Duluth. The day before that, thirty-three migrating Canadian geese west of Hamlet Des Moines on I-80 needed to be cleaned from the road. A few weeks earlier, a nursery of raccoon narn south of Hamlet Damascus, Virginia needed poisoning.”
“Good work for an old guy like you, Kidus,” said Wyome. Ignoring implied insult, Kidus turned slowly, scanning underbrush in infrared for traces of raccoons or narns. The bushes were no warmer than the air. He looked back toward the mutated raccoon that country folk claimed was intelligent – a narn. It had been there for a while and probably had nothing to do with the new mess he’d scraped up.
Kidus said, “You know what a narn is, right?”
Pause. “Imaginary anthropomorphic animals – like the beavers in the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA or the dancing hippos in FANATASIA?”
Kidus snorted. “They aren’t imaginary.”
“You mean Mr. and Mrs. Beaver really talked to Lucy?”
“Technological Predation Punctuating Evolutional Equilibrium – TP2E2 explains evidence that certain species of animals are being forced to evolve intelligence in response to the pressure of Human technology on species and habitat.”
“Oh! TechnoPred Theory? You sounded like a documentary.” She stopped then added slyly, “Mostly I’d heard it has the same veracity as Lamarckianism.” Kidus sighed and Wyome added, “Who sold you that crock – and why’d you buy it?”
Ignoring the question, he continued, “If the new roadkill was looking for the note the old roadkill was carrying, then we might have a bigger problem than we can handle.”
Kidus had known Wyome for years. He clearly heard the shift in timbre of her voice – even without augmented hearing. She pretended to be casual as she said, “What are you talking about?” Her tone said ‘horrified hatred’.
He decided that as long as he was going down for avoidance issues, he might as well go all the way. He said, “Meet me at my estate on the Mississippi and I’ll give you evidence that Lamarckianism is still alive and well.”
“Verify it now, Kidus.”
He snorted then said, “Sorry, Wyome. I have to get traffic moving again.” He went to the bike and mounted it, calling HQ back in MSP Vertical Village. “Kidus Tesfa here, Interstate Thirty-five Southbound and Northbound have been cleared. Resume traffic.” Shortly, seventy colorful boxes strung like beads on wire rocketed silently past him heading into MSP Vertical Village. Yellow logos of stylized wheat marked each car. A moment later, a set of tapered white cylinders slid past going south. First class accommodations in the front car actually had windows, glinting briefly in the hot February sun. The thirty rear cars didn’t. Those passengers wouldn’t see the sky again until they reached New Orleans-Memphis Vertical Village in the mangrove swamps of Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. He went switched back to Wyome and said, “How fast can you get down here?”
“Where is ‘here’?”
He glanced at his GPS then sent her the location. “I’ll be twenty kilometers east of Hamlet Faribault at the Kenyon marker in half an hour. Can you make it?”
She didn’t respond right away and when she did, the tone of her voice had changed. She said, “At the town’s locator obelisk?”
There was a long pause then she said, “I’ll meet you – but as your comrade, not as your shrink.”
He frowned, sniffed but said, “Don’t see what difference that makes, but fine. Have it your way.”
“I’ll be there in about an hour.”
“Better make it less.”
“Let’s just say at this point that I appear to have reached a profound point of conflicting interests.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she grunted and said, “Forget I asked. I’ll take the copboard as long as you’re so hot on some imaginary…”
“Just get down here ASAP,” he snapped, hanging up on her. Usually she flew an antique DeLorean with an antigrav conversion. The copboard – a low-slung, surf-board analogue with controls set in hand rests that hung a bit below the board, it could break the sound barrier if necessary and was a far more serious mode of transportation.
Kidus stared after the train as I-35 rippled beneath heat waves.
He went back to the road kill and knelt down. The narn’s front paws were squashed flat but he carefully pried one up. Gently manipulating the digits, he worked the fifth finger free, bending it easily enough to cross over the palm and almost touching the far finger. In a normal raccoon, the five fingers of the front paws lay flat, side-by-side. In this creature, not only was the outermost finger nearly opposable and the nails flattened, but there was evidence that the elbow joint had a minor rotational quality.
All of that was conjecture as the bones had been mostly crushed. He stood up, letting its hand drop back. He’d have to wait for a lab analysis, but the flattened creature was almost certainly a raccoon narn. Discovered forty-eight years earlier, a nursery of the things in central Wisconsin had been unearthed. Exterminators found that the raccoons had lined the walls with paper and mud, kept four working flashlights, three knives and stashed in a side room, fourteen old plastic coffee containers packed with dry pet food and sealed with duct tape. A fifteenth held ten shotgun shells separated into shot, powder, plastic and brass. They also had four unharmed sleeping bags and a crudely cobbled platform that kept the youngest narns’ nest off the damp ground.
EGov had ordered sterilization of the site. Done. Kidus had been hunting them down for the Highway Patrol ever since, quietly stomping the things when he could; poisoning, burning and sterilizing when he had to. He’d done it for a decade until General Lagos, the Mars police action commander, contacted him. The robotic AI recruited him for a covert operation called the
Office of Life in order to save narns. Kidus shook his head. He’d hated slaughtering the things – but he still wasn’t comfortable with actively saving them, either. He was pretty sure there was a nursery of narn raccoons on his estate on Wiggle Waggle Island in the Mississippi, but hadn’t reported them to Lagos yet. He was still considering sterilizing the site. It was one thing to save them on the mainland, another to live with them in his back yard.
He knelt down.
The roadkill meant that there were others in the new wilds of North America. This one had obviously been carrying a message of some sort. He shivered despite the heat.
Kidus muttered, “Crap,” then went back to his 1998 Honda Goldwing GL 1500 motorcycle antigrav conversion. He was sky borne a moment later, heading south and east to avoid the MSP Vertical Village air space. He set the ‘wing on autopilot and pulled up the initial DNA analysis comparing the dried roadkill and the fresh.
It wasn’t long before he noticed a silver sliver in the farmland and forest below clinging to the shadow the Goldwing cast as it sped north. His cyeye still linked into a tactical computer. Data scrolled down cataloguing the copboard shield’s highlights: single point sustained pressure deflection up to 25 gigapascals to protect against malicious collision; permeable only to molecules smaller than carbon dioxide, capable of deflecting wind, water, bullets, energy pulses and concentrated laser fire for up to two minutes, and total dissipation of sonic discharge up to point-blank range. The next list offered methods of overcoming each highlight.
He toggled the stealth system on the ‘wing to damp its electromagnetic and acoustic emissions, scrambled his infrared signature and started a slow descent. EGov still maintained non-interstate roads for the convenience of the humans who lived in the hamlets to funnel produce to the collection depots for shipment into the Vertical Villages.
The sliver followed one of the roads and his shadow for a bit longer as he dropped lower and lower. If he hadn’t been watching with his real eye, he’d have missed the silver bubble’s escape in a burst of EM static. The copboard fuzzed the ‘wing’s stealth kit as well as his cyeye. It shot forward and disappeared in a vast stand of old growth maple and oak. He touched down a short time later, going into real-wheel mode.
Thirty klicks farther and he turned off the main road north of Hamlet Rochester, slowed down as he passed from synphalt to gravel, slowing more as the gravel faded to dirt and late winter weeds. Gunning the ‘wing’s internal combustion engine, he did a yoo-ee and headed south. Crossing the synphalt, he turned east and accelerated to cruising speed, slowed, turned south and hit the antigrav for ten seconds, wheels just skimming the weed tops. He drifted downhill and into a creek ravine where he was screened from the road by leafless winter brush and stopped, shutting down the ‘wing. It settled to the ground. Silence rang in his ears. He waited thirty minutes, then scrambled up to the edge of the ravine and wriggled until he could sweep the maples and oaks with his cyeye.
The ravine was silent. Suddenly, a pencil-thin pair of contrails arced into the sky then detonated in the treetops of winter-bare oaks. Scowling, he used his cyeye to telescope in on the targets.
All he could see were a plethora of squirrel nests. “They can’t be blowing up squirrel’s nests. What a waste of a good missile.” As he watched several more of the larger nests disintegrated, scaring up a ‘murder of crows’ that wheeled into the sky, cawing angrily.
Kidus backtracked the contrails, his tactical computer identifying them as…he cursed as infrared beams – invisible to his Human eye, but as clearly etched as fictional “phaser beams” to his cyeye – abruptly lanced up from the ground and each bird exploded and fell as a ball of burning feathers.
Scurrying back to the wing, Kidus goosed the impellers and rose up, tilting forward. “I gotta see what this idiot is up to.”
A new voice abruptly spoke in his head, saying, “You don’t think they’ll notice you on your motorcycle of the air?”
Kidus snapped his head back and forth then exclaimed, “Doesn’t anyone chime me before they talk any more? Who is this?”
“Lagos AI, director, Office of Life.”
Kidus blinked in startlement and stammered, “Uh…they won’t…Sir.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because you bought my bike and upgrades.”
Kidus expected bureaucratic bluster. Instead, Lagos said, “Do I have good taste?”
“Uh…yes, Sir. You paid for neo-military grade weaponry and antigrav conversion and top-of-the-line stealth tech.” Kidus hovered, squeezed his lower lip between middle finger and thumb then said, “The person was blowing up squirrels and incinerating crows.”
“They thought the crows were ravens,” said Lagos without expanding on the comment.
“Is that supposed to explain something?”
“Squirrels and ravens are classified by EGov as fringe suspects of technopredation accelerated evolution. The list includes octopi, some species of parrots as well as the usual whales, dolphins, great apes, and elephants.”
“They think there are elephant narns?” Kidus shuddered, muscles tensing. He was abruptly glad he was in the center of North America. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if he found narn elephants near his estate. Probably move to the Moon. Lagos snorted. Why would an AI affect a sound created by breathing?
It said, “Zoologists, ethologists and geneticists have suspected there were narn elephants since the middle of the Twentieth Century.” Kidus’ link chimed this time. It was Wyome. He held his finger over the respond key as Lagos said, “When you find out they’re up to, contact me through this private link.” He touched the control panel.
“Took your time, didn’t you…” Wyome said.
He could tell she was about to go off on a rant, so he said, “Are you there yet?”
She paused. “Almost. You?”
He was just outside of what had once been Kenyon. “Just outside of town. See you there soon.”
“You’d better beat me. I’m not sure I’ll notice anything as small as an obelisk.”
“I’ll be there.” He cut the signal.
Kidus was waiting at the obelisk, a three-meter tall sandstone monument in the center of what had once been Kenyon, Minnesota. Razed during the Consolidation and Recovery of the Wild Act by the UN that led to building one thousand mile-high Vertical Villages housing most of Humanity, the elimination of suburbs, cities and towns and the return of the land to food production for the Villages created an estimated one million obelisks dotting the planet, commemorating that final act of vertical urbanization.
Kidus stood, tapping his foot, staring north, shading his eyes against the westering sun and scanning the sky for a glint off Wyome’s copboard deflector bubble. It appeared low in the west and he waved.
It swooped smoothly to the ground. The bubble vanished and she stepped out, tall, black, wearing Trooper tan and dark brown and stunning with silver hair cropped close to her head just like she’d looked on Mars – except then she’d worn Marine rust, her hair had been black and – he squinted, the cyeye magnifying – she hadn’t had any wrinkles.
He left the ‘wing and held out both hands. She took them, gave him a peck on the lips and stood back, hands on hips, looking him up and down. She reached up and touched his face, saying, “Amazing. You don’t use any virtual enhancements during our sessions.” She paused then added, “You look old.”
Kidus shrugged, feeling his cheeks warm. “Why bother? I didn’t care what other people thought then, I don’t now.” He lifted his chin, “You don’t look anything like your avatar.”
She smiled, tilting her head, “You never mentioned you cared, Kidus.”
“That’s because you’re the shrink. If I said something wrong in those days, you could have booted my ass out of the Corps and back to Earth.” He shook his head. “I wanted to go to the stars.” He paused, sighed then said, “I was almost there. Now I’m a roadkill scraper…”
“You’re more than that, Kidus!”
“I was about to add ‘and Technological Predation Analyst’.” He shrugged. “Someone’s gotta clean up the roadkill and as long as EGov hasn’t figured out how to take out all of my implants, I make myself useful doing this.”
“You never said how being a technopred analyst made you feel.”
“Yeah, right,” he said, heading back to the Goldwing and mounting. He looked over his shoulder, “I’ve told you a dozen times during sessions that I’m OK with it.”
She nodded, “You’ve said that – you just never mentioned what it was you were OK with.”
“Hop on. I’ll take you to the estate where we can talk.” She hesitated, glancing at the copboard. He said, “Ain’t no thugs or gangs to strip it down or steal it out here.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I suppose you’re right. If I get a call from a client, I won’t be able to answer, though. You lead, I’ll follow.”
He kicked the impellers, holding to fifty centimeters above the ground.
“You’re not flying?” she asked.
“Someone was following me on a copboard and I don’t know what they’re up to.”
“You’re not the only technopred analyst on the Highway Patrol’s payroll, are you?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Never checked.” He looked at her, “You know me. Or are you trying to tell me something?”
“Nope. Speculating. Sounds like you looking for raccoon narns and them blasting squirrels out of the trees and ravens out of the sky is pretty much the same thing.”
He swung his leg back over the ‘wing, letting it drop back to the ground, leaning back against it and turned to face her. He said, “I didn’t say anything about the person following me blasting squirrels and ravens,” he paused, “and they weren’t ravens, they were crows.”
She crossed her arms over her breasts, leaned back against the obelisk, pretending to be casual. Defensive posture. “I didn’t know there was a difference, but I do know I was listening in on your muttering again. I distinctly heard you say ‘squirrels’ and ‘ravens’.”
He shook his head, cleared his throat then said, “You were the one following me.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you flew out of the west.”
“You should have come from the north – the MSP Vertical Village.”
Increased tension around her eyes made them suddenly hard, steely, cold as she said, “So what if it was?”
He pursed his lips, nodding slowly then said, “No big deal, actually but if we’re on the same side, why are you shadowing me?”
Her gaze narrowed as she said, “Are we on the same side, Kidus?”
“Of course we are!” he exclaimed, feeling his heart sink to his feet in realization that they weren’t on the same side any more. “We fought to free Mars from tyranny!”
“No, we fought to keep Mars tied to a planetary government rather than independent.”
“We fought to keep them free of the warlords who wanted Mars for themselves. They’re the ones who made the genetically modified human DNA ‘old Martians’.
Wyome clapped her hands slowly, sarcastically. “Very good, Kidus! You phrased that very diplomatically. You’re a credit to your therapist.”
“I’ll make sure I tell you that someday.”
They stared at each other in silence, which she finally broke by saying, “Whose side are you on?”
“I’m on the side of Life, Wyome.” Kidus swelled and stepped forward.
Wyome laughed, “I’m as well-endowed as you are, Kidus. I’m not afraid of you.”
“Didn’t want you to be,” he said. “I’d like to know why you’re following me.”
“I’m not looking for you.”
“You’re looking to kill narns.”
“I’ve always been looking to kill narns. It’s what EGov does.”
Kidus shook his head and said softly, “Not everyone in EGov.”
She was silent, poised, waiting. He knew she could wait for a long time that way. They’d done it on Mars. Her problem would be that he could do the same. She finally said, “I hated those ‘old Martian’ monsters.” Her usually pale face flushed.
“The ‘old Martians’ are extinct, Wyome. Nothing there to hate anymore.”
She said softly, “I hate the idea of them or anything like them.”
Neither had been looking up. When the flock of silent ravens dropped from the sky, neither was ready for it. They hit Wyome hard, fast and without mercy, swinging heavy beaks like scimitars and tearing gobbets of flesh from her head, face, hands and neck – anywhere flesh was exposed. Her paradrenaline pump surged for battle, the veins on her neck, temples and in her real eye swelled. Artificial muscle fibers augmenting her real ones made her biceps, triceps, quads and pecs stand out. She started panting. These were birds – not heavy equipment or mountain passes or Humans. They were smart birds that could naturally dodge tree branches and trunks, eagles and hawks.
Kidus had no way of blasting them because not only did they wheel tightly around Wyome, they sent outliers to harass him, swooping but never hitting him.
She managed to grab a few, incinerating them, but others dropped from the sky to take their places three times over. She sprinted for the copboard and the shield went up. It shot east, blasting through the sound barrier. He knew exactly where she was going: the narn colony on Wiggle Waggle Island.
The flock rose as one, flew at Kidus, knocking him over then rocketed into the sky dispersing in all directions, raucous calls fading until a silent, hot February sun slanted across the ground, spilling over the sandstone obelisk.
Kidus chimed Lagos. The link activated instantly and it said, “What do you want?”
“You called me,” Lagos replied.
“What do you want from me?”
Long pause then Lagos said, “I don’t know what you’re…”
“What do you want to do with the narns?” Kidus shouted. “It had better be good, because I just trashed a lifelong friendship for what I believe about them.”
He managed to croak, “How?”
“Keep them from the Wyomes and the EGovs.”
“By any means necessary.”
Kidus stood trembling, throwing a winter shadow across stubble, scrub brush and plowed fields awaiting seed, the right length of day and irrigation. When the sun touched the horizon, he said, “Any means?”
“I’ll have to kill Wyome.”
“Why?” Lagos asked softly.
“She’s targeting the nursery on my estate on the River.”
“How do you know that?”
“Why else would she be headed for the Mississippi?”
“How do you know there’s a nursery there?”
“I put food out and it’s gone.”
“How do you know they’re narns?”
“The cans are open in the morning.” He paused. “Cans. Old fashioned aluminum and steel. No can opener. That says a lot about the raccoons.”
“Ah. So you speak raccoon now?” Lagos said.
“No, but I can learn. You made sure we all could,” said Kidus.
“We did,” it said, adding in a lower voice, “Not that it made any difference.” It paused. “You’d better hurry. Wyome’s arrived over your island estate and she’s scanning it as we speak. Her pulse and blood pressure are sky-high. Her paradrenalin levels are off the chart. I conjecture that she is scared and thinking about doing more than stomping or poisoning your nursery.”
He shrugged. “You can buy me a new estate if she calls in nukes, but we tried that. It hasn’t stopped Technological Predation Punctuating Evolutional Equilibrium anywhere.”
“She and EGov are trying to exterminate narns.”
“I was trying to as well.”
“Now I’m not.”
Long pause, then Lagos said, “Wyome has a new weapon. Nanomachines that can reverse engineer narn DNA returning it to a ‘natural, non-sentient’ pattern.”
Kidus sighed and said, “I’m tired of fighting the government. I’m tired of fighting evolution.”
“Then you’d better hurry and come up with an alternate plan before you get home.” It paused. “I take it you’ve decided evolution’s direction here.”
Kidus grunted, muttered, “Forward as always,” and switched off.
He skimmed low over the fields and treetops. Lagos kept him apprised of Wyome’s location via a tight link. “Looks like she’s set up camp somewhere shielded.”
“She has stealth that’s that good?”
Lagos snorted – again a breathing sound – then said, “Shielding isn’t always electronic. That, I can break through. No, she’s actually somewhere that’s blocking her signal.”
“There’re plenty of natural caves and overhangs along the River. Lots of rockslides, too. Those would make little pockets she could hide in.”
“Big enough to park the copboard?”
Lagos said, “There’s a good chance she’s been camped out nearby and has been watching you.” Below Kidus, the land slowly grew sharper, rockier and then dropped away entirely into sandstone cliffs along the Mississippi River valley. Once he reached the cliff face, he dropped downward and turning sideways, parallel to the rock as he sank further into the valley, screened by brush and deep shadows cast by the cliff faces. Lagos said, “Do you have a plan yet?”
“Not one that I’m going to talk about on an open link. Especially not with you.”
Lagos hummed then said, “I see your point. When you’re ready to talk some more, call me.”
Kidus bobbed down to River level and floated forward. His tactical display noted that Finger Lakes 1, 2 & 3 were on his left. Wiggle Waggle Slough wrapped around Wiggle Waggle Island, his home. There wasn’t any foliage yet – it was still the middle of February – but the brush was so heavy that leafless branches just as effectively screened hundreds of piles of rock and stone.
It also showed numerous burn marks. Kidus growled in the back of his throat. Wyome had been hunting his estate. She must have found raccoon narns nearby.
He drifted down to his estate. His scanners were sophisticated enough to pick out more than simple electronic signals. The ‘wing scanned for fuel particulates, gravitational distortions, smoke particulates from a campfire, even simple trash inadvertently left lying about.
Garbage is what gave Wyome away. A two-gram bit of pressure and heat formed cellulose – packaging – flared yellow on the scanner grid. Kidus landed the ‘wing and uploaded the coordinates to his cyeye, carefully dismounting. Though the flare faded to a glow, it was clear in Kidus’ vision as he picked his way forward. It wasn’t long before he came up on the copboard. The silver bubble was parked, over half of it tucked beneath a slab of yellow sandstone that dammed an old and massive rockslide, towering above them in the direction of the Minnesota cliffs. The yellow flare of cellulose was at the foot of the bubble, where Wyome had dropped it.
She was presumably inside, but Kidus only gave even odds that she was on the board. She could be using the bit of garbage as bait to lure an unwary Kidus and watching from some other vantage point – there were plenty of rock piles and boulders behind which to hide. Debating, Kidus scanned his surroundings and started, his pulse rate soaring. Lagos would have cut off her sensor feed, but he could still see around himself.
He was surrounded by raccoon heat signatures; maybe a dozen total. He had little doubt that they were narns. Were they here to kill him in revenge for all their kin he’d destroyed? How would they know he’d nuked a nursery in Virginia and stomped on dozens of their youngsters? Would they know that he, Wyome and the rest of the cyboldiers had killed every last ‘old Martian’ – driving the new species to extinction?
All they knew of him, they’d have discovered on Wiggle Waggle Island. What had he done to them here?
There was a blinding flash of heat in the middle of the slide visible only to his cyeye, but no spectacular explosion. The rocks shifted and the sandstone slab cracked with a deafening report. The fall would have crushed Wyome if it wasn’t for the side of the bubble disappearing as the copboard’s power source diverted energy to create a ring of resistance, leaving the sides open to the air. She screamed, “Keep those monsters away from me or I swear…”
The narn raccoons hidden in the brush fired their primitive arrows and threw their prehistoric spears at the technologically unprotected human. One of the arrows pierced her throat, cutting off her tirade.
The copboard shield held, protecting Wyome’s dead body from the crushing weight of rock. Kidus counted until the power source failed and the field collapsed, throwing a cloud of dust high into the air. He bit his lower lip, then said softly, “You should have said ‘keep those evolutionarily manipulated raccoons away from me or I swear…’”
He turned and walked away, ignoring the rustling in the brush all around him, then said to the hidden forms, “You can thank me later. I have to go tell EGov I disagree with them then try to keep them from killing me.” He paused then said, “Lagos? You still there?” Silence. “Figures,” he said then headed into the house and a hot shower.
Guy Stewart is a husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, science teacher, guidance counselor and writer – all rolled into one! With publications in ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT, AETHER AGE, STUPEFYING STORIES, CRICKET and CICADA, HOPSCOTCH FOR GIRLS MAGAZINE, TURTLE, THE WRITER, and a podcast from CAST OF WONDERS, he writes science fiction, science experiments, historical fiction, how-to and even wrote the script and some of the lyrics for a musical! Residing in snow-packed Minnesota, he camps, bikes and writes a blog at http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/