Ed reached into his stubborn adherence to who and what he was, fighting the insidious voice in his head. Yes, he would love to have a weapon to use against the aliens, something to chase them away and make them never come back again. But what he saw in this monster’s eyes, in Virginia’s; no. This was not the way, to become more of a monster than he already was. To have more deaths on his head than he already did? To kill more innocents. Vaguely, he wondered why he thought of aliens and innocence together.
Then he realized, whatever the military or other backing of the ones that came here, there were probably hundreds of thousands of them who weren’t monsters, who were just people surviving from day to day as best they could. Which side of the coin did this monster in front of him come from? He opened his eyes and stared into the black depths of the its eyes, wanting to know what it was that would kill him. Distantly he wondered where the rest of his people were.
“Master?” Virginia’s breath caressed the side of Ed’s face, her focus on the alien in front of them.
“Strong. Stronger than you.” Again that travesty of a smile split the thing’s face. “If he will not join, he will strengthen us,” came the growled answer.
Ed felt Virginia press harder against him, willing him to succumb, to accept as she had. “Ed,” she addressed him softly, all of her aching female need in that one word.
“You might as well kill me,” he rasped, never taking his eyes off the other, knowing that Virginia was far stronger than a mere human and he was not likely to escape her grasp.
Virginia blinked and frowned as her Master growled. What? Wait. No. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. She stepped back and took a clear look at the man she’d bargained with. The alluring facade shimmered and faded leaving a gaunt, hungry, beast in his place. She shook her head, as though to clear it. No, dammit! This was a gift to them, a powerful weapon to turn against … the enemy. She snarled in indecision.
Straker darted to the side as the monster lunged for him. It collided with Virginia, knocking her to the ground even as it spun to follow its prey. Ed tripped, hands grasping for support, for anything that might make a weapon against the evil he faced alone now. Rolling as he fell, Ed found a length of wood under his hand. Instinct pulled it forward, between him and the now leaping thing Virginia called Master. For a moment, time halted in its tracks. Ed stared at the length of wood now buried in the others chest.
The Master stared down at the improvised weapon and pulled himself away from the pale man beneath him. He grabbed the short piece protruding from his chest and pulled, the wood sliding out of him with a glutenous sound until it was completely removed. He laughed and tossed it away, starting forward only to arch backward suddenly as Virginia screamed in agony as though she had been pierced.
A second length of wood, round and trim, stuck out of the creature’s back. Alec stood there looking blank as the shaft was pulled from his hands. The creature twisted and contorted trying vainly to see what was giving him such agony. Virginia screamed again as the thing clawed at its back, stumbling away from the three of them until it fell back onto the wooden shaft that was hurting it, shoving the bloody point through its chest. The monster convulsed, a worse shriek than Virginia’s coming from its mouth and seeming never to end. The body thrashed in place for several minutes before falling silent and motionless.
Virginia threw herself forward wide-eyed. She missed the body, landing in a tangle of limbs and rags next to it. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she went limp as Alec sagged toward the floor also with a sigh. Somewhere behind them, there was a crash and the sound of running footsteps. Ed pulled himself off the floor to check Alec’s pulse. It fluttered faint beneath his skin. Skirting the alien body, he check Virginia as well, skittering back as she twitched and went into strong convulsions reminiscent of the dead thing next to her. Vomiting had not been part of its repertoire.
He knelt down and pulled her into his arms so that she would not inhale the flow of fluid that poured out of her mouth until she quieted. No pulse, no breathing. Col. Virginia Lake lay dead, nearly naked in his arms. Davidson and the rest pounded up as the dead body did something unusual. It gasped for air, once, twice, three times and started coughing, choking on roughly inhaled fluids that had not quite drained away.
Two of the security men took her from him and got her airway cleared. “I’ve got a pulse! It’s light, but it’s there!”
Davidson, staring at the body, looked to his commander. “Sir?”
“What kept you?” Straker’s tone was mildly curious as a wave of exhaustion rolled over him.
“Half the shelving came down as you took off, sir. We had to clear the debris enough to get across and then figure out where you’d gone.”
Ed nodded, more to himself than to the others. “Get them back to the infirmary. Take care of them.”
“Yes, sir!” Davidson relayed orders before asking the question uppermost in his mind. “What happened?” he looked down at the grotesque mockery of a man lying there in ragged robes.
“I’m not sure. Get this bagged for a recovery team. I think … I think it was an alien.” He rubbed his throat where it had touched him and was shocked when his hand came away wet. “Damn.”
Davidson pulled out a clean handkerchief, made a pad and handed it to Ed to soak up the ooze of blood on his neck. “We’ll take care of it, sir. You might want to get out of here before something gets into those scratches.”
Ed nodded his agreement, stepping around the body to leave.
Two days later
Ed Straker sat at his desk, grimmaced at the sip of cold coffee he’d just swallowed and frowned at the reports on his desk. Both Col. Lake and Col. Freeman had required massive transfusions and were diagnosed as anemic. Col. Lake had no memory since scouting a location for a repeater tower outside a small town in Romania. She did not recall the name of the town and was aghast that she was missing several weeks of memory. Freeman remembered leaving HQ and nothing more until he woke up in the infirmary.
Lt. Davidson had not returned from the warehouse. Left to supervise the clean up team, he and the body of the alien were missing when the team worked its way back to the area where Ed had fought the alien Virginia had called Master.
Dr Jackson would run them through exhaustive tests, but it was his opinion they would answer no questions and would generally show both command personnel to be in good physical and mental condition.
“You don’t expect anything to show up?” Straker asked curiously.
Jackson met the blue gaze directly. “No, Commander, I do not. Nor do I expect Lt. Davidson to return to us. Although I have no way of knowing whether it is the monster you killed or the aliens that hold his leash.”
“Monster? I don’t believe in monsters …”
Jackson smiled at that. “I do, but only when confronted with them, Commander. The rest of the time, I leave them with the other ancient tales of my homeland. I do not believe we will solve anything by pursuing the monster angle. The aliens are enough for us.”