Before the Beginning. Kefiristan is about as close  as you  can come to
hell on Earth.
     I say that with authority: I've spent the last eighteen months  doing a
tour here,  trying  to keep the  Kefiri  People's Liberation  Army, who call
themselves  the  "Scythe  of  Glory,"  from  the  throats  of  the  rightist
Khorastisti, who have the backing of Azeri transplants from  the  south (who
want  to  keep  their enclaves), who  are  fighting  a  "dirty  war" against
Communist Cuban  and Peruvian meres . . .  Jeez, you get the picture. It's a
snarled skein of a million bloody threads up  here on the  top of the world,
in the northern extension of the  Karakoram  range,  between Afghanistan and
Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
     We'd just punched through the craggy pass pleasantly known as the "torn
hymen" in  the local tongue and  come across the  small, Muslim city  of pik
Nizganij, perched on a mountain peak of 2200 meters.
     I stared in horror. Even eighteen months of picking up after the Scythe
of Glory and their Shining Path buddies didn't prepare  me for what was left
of pik Nizganij.
     It was  a  Bosch canvas,  severed limbs and hollowed- out trunks--eaten
out by  animals, I  prayed--planted through the  fields like stalks of corn,
blood painting doors  and walls like  the first  Passover...  except it  was
human blood, not lamb's blood.
     Corporal Flynn Taggart, Fox Company, 15th Light Drop Infantry Regiment,
United States Marine Corps;  888-23-9912. Everyone calls me Fly, except when
they're pissed.
     Fox crept through the town, hell-shocked, trying with- out much success
to count body parts and make a  reasonable K1A guess. Fog  or  an evil cloud
rolled  across the  mountaintop, shrouding the sprightly red  decoration and
muffling  our  footsteps.  It  was like we walked along  a cotton  corridor,
tripping over gruesome reminders that war, especially the virulent hatred of
one  tribe for another, throws men back into pre-bronze,  pre-agricul- tural
savagery.  I wondered how  many victims were killed  by  the  victors'  bare
hands.
     Something moved in the mist.
     A shadow, a shape; nothing more. Gunnery Sergeant Goforth froze us with
a slight hiss... Fox is damn-well trained, even for the Light Drop.
     Gates stopped  next to me; he touched my arm, silently pointing to left
and right. I saw immediately;  whatever the shapes were, they surrounded  us
from  eight o'clock to four o'clock... we might be able to  retreat,  but we
couldn't flank.
     I watched  the gunny;  Arlene Sanders  was whispering something  in his
ear. She was our scout, the lightest of the  Light Drop. PFC  Sanders  could
fade into the night  so not even  a werewolf  could sniff her out.  My  best
buddy.
     She might have been more; once, we had--no; we were  buddies. We didn't
talk about that night. Anyway, she had Dodd, and I don't separate bookends.
     Arlene backed away, backed past me, throwing me a wink as she vanished.
She would  swing in a wide arc, ease around  behind the still-moving shades,
and report  back to the lieutenant and Gunny Goforth via a secured line. I'd
find out soon enough.
     I hadn't  moved,  and neither  had the rest of us; I could  barely hear
Bill breathing  next  to me and  couldn't hear Dodd  or Sheill at all. If we
were lucky, maybe the dinks wouldn't even know we were here; they'd just pad
right on by.
     Then Lieutenant Beelzebub came running up, de-  manding, "What the hell
is going on?" in his normal speaking voice, an irritating whine.
     The lieutenant's  name  was Weems, actually. I just  call him Beelzebub
because he's a fat, sweaty heathen always surrounded by a  swarm  of  gnats.
They like the taste of his perspiration.
     The dinks froze as  suddenly as we had; no longer moving, they vanished
into the swirling gray. We had just  lost whatever surprise we had, lost our
best chance to get out  of  this encounter without a  shot  fired... and all
because  a  buffoon  who  had been a first  lieutenant for three  years  now
couldn't figure out it was a Medusa drill!
     One of them moved; then another. They moved singly, here and there, and
we no longer had a clue where the mass of them was.
     Weems began to panic; we'd all seen it before. "Aren't we going to take
them out?" he asked Goforth, who was  frantically putting his  finger to his
lips. "Somebody should take them out. "
     Goforth put  his hand to his ear; he was  listening to Arlene's report,
trying to stifle the lieutenant with his other hand.
     But Weems saw a  ghost  to his  left, a specter to his right.  We  were
surrounded! In Weems's mind--I use  the term loosely--they  were Indians, we
were the 7th Cav, and he was Custer.
     "The lieutenant isn't going to stand for this!" snapped the lieutenant.
"Goforth, take out those soldiers!"
     The gunny broke his own drill. "Sir, we don't even know who they are...
Sanders says they're wearing robes and hoods--"
     "Scythe of Glory!" said Weems, again raising his voice.
     "No sir, just robed men--"
     "Gunny, I gave you an order... now take down those men!"
     Arlene flashed past me again. "What the hell's going on?" she hissed.
     "Weems wants us to take 'em down. "
     "Fly, they're monks! You gotta stop the crazy son of a bitch!"
     I was the second-ranking noncom; Goforth would listen to me, I thought.
I hunched  over  and  jogged  to the gunnery  sergeant. "Gunny,  Arlene says
they're monks."
     "Taggart,   right?"  said   Weems,   as   if  bumping  into  me  at  an
oyster-shucking party.
     "Sir, they're just monks. "
     "Do you know that for sure? Does anyone know that for sure?"
     "Sanders said--"
     "Sanders  said! Sanders  said! Does Sanders have to  deal  with Colonel
Brinkle every week?"
     "Sir," began  the  gunny, "I think we should recon the group before  we
open fire."
     Weems  looked him in the  face, shaking in fury. "As long as I'm giving
the orders here, Marine, you'll obey them. Now take down those men!"
     Monks. Freakin' monks!
     I snapped. Maybe  it was the bodies, or  the  body parts.  The mountain
air, thin oxygen. A gutful of Weems, Arlene's frightened, incredulous stare,
the  way  Goforth's jaw set  and  he turned to give the order--a twenty-year
man, he wasn't going to throw it away over a bunch of lousy religious dinks.
     But suddenly,  it occurred to me that if Weems were  lying  facedown in
the deep  muddy,  he  wouldn't be giving no orders. Then  we could  let  the
damned monks disap- pear, and nobody would be the loser.
     "Scuse me, sir," I said, tapping the looie on the shoulder.
     He turned,  and I  Georged  him. Full-body swing; came out of  Orlando,
where  I  grew  up.  Picked  up  speed over  Parris  Island,  hooked  in  at
Kefiristan,  and turned  off the  lights  of Mr.  Lieutenant  Weems  in  pik
Nizganij.
     Alas, they only  flickered.  Power was restored. The dork didn't have a
glass jaw; have to give him that.
     Weems sprawled messily in the mud, and a  couple of the boys were on me
like monkeys on a tree. Weems flopped for a bit like a giant spider, then he
found his  hands and  knees. He  glared at me for a  moment,  an evil  smile
cracking his face. "Later,"  he said. Then he turned back to Goforth.  "That
don't mean  crap,  gunnery ser- geant; now  take down those men--or  are you
going to frag me, instead?"
     Goforth looked at me, looked  at Weems, looked  at the  ground. Then he
clicked  his  M-92 to  rock'n'roll  and  quietly said, "Fox--take down those
men."
     I closed my eyes,  listening to  powder hiss,  bullets crack, the metal
clang  of receivers  slamming back and home. The  screams of the  dying. The
shouts of the victors.  I smelled  the  smoke from the  smokeless power, the
primer, fresh blood.
     I'm in hell, I remember thinking; I'm in hell.
     We  mopped up the enemy troops in  record time. Strange  thing; none of
them  shot back. Fact, no weapons were found... just fifty-three men ranging
from pre- teen to seventy or eighty, wearing brown robes  and  hoods, shaved
heads, a couple carrying prayer sticks.
     The  boys wouldn't  get  off  my  back. Weems wouldn't even walk around
where I could see  him, the murdering bastard, while he formally charged  me
and I opted for a formal court-martial instead of Captain's Mast.
     Jesus and Mary,  somebody should  put  a bullet in  his  brain. I could
taste  the trigger. I  didn't  know how  I was ever going to be shriven if I
couldn't feel remorse.
     1




     I didn't miss Earth, but I sure as hell hated Mars. Sitting in a  dingy
mess hall on Phobos, one of the two, tiny Martian moons, seemed  like a nice
compro- mise.
     Ordinarily,  the  C.O., Major Boyd,  would have  handed  me over to the
jaggies  for  trial; but the  day after  Weems gave the fateful  order  that
bought him a mouthful of fist from Yours Truly, the 15th  received orders to
answer a distress call  from Phobos. Fox Company was  due  to rotate back to
the world anyway; Boyd decided to mail us to Mars.
     They poured me onto the transport along with the rest of Fox; plenty of
time to  fry  my butt after we figured out what the hell the UAC miners were
squawking about this time.
     The Corps, the Corps, all  glory to the Corps!  I don't think you  know
what the Marine Corps truly means to me. It has a bit to do  with my father;
no, he was  not a Marine, God no.  Maybe something to  do with growing up in
Orlando,  Florida,  and  Los  Angeles,  seeing  first the ersatz  "Hollywood
Boulevard" of Universal Studios  East, then the even phonier real thing  out
west. Glitter and tinsel. . . but what was real?
     Everything in my life rang as hollow as the  boulevard until I found my
core in the Corps.
     Honor  wasn't  just  something you did to credit  cards.  A lie  wasn't
called spin  control,  and  spin was something  you only put  on a cue ball.
Yeah, right, you think you know more about it than  I? I know it was all BS,
even in the  Corps.  I know the  service was riddled up  and down with lying
sacks of dung, like everything else. "There is no cause so noble it will not
attract fuggheads;" one  of those sci-fi writers Arlene is always shoving at
me, David Niven or something.
     But God damn it, at  least  we  say the word honor without laughing. At
least we have  a code--"I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate  those
among  us who do"--even if individuals don't always live up to it. At  least
it's there to reach for, even if our grasp falls far short. At least decency
has  a  legal definition, right  there  in the  Universal  Code  of Military
Justice! At least respect  means more than leaving the  other guy's graffiti
alone.  At  least we do  more crap by six A.M. than most of you civilians do
all day. At least the  Corps is the Corps, semper  fidelis--damn it, we know
who we are and why we are! Do you?
     Arlene never saw it the way  I did; hell, no one did. I was  a majority
of one.
     But you can't understand me unless you understand this much: there is a
place  in the world  where  decent men  walk the streets,  where water flows
uphill, where miracles happen  behind enemy lines and  without  air support,
and where a guy (boy or girl) will stand on the wall that divides you people
from the barbarians at the gate, take a bullet, and shoot back at the son of
a bitch what fired it.
     Unless you've been there, you'll never know. I want to take you there.
     The long trip to Mars was dull, and  the little voice in the back of my
head had plenty of  time to  ask whether I  would do  anything  different if
given the chance. I had to honestly answer no.
     Funny  thing is, I always hoped I'd go  to space  one day . . . but not
like  this. My idea was to be on a deep-space exploratory ship, pushing  out
beyond the bounds of the known solar system.  But when I scored only a 60 on
the MilSpaceAp  test,  the chances  of me receiving  a deep-space assignment
ranged somewhere between infinitesimal and "forget it." The big surprise was
that one right upper cut  to the concrete jaw of Lieutenant Weems  opened my
pathway to the stars.
     Not only would I do it over again, I'd still enjoy it!
     I stared  at the two  men whose job was to guard  me, and had a strange
feeling of unreality. "Want some coffee?" one of them  asked with  something
that sounded like actual concern.  His thin  face reminded me of one  of the
monks.
     "Yeah," I said. "Black, if you don't mind." He  smiled. We'd run out of
cream back  in  Kefiristan,  and  when he  hopped up  to Phobos, the  supply
situation was no improvement.
     The guard's name was Ron. The other guard's name was Ron, too--I called
him "Ron Two," but they didn't see the humor in it.
     We  didn't  talk much.  It seemed  a  little insulting only  having two
Marines protecting such a  dangerous type as Yours Truly; but the other  men
were busy figuring out what had gone wrong on Phobos.
     After we up-shipped to  Mars Base,  we sat for a solid day,  trying  to
find out why the UAC miners on Phobos had sent a distress call--and why they
didn't  answer now. In the Marines,  you spend eternity so  bored you'd look
forward  to  your  own court-martial  as  a break  in the  tedium.  Then  an
unexpected danger  with huge,  jagged edges comes rolling  over all  the set
routines, a reminder that the universe is a dangerous place.
     The last message we received  from Phobos  was: "Things coming  through
the Gate." When something that serious hits the  fan, boredom is returned to
its proper place  as a luxury. The court-martial  of  a corporal was  deemed
less  important than  a potential threat to  Mars--and not  important at all
compared  to an  imme-  diate threat  to the profits  of the Union Aerospace
Corpo- ration.
     With a ringing cry of "sounds like they're smoking something up there,"
Lieutenant  Weems boldly led his men  into the transport. At first I thought
I'd  be left  behind on Mars Base;  but either Weems  thought  I might prove
useful to have along, or else he just didn't want a loose end. I volunteered
to go along. Sometimes I'm not very bright.
     Major Boyd did  his  best to brief us by video feed, under the  obvious
handicap  of complete ignorance.  He  made the best  of  it.  We were issued
pressure suits, in case we had to leave the immediate  vicinity of the Gate.
You couldn't stay very long outside  the pressure zone, and you'd get mighty
cold, mighty fast. But  at least the suits gave you a fighting chance to get
to a  ship  or a  zone before you were sucking vacuum.  I was pleased  to be
issued a suit; I was less pleased that Weems didn't issue me a weapon.
     While I contemplated the lethal uses of common household  articles, PFC
Ron  Two brought the promised  cup  of coffee. It tasted bad enough to  be a
strategic  weapon  of deterrence. The expression on the guard suggested that
he might  have sampled it before passing it  on to me; but maybe he was just
plain scared of the situation. I couldn't really blame him.
     A word about these  Gates on  Phobos and Deimos, the two tiny  moons of
Mars; you've probably heard about the Gates, even  though  officially it's a
secret.
     They were here when we first landed on Mars. It was a hell of  a shock,
discovering  that someone or some thing had beaten us by a million years  to
our own closest neighbor! It was  long before  I joined up, of course, but I
can only imagine the panic at the Pentagon when we found  ancient and wholly
artificial structures on  Phobos, despite the complete lack  of  any form of
life on Mars.
     It  was   pretty  clear  they'd  been  placed   there  by  some   alien
intelligence. But  what? All my  adult  life, I'd heard speculation: all the
usual UFO  culprits .  . . Reticulans, Men-in-Black,  ancient Martians--that
was the most popular theory, despite not working at all: there was no native
life  on  Mars; but try  to tell  that  to  generations  raised  on  Martian
Walkabout, Ratgash of Mars, and Mars, Arise!
     Me, I figured  it was a race  of alien anthropologists; they got  here,
said, "Hm, not quite ready yet," and left  a  "helipad" in case they decided
to return  . . . which they might  do tomorrow or a  hundred  thousand years
from now.
     Somebody decided to call them "Gates,"  even though they just sat there
doing nothing  for  as long as we've known about them. But surrounding  them
was a zone of about half Earth-normal gravitation ... on a moon whose normal
gravity is  just  this side  of  zero! In addition to the big, inert  Gates,
there  were  also  small  pads  scattered  here  and  there  that  instantly
transported  a person from  point  A to point B  within  the area, evidently
without harm . . .  teleports, if you will. I had heard about them but never
seen one; damned if you'd ever get me into one, either.
     When the United Aerospace Corporation bribed enough congressmen for the
exclusive  contract  to mine Phobos and Deimos, they built  their facilities
around the  Gates, taking advantage of the artificial  gravity .  . . except
for  those parts of the operation that wanted low gravity, which  they built
outside  the "pressure zones."  After  the big reorganization, the Corps got
the task of guarding the Gates.
     Well--it looked as though  the big  Gates weren't quite so  inert as we
all thought.
     Once we landed on Phobos, the gunny dropped me and my two guards at the
abandoned Air Base depot (in the "western" pressure zone--antispinwards) and
took  the rest  of Fox Company  on to the UAC facilities, Weems  in  tow, to
reestablish  contact  and  "secure the situation."  All my friends went with
Weems, leaving me with the two Rons for company.
     The  Phobos  facility  is built like  a  gigantic,  under-  ground cone
extending  many  hundreds  of meters  into the rock. There are  a  bunch  of
levels, I'm not even sure how many. Eight? Nine? The whole thing is built in
the center of the solar system's largest strip mine, which would be terrible
for  the  Phobos  ecology--except  that Phobos doesn't  have an ecology,  of
course; it's an airless moon of ice and rock.
     The facility was on the  opposite hemisphere from the base. Big deal. .
. the entire moon is only about twenty- five kilometers in diameter. You can
walk from one pole to  the other, except most of it is disturbingly close to
zero-g, outside the pressure zones.
     We had  the radio on in the mess hall and  were periodically picking up
messages from Weems's Weasels.  We'd about given up hope of hearing anything
from  the UAC  guys  who  used to  be on  Phobos. As I  sipped the  scalding
wake--up--call, wondering who I could sue if I burned  my tongue, I couldn't
help but scrutinize the two Rons.  Neither gave  the  impression of being on
top of the situation. They kept glancing at the closed cafeteria  doors,  at
the radio,  at each other . . .  They weren't paying much attention to their
prisoner.
     They were also having the same conversation every twenty minutes or so.
It  generally started like this: "What do  you think's happening?" one would
ask the other.
     I  was  tired  of  listening  to   variations  on  I-don't-know,  so  I
volunteered a theory: "Somehow the Gates  turned on, and whoever built  them
decided the UAC was trespassing. Maybe they were wiped out."
     "But who attacked  us?"  asked Ron One. Funny; I never thought of Union
Aerospace as part of "us."
     "They said  monsters were coming through the Gate," said  Ron  Two with
the same sense of surprise he'd displayed the other half-dozen times.
     "They  said  'things,'"  I  corrected.  Neither  heard  me.  Things  or
monsters, I had faith in Arlene and the rest of the guys.
     The guards  didn't strike me as being overly interested in the  subject
of high order physics. They had reached firm conclusions in the realm of the
biological sciences, however. They didn't believe in monsters.
     The truth is that neither did I.
     In one  respect I  was as bad  as the PFCs. There  were  questions that
couldn't be answered yet, but they wouldn't stay out of my mind. Who was the
enemy? How had they reached Phobos through the  gateways? And most troubling
of all,  why hadn't  Fox found any bodies yet?  Major Boyd  and even Colonel
Brinkle back on Earth would want answers to these questions and a lot more.
     Suddenly,  the  radio sputtered to  life,  grabbing our  attention,  an
invisible hand reaching out to choke the breath from us. It was PFC Grayson,
out front on recon, reporting to Weems, who was elsewhere in  the  facility.
The  young Marine  had  found  a  corpse.  Weems  radioed  back  the obvious
instructions.
     "ID  impossible, sir," reported Grayson, his voice tense. "It's in  too
many  pieces.  I  can positively  say  that it  was a white  male. It  looks
like--Jesus, sir, it looks like claw marks. And this body's been chewed."
     Wild beasts on airless Phobos? Judging by the sickened expressions from
Ron and Ron, it was all too evident that neither of these specimens had ever
seen combat.  I've seen my  share .  . . and all at once, the idea of living
long enough  to attend my own court-martial seemed very appealing. Even five
years at Leavenworth looked good. The fact that I  didn't have a gun crawled
around  deep inside my gut like a tapeworm. Right  then I decided to  remedy
the situation.
     The masticated body parts had been found  in  the  processing plant. We
heard Weems  over  the radio issuing orders to converge on that point when a
burst of static interfered with the reception.
     When  Grayson's voice  came in again,  it  was loud and clear. Up until
that  moment, the universe still made some kind of sense to  me.  Of all the
military scenarios  running  through  my  mind,  none  prepared me for  what
happened next: "Jesus Christ! It's not human," shouted Grayson. "Too big . .
. shaped all wrong . . . humanoid . . . red eyes . .."
     While Grayson was providing  this fragmentary report, he punctuated his
description  with  bursts  from  his  rifle.  Before he  could  become  more
coherent, we heard an inarticulate roar of animal pain from  whatever he was
shooting, and then he  shouted, "I can't put it down!"  The  next scream  we
heard was fully human.
     My whole body went cold. Jesus--Arlene was down there.
     Keep cool, keep your head--she's a Marine, damn it!
     One of the Rons looked like he  was about to throw up.  "Okay," I said,
"this has gone on long enough. We know we're in this together. Give me a gun
and let's  make some plans." If Arlene were being shot  at, God damn  it,  I
intended to shoot back! The honor of the Corps was at stake, not to  mention
my best buddy's life.
     The radio was reduced to background noise  for the  moment as Weems the
Weasel tried to control the situation.  The nervous looks exchanged  between
the  dynamic  duo  in  the  mess hall made  me  wonder  about training  that
completely destroys initiative. On  the brink  of death, all the Rons  cared
about was going by the  book--even if that book printed their own obituaries
in flaming letters.
     One  finally  generated the initiative  to  say,  "We  can't give you a
weapon!"
     I  tried  again. "Staying alive  is the objective here.  We've  all got
buddies down there. They don't court-martial the dead! You can't help anyone
or defend anything if you're dead. Now give me a piece!"
     If either  of  them  had  shown a glimmer  of  intelligence or  guts, I
wouldn't have taken the next step. But they insisted on being idiots.
     Jesus Christ! As the Godfather said,  there are men who go through life
begging to be killed.





     2




     Shut up," said the first Ron.
     "You're going  back  to detention," said the  other.  This  was a truly
pathetic spectacle. Suddenly, I had become the threat in  their eyes, simply
because I was forcing them to face an unpleasant situation head-on.
     A number of things happened at once: more screams and gunfire came over
the radio, and I thought I heard a woman scream. The nearest Ron unholstered
his 10mm  pistol and  pointed  it  at  me--then  the poor  jerk gestured the
direction  he wanted  me  to  walk. He gestured with  the  hand  holding the
pistol. With an invitation like that what could I do?
     I caught  his arm, moved the gun aside, and rabbit- punched  him in the
kidneys; the  gun slid  across the floor. The other  Ron was  still fumbling
with his holster,  so  I turned and jabbed him in the throat. . .  not  hard
enough to kill, but with enough impact to keep him busy trying to breathe.
     Sorry, Rons; Arlene PFC Sanders means more than the both of  you rolled
together!
     I turned back to the first one, who surprised me by regaining his  feet
and making a grab with his good arm. Too bad for him, he was off balance and
fell  toward me, providing another  irresistible target.  I  flat-palmed the
back of his  head, and  he  was out like  a  light. The other  Ron was still
doubled over, trying to breathe as I collected their weapons.
     "You guys aren't exactly cut out for Light Drop Infantry," I said in as
kindly a voice as I could muster.
     Now I had a problem. They weren't bad guys, but  I couldn't trust their
goodwill not to come after  me. Their fear  might be enough to keep them out
of my  hair, but I couldn't count on that, either. Nor did I  want to  leave
them  sitting ducks for the  hostile forces that were loose in this station.
So I helped  the one who  was still conscious to his feet and waited for his
glazed eyes to clear a bit.
     "Listen, Ron; we've got a situation here. So far as I can tell, we only
have  these two  sidearms  between the three of  us.  This  is not good. The
lieutenant should have left us with some weapons, don't you think?" It was a
rhetorical question, so I kept on. "I'm leaving one of these  guns with you,
unloaded."  I let him sink back  on the  floor and slid the ammo clip across
the floor. "When you feel well enough to reload, I suggest you barricade the
door better than I can lock it from the outside, and wait for orders."
     He looked sick as  a dog but nodded, and I left him to his own devices.
I  pocketed  the remaining ammo clips.  I wanted  all  the edge a few  extra
rounds could provide until  I could find an armory and lay  my hands on some
real firepower, if the factory had any.
     As I  locked the mess hall  doors behind me, I  heard the radio sending
out  useless  static crackle; no Weems, no Goforth--no Arlene. Well,  last I
heard,  we were  all going  to  have a party,  with Grayson's remains as the
Guest of Honor. I didn't like that particular train of thought so I derailed
it. Time to get serious.
     After  ten  minutes  of  humping   around  the   compound,  I  found  a
landcart--the last one. That was  thoughtful of  them. Phobos is so small, a
diameter of  only twenty-two kilometers, that I almost could hoof it  to the
factory . .  . particularly in the ultra-low gravity.  But I  might need  to
evac the survivors; and in any case, speed counts.
     Although I'm not claustrophobic, I'd lately had my fill of blank walls.
The spaceship was the worst. Traveling through a million miles of nothing in
a little cubicle just so you can reach  another cubicle at the end is not my
idea of the conquest of space.
     At least for  the one day we spent on Mars,  we had  a view.  The domes
were  made of super-thick, insulated plastic,  but were cleverly designed to
give the illusion of being  thin as a soap bubble. The only trouble was that
the view  wasn't very impressive--a blank expanse of  empty desert broken by
an equally barren, dark purple  sky. I was only so thrilled with looking  at
stars. I  liked some- thing bigger  up there. Although  we could  see Phobos
from Mars  base camp, it was so tiny it  almost  looked like  a bright  star
trucking across the sky. Not enough moon for a melancholy mood.
     But now as I crawled the land-cart out under  the black, airless sky of
Phobos, I enjoyed my  first genuine feeling of freedom since  I  left Earth.
Mars  loomed  in  the  sky, three-quarters full, larger than  any  moon  and
burning red as all the blood  of all the armies ever spilled in  uncountable
battles across the stupid, drooling face of eternity--the face of a monster.
     By  contrast,  the gray,  dull  surface of Phobos  looked like brittle,
laundry  soap or dried oatmeal; the only  variation was  Stickney, the  huge
crater that covered a quarter of the moon's surface and filled the rest with
impact striations.
     At that moment I thought that  Mars might be the last beautiful sight I
would ever experience. Ahead  lay noth- ing good. The  thought that I  might
shortly die didn't bother me nearly so much as the  dread of letting down my
loved ones . . . again.
     There weren't that many back on Earth, but there was one here on Phobos
that meant everything to me.
     Maybe I  did love her;  I couldn't  say. I  mean  that literally ...  I
couldn't say it with her hooked up with Wilhelm Dodd, the dirty bastard. But
that  didn't mean crap; if Arlene were in  trouble, then putting my life  on
the  line was the easiest  choice I'd ever made. Doing my duty didn't mean I
had  a  death wish; it  meant that I  would have  to stay  alive as long  as
possible to find her and hump her out. All right, and the rest of Fox, too.
     So with Mars looming gigantic and our sun a shrunk- en, distant ball of
flame, quickly  setting  as I crawled  toward  the  factory, I sped  through
Phobos daylight, across the terminator, and into the black night.
     My stomach  started  roiling the moment I left the zone and entered the
correct gravitational  field of Phobos--  not quite zero-g, but close enough
for a queasy stomach. I had to watch my  speed carefully here; I wasn't sure
what  the escape  velocity from Phobos was . . . probably a lot  more than a
crawling  land-cart  could make. But I sure as hell didn't want to end up in
orbit--the tractor treads didn't work too well out there!
     I  wished I could drive  the land-cart right inside the refinery, but I
had to leave it in the garage on the surface. It sure felt good  to get back
under even the half-normal gravity in the refinery zone. The  silent station
lurked below the surface, containing what was left of Fox Company.
     As I began the long descent, I promised to keep very, very quiet. Early
in a career in the Light Drop Infantry, you learn  the absolute essential of
lying to yourself. Sure enough, there was noise, and I was the source of it.
Even in the low-g, my  boots squeaked slightly. Each squeak was magnified in
my imagination as if  giant rodents nibbled  at  my heels.  The rectangle of
light beneath me grew in size as there was no turning back.
     I thought about using the  lift, but there was no  telling who I'd find
inside. The access-tube ladder looked a safer bet.
     A  popular  feature of these  permanent stations is how there's  always
light  and  air  so  long  as  the  small  reactor is  working.  Imagine  my
disappointment on climbing down the ladder into  the  hangar  when I noticed
the  first signs  that  something  was  seriously  wrong:  the  lights  were
flickering, and I didn't hear the whine of the air recirculators.
     The  light was adequate to show empty corridor stretching  in front and
behind me.  This section didn't seem to show any signs of recent conflict. .
. and no sooner did a  small part of me make the mistake  of relaxing than I
heard a sharp hissing sound. Before I had time to think, the 10mm was in  my
hand  and I had spun around into a defensive crouch.  I'm  sure I scared the
leaky pipe real  bad. At times like this, nothing  is  more welcome than  an
anti-climax.
     As  I examined  the damaged pipe,  mindful  not to  be  scalded  by the
escaping steam,  I  realized that I  might have found  something interesting
after all.  The pipe had been dented by  a blunt metal object of some  kind,
and there was a rusty stain on the floor underneath it.
     There was really only  one direction to  go, so I  went. That direction
would also take  me toward  the hangar control room, where  I  could swear I
heard low, growling noises. Somehow I didn't  feel like reholstering my gun.
I didn't like the way my palm was sweating, either.
     Taking it nice and easy, I proceeded down the corri- dor. I had a good,
long view  ahead of me. No room for surprises. I didn't hear the animalistic
noises again, but that  didn't make me  feel  any better. Finally, I reached
the control room. Right before I pushed the door open I felt a sudden shiver
on the back  of my neck and spun around, trying to look down both directions
at once,  like one of  those  crazy cartoon drawings  of  a double take. But
there was  nothing. At least nothing  I could see. No casualties yet,  thank
God.
     The  control room was  empty, but  it had  a peculiar  odor  like  sour
lemons. After months in a barracks, whether  in  Kefiristan, on  Mars, or in
space, you get used to the smell  of paint  and gallons of disinfectant. But
this was nothing like that. I didn't like it one bit.
     It took only a  few minutes to establish that all the  equipment was in
working  order--except  for the com- munications system, which  was  smashed
into nonexis- tence. Then I  had  a brainstorm. There might be  a gun locker
here,  something  left over  from when Phobos  was  an  Air  Force  outpost;
something  a  bit  heavier than a  10mm pistol  would  greatly  improve  the
adjustment to my new environment.
     I  found the locker and jimmied open the door fairly quietly; but there
were no weapons. Bare cupboard. Not even a slingshot. But so it shouldn't be
a total waste, there  was a nice selection of  last year's flak jackets; not
combat armor,  but better than skin and a pressure suit. One looked like  it
fit me, so I put it on.
     There  seemed  nothing  else  to do  but  resume my journey  along  the
corridor that must ultimately take me  into the  rest of the station.  I was
reaching that dangerous  psychological  state when you feel that you are the
only living person  in  what had been a battlefield  situation. Another word
for it is carelessness.
     Reconnoiter, you bastard!  My  little  voice was telling me to get back
with the  program. And  not a moment too soon. A human  figure came striding
purposefully in my direction from just around the curve of the corridor.
     I almost shot first, and asked  questions at some  undetermined  future
date. Reminding myself that Arlene and my buddies  were here, as well as UAC
civilians, I  relaxed the old trigger finger that crucial centimeter. But  I
kept the gun on the human shape and experienced a  sickening moment,  not of
empathy, but of reluctant understanding of Lieutenant Weems and the monks.
     When the fearsnake slithers around inside your gut, it's pretty  damned
easy to just start squeezing off at anything that moves.
     Then I recognized the shape as one Corporal William Gates.
     "Bill!" I shouted, relief flooding me at contact  with a  fellow  Light
Drop. "What the hell's going on? Are you all right? Where's Arlene--the rest
of Fox?"
     At no moment was there any doubt that this person  approaching  was the
corporal with whom I'd played poker,  drank, and told nasty jokes. We'd been
through  enough together  that I  didn't even  mind that he was  one  of the
monkeys  who  jumped  on  my  back  when  I popped  Weems.  Bill  had a very
distinctive face with eyes spaced  wide apart and a scar  that  ran from his
prominent chin into his lower lip.
     He  was walking in an  erratic manner;  fatigue,  I  as-  sumed. Men in
combat situations can get very weird, and I'd seen plenty worse than this.
     Battle fatigue  might even  have explained the strange words coming out
of his mouth, stuff that sounded like  an old horror movie. Bill was staring
straight ahead; but  he  didn't seem  to recognize  me  as he chanted,  "The
Gate--the Gate is the key--the key is the  Gate." I didn't like the  spittle
on his chin, either.
     As  much  as  I wanted to run over  to him,  I  held  back.  There  was
something really wrong here,  nothing I could  put my finger  on yet, but it
was like  that  smell  in the control room--little hints that  something was
FUBARed on Phobos.
     "Bill," I tried again. "Bill, it's your cuz, Fly."
     This time he noticed me. I could tell because he grinned  the most evil
grin I've ever seen in my life.
     Then he raised his rifle and opened fire!
     Even then, I didn't want  to believe what was happen- ing. Fortunately,
my  bodily  reflexes  were more  realistic.  Diving  behind a  pillar, I was
already preparing to return fire.
     I had to  try one  more time. "Stop firing, Bill! It's Fly, goddamn it.
Stop shooting!"
     3




     Bill  didn't stop;  he  came closer. Desperate,  feeling like  Cain,  I
returned fire. Given the half-dead  condition Bill  was in, killing  him all
the  way  should  have been  easy. The first bullet  took him in the throat,
above  his kevlar  armor.  That should  have done  the  job, but he  kept on
coming. I pumped more  rounds at Bill,  and finally  one connected  with his
head. That dropped him.
     But even as brains  and blood oozed onto the  corridor floor,  his body
continued to flop  around  the  way a  chicken does when  its  head has been
removed. Humans don't do  that . . . and  they don't have a sour-lemon smell
either, which was suddenly so overpowering that I could barely breathe.
     I stared, shaking like a California earthquake.
     I was looking--at--a zombie.
     That was  all that kept racing through my  head,  scream- ing  the word
over and over again between my ears . . . zombie, zombie, zombie! What utter
shit.  Maybe Arlene could believe in all that crap and bullroar; she watched
those damned, damned  horror movies all the--I wasn't  never going  to watch
anything like ... a freakin' zombie? I was crazy, buggin', freaked like some
hippie punk snot flying on belladonna.
     There are no goddamned zombies! This is the real world, this is--"
     Gates flopped some more, then stiffened up  so  quick, it was like he'd
been dead  for hours. Scared, but  drawn  toward him like iron  filings to a
magnet, I crept forward and touched his corpse.
     Billy Boy was ice-cold. This meat was decidedly not fresh.
     I gagged,  then turned aside and vomited. He  was blue.  His  skin  was
tough, like leather.
     Private Gates was a  freaking zombie. Walking dead.  They'd killed him,
then sucked the life out of his  body, so that in just half an hour,  he was
many days dead.
     Arlene . . . !
     I knew what I had  to do next. I was crying while I did it. I hoped I'd
find  some  magazines  to  go  with  my  new  acquisition,   a  10mm,  M-211
Semiautomatic Gas-Op- erated Infantry Combat Weapon (Sig-Cow, we called it).
Bitch of a way to get one.
     Gates only  had  a single spare mag, and the one in the rifle was dead.
Still shaking, I reloaded  the  rifle, dropping rounds left  and right,  and
crept on, wondering who would come running at the  sound of  me murdering my
dead chum.
     Leaving  Gates's body, I started walking  fast, then a  little  faster.
Suddenly I was running . . . not in fear, but sick rage. The little voice in
my  head that usually keeps me on track was screaming about  discipline  and
strategy and  keeping my cool. The voice wanted me to make a nice, practical
analysis of the evidence.
     I had  every intention of listening to  reason, but  my feet and  brain
stem had  other ideas. They were running from  the face of a man who used to
be a human being; running toward the bastards who reworked him.
     I've  always  had  good survival instincts. They'd  never  abandoned me
before, not even in the worst firefights in a  career that had seen its fair
share  of combat. But here and now,  in a dull, gray cavern under the craggy
surface of Phobos, my body was betraying me. If I could just stop seeing the
slack jaw,  the dead eyes, I could get  control again. But the face wouldn't
go  away;  even  the character- istic twitch of the right  eye  that used to
annoy me  when Gates was alive unnerved the hell out of  me  now. I couldn't
stand to be winked at by a zombie.
     Yeah. Zombie. Putting the word to  it helped. At least I was  running a
little slower and  started paying  attention to  my surroundings. I  saw the
walls of the  corridor instead  of a phantom  mask of death; and I heard the
loud echoing  of my  footsteps, my labored breathing . . . and the shuffling
noises of other feet.
     Four of them were waiting for me around  the  bend-- four zombies. They
stared at me with dead, dry eyes . . . and one of the zombies was a woman.
     I didn't know her; UAC  worker. Thank God  it  wasn't  Arlene. I didn't
even want to think  about Arlene with  gray flesh and  a  sour-lemon  smell,
sneering and pumping bullets at me without any recognition.
     I felt a rage I'd never felt before;  my blood was on fire and my  skin
couldn't contain  the boiling, liquid anger. I shook from  hate so deep that
military training could never reach it.
     I didn't want to shoot these travesties of human life. I wanted to  rip
them apart  with my bare hands!  They  shuffled  toward  me,  fumbling their
weapons and pump- ing shots like their rifles would never run dry. What  did
I do? I staggered directly toward them,  raising my own M-211 and taking one
of the walking dead in its shoulder ... a useless shot.
     It was the girl that broke the spell. Some little piece of who she once
was  must have been  left in  her brain, a faint echo or resonance  of human
thought. She didn't charge blindly like the other three; she turned and fell
behind cover to plink at me.
     My higher  brain functions  kicked in. I shook  my  head, then  strafed
while  sidestepping  to  a pillar; once behind cover, I  aimed a  shot  into
Zombie One's  head.  It roared,  then  danced like  a headless  chicken  and
collapsed. I got the message:  only head  shots got me any points. Just like
in the movies.
     The citrus  stench almost overwhelmed me. I snuck a quick glance at the
zombie I'd just smoked  .  .  .  some-  thing  squirmed  inside  its  brain.
Swallowing nausea, I took a bead on Zombie Two.
     The zombie-girl chittered, and the  other two headed jerkily toward the
console  behind which  she crouched.  I caught Zombie Two before it  made it
halfway; but  the other one took a  position behind  cover,  and both it and
Zombie Girl returned fire.
     A  standoff. I  was  trapped behind the pillar, two zombies  behind  an
instrument console  marked UAC and covered with  sticky-pad notes, the three
of us separated by no more  than twenty meters. Swiveling  my head, I stared
wildly around, trying to spot something useful.
     Five  minutes deep into  the  Phobos  facility, and I  was  pinned down
inside  a mortuary in hell.  A  dozen bodies sprawled on  the floor from the
open control room in which  I stood  all the way to a curve in  the corridor
beyond which I could see no farther. Recognizing a  few of them didn't do my
stomach any good. The others were probably UAC workers.
     I thought I'd seen war in Kefiristan.
     The undead and I  played a game of tag around  the pillar; I popped out
to fire off a shot, and  they sprayed my position a moment after I abandoned
it.
     There wasn't much time to appreciate the fine details; the third time I
popped around for  a shot, I slipped on  fresh  blood.  Even as a kid, I was
good  at turning mishaps into advantages; special training merely  augmented
my natural instinct for survival.
     I hit the floor  on  my knees, then dropped to my belly  to aim  a shot
while  braced against the floor. The third male zombie rose  to fire down on
me, and I caught it in  the throat,  knocking  it backward; before it  could
reacquire its  target, Yours  Truly, my next shot  took Zombie Three in  the
right eye.
     The female wasn't wearing a uniform or armor; I realized she  must have
once been a UAC  worker, not a soldier . . . which might account for her bad
aim. She fired off a couple of rounds that missed by a wide margin.
     I can fight this war forever, I  thought, rage starting to  creep back.
Then it struck me:  I  could fight  this  war forever, at least  until I was
finally blown away,  and never  even come  close  to  figuring  out what had
happened here at Phobos Base.
     I had to take one of bastards "alive," if that was the right word.
     The plan  flickered through my head between one shot and the  next; and
now that I finally had a plan, I was Light Drop Infantry again!
     Quickly, before she  could adjust and acquire me, I  bolted  around the
pillar,  head-faked to the left, then cut right and hopped over the console.
Zombie Girl swiveled the  wrong direction, and before she could turn back, I
swung the butt of my Sig-Cow into her temple.
     She  dropped like bricks on  Jupiter.  The rifle  sailed from her hands
across the floor. I slung my own M-211 across my back, flipped her  over and
shoved my pistol in her mouth.
     "What the hell's going on?" I demanded.
     "Mmph hmmpb  rmmph,"  she said. I pulled the gun out of  her mouth, but
she kept talking as if she had not  even noticed it.  "--is the key. Gate is
the key. Key is the gate. Coming. Kill you all."
     Zombie  Girl's  eyes  shifted  left and right; she was  preternaturally
strong .  . . but not as  strong  as big Fly Taggart.  My hand drooped  as I
stared at her, and she snapped at it like a rabid dog, trying to bite me.
     Abruptly, I realized why the zombies' eyes were so dry and their vision
so bad: they never blinked.
     I pushed the  pistol against her forehead. "If  there's any piece alive
inside of you,  you know  what this thing will do to your shriveled,  little
brains. What the hell is coming through the gate?"
     "Great. Ones. Gate ones." She focused her eyes on me, seeming to see me
for the first time. She didn't answer, but for  a moment her face was filled
with such torment that I could no longer stand the interrogation.
     I  cocked the  hammer; her eyes  rolled up, looking over  my head. "You
want this?" I asked.
     Zombie Girl closed her eyes. It was the only kind of prayer left to her
by the reworking that made her what she was.
     I closed my  own eyes when I squeezed the trigger. The  gunshot snapped
me awake again;  I  jumped up, slid  the Sig-Cow  into ready  position,  and
backed away from the undead dead.
     What the hell was going on? I started to  think  I had an answer  . . .
part of an answer.
     "Who built the Gates?" The question endlessly on everyone's lips  might
be about to be answered. Maybe. But were the "Great Ones" coming through the
Gates the ones who had built them? Or had the builders already been  overrun
by some even more powerful, horrific critter, who was now joyfully following
Gate  after Gate, finding and overpowering all the colonies of the builders'
"empire"?
     Neither thought was  pleasant: humans were either  trespassers who were
about  to be run off the property  or  dessert after a main course  of  Gate
builders.
     I got the shakes, real  bad. I backed into a dark corner, M-211 pointed
toward the corridor, the unknown, the way I hadn't been yet. I had not  seen
a particular body  I'd half dreaded, half hoped to find.  Christ. Arlene was
still Somewhere Out There, one way or the other.
     I prayed she was lying dead on the  deck, not  stumbling toward me with
dry, unblinking eyes and a sour-lemon smell.
     I might soon be the only  living  human on  Phobos,  I  realized. I had
little faith  in  the guards I'd  left back in the mess hall.  First contact
with zombies, and they'd role over and, to coin a phrase, play dead. I could
imagine  a rotting corpse  that used to be Lieutenant  Weems telling them to
get with the zombie program; the Rons would salute and "Yes sir!" themselves
straight to hell.
     The old survival mechanism was definitely starting to kick in for Yours
Truly.  I'd  never been completely comfortable as a team player. I could see
myself doing the job of zombie exterminator until  I was the only biped left
standing on Phobos. These living dead characters weren't very good soldiers.
Yeah, I could dust them all. Except for one little detail.
     I couldn't bear coming up  against what used to be  Arlene Sanders. No,
that wasn't  very appealing at  all. It's not  like she was my girl; she had
her Dodd, and  it seemed to satisfy  her. Dodd and I didn't really like each
other, but we tolerated for Arlene's sake.
     Not love, I swear. It's just that Arlene lived in the same world I did,
and I  mean a lot more than just wearing  the  same uniform. She wasn't like
any other girl I'd been ... I mean, any other girl I'd known.
     Arlene remembered being awakened by a D.I. heaving a trash can down the
hall, same as me. She remembered the jarhead getting all over her; "on  your
face, down-up- down-up-down-up--you keep pumpin' 'em out until I get tired!"
She  knew  about  reveille at  0500, PT (Physical  Training), or  a  dainty,
eight-mile run at 0505.
     Arlene knew the smell of disinfectant. She knew  all about scraping two
years of  accumulated crud off a wall with a chisel so  the  next guy  could
slap on a quarter-inch- thick splash of anti-corrosion paint.
     She'd spent just as many months as I wrestling a goddamned floor buffer
up and down a corridor, while already  dog-sacked from hours of PT, obstacle
course, combat  training, small-arms, endless, mindless instruc- tion on how
to break  down and reassemble a Sig-Cow  while blindfolded, and  lectures on
the exotic venereal diseases of Kefiristan, Mars, Phobos Base, and Ohio .. .
hours that always seemed to add up to twenty-six or twenty-eight per day.
     Arlene figured out a lot about me in  record time. She was bright,  and
just as committed to a military career as any other man in the outfit. She'd
become my best buddy in the platoon.
     As I sat  there,  wiping blood and crud from my face  in the eye  of an
impossible  hurricane,  it  helped  to  think  about Arlene.  Recalling  her
features drove  the  monsters from my  mind.  I  played a little  game  with
myself, not letting the horror rise up and engulf the picture I was drawing.
     I  don't  think  I've  ever  seen a  better-looking woman  than Arlene,
objectively considered. She wasn't drop- dead  gorgeous in  the conventional
sense. To  use an older phrase from a braver age, she was  "right handsome."
Five-ten  and compactly built, she worked out  more than anyone  else in the
platoon. She had beautiful, well-cut muscles.
     (Once, when for  a few days she  thought she might be "with child"--not
mine--Gates had said, "She's such a man, I bet she got herself pregnant." He
didn't say it loudly.)
     I liked how she looked at everyone  through slitted  eyes, giving her a
hooded serpent look. She was not to  be trifled with, as one skank found out
when he thought it was funny to sneak up behind her and pull down her pants.
     The rest of us were certainly  interested in seeing all we could of her
well-shaped posterior; but we  weren't  idiots.  Without turning around, she
backhanded him perfectly and  broke  his nose. At the time all I could think
of was how much I enjoyed seeing her move. We're talking ballet here.
     Of  course, there was a lot more to Arlene; she  had a brain. Those are
in short supply in the service, even in Light Drop, and  I hated  to see one
go to waste.  I took her to Corps music  concerts, and she dragged me to old
sci-fi movies. We got drunk together sometimes. We played poker, too; but my
only chance against her was when I was stone-cold sober.
     One night  we got so drunk that we fumbled our way into a kiss. It just
didn't feel right. We were buddies, not lovers.
     Arlene  and  I reached an unspoken agreement where we didn't talk about
that night.  As if to prove what a pal she  could be, she started setting me
up  with dates. She had girlfriends who were always first-rate in one way or
another,  and  they liked  to oblige her by  hanging with her pal. I  didn't
kick. I just didn't seem able to return a commensurate favor.
     Arlene told  me once how  she wanted to save  up some  money and go  to
college someday. I didn't hold that against her. I wished the best for her.
     The best. That thought shot down my reverie in flames. What  could  the
best be for her  now,  in this place? Death, I guessed;  anything  would  be
better than gray flesh, dry, unblinking eyes, and jerking limbs.
     "No," I heard myself talking to no one, "she'd  never allow herself  to
be turned into one of those."
     But what if this reworking took place after death?
     Swallowing  hard,  I stood up  and decided to  get back to business.  I
needed ammo; a  wild  shot had destroyed the magazine and receiver of one of
the Sig-Cows; the only thing a zombie could use it for now would be as a war
club, so I left it on  the floor. Nobody had a select fire weapon, which was
too bad; I sure  missed the  luxury of launching  three or four rounds  at a
time toward a zombie head .  . . much better chance  of a bull's-eye. On the
other  hand, if they had  had one  of the two select-fire  M-220 Dogchoppers
that a squad carried, I might not be alive to pick through the weaponry.
     I shoved  some  magazines  into  my  ammo  pockets and  loaded  up both
weapons. No sense carrying another Sig-Cow. I really wanted to get  my hands
on  the  riot  gun that Dardier  usually  carried, though--except  it  would
probably  mean ripping it out  of her twitching fingers after blowing a hole
in her pretty, blond head.
     I followed  the trail of  corpses another two  bends  of the  corridor,
taking  as  much  ammo  as I could  carry  without  rattling like a medieval
knight. We  were all supposed  to carry head-talks, so  we could communicate
...  but  I  didn't  find any,  which  was  pretty  suspicious.  No ELFs  or
MilDataBuses, either: nothing whatsoever that  might be used to  communicate
what the hell was going on.
     And I always made time to check the faces. So  long  as one, particular
face wasn't there ... I knew I could stand it.





     4




     I almost felt relief when I  ran into two more zombies. Now that I knew
what to do, it was just some sickening sort of exercise. I only "killed" one
of them; the other, I just popped its  rifle, then shot  out  its  knees and
hips; I wanted it alive, maybe to answer some questions before I  smashed in
the curling mouth with the yellow teeth.
     I didn't  recognize this one; it  was a former UAC worker, used to be a
man. It  didn't have even as much  mind left as had Zombie  Girl;  but  this
time, I let it babble for some time:
     "Big, coming through, big,  Gate is the key, killing, killing,  all the
killing,  coming through, coming to  kill you all, the Gate is  the key, the
key, hell and damns is the key, coming through the Gate . . .
     "Phobos! Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear!
     "Coming to Phobos, coming from Phobos, crossing the Styx,  pickup Styx,
Styx is the key."
     I  waited until it started repeating itself; after  a mo- ment, a chill
crept down my neck: the thing was  repeat- ing  itself  exactly, like a tape
loop.  Suddenly more  scared than I had been  in hours, I put it  out of its
misery (and mine).
     I backed up into a dark alcove, praying nobody had a  light-amp glasses
or an infrared sensor. I needed to think this through.
     A single  strip of  hellishly bright  luminescence flickered off and on
high in the center of the ceiling; a  bare sun bulb was all that was left of
the  lighting system.  The  strobe effect made shadows  look  like monsters,
creeping toward  me. But I didn't smell any rotten citrus, and heard none of
the  characteristic zombie  gibbering  . ..  just  a strange clicking  sound
ahead, like a dolphin with laryngitis. I figured I was safe for the moment.
     Phobos was pretty obvious; they were here, at Phobos Base. They came to
Phobos  .  . .  but what did  the  thing mean saying they  were coming  from
Phobos?
     I  started  feeling nauseated. My  skin began to  creep up  and down my
bones  . . . If the zombie didn't distinguish between  yesterday, today, and
tomorrow, then maybe it was telling me that Phobos was not the final  target
of the invasion;  they were going to cross the River Styx,  the river of the
dead in Greek mythology.
     And what was  on the other side?  Well,  hell, I  supposed. Hades.  But
wait--if you were starting from hell, then "crossing the Styx"  took you  to
...
     I  swallowed the  nausea  back  down. Sweat dripped  down  my forehead,
stinging my eyes.
     The target was Earth. Terra mostly firma. Home sweet hovel.
     I accepted the fact that I was a dead man. After four years of Catholic
school, run by Father Bartolomeo, Society of Jesus, I had  always  thought I
was pretty much "prayed out." Certainly, even after four years in the Corps,
the last three in Light Drop Infantry, I hadn't had a word to say to the Big
Guy, if He were even listening.
     But now, for  the first  time, after a cumulative seven-  teen weeks of
actual  combat  intercut  into  four  years  of  military  life,  I  finally
understood that  stupid line about there being "no  atheists in foxholes." I
didn't  use  the words that  the Jesuits  taught me,  but  I  know who I was
talking to, begging for the guts and skill not to hose up.
     "Suicide mission"  was a weak term for what I was doing. I'm as  afraid
to die as the next  jarhead; but goddamn it, I didn't want to be damned as a
walking dead!
     I told the Big Guy what I'd done wrong in the last, ah, seven years and
promised him a lifetime of penance if He'd just forgive me  and send me into
battle shriven. It  was a hollow offer, I knew; that "lifetime" was probably
measured in hours. Thank God it's the thought that counts.
     Taking  a breath, I swung  my rifle around,  finger outside the trigger
guard, and stepped out of the alcove. I continued around a corner toward the
clicking noise.
     Suddenly  I  saw what looked like a  working radio! Hurrying  over--too
quickly for caution's sake--I saw that only the front part  of the mechanism
remained. The back was ripped out in a way that showed clear sabotage. Up to
that  moment,  it  had  seemed  possible  that  the  radios  were  destroyed
accidentally, casualties of  battle; but this was clear evidence of at least
human-level tactics, far beyond what I'd imagine the zombies could do.
     There was somebody else wandering around here. If I hunted long enough,
I figured I'd find it... if it or they didn't find me first.
     Turning a  corner in the corridor, I saw  more evidence of some kind of
strategy: on  the wall,  a map  to the installation  had been  burned beyond
recognition, while the space around  it  was only slightly  singed.  Whoever
that  other  something or somebody was,  it knew  that more of us  would  be
coming after it; it didn't want us to be able to find our way.
     Ahead  was a hatchway, the  door open.  The  light directly over it was
broken; but a steady,  green glow  emanated  from beyond the narrow opening;
the glow did not come from any electrical source I could think of. Even as I
moved toward the entrance,  I knew I wanted to  be anywhere else but here. A
new odor assailed me,  far  worse than the sour lemons. This was the loving,
sweet  aroma  of  something that should  have  been  buried,  or better yet,
flushed. It literally burned my nostrils.
     I fumbled  for the  mask  that  accompanied the combat armor.  Jesus, I
thought, what I wouldn't give for a working environment suit! My hands shook
as pulled it over my mouth and nose, wondering what  horrible, toxic fumes I
was breathing.
     The surge of air from the suit augmented the bad air; but it did little
good.  The  molecules  of  the toxin  were  evidently  smaller  than  oxygen
molecules and didn't  react to  any of the filters; I could still smell them
right through the mask.
     Every warning klaxon in my body was screaming; my skin tingled, and the
proverbial hair on the back of my proverbial neck jumped up and did some PT.
I took a few tentative steps farther in, then I came up short; I'd found the
light source.
     Pools of thick, green liquid bubbled on both sides of me. The stuff was
luminescent,  probably radioactive.  It  looked  like boiling lava  on Saint
Patrick's day. I wasn't going to stop and  run any experiments; but I had no
doubt the  gunk would eat  right through my  combat suit, given enough time.
The prudent decision was to stay as far away from the green slime as humanly
possible.
     No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than a ton of bricks slammed
into me from the right, knocking the 10mm pistol out  of my holster and into
the green toxin. Something had decided to run the experiment after all.
     The 10mm  made a hissing sound as it disappeared  from  view.  I didn't
care. I had problems of my own.
     Flipping over, I struggled to get to  my feet and bring my big  Sig-Cow
into  play,  if  I could  figure  out what the hell  hit me. The  impact had
blurred my vision. I stood up, dizzy,  shaking my head. The figure that  had
hit  me  so  hard stood just out of sight,  in the shadows. I assumed it was
another zombie, but a stronger one than I had encountered before.
     Then it cut  loose with a  hiss, and  more of that clicking sound I had
been hearing. Well, one little mystery solved.
     The strength in this--zombie?--inspired greater cau- tion.  I rolled my
M-211 around and skated to the side, waiting for the creature to come to me.
He did.
     As the large body moved into sight,  I saw brown,  leathery skin, rough
like alligator hide, with ivory-white  horns sticking out from chest,  arms,
and  legs. The head was inhumanly huge, with maddened slits of red for eyes.
It was a monster!
     It was a demon.
     5




     My  first reaction  was to  laugh. This was  a  childhood  nightmare, a
bogeyman. The part of  me that had worked  so hard to grow up just  couldn't
believe in something that looked like this.
     Only trouble was, the damned thing didn't appreciate its own absurdity.
It took a few steps toward  me where the light was better. Movement made the
figure less ridiculous. Shadows played across its rough hide, and I saw that
the wrinkled flesh under the eyes were wet.  I hated to admit that it really
was  flesh.  The eyes flickered with an angry red light. The worst  features
were  the lips  curling back to  reveal  ugly,  yellow canines. This  was no
Halloween mask with a rigid grimace. Inhuman as this monster was, I couldn't
confuse it with an animal.
     Just an alien bastard, I told myself over and  over; I  was a lot  more
comfortable  with  the   idea   of  an   alien,  even  an  alien  soldier--a
cosmic-grunt. Not a ... a demon.
     The extraterrestrial stopped advancing. It turned  its head at an angle
no human could copy, but kept its eyes fixed on me. Mexican standoff.
     Despite it  having attacked me first, I couldn't shake the thought that
it was my responsibility  to  try to make  contact.  No communication seemed
possible  with the hollow shells who  used to  be my buddies or UAC workers;
the  most I could drag out of them  was simple parroting of  what  they  had
heard, before or after death.
     But this one was different  . .  . this  one was--how could I fire up a
conversation  with an alien "demon" whose interest  in  humans seemed purely
nutritional?
     "Who are you?" I asked. I figured it  wouldn't know English, but  might
at least guess  from  the tone what I  had asked. But it threw me a curve by
smiling wide and  silently mouthing the same question,  Who are you, seeming
to mock me.
     I  tried again:  "Human  being,"  I  said,  tapping  my armored  chest.
"Understand? Do you talk?"
     Nothing.  Nada. I took a calculated risk: I wasn't about to put down my
weapon; but I slowly extended one hand, palm forward,  in what I hoped was a
universal symbol of nonaggression.
     There was  a response but I  didn't quite know  what to make of it. The
grotesque  humanoid  slowly lifted  its  right  hand  up to its shoulder and
stroked  the white protrusion  of bone, allowing its thumb to  linger on the
sharp point. The  sight was  very strange and it  did  not  suggest peaceful
intentions. Definitely a Mexican stand- off.
     I suddenly got nervous about leaving my hand ex- posed. The sharp teeth
suggested a healthy appetite. I became  acutely aware of my environment. The
bubbling, green sludge behind me  burbled louder, and for the first  time, I
thought I heard the monster breathing.
     The breathing stopped.
     Pure  instinct took over. Soldiers sometimes  take a sharp  breath just
before  attacking . . .  some  hold  their  breath  as  the floodgates open,
releasing enough adrena- line to turn coward into hero.
     The monster attacked so  quickly I couldn't have gotten a shot off even
if my Sig-Cow hadn't jammed.
     Whatever the thing was, it was not  stupid. It charged me,  clawing for
ray throat with one set of nails while the other hand fended off my bayonet.
     That was the only good news; if it was afraid of my blade,  then surely
the alien would bleed if I stuck it.
     If...
     I stopped pushing and suddenly pulled  with  the  mon- ster, instead of
against  it.  I fell backward, and four hundred pounds of leathery skin  and
iron muscle dropped on top of me--and right onto my bayonet. With an inhuman
scream that nearly ruptured my eardrums,  the  demon died, convulsing  a few
last times before instantly stiffening into what felt like a stone statue.
     I  was mighty damned glad  to learn that demons did  bleed, at least on
Phobos. I was relieved for some reason that the blood was red.
     I was less pleased  to feel the stone weight of the monster crushing me
into  the  floor. Jesus and  Mary, did I  wish I  could turn  off the Phobos
gravity generator, just for a moment!
     Years spent in Catholic school came back to  me;  I remembered  an  old
penguin, Sister Beatrice, who  was obsessed with the biblical injunction  to
avoid unclean things. Unclean things!
     My stomach heaved; shaking the body off  me with more strength than I'd
ever  experienced before,  I  almost vomited  on the  very  spot where blood
pulsed out of the alien's belly wound.
     Jumping too quickly to my feet, I slipped in the slick, red  goo--right
next  to one of the  bubbling  pits of green sludge.  Heat poured  from  the
boiling, green liquid waste. I  didn't want that stuff any closer to my face
than it  was  already; I had a feeling  the luminescence was  not harm- less
phosphorous, and this didn't seem the time to run any tests.
     I  took  a  moment to catch my breath.  It had been difficult enough to
accept the fact of people--buddies!-- turned into zombies; but this thing at
my  feet  meant  anything  could  happen  next.  I  didn't  want to  let  my
imagination run wild. Reality was bad enough at the moment.
     Not  since childhood  had I really felt  a  desire  to pray.  The first
monsters of my life had been stern nuns refusing to answer the questions  of
an inquisitive mind. But now I felt a need for God, if only  to have a power
big enough to swear an oath on.
     "I'll  stop you,"  I promised, "whatever  you are,  howev-  er many you
are." It helped to say the words out loud, even if one of the bastards heard
me. Hell,  they could hear my footsteps, anyway. "If  there is a God, please
let me live just long  enough to stop  these  monsters from dropping ship to
Earth!"
     The small voice of  reason was growing smaller all the time; scientific
knowledge! Physical law! Like the song says, biggest lie you ever saw.
     Survival  came  first;  killing lots  of monsters.  Learning  something
useful about the enemy was just fine,  so long as it came  third. And  there
was  the problem  of  how I would communicate any useful  discovery;  and to
whom.
     Ahead were the remains of yet another smashed radio. A human hand still
touched  the  controls.  The  hand  was  not attached to  an  arm. The  best
explanation  was that the body probably lay dissolving at the bottom  of the
pool of green slime.
     Making my way out of  this  section seemed the  most important move for
all three goals, if only to get away from the hot, green liquid. The monster
had thrown me  off. I couldn't  help imagining  the creature from the  black
lagoon, or green lagoon, waiting at the bottom of every toxic pool.
     If I  could meet one  two-legged nightmare,  I  could  meet more. And I
don't just mean more like the ones I'd  already fought; there could be worse
things,  anything! What  were  the  laws for  monsters? Thoughts  of horrors
crawling around  on the bottom  of radioactive sludge pools gave way to even
more unlikely scenarios.  How about  creatures that could exist outside  the
domes,  in airless  space? And if they  didn't need to  breathe, maybe those
aliens didn't bleed, either.
     I made myself stop. If I kept this up, I wouldn't need to be picked off
by the enemy; I'd be saving them the trouble.
     I heaved a sigh  of relief to leave the toxic-spill room, clearing  the
jammed brass from my Sig-Cow receiver; it made little difference--I only had
two or three rounds left and nowhere to stock up.
     As if being rewarded for  a bad attitude, there was another  collection
of inanimate  dead  just through  the  doorway, awaiting inspection. For the
first time since this nightmare began I actually felt relief at the sight of
human corpses. At least they were human. Not zombies, not  monsters. If  I'd
been more careful--or paying more attention to my imagination--it might have
occurred  to me that one of  the zombies could be pretending to be a corpse.
But somewhere  in the  back  of my brain I had already figured out that  the
zombies were no-brainers. They weren't about to pull tricks.
     There was something very reassuring  about  thinking  about things that
weren't possible (or at least not very probable). Sure beat  the hell out of
imagining  super- monsters that could do  anything! As I surveyed  the  dead
men, the damaged weapons,  the  lack of  ammo,  and for  dessert, a  smashed
radio,  I finally understood what must have been going through the minds  of
these soldiers as their lives were ripped out of them.
     I understood why they hadn't  done the intelligent thing and withdrawn,
regrouped, reported: they'd been so overcome with revulsion, just like Yours
Truly, that they'd simply charged into the mob (of zombies? mon- sters?)  in
a  berserker  fury, killing  anything  that got  in  the way.  They  stopped
thinking and started reacting instead --and were cut down, one by one.
     A heavy rumble from  behind grabbed my attention. Setting a new  record
for  spinning  around,  I  realized  I  had  to  go  back  into the  blasted
toxic-spill room to check this out.
     So I did.
     The  latest  surprise:  when  I killed the  monster, it evidently  fell
across a lift lever I hadn't noticed. I arrived at  this conclusion  because
of  the large, metal platform which finished lowering itself right in  front
of my nose. Beyond the lift was a brand new corridor I hadn't seen before.
     To  enter or not to enter? That  was as good  a question as any I'd had
all day. Staying  behind  meant facing inconceivable danger and unimaginable
odds.   Whereas   going  forward  meant   facing  unimaginable   danger  and
inconceivable odds. Or something.
     The corridor ahead had two appealing features: there were no slime pits
and  the light was brighter. The latter  decided me. There had to have  been
some good reason to make the choice I made.
     I backed up and  took a flying leap; fear lent  my feet wings . . . but
not jet engines, unfortunately. I landed short  and teetered on the edge  of
the  biggest  pool of green crud in  creation. I windmilled my arms ... if I
hadn't stepped back, I would have fallen back.
     For a second all my foot felt was icy, icy cold, as if I'd stepped into
liquid nitrogen. Then the pain struck. I tried to yank my foot  free, but my
muscles wouldn't respond!
     My  leg was on fire from toe to thigh. I lurched forward, falling on my
face; my foot was free of the toxin, but I shouted through clenched teeth.
     Fighting  a suicidal impulse to  grab my  still-wet foot, I  wrapped my
arms around my gut instead. If a zombie or monster demon had stumbled across
me  then, it could have snuffed me with my blessing. It  was minutes  before
the throbbing pain in my leg subsided. I scraped my foot against the  floor,
rubbing off as much of  the toxin  as I could; but  my leg swelled tight and
angry red inside my ruined boot.
     But at least, thank God, the pool was behind me.
     The new  corridor seemed  antiseptic  and clean  after  what  I'd  just
stepped in. If there were unpleasant odors, they didn't penetrate my visor.
     I followed the corridor until I came  to a room on the right. Something
made me  hesitate  about going in. It wasn't a sense  of danger or  anything
like  that. Maybe  it was  because the  door was closed. Mostly  they'd been
open. I don't normally credit  sixth  sense stuff or  mysti- cism;  but I've
learned  in combat that  you ignore your instincts at  your peril. There are
human "predator senses" that normal, civilized life pretty much  breeds  out
of us.
     I had my weapon at the ready even though two shots from now the Sig-Cow
would be nothing but a fancy spear.
     Kicking the door was easy; looking  into the room was  hard.  There was
one lone body on the floor, female, her back to me.





     6




     For a cold-gut  second, I  thought she might be Arlene. The  impression
lasted only a few seconds; then I saw it was Tij "Dude" Dardier. We'd fought
together pretty closely in Kefiristan,  and you get so you recognize a buddy
from behind, especially females in a crack fighting unit.
     Her  face was  unmarked, still cute, still a little girl with  red hair
who had  a big  surprise  for any  man who  thought she was easy pickings. I
wondered if a monster  or zombie had gotten her.  The ugly wound was in  her
stomach.
     There was something funny about her  posture; she lay as if she  had  a
secret.
     I  stared for a  moment, coaxing  her  dead body  to  talk to me Then I
figured it out: Dudette was lying on top of something, shielding it from dry
zombie eyes.
     I  touched her  gently,  then gingerly  slipped  over her  corpse. Dude
Dardier was  lying  on top of the pump- action riot gun I'd been wishing for
earlier--her death- day present for Yours Truly.
     I  felt  like a ghoul, but feelings were a luxury. With a shotgun in my
arsenal, my survival rating took a big leap up the charts.
     I  checked  the bore and  found no  obstructions. There were plenty  of
shells  in the  bandoleer  around  her body. I  thanked Dudette for  being a
Marine to the end . . . semper fi, Mac.
     Back in  the  corridor, I  found remains of a map on the  wall. The Bad
Guys  evidently  followed  a  plan,  proven  by  destroyed  radio  gear  and
vandalized wall maps. But this time there was just enough left of the map to
figure out the basic direction  toward  the  lift,  which I prayed was still
working. Being properly armed did wonders for my psychology; I decided maybe
I would do well to generate a tactical plan.
     There is no north or  south on Phobos, but I oriented  myself along the
facility's major  axis.  Getting to  the  nuclear plant was the next logical
move; it had the largest concentration of equipment. . . and perhaps even an
untrained engineer like me could jerry-rig some gear into a working radio.
     I found the lift without further molestation; naturally, it was broken,
shot to hell--the  hydraulics leaked  away from  numerous gunshot holes. But
the manual  escape hatch still  worked. Placing myself back  into a  narrow,
confined  space  was  about  as  appealing as  it  sounded,  and  my  damned
imagination started bugging me again at precisely the moment duty called. My
imagination was not very patriotic; it needed six weeks of boot camp.
     There was a dim light in the shaft, very,  very dim. Every  square foot
of the base was supposed to be constantly lit, bright as day, except for the
barracks. Someone in charge must have been mugged by a  flash- light when he
was a kid and wanted  nothing  more to do with them. Maybe  I shouldn't have
complained; light was light.
     As  I  climbed  down the  long shaft, it occurred to  me to think about
something cheerful, a silver lining that must exist somewhere in these storm
clouds. There had to be something.
     And there was. I hadn't  found Arlene's  body yet ... and  so long as I
didn't know what had happened to her, there was hope.
     I  figured the  nuclear plant must  be at least six stories down.  Just
keep climbing, that was all I could do. Climb.  Hope.  Watch out for demons.
Real simple. I preferred thinking about Arlene.

     I remembered the  day  she  showed up from Parris Island and joined the
real Corps, the fighting Corps. I looked  up from monkeying  with the sticky
belt-advance on a  .60 caliber  auto-stabilized, and  I saw a brutal babe in
cammies,  spats,  webbing,  and  sporting  a  newly  shaved  high-and-tight.
Catching her eye told me all I had to know. She knew what she was doing, all
right. The Corps is protective of its haircut, flat on the top and shaved on
the sides.  We're talking a sign of distinction, a challenge thrown at every
other service.  God help the Navy, Army, or Space Force puke who shows up on
one of our bases in a high-and-tight! What happens afterward is why God made
Captain's Mast.
     But Arlene was no innocent. She wore her cut high and proud, and wore a
single, red, private's stripe.
     Lieutenant Weems (pre-punch)  took one look  at Arlene Sanders, a long,
hard look, and curled  his lip. He watched  her hand her packet to PFC Dodd,
who stared at her  like she had two  heads.  So far as  I know, that was the
first  time they ever met,  they  who were destined for ...  well, not love,
exactly; extreme lustlike. (After about a year of ignoring him with  all her
might, then  another six months of despising him, she shamefacedly confessed
to me that she'd spent the night in his fiat.)
     All in all, not the best-foot-forward on this  first day for  the first
woman in Fox Company.
     Of course, the  opinion  of  Lieutenant Weems  was  already  a  debased
currency by this time. But the opinion of the other men mattered. And no one
could  express  that  company opinion  with more  eloquence  than  Gun- nery
Sergeant  Goforth, the company's "grand old  man." Hell, he was  in his late
thirties, an eighteen-year Marine, the last ten in Light Drop.
     Goforth  looked like Aldo Ray  in those old John Wayne  movies. He  was
heavyset, muscular  but not fat;  he shaved his head but  would probably  be
bald anyway. Goforth was a Franks tank with legs, a few  freckles  mixed  in
along with the Rolled Homogenous Armor.
     The gunny made a big deal  of sauntering over to Arlene  and  let loose
with  his  thick, Georgian drawl:  "Hooo-eeee! Where'ud the lay-dee get thuh
purty "do?"
     She looked him in the eye. That was  all. Not a bad answer, really, but
I thought that under the  circum- stances a few words of reason might  be in
order.
     I volunteered myself for the task. Partly because I  liked a woman with
guts;  partly  because  I  respected  the  men  in the Corps-and  felt their
position  could be expressed in a more thoughtful manner  than Gunny Goforth
was likely  to manage. But mainly  I spoke up because at some  deep level  I
hate all rules, symbols, rituals,  fighting  words,  gang  colors, routines,
decorations, medals, trophies, badges . . .  and anything else that suggests
one  human being  is  to be taken more  seriously than another  in  a  given
situation  simply on the basis of plumage. Besides,  I was making no headway
with the damned .60 cal.
     I was sitting on the mess hall table and felt very much above it all as
I  said,  "Private, a high-and-tight is not a fashion statement.  You  gotta
earn it."
     That seemed a nice ice breaker. She  must have agreed because she spoke
to me, not  Goforth.  "I'm  as much a  Marine as  the  next man," she  said,
glancing at me before returning her steady attention back to the gunny.
     The first retort that crossed my mind was to take a big bite of the red
apple that happened to be in my hand. The longer it took to chew and swallow
the piece of apple,  the  more  profound  would be  my clever  rejoinder, it
seemed to me.
     So  I did. And  Goforth  took a  step  closer to  Arlene,  deliberately
breaking her space. Arlene stood her ground, not budging an inch.
     In between  bites  of the  apple,  I  thought  I  would  essay  another
arbitration. "You know," I essayed, "a high-and-  tight is not mil-spec  for
ladies."
     "It's  not regulation for men, either,"  she  shot back. There  was  no
arguing with that, but there was plenty of apple left to crunch.
     Gunny Goforth didn't have an apple. "Any Muh-reen  who wears thet 'do,"
he said, "sure as hell is gonna earn it, missy." I thought the "missy" was a
bit much.
     Arlene Sanders  leaned  forward into  his space, close enough to either
kiss him  or bite off his round knob of a nose. Instead, she said two words:
"You're on."
     Goforth was just  as  stubborn. He was native to Geor- gia but might as
well have  been  from  Missouri  when  it came  to  matters of proof. "Every
Muh-reen is a rifleman fust," he  said. "If'n you want to  spoht thet thang,
missy,  then you had best  pick up yer cute lil'  buns and follow me tuh the
rifle range."
     She  gave  him  a curt nod. Challenge accepted. They  started to leave,
then Goforth noticed my juicy, red apple,  which had tasted much better than
the discussion, far as I was concerned.
     "Hey, Fly," he said, "howzabout grabbin' thet sack o' apples?"
     As I  hoisted the apples and made tracks,  I could honestly  say that I
didn't have a clue what old Goforth was up to.
     The range  was  a short walk. Every man who  had been  present for  the
exchange of words  followed along. No  one  wanted to miss  entertainment of
this high a caliber, no pun intended.
     Goforth walked on  over to Arlene  and said, "Private, you need a whole
helpin' o'  guts  to  wear thet 'do. Takes more'n jes'  a steady rifle hand,
thet it do!" At least he didn't call her "missy" this time.
     Holding up his hand, palm toward me,  he shouted, "Fly, toss me one  of
those  apples.  Ya'll watch a  history  lesson."  Now that I finally had the
idea, I was none too happy, but Arlene just smiled--a little, thin  smile. I
think she guessed what the gun' was scheming.
     I slapped the apple into the gunnery sergeant's paw. He casually tossed
and caught it a few times, then asked Arlene: "Yuh lak historee, lil' lady?"
He was laying the accent on so thick I could barely understand him.
     "Let me guess," she said with a thick grin. "You like William Tell."
     Goforth  looked crestfallen  that she had outguessed him, stealing some
wind from his sails. But if verbal teasing wouldn't do the job,  he was more
than ready to push this thing  on to the  real thing. I could see it in  his
face; there was no humor left.
     When I had  first joined Fox Company, Goforth  went out  of his  way to
make me feel welcome. About the worst he did was to tag me with the nickname
Fly. He didn't bag on me the way he was doing to Arlene, He gestured to Dodd
to bring over  the artillery, and  Dodd  brought a .30-99 bolt-action sniper
rifle, top of the line.  Goforth flashed Arlene a  big,  soapy grin; but she
held her ground.
     Made me wonder, not just about the gun', but the other guys, who leered
and  chuckled unpleasantly. Plen- ty of  men are solid guys,  decent fathers
and husbands, but revert to Wolfman when confronted by physical prowess in a
woman.
     As Goforth  lived up to his name and went forward with the William Tell
bit, I was getting panicky  ... but  I kept it  to myself. She was going  to
play this one out to the bitter end. I figured that from the way she planted
her feet, put her arms behind her and said, "Go for it!"
     Abruptly, everybody stopped laughing. Gunny  Goforth noticed but wasn't
about to back down with eight, I'm sure it was, eight guys watching. With an
almost delicate concern, he carefully placed the apple on her head.  Then he
took  the .30-99 and slowly backed away from her. He aimed just as carefully
and said, in a voice  that had lost all the sarcasm, "Last chance, honey." I
thought "honey" sounded better than "missy."
     Arlene didn't move, but  I could see that  she  was  trembling  ever so
slightly beneath her  bravado. I sure as hell didn't blame her. Goforth took
a deep breath and said,  "All right, darlin'...  I suggest in  the strongest
terms thet you don't flinch none."
     I was the one who jumped when he squeezed off a shot--and damned if the
apple didn't  split perfectly down the  middle, each  half falling on either
side of her head! Everybody let out his breath, and a ragged cheer erupted.
     "Way to go, Gunny!" said one man.
     "Fox Company ichiban!" said another.
     We'd forgotten one  item. We'd forgotten that Arlene had  put her skull
on the line. The drama wasn't over until she said it was.
     As Goforth basked in  his  moment of glory, the boys all praising  him,
Arlene walked toward him. Her hands were behind her back and she was smiling
sweetly.
     I saw what she was carrying before the gun'  did. She  held an apple up
until he saw it; then she tossed it to him.
     Silence  again;  nobody  moved. Then just  as smoothly  as you  please,
Arlene Sanders picked up  the  .30-99 from the table, staring expectantly at
Goforth and cocking one of her eyebrows.
     I never doubted  what  Goforth would do. His  basic  sense of fair play
could  be counted on;  and  he had  guts. He wasn't  about to lose his men's
respect. Not Goforth! So, in the words  of the old-time baseball player,  it
was deja vu all over again.
     He put  the apple on his head,  his  icy eyes boring into Arlene's. She
watched him  just  as intently; no  lovers were  ever  more  focused  on one
another.
     She cocked and raised the rifle, which wasn't even fitted with a scope,
just iron sights. A few of the men backed farther away from the cone of fire
surrounding the  gunnery sergeant. That pissed me  off,  so I deliberate- ly
took a few  steps  closer to the  duel. Something  about  this girl inspired
confidence that  she was no  more  likely  to blow away a spectator than the
gunnery sergeant.
     Goforth had  his own concerns: "If you have to miss," he said so softly
that it  didn't even sound  like him, "please  tuh make it high?"  He smiled
with an effort. The request seemed reasonable enough.
     Arlene said nothing. She  lifted the  rifle nice and  slow.  She didn't
make us  wait; she pounded out a shot, and the apple was blown off Goforth's
head. Corporal Stout  ran over and picked it up. It was still  mostly in one
piece, but there was a gratifying furrow a little high off the center.
     After a long moment, during which no one said a word, Goforth walked up
to  Arlene  Sanders.  Putting  hands on  his  hips, he  made a big  show  of
inspecting her high-and- tight, while we all held our breath.
     Goforth  bent down,  examined her right side, left  side,  back, front,
then looked  her evenly in the  eye, winked and nodded. "It's you, Private,"
he said. And  I was pretty damned sure  he wouldn't  be calling  her "missy"
again. She didn't miss, you see.
     Some of the boys took to calling her Will, though.
     7




     The odds against Arlene's survival in this hell-
     ish maelstrom were astronomical; but then, so they were
     against mine. Hope that she might have made it kept me
     going; fury at the thought of her death spurred me to
     action. Maybe just when I was running out of steam, the
     need for revenge would inspire Yours Truly.
     As if to test my newfound resolve, Phobos threw some
     more at me. Glancing down, I saw that the access shaft
     did not descend the full six stories required to reach the
     nuclear plant. The ladder ended in a few ragged shreds of
     metal; an explosion had cut off the rest of that route.
     Of course, I could always get to the nuclear plant level
     really fast, so long as I didn't mind the sudden stop at the
     end.
     "Damn, I knew this was too good to be true," I said
     out loud. Just before running out of ladder, I saw a thick,
     metal hatchway leading to the next level down.
     It looked solid, heavy; a pressure lock held it shut; I
     would have to spin the wheel to open the door, a happy
     trick when the ladder ended a couple of rungs above the
     hatch.
     For a moment I was stymied. I could just barely reach
     the wheel by hanging one-handed from the last rung; but
     I had no leverage ... I couldn't turn it to save my life. I
     took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and thought for
     several seconds.
     Jesus--what am I, stupid all of a sudden? I rotated
     around the ladder, lowered myself until my lower legs poked through the
last hole, then slowly let my body down until I  dangled upside down from my
knees. Now I had the leverage; all it took was muscle.
     I cranked the  wheel  clockwise,  loosening it until it spun freely.  I
wrestled open the door--and now for the hard part.
     Holding  tight to  the  wheel  of the  now-open door, I straightened my
legs, dropping heavily  as the  wheel  spun. I clung  to it grimly, swinging
back and forth until I finally stopped swinging.
     I edged around the door,  caught the  corresponding wheel on the inside
and  swung myself  up and into the shaft.  I  lost nothing  but any desire I
might have had to  take my name to heart  and become a Human Fly as a career
path.
     The access shaft led me into a tunnel where the light was crappy again,
flickering  on and  off  like some sicko  nightclub.  It was tall  enough to
stand, and I did.
     After   five  meters  I  decided  this  was  the  weirdest  stretch  of
architecture yet. The  light was  lousy, but it was good  enough to make out
the walls--plain and gray with an oddly rough-hewn surface, as if hacked out
of the rock with a magic ax.
     Large, rectangular designs everywhere  gave the  feeling  of a colossal
cemetery. More than anything  else, the strong impression of something truly
ancient  and evil permeated  the narrow  corridor. Alien,  and  yet familiar
somehow.  It was as if I'd  been  cast  inside  the oldest  labyrinth in the
universe and would spend the rest  of my life  trying to find my way through
the maze.
     Damn  imagination acting up again .  .. memory was better; at least  it
gave me something to hold on to. A link to the past, a better past.
     Then I saw old Gunnery  Sergeant  Goforth, walking down the corridor in
my  direction. The  failing light made it difficult to make  out skin tones;
but  the smooth, purposeful way  he walked made  me  think he couldn't  be a
zombie.
     It was Gunny Goforth--and he was alive!
     "Gunny!"  I shouted, ecstatic to have finally found another live one in
this nightmare.
     He didn't answer; my God, that should have told me something.
     He raised his old .30-99 and aimed it right at my chest. I threw myself
to the floor just as the bullet seared over my head.
     "Damn you  to hell!" I shouted, outraged that  the universe had decided
to  foist a  new,  improved  zombie on  me. Too late;  I'm sure  he  already
was--and me with him.
     This new horror seemed even more unfair than that crazy  brown  monster
with the spikes. I'd settled into a nice, predictable pattern about  what to
do with zombies. No fair changing the rules now!
     Hey, Gunny, you're still a pal.
     He marched straight  for me, no  deviations,  no duck-  ing, no turning
sideways to make a more difficult  target.  An  obliging guy in  his way. Of
course, he was working the bolt on his sniper rifle, trying  to blow my head
from Phobos back to Earth.
     I  didn't  just lie  on  the floor,  waiting  for that  unaccepta-  ble
outcome. I had plans of my own.
     In life,  Gunny Goforth could shoot--hell, could  shoot the apple off a
young  Marine's head. In death, he shot better than all  the other  zombies.
And he blinked.
     I rolled back and forth, waiting until he was ten  meters away; then  I
shouldered the riot gun and squeezed.
     It was the biggest mess I'd made on this godforsaken rock of a  moon so
far. The splatter was sort of an artistic statement. But  I must have gotten
something in my eye. I kept blinking, but it wouldn't go away.
     Somebody was laughing, sort of a crazy, whacked-out cackle.  "Shut up!"
I screamed at the jokester, wiping my cheeks. The laughter stopped, and only
then did I realize the mirth was courtesy of a poor jarhead named Fly.
     This  was  no good.  I  had  to get a handle on the  situation. Running
multiplication tables in my head helped me chill while I scavenged Goforth's
pack for ammo. My breathing slowed  to something sane, and my heartbeat took
a licking but kept on ticking.
     In fact, I was so calm I barely blinked when a whirring, metallic skull
sailed past my head.
     This time I was sure  my imagination was off  on a wild toot. I'd never
done hallucinogens as a kid, and it  just wasn't fair for my  imagination to
suggest a giant, white skull had gone flying past (on its way to the demonic
head  shop,  no  doubt). So  I made a deal with my imagination: if it didn't
throw any more Halloween balloons at me, I'd give it a break  when it wanted
to go traipsing down memory lane. I can be fair.
     I ran  like a  madman  up  the  corridor,  jogging  a  couple of times.
Whatever it was, I'd lost it for now.
     Emerging into  a big open room  made me feel more claustrophobic.  That
might  sound fairly  nutty but you'd  have to see this place for yourself. I
wasn't  bothered  by the incredibly high, arched ceiling,  supported by gro-
tesque pillars that would  be more at home in some ancient  palace in India.
No,  what  bothered me  was that  this huge room was full of barrels of that
noxious, green liquid I thought I'd left behind--and good riddance.
     The  empty,  cavernous room was  a perfect  place for a congregation of
Halloween  goblins  and all species of  zombie, fast and slow, dull  and the
cognitive elite.
     No sooner had  this  unpleasant  thought crossed  my  cranium than  the
floodgates   opened  and  they  started  pouring  into  the  room  from  all
directions.
     I shrank back into the shadows, trying to look  dead and  mindless;  it
worked for a few moments .. . none of the zombies seemed to notice me.
     There really wasn't time for  a  sanity  check, but  I ran  a quick one
anyway.  I'd read  about a mental condition or a philosophy (I forget which)
called solipsism: you think of something, and  it happens. The ultimate case
is  when you think you're all that exists, and  the  whole universe  is your
dream. Man, I was ready to buy  into that, if only I could dream  away these
monsters as quickly as I seemed to be filling up this room with them!
     Well. . . what  can I  lose?  I closed my eyes  and concen- trated real
hard, wishing away the bogeymen.
     While I was thus  occupied, I was blown off my feet by an explosion and
searing heat right  over my head.  Opening  my eyes to excruciating  pain, I
discovered I wasn't alone  on the floor:  whatever had blown me down got the
nearest few zombies as well.
     I decided that solipsism was a load of crap.
     And when I looked up, my old friend was back, the crusty, brown monster
with ivory-white  spikes . . . and he'd brought his buddies. They watched me
stagger to my feet, and they laughed.
     Then one of them wound up  and threw something, some sort of mucus ball
that burst into  bloodred  flames as  it left the  creature's  hand. I dived
across a burned zombie, and the flaming phlegm spun me buttocks over boots.
     I  looked for a weapon,  a glint of metal, a  tube, something! But  no,
these demons were actually produc- ing the  fire with their bare hands . . .
and their aim was deadly.
     The monsters hissed, pointing directly at Yours Truly; then the zombies
noticed  me  for  the  first  time  and  began  shooting.  They weren't  too
particular about  innocent zombies  getting in the way, either--and whenever
one zombie would shoot another, or a demon would pelt a bunch with a flaming
mucus  ball,  the  monster  victims  would turn  on  their  monster  allies,
completely forgetting about me. While I  ran screaming  from one side of the
room to the other, I  filed that  little datum somewhere in the  back  of my
brain for future use.
     Now  the room was really filling up with at least  a dozen  zombies and
three leathery  demons . . .  and again I  dived to  the side as a whirring,
screaming hunk of steel buzzed my helmet. This time there was no mistake: it
was a goddamned flying  skull  with flaming rocket ex- haust spewing out the
back.  It  turned and  banked, trying to  mow me  down and chew me  up  with
razor-sharp, steel teeth, like one of those wind-up "chattering skulls" gone
mad.
     But the  fireballs  were the main  problem; the brown demons were a lot
tougher than the zombies.  Suddenly, I was  grateful for  the pillars;  they
provided cover, at least. Making a mad dash for the nearest, I fired off the
shotgun at the remaining zombies.
     Catching my breath, I  risked running to the  next pillar. This time  a
fireball almost fried me. There was just no  way  I could get to  the demons
from here without being toasted . . . and the shotgun range was too short to
pop them where I crouched.
     While I  dithered, I heard a whirring behind me,  then  a  harsh,  iron
screech.  Sure  enough, the flying skull had sailed  around  the pillars and
spotted me again.
     I can take care of you at least, you F/X reject! I whipped the riot gun
around and fired from the hip, not even taking time to aim.
     It was the best mistake of my life.
     The  little bugger skittered out  of the way;  I  tried  to track  as I
fired, and I popped one of the toxic barrels instead.
     It exploded  with a terrific concussion, kicking  me  in the body armor
like a mule and tearing off a chuck of my kevlar vest. The skull vanished in
a spray of metal gears and exploding JP-5.
     Almost  immediately,  my bruised eardrums were as-  saulted  by another
explosion, then another and a fourth.  Five or  six more barrels touched off
in rapid succession. All I could think was thank God I was on the other side
of the pillar.
     An acrid cloud of blue smoke  swirled around the  walls and floor . . .
residue from  the explosive  oxidation of the toxic goo.  Gasping, I  peeked
around the pillar at a scene of astonishing carnage.
     Zombies and  demons alike had  been torn to shreds and strips  of  gray
flesh,  their  parts  mingling in  a hellish mulligatawny.  The stench  of a
thousand  sour  lemons  permeated  the room, even driving out the  horrible,
burning smell of the toxic  fumes. Jesus, I thought,  I hope the cameras got
the shot.
     I climbed shakily to my feet and padded toward  the door,  chastened by
the awesome  destructive power in those forty-gallon drums. At  the  edge of
the room I found the only other survivor.
     The demon  crawled  along the  ground  with  its  hands,  one leg blown
entirely off and the other twisted into a crazy angle. It leaked yellow pus,
globules that burst  into flame  as soon as they  dripped off  the monster's
body.
     I leveled my shotgun at its head. "Die, you dumb animal," I said with a
smile.
     "Aaanimaaal," repeated the demon, "not. . ."
     I paused,  startled.  I  didn't know they could talk. "You're right," I
prodded, "at least animals kill you clean or leave you alone."
     It twisted its head  all the way around  to stare up at  me while lying
belly down on the floor. My stomach turned at the sight. "You--are aanimaals
when we fix planet."
     I curled my lip, but my heart  leaped. Which planet was that?  Mars? Or
did  the aliens' plan include Earth?  "We'll  mow you down  as fast  as  you
bubble up out of the sewers, you piece of filth."
     The  alien monster laughed,  opening its mouth wide enough to swallow a
man's head. "Weee throw rocks . . . big rocks."
     The  image was ludicrous;  but I got a premonitory  shudder. Somehow, I
guessed the emphasis was on the word "big."
     8




     Despite my better  judgment, I was too intrigued for the moment by  the
sound of pure evil pleading its case. "Why  haven't the others spoken to me?
Can you all talk?"
     It opened  its  mouth wide, exposing gums full of  squirming  cilia and
teeth  that  rolled and shifted position. "Not... all ssssame, like you-mans
not sssame."
     The  alien  crawled  on  a bit farther. I don't think  it was trying to
escape; it knew that was impossible. I began to worry that it was leading me
toward something. Ahead of me was a greenish stone wall carved in bas relief
with a  hideous,  demonic face. Somehow,  I  doubted  that  was  an original
furnishing in the Phobos base of the Union Aerospace Corporation.
     "How aren't we the same?" I prodded. I felt in my gut that I was on the
verge of something important.
     "Ssssome  . . .  fear," it gasped. Its face showed no sign of distress,
but I  knew from the shudder that wracked  its  body that it  was very  near
death. "Othersss sssstrong . . . you ssstrong."
     Good Lord--was  this alien thing admitting  a grudging respect for  Fly
Taggart?
     "Few  ssstrong,  like  you ssstrong . .  . mosst good  for  ssslavesss.
You-man ssslavesss."
     A thought  buried deep behind my  ears thrust itself forward. I  wasn't
too fatigued to pick up that slip of the tongue;  even a tongue as thick and
brutish as this one. Few strong--others strong . . . there must be other hu-
mans who were still themselves and still breathing!
     When hell came to Phobos, I had to keep hope locked up in a small space
without a zip code.
     I kept a  poker face; the  monster might  be  smart  enough to  spot my
eagerness at the possibility that one of the living might be Arlene.
     Any human survivor would change the  Phobos  situa- tion  dramatically:
food and water were minor problems, but I could only operate so long without
sleep. With no one to stand guard, giving in to exhaustion  was suicide. But
I couldn't keep going forever; and if I couldn't rest,  all the ammo  in the
solar system would not save me.
     "I'm touched by your concern for my survival," I said.
     "Deal," he unexpectedly offered, ignoring the sarcasm. "You . . . live;
you work; you help."
     All I  had to do was work with the alien invaders and help them conquer
the  human  race,  and they might graciously allow me to  live  as  a slave.
Jesus, how tempt- ing, I thought.
     I decided that I liked the ones who grunt better. What did these creeps
want from me? "I've got a great  idea. Why don't  you  tell me what the hell
you're after?"
     The thing laughed. The sound grated on my nerves like a ripped bagpipe.
"Hell...  we  after,"  it  declared.  "Ssssurrender .  . . help;  you  live,
you-man."
     "As a zombie?"
     "You live, not deadwalk; you sssee othersss."
     "What others? Who else survived? Did a girl  survive?" Great, Fly; nice
and subtle. Does it even know what a girl is? Does it care?
     "You help . . . you sssee othersss."
     I stared down at the loathsome thing. I knew I had gotten all the intel
from it that I could. "Let me answer,"  I said at  last, "louder  than  mere
words can do. Tell me if this is tough enough."
     Without another  thought, I pointed the  shotgun at the monster's upper
chest  and pumped a round  at  point- blank range.  The  alien  jerked--then
amazingly, stared up at me, still alive by a thread.
     The alien grimaced, facial muscles  finally  growing rigid. Then for  a
moment  it  relaxed. "We could eat  anybody  onccce," it declared.  Then  it
stopped moving; even the cilia in its mouth stood up straight and froze. The
demon was dead.
     After catching my breath, I started getting angry. It  was one thing to
fight a human enemy, but battling malignant demons? Every  time I killed one
of these  humanoid things, I felt like  doing a hundred  more. That might be
the  only good to come of this latest encounter. Give no  quarter  and kill,
kill, kill. Kind of reassuring to learn that all that Marine training hadn't
been a waste of time.
     Of course, the rational  portion of my brain still made plans. I wanted
to  climb  down  and  out  of this  hangar and reach my next  objective, the
nuclear  plant. The plant  was  the  most dangerous item to fall  into enemy
hands. Better it should fall into my hands.
     Making one last circuit of the zombie bodies, I scav- enged for blessed
ammunition. I'd have  killed for a decent backpack;  come  to  think of  it,
that's probably how I would have to get one.  I  was  running out of pockets
for the ammo.
     So, how to get out of the hangar? My playmates found their way in;  all
I had  to do  was reverse  the process. First thing was to  hug the wall and
make a nice, slow circuit of the big, ugly room.
     The  damned  monsters  bothered  me  a lot less  than  the architecture
changing on me. I'd never been in Phobos Base before, but I'd talked to guys
down  on  Mars  who knew  these  installations; there was no way  this place
hadn't  undergone  a change  as  bug-nut  crazy  as the  demonic  characters
themselves.
     And what  made that more upsetting than the monsters was the  idea that
the floor you walked on, the wall you brushed against, the  damn place could
turn on you and  become something else. Like a cartoon world that sud- denly
turns everything into rubber . . . except you.
     If this kept  up,  Yours  Truly was  going to  place his imagination on
short rations.
     I leaned against  the wall,  and suddenly it was like those  old Abbott
and  Costello  movies  back Earthside: the  wall had  a hidden  door. I even
tripped going through the blasted thing. In my mind a laugh track played and
played and played.
     I  fell into a  new corridor, which  I followed to a rising wall at the
south  end of the hall.  There was another of those crazy platforms near  at
hand. Instinct told me to give it a  wide berth, and  who am I to argue with
my most cherished faculty? When I reached the wall, I  found another switch,
which I flipped.
     The  wall  shooooshed  up,  revealing  a  down  staircase;  it  was  an
encouraging sign--the  nuke plant  was down  another level or two, I vaguely
remembered. Cautiously, I  started  down  the  stairs,  grateful  for steady
light. My reward was the biggest slime pool yet, waiting  at the bottom.  If
only I'd remembered to  bring swimming trunks, I  could  have  gone in for a
dip. Best toxic sludge in the whole solar system right here--come  one, come
all.
     Skirting the pool,  pressed against  the  wall,  I finally  ran  out of
hangar. Along the narrow corridor past the  toxin, I found the shredded body
of  another  one of those brown- leather, spiky demons. If it were a talker,
someone had already silenced  it forever  with seven  or eight rounds from a
Sig-Cow. Score another for the Corps.
     The  bug lay  against a  sliding door that belonged on  a dumbwaiter. I
yanked it open, happy to take out my frustrations  on  something that didn't
shoot, claw, or flame me back.
     Sure enough, it was a lift, barely big enough for a  big guy to squeeze
into. I spotted a  funny mark on the wall, as if someone had started to draw
a map  using  a bright, red paint  stick--we  use  them  to  blaze trails in
forests  or urban environments.  Whoever it  was had been  inter- rupted  in
mid-map. I studied it for  a bit, then shrugged; whatever he was  trying  to
tell me got lost in the transla- tion.
     I scrunched  inside  the tiny lift,  wondering which of the two buttons
would take me down to the  plant. Staring  at the labels,  I decided to push
the  one marked "Nuclear Plant." And they say you don't get  an education in
the service!
     With a jerk, the  tiny lift sank, swerving and rattling all the way, as
much  as screaming out Here I come!  to the whole world. Well, to  the whole
Phobos pressure zone, I guess.
     I  didn't have to guess  whether  this  important part of the  base had
fallen into enemy hands. The minute I stepped off the platform, I was in the
soup up to my neck. This  particular recipe called for  more zombies  than I
thought could be crammed  into such a small space.  Come to think of it, the
space wasn't all that small. I  guess when it's wall-to-wall corpse-sickles,
it's easy to lose track of the finer points of design.
     For  the first  time  in  my  life  I  felt  what  it  was  like to  be
claustrophobic from  being surrounded  by  walls  of  hu-  man  flesh--well,
formerly human flesh. I couldn't un- derstand why I wasn't dead meat.
     Two   things  worked  in  my   favor:   first,  so  many  zombies  were
sardine-canned in the  room, they could hardly move, and most of them didn't
even know I was  there.  Second, it  had become clear  to me by now that the
only  use for brains in a zombie was for gray and  white color contrast when
you blasted their heads like rotten fruit. Even Gunny Used-to-Be-Goforth had
been operating on motor reflexes, and he was the most dangerous one yet.
     There was plenty of time to  think about such things because  there was
really nowhere for me to go, and I was waiting for one of them to notice me.
Then one  of those wonderful moments of dumb luck  added  the final spice to
the soup. Another contingent of zombies trooped into storage, and one of the
shambling creeps elbowed  aside another, simply trying  to find somewhere to
stand. In the  tiny,  new space created,  I noticed an undamaged map on  the
wall!
     By  this  time, I'd  arrived  at the conclusion that  zombies  were not
responsible  for the  destroyed radio  equipment, the vandalized  maps,  the
deliberately  wasted weapons.  The advantage of attending  my  first  zombie
convention  was that there  apparently wasn't room for the demon monsters to
get  in  here  and do their  damage;  the space was  being  used  for zombie
storage.
     Trying to look dead on my feet--not difficult--I shambled  a few meters
to where I  could get a better  view of the map--it was  a full schematic of
the entire station seen  from  the  side. Unfortunately,  it  didn't include
overhead views  for each  level; but at least I could  see  how far down the
station went. My God, it even had a You Are Here arrow!
     I was indeed at the nuclear plant level; above me was the hangar, while
still below  were the Toxin Refinery-- didn't that sound appetizing--Command
& Control, the labs, Central Processing, and MIS. Jesus .  . . only six more
levels to clear; I was afraid it would be thirty!
     Funny  how what I was seeing triggered memories  of malls and shoppers.
Best not to dwell on that. . .
     Somewhere in  the back of my head a shrill voice screamed for me to get
the hell out of that room. I figured this situation was too lucky to last.
     Without false modesty, I can say I was proven a prophet. In that sea of
pale, dead faces, two dry as dust eyes  came  to rest on Yours Truly. Hoping
the unfocused eyes would continue their survey of the room, I  didn't move a
muscle .  . .  which was normally what  the zom- bies did  when they had  no
orders and had not spotted a human: they stood and did nothing.
     Except, that is, for the one who wouldn't stop staring at me. I  wasn't
about  to make  the first move.  I'd been through a lot  lately but  I could
still count.
     It seemed  like  this could go on forever;  but then, out of nowhere, a
zombie-child separated  itself  from the  rest  of the throng  and  stumbled
toward me.
     Jesus!  For  a second  I didn't recognize  that she was as dead  as the
rest.  Seeing  plenty  of zombies  recruited  from soldiers made it easy  to
forget the UAC civilians that had  been on this base. But somehow  I'd never
dreamed there would be children here.
     The kid headed straight for me, mouth opening and closing but no sounds
coming out. Then  those soft, wet,  cold hands were rubbing on my arm .  . .
and I couldn't stifle my reflexes. I put my arm around her to comfort her.
     All hell broke loose.
     Staring-boy opened his mouth, too; but instead of words, he  belched an
inarticulate roar. But he was so hemmed in by his fellows, he couldn't raise
the pistol in his right hand. Impatient guy that I am, I acted: I  tilted up
my shotgun and squeezed the trigger.
     A dead-center blast helped a lot. I pumped the slide, then pounded home
another shot to clear a path.
     Then I was running as fast and  hard as I could  to the left. In  close
quarters like this there  was  no opportunity to use  the rifle. My best bet
was to find elbow room where I could at least make a stand but that wouldn't
put me in a cul de sac. The  sounds  pounding in my  ears told me that  they
were following me, but I wasn't about to turn around and take a head count.
     I ducked into an open doorway, then turned like Custer at bay. Three of
the  creatures shambled  past, not even noticing me--the  fourth  was not so
obligingly stupid. It pushed through the doorway, and I raised the shotgun.
     Just before  I turned  that  face  into an explosion of red,  something
about  it reminded me of my grandfather. I wish that hadn't happened. I  was
doing all right until then.
     The  trouble  was that  every time I made careful calcula- tions  about
what I could do in terms of stamina, willpow- er, and even strategy, the old
emotions got completely away from me. I'd thought I was a better Marine than
this. Then again, they'd never trained us for a nonstop horror show.
     I needed  a break.  I  needed to lie down  for  five minutes because my
lower back was killing me and there was a muscle  spasm in my right shoulder
blade. A nice cold drink of water would have  gone a long way toward cooling
the fire in my brain. But seeing old Granddad's face on the umpteenth zombie
was the latest straw breaking the latest camel's back.
     I couldn't shoot. I just  couldn't! I grabbed it  by its  coveralls and
shoved it backward with superhuman, adrenaline strength.
     It bowled over some of its buddies; then one in the back  rank raised a
lever-action rifle and tried to blow my fool head off.
     I slapped the deck face first, and the bullet scorched the air, blowing
apart one  of  the  zombies that had missed  the turnoff a few seconds back,
splattering the other two with what passes for zombie brains.
     The creatures went mad. That shot must have kicked their  IFF off-line,
because  they  opened up on  their zombie brethren, who cheerfully  returned
fire. In sec- onds, every zombie was shooting wildly at anything that moved!
     I stayed very, very  still, frozen  on  the ground, trying as hard as I
could to look like a "dead" zombie.
     9




     When  the ammo  finally ran dry, the  jerking bodies  above  me started
tearing each  other limb from  limb, as if auditioning  for modern ballet. I
seized the opportunity to roll out  from under the forest of legs; the rifle
was strapped  to my back, but in the chaos of the moment, I left the shotgun
behind.
     I  ran,  and this time  I  wasn't followed. After thirty heart-pounding
seconds, I  was alone with me, myself, and I. And somewhere along the route,
I had stooped and grabbed  a pack, one of Fox Company's--but I had no memory
of having done so!
     I  was utterly lost. I silently cursed at being reduced to  the Sig-Cow
and wandered more or less aimlessly . . . terrified of  shadows,  where half
an hour ago I stalked with  confidence. With just a  pistol and a  semi-auto
rifle, I avoided confrontation wherever I could.
     With no map, I wasn't sure what part of the plant I had reached; then I
pushed through another of those trick doors--I would have missed  it  had  I
not been sliding along  the walls like a mouse--and found the computer room.
The lights were blinking on and off, just what I needed for a headache after
everything else. When the light was  on,  it  had a sickly blue-green  color
that didn't do my empty stomach any good.
     So far as I could tell,  I was alone here, at least  in this section. I
wasn't happy  about  the  way  the  corridor  went  up  a  little  ways  and
disappeared around a bend. I decided then and  there if I ever try to  be an
architect,  all  my  buildings   would  borrow  from  my  old   high  school
gymnasium--a big, empty space where you can't possi-  ble hide anything. May
not be much in the way of privacy, but there are advantages all right.
     Placing my back firmly against a wall, I took inventory of the contents
of my  new pack. First thing that  jumped out at me was ammo for the missing
shotgun.  I was  going  to have  to replace that  as soon as possible.  Dude
Dardier  would have wanted it  that way.  I had  some  10mm rounds  for  the
Sig-Cow that also fit  the pistol,  a bit of water or  other liquid, chewing
gum .  . . and a small, little metal  object that  appeared  to  be  a shiny
flashlight battery. I  had  no  idea what the  last was; the  UAC  logo  was
printed on the side, not the globe and eagle of the Corps emblem.
     First order of business was checking the liquid. I was worried it might
be vodka or gin or rubbing  alcohol or something other than what I wanted it
most to be. But at long last I was in for a bit of good  luck: it was water.
While I took a first  grateful sip,  repressing the  desire to finish it off
with one gulp, I picked up the batterylike object with my other hand. Then I
realized what it was. I'd heard about, but never seen, a rocket this small.
     Correction: I had seen  one in a UAC weapons  demo video when they were
trying to sell it to the Pentagon. (We didn't  buy it--I wish we had!) Yeah,
these were special little babies, all right. But no one from Fox Company had
been carrying any rocket  launchers.  This  kind of ordnance  was for desert
fighting. Where had this rocket come from?
     I laughed out loud. Not smart in this situation, but it was  becoming a
bad  habit. If evil demons could  be lurking anywhere,  and  the  walls  and
floors were meta- morphosing into Halloween  decorations, why couldn't there
be a state-of-the-art tac rocket in a forgotten  backpack? Maybe I'd find  a
tomahawk next.
     At least I'd stopped laughing. The rational part of my brain was trying
to figure out where I might find a rocket launcher. Made sense. I was trying
real  hard  to listen to the little voice that  made sense. Only trouble was
that a much louder voice  was roaring from  somewhere lower in the brain. It
wanted  me to find  the rocket launcher,  too,  but for  a  less  defensible
reason.
     I  guess  I'd  been  more  upset  by  the roomful of zombies  than  I'd
realized--or  maybe I'd been  this freaked-out  all along, and  was only now
realizing it. My God, did I really  want to find  that missing launcher just
so I could eat a rocket?
     Suicide isn't in  my nature. I'm an extrovert type, more likely to frag
someone, say a  certain butthead lieutenant, than snuff Yours  Truly. That's
sort of  a job requirement  for the  Marines.  The battlefield  doesn't cure
depression.
     But the  tac-sit here on Phobos  was  a lot  worse than a  battlefield.
Having  to go through the same  crap over and  over  is just part of life. I
know guys who have been married.
     But  what had happened on Phobos  was  so  far beyond normal repetition
that  it turned me totally cold  and numb. If I could just  find  one living
person!  That  thing had  said  . . . had implied that someone  still lived.
Jesus, if there's  such a thing as the soul, then mine had been beaten black
and blue.
     Maybe I wasn't being completely honest with myself. I could have killed
myself with the rifle.  There  are other ways, too, God bless our  training.
Waiting for the launch- er could have been just a good excuse for postponing
the inevitable. Maybe. Or maybe if I found the launcher, I really would  put
the tube in my mouth and, as they say, "fire and forget."
     Fortunately, I never had to make that decision. I found something  else
instead.
     I stood in  a long, steel  corridor that curved  off to the right;  the
only  light came from a bluish, fluorescent tube that curved  along the left
wall and a sporadic white overhead spot. I crept as near  as possible to one
of those white-light areas . .  . somehow  I  felt better surrounded by more
natural colors, even though it made me more of a target.
     Then I glanced to my left and saw it.
     I didn't  trust  my eyes  at  first. They hadn't  been  doing  much  to
encourage trust lately. But  if what I was seeing was real,  then I wouldn't
be fooling around with any more self-destructive fantasies.
     Directly in front of my  nose, scrawled with the same  red  paint stick
that had started drawing a map in the dumbwaiter, were two  capital letters:
A.S. An arrow was drawn by the same  dye marker, pointing to the right  at a
downward angle.
     I stared at  the mark, memory working  furiously. Two  years back I had
gone to see the old James Mason movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth. I
didn't  know who Jules Verne was--but Arlene  had insisted. She loved sci-fi
of any type.
     We made a big event out of it. We had just come off a three-month stint
in Peru,  torching  coca-leaf fields  so  they'd  never  be  processed  into
cocaine,  and we  were ready  for an  old-movie orgy. We didn't usually  eat
junk, but for this special occasion, we gorged on the unhealthi- est popcorn
we  could  buy, even  including  black market  liquid  grease-butter.  I can
honestly say that I have never enjoyed a trip to the movies so much.
     In  the  movie, Arne Saknussem, world's greatest adven- turer, was  the
first to explore the secrets of Earth's  inner world; he leaves his initials
marked in candle  soot at different levels, so  anyone  coming afterward can
follow  his  route. The arrows point out the path he  took when  the caverns
branched off.
     I stared at the mark. A.S.--Arne Saknussen; A.S.. . . Arlene Sanders.
     My gut dropped to  my boots. Arlene! Arlene was alive? It had to be ...
what other explanation was there? She was alive . . . and she was doing just
what I  was doing: going deeper into the station,  hoping to find a radio or
another living  human, or  maybe  her old pal, Fly. She was drilling  deeper
into this hell, hoping to find a way out!
     There was no doubt in my mind: A.S. meant my bud was still alive ... or
at least, she'd  been  alive up to that point,  alive and still herself. She
must have survived the firefight that killed her platoon.
     All thoughts of self-destruction were wiped away  in an instant. I felt
supercharged.  For the first  time since stepping foot on  this damned space
rock, I was  happy! I moved forward, military discipline reasserting itself,
putting some breaks on the warrior who would still be needed for the killing
time.
     Following the  arrow led directly to an exit  to a patio. I took it. As
always when entering a new locale, I braced for a potential zombie attack or
another encounter with the monsters.  But now I had a new objective: to find
Arlene--and for that, I had to find a new shotgun. Neither waited  for me on
the patio; something brand new was there instead.
     This  one  took  the  cake,  and it was  nobody's birthday.  Picture  a
perfectly round sphere floating in the air. No strings attached here. A blue
sphere,  as  pure  a blue as a perfect spring day back home, with  one extra
touch: there was a face on this ball. I didn't have very long to  appreciate
how butt-ugly the mug was because no sooner had I registered all this in the
brain department than the sphere rushed me and smashed into my head before I
could even twitch, bursting all over Yours Truly.
     I figured I'd had it. For a  moment I  couldn't breathe with that weird
glop all over me, running down the  length of my body, reaching the floor so
I could  conve-  niently take  a header, which  I did.  My first thought was
poison! I could still breathe, though, once my mouth and nose cleared.
     With  the  first swallow,  I felt something cold and  invigorating rush
through  my body.  Taking a deep breath, the air seemed  cleaner  and tasted
better.
     Suddenly, I felt  great. If this turned out  to be a strange symptom of
the alien poison,  I could recommend it. Special Endorsements available from
Flynn  Taggart's coffin  . . . reasonable  rates. Sitting up, I  expected an
attack  of dizziness; but it never came. The liquid had mostly evaporated by
now or maybe absorbed into my body.
     With another deep breath--which felt  better  than ever--I  stood up. I
hadn't been poisoned--just the opposite, in fact. This crazy floating sphere
had been good  for me! It  was perfectly reasonable to assume that any weird
creature coming through one  of the Gates would be bad, and worse, deadly to
all things  human.  Discovering that lovely  A.S. had been the most pleasant
surprise of  the day (yeah, I  know day and night are pretty tricky concepts
when you're stranded on a space  rock the size  of an  average-sized garbage
dump); but the second piece of  good news was  how this blue sphere had just
made me feel like a billion dollars.
     Now that I  was feeling like a new man,  I was more dedicated than ever
to the proposition of finding Arlene and  exiting  the nuclear plant. Easier
said; Arlene's arrow pointed me to the  blue sphere--but was that all? Maybe
I should follow the arrow down the computer-room corri- dor, I thought,  and
forget  the door leading to the patio. Then again, maybe she didn't even see
the hidden door, and I just stumbled through it, misreading her arrow.
     I returned to the computer room and headed in the direction of Arlene's
arrow.  After  twenty minutes of winding through the  maze, I ended up right
back at the arrow again! "Well, that was a real brainstorm," I grumbled.
     I  decided  to leave a small mark of my  own,  a simple F, next  to her
initials whenever I found them. This would prevent my mistaking one mark for
the next--and anyone else, Arlene or maybe  the  "Ron" twins,  who came this
way again would know he was not alone.
     I followed  her mark again, this time picking a different route; and at
last  I  made eye contact with some  company,  however unwelcome. One of the
familiar  brown  mon-  sters  with  the  painful,  white  spikes  was eating
something, its back to me.
     Up to now  I'd been  spared seeing them eat. It sat on a table, hunched
over, making hard, crunching noises. I caught a glimpse of something red  in
its jaws as it turned its head to the side; fortunately, it didn't check its
six.
     If I'd found another shotgun by now, I would have blasted the blasphemy
from behind  . . . but sometimes frustration is the father  of fortune,  for
suddenly I heard a whole bunch of the bastards walking right past me--on the
other side of the thin, computer-maze wall.
     If I had followed  my gut  instincts  and shot  the demon- ic  son of a
bitch, I would have  been ambushed.  Shaking from  a retroactive  adrenaline
rush, I silently told myself that my objectives  were to find Arlene and get
the hell out of here, off Phobos, and find a radio somewhere!
     Then a thought hit me like a ton of slag. Arlene wouldn't bother taking
time in  this hellhole to scribble her mark unless  she had  a  damned  good
reason. Not just  to  point out the sphere--if she knew it was there,  she'd
have used it herself like a good soldier.
     The  only logical conclusion was that the arrow pointed the way  out of
the  nuclear  plant--the way Arlene San-  ders had  already gone. Like  Arne
Saknussen, she marked her own trail for all who followed.
     So why hadn't I found it? Same way Arlene  missed the patio door: there
had to be another hidden door nearby that I had missed.
     Third  time's  the charm. The damned  door couldn't have been more than
five feet from  the one I had found. One good push and it  was open, leading
to a  beautiful  piece of straight,  well-lit  corridor that reached its end
with a clean, massive metal  door that had printed on it the welcome letters
EXIT--obviously  a holdover  from the plant's mundane days as a  hangout for
humans.  Feeling  bold and  unstoppable, I walked right  up to that door and
discovered that it required a computer key  card before  it would  bless the
lonely traveler with an open sesame.
     Great. Now I could be miserable again.





     10




     Something I'd learned at age fourteen: when your mind is working, don't
give it  a reason to stop. I'd reasoned it out this far, fitting pieces into
place. Why should I be stopped by one minor impediment?
     When you welcome thoughts,  they come. There had  been something  wrong
about the sound of the crunching from the  monster that was eating. At first
I was certain it was chowing  down on the remains  of  one of my com- rades;
but now I realized the sound was all wrong,  too high, too sharp. And when I
saw the color code on the EXIT door--bright red--I acted on my hunch.
     I didn't want to run into any more of those monsters, so I took it nice
and  easy getting back  to the one  having its Happy Meal;  with that  troop
trooping around some- where, silence  was definitely golden. My main concern
was that he might be gone. I needn't have worried.
     Now I know why God invented bayonets.
     The thing died gurgling without a scream, a roar, or  a gunshot to call
monsters  from  the vasty deep. I missed  my  chance  to find out  if  I had
another intellectual demon.
     Flipping  it on  its back,  I  saw something red in its mouth--a clear,
red, plastic computer key card on which it  had been chewing. Next to it was
a  pile of plastic  cards, mangled  beyond repair, small red  and blue globs
suggest- ing the remains of more key cards. Fortunately, the one I carefully
fished out of its mouth was still in one piece.
     The red  card  worked;  the exit door  slid  open,  revealing an access
ladder. I climbed down as quietly as I could . .. but I still hadn't found a
new shotgun.
     The toxin refinery; such a lovely name. The dump was another step down,
in more ways than one. At first  it seemed as though  I'd  entered a zone of
peace  and tranquility. Greeting me was a wide-open space lit by  a sun lamp
so bright that for a moment I thought I was back on Earth in the middle of a
pleasant  afternoon. The  abundance  of  weird-looking machinery  raised  my
suspi- cions,  however; I could easily imagine monsters and zombies  lurking
behind equipment of that size.
     As I began to explore the area, I was grateful for the first sight of a
barrel full of the toxic  sludge. I'd certainly  changed my mind about green
slime!  Now that I knew  the stuff was as explosive as nitro, finding it was
like coming across another weapon.
     I searched frantically for another mark by Arlene. I remembered another
afternoon  we  spent at  the rec-hall  flicks.  We watched one of those  mad
scientist  movies,  and the  laboratory  was stuffed with more switches  and
levers than humanly possible. The more I checked out the toxin refinery, the
more it seemed like that make- believe lab.
     Not all the  switches had  to be activated by hand, either. I made that
discovery when  I walked past  a green section of  wall, the color of a ripe
avocado. The immedi- ate whirring sound had me spinning around and ready for
action.  But  nothing was coming  to get me this time. The motion detector I
had just activated stimulated  my  memory. CNET  used  to show  us  training
videos, and I remembered that Union Aerospace used movable archi- tecture to
transport the liquid metals extracted from Phobos ore.
     I watched the  corridor  behind me slowly shift  out of sight;  it sure
beat the hell out of coming into a room and finding stone and metal that had
grown scales or pulsing veins. No  horror faces here! The  bad part was that
as the physical layout changed,  the  corridors would realign; the route  in
was no longer the route out.
     With so many hidden triggers, I never  knew when  I was going to  shift
everything all over again. Stepping on a land mine would be a lot worse; but
this situation was still unpredictable enough to be a major pain in the ass.
I tried avoiding  the sensor eyes,  but  they were  too well hidden.  Once a
motion detector activated, I couldn't undo it; I had to love it or lump it.
     When I tossed out the old religious baggage, I thought my superstitions
had  gone with it. Well, Phobos might not drag me back where the nuns wanted
me, but it did reintroduce me to every superstition I ever had as a kid.
     So the first thought that  leapt to mind when something cold brushed my
face was Ghosts! Peripheral vision warned me something was definitely there;
but when I turned to face it, all I saw was a blur.
     I was still debating  when something big and fast knocked me on my ass.
I still couldn't see it, but I figured any ghost that can knock  you down is
a ghost you can return the favor to.
     Jesus and Mary, did I miss that shotgun now! The wide blast  dispersion
was tailor-made for shooting something you can't  see. But if the  rifle was
all I had, the rifle  was what I'd use. I was a Marine,  damn it--and  every
Marine is a rifleman first.
     Scrambling  back from  where I'd been attacked, I readied  my  Sig-Cow,
aimed at nothing in particular, and waited for  the first blurring of vision
that meant either I was having a stroke or I'd found a new kind of monster.
     The  wall  in  front  of  me  went  a  little  watery,  like  something
insubstantial was in front  of it.  Without staring  and losing it, I  fired
four quick taps.
     I  expected  to draw blood;  I didn't  expect an  explosion.  The ghost
screamed and seemed to collapse; I wasn't sure. Then something hot and heavy
pounded me from  behind, and I finally tigged what had really happened: more
damned fireballers! The first shot had missed me and killed my "ghost."
     I  whirled  around, diving sideways; two spikys,  two  zombies, one big
barrel  of  sludge.  Ignoring  the  monsters,  I  concentrated  fire  on the
stationary barrel. It took a couple of rounds then exploded spectacularly.
     I wondered if my "intellectual" demon could spell KA-BOOM?
     I approached cautiously and examined the remains. At least the  aliens'
blood was red and the  internal  organs bore  a strong  resemblance to human
plumbing.  Just  beyond  the primary  gore site I noticed another  tangle of
human arms and legs.
     Catching my breath, I went closer. It  was a relief when I saw the bits
and pieces were from zombies; for a moment, I'd been worried.
     It was Christmas when I saw the riot gun clutched in one severed hand .
. . but  it was  Valentine's  day, hearts and flowers,  when  I  spotted the
missing rocket launcher!
     The  shotgun was  a  little fancier  than the last  riot  gun,  a  more
old-fashioned model.  It took  the same twelve-  gauge,  but it also  had  a
muzzle device so you could adjust the pattern spread for close work or far.
     I allowed  myself to feel  real gratitude  for the  zombies,  who  were
turning out to be my best pals. If not for them, I  wouldn't have  a  single
functional weapon. Even when the aliens deliberately destroyed radios, maps,
and  anything  else  decorative or useful, they had  to  keep their  zombies
armed. We  don't come  equipped with claws or armor plate.  At least, not we
guys.
     Looking around,  I was disappointed  there was  no  one  else to shoot.
Then, as if receiving  a good  grade  for  a job well done,  I  spotted  the
glimmer of another A.S. on a distant wall.
     I  ran to  look. It  was! Arlene had come through again. Once again the
arrow  showed me  where to go,  and I wasn't complaining. It seemed like she
had an uncanny knack for shadowing the demons until she found the way down.
     Clipping the  rocket  launcher to  my webbing gave me an odd feeling. I
had thought  to use  it to frag  myself; but  Arlene  and her  Magic Markers
changed that plan.
     The rocket launcher was  serious  firepower. This  one looked  in  good
shape,  but it didn't have the two  pre-  loaded  rockets that were standard
issue. I was going to have  to make my  one rocket round count. I  loaded up
then let it dangle.
     Armed  for  very big bear,  I followed Arlene's arrow through  a narrow
opening;  I could barely squeeze past.  The UAC  designers evidently did not
have  big  men wearing combat armor in  mind  when  they built  the  "Manual
Vertilift Bypass Route."
     The doorway led  to a spiral escalator down. It was not operating, so I
crept down as silently as possible ... not very.
     The escalator led down to the Command Control level, as I recalled from
the map I  had seen  above. C&C  was  the nerve  center; if there  were  any
working radios in the facility, that's where I expected to find them.
     Once there, I wondered if it had been  worth the trip. The architecture
of  this  place  was the most depressing yet, heavy, gray,  very much in the
style of military garrisons from World War II. I had to wonder why any human
would build thick, fortified walls deep inside Phobos--if a human had. Maybe
we inherited this, too.
     Making my way down the longest  corridors I had seen  yet, I was struck
by the grotesque  combination of black  moments from human  history with the
inhuman quali- ties  of the invader. A  heavy  whiff of diesel fumes had  me
coughing  so  badly I had to  stop  and catch my breath. Diesel  fumes? That
couldn't be right. But that's what I had smelled.
     My  footsteps  echoed so loudly, they sounded like mortars. I  was glad
when I reached the first open  space, if only because the echoes wouldn't be
deafening. The kind  of  stone  forming the  floor changed,  and  the higher
ceiling gave the sound somewhere to go.
     I was  at the edge of a huge  room, shrouded in darkness  except  for a
couple of  shafts of  bright light shining through glass  skylights. I don't
know whether there  were  spots  behind the  glass or  whether  I was seeing
actual daylight; but the squares of brilliance lit up two spots as bright as
freeway construction sites.
     One  of  the two  bright-lit squares contained  a  table; on top of the
table  was  an AB-10 machine pistol.  God, did I  want that pistol! I  could
almost taste it. I stared from the doorway, trying to estimate the odds that
the pistol  was  bait  for  a  trap;  I kept  getting  an unacceptably  high
probability.
     Turning in the opposite direction, I crept along the wall, rolling each
step, just as they'd taught us in SERE School and SurvInfil. Every few steps
I stopped abruptly, listening for someone shadowing my footsteps.
     I tracked the  wall  to the left,  followed  it  for a right  turn, and
finally approached a hulking machine of  some  sort that  almost touched the
wall, leaving a slight gap.  I slid through the gap as silently  as I  could
and poked my head out.
     What I saw made me  smile grimly. Behind a pile of boxes, ten feet past
the  machine  pistol, were  no fewer than a dozen of those  brown spinys who
would never make  Smokey  the Bear's Christmas list. They were hiding behind
the boxes, staring  greedily  at the  well-lit  gun and  waiting for someone
stupid enough to march up and try to grab it.
     Allow me to introduce myself, . .
     I let  my new  shotgun  dangle, shouldering  the  mini- rocket-launcher
instead. I  only had  one round, and I had never fired one  of  those things
before; my first shot would have to be a damned good one.
     I closed  my  eyes and  visualized the  UAC sales  video:  raise  range
finder; grab plastic propellant tag and pull-- which mixes the volatiles and
incidentally engages  the  primer  firing  pin;  thumb-off  safety; aim  and
squeeze trigger. Pulling the trigger halfway produced a tiny, red laser dot;
I lovingly moved it across to sit directly on the rump of the biggest demon.
     One of the other demons noticed the spot and reached out to touch it. I
squeezed the trigger the rest of the way.
     The  rocket  exploded  with  a  bang  so  loud, I  thought  I would  be
permanently deaf.  While my ears still rang, I dropped  the  rocket-launcher
and retrieved my scattergun.
     I  humped toward  the remains  of the  ambush  crew; there  were a  few
survivors, crawling along the ground  looking for their legs and arms. I put
them out of my misery.
     I counted thirteen heads and fourteen left arms, so I must have slipped
a digit somewhere. Shotgun in hand, I slowly approached the AB-10, alert for
a second line of attack.
     I was still seven meters away when I  heard the sound, and it was a bad
one; the worst  one yet ... a low, piglike growl, a snuffling sound  turning
into a wet, animalistic grunt. I froze, the image of a giant boar filling my
mind. Slowly, I backed  away from the AB-10. I did not want to meet whatever
made that noise.
     11




     Damn!  I thought, furious that even after ex- pending my only rocket, I
couldn't  get the machine pistol; I was right back where  I  started, except
one rocket lighter. I had squandered my gift!  I felt like the guy who found
a lamp that would grant one wish, and he says, "Jeez, I wish I  knew what to
wish for."
     I  moved on, warier than before.  The simplicity of the layout  and the
big  blocks of stone made secret  doors less  likely here, although I  would
pause  occasionally and try pushing against  anything that  looked  remotely
promis- ing. The fact that the alien monsters had set  a trap worried me; as
I went deeper into the base, it seemed like they were getting smarter.
     I  was becoming  concerned that I hadn't found  any  more messages from
Arlene. Was I still following her trail, or did I take a wrong turn?
     Through a doorway arch, I found  another  room with a light blue motif.
The UAC logo was repeated regularly, over and over, in the floor; evidently,
I was back in original, human architecture.
     The room contained a number of  kiosks,  four  that I could  see.  As I
neared  the  center kiosk  I must  have  triggered  another  of those motion
detector switches.  All the  doors began to rise as one.  A filth  of aliens
tumbled  out, and this time  I  had no  rocket and no convenient barrels  of
toxin.
     I  fired a quick  shell,  dropping  one; then the rest  fell on me like
ravenous in-laws. I dropped the shotgun to the ground and  barely managed to
swing my semi-auto Sig-Cow up to take the shock as the first alien hit me.
     The damned thing impaled itself on my bayonet--but it was too stupid to
die! It  clawed forward, stopped only by the bayonet  hilt,  and  grabbed my
padded shoulders with death-grip talons, dragging me back against the wall.
     Saved  my  hide,  it did. The alien's broad  back  shielded  me as  its
brethren  flung  their fiery,  mucus wads;  the  fireballs  burst,  spraying
flaming,  red liquid that dribbled down my dance partner's legs  to  pool on
the ground, lighting the room with a hellish, red glaze. I fired nine or ten
times, finally blowing a hole clean  through  the alien ... a  gory loophole
through which I turned on the rest.
     I guess  they refused to believe that  the firewads weren't frying  me;
they stubbornly kept throwing  them, ignoring the  burning  pool around  the
feet of the first,  dead monster.  I got lucky; two  of the aliens  jostled,
then turned on each  other, fang and claw. The  weakened survivor  fell to a
single shot from my Sig-Cow . . . abruptly, I realized I was alone with  two
hundred kilos of alien brochette on my bayonet. What a life!
     Evidently, I had  not  met all my  playmates yet. I decided  I liked it
that way.
     The room  had  a  central  kiosk, which I  entered.  There  was a  blue
security  card in there.  I grabbed it on the chance I'd find a use  for it.
Then it was back to the search for signs of Arlene.
     Edging  up a shallow set of steps, I finally found  Arlene's next  A.S.
and arrow.  Grinning, I  followed  her  trail through  a room  stuffed  with
computers. Most  of these centers had the same basic  floor plan; but I  was
absolutely,  one hundred  percent  unprepared  to  encoun-  ter  a  freaking
swastika! Some sick joker had arranged eight Cray 9000s to form the "crooked
cross" that a certain  Austrian corporal had appropriated in the mid- dle of
last century. Maybe it was a coincidence, but I doubt it.
     This was  all  getting a little  too  weird  for me.  The  River  Styx,
zombies,  demons, flaming skulls . . . what kind of intelligence was  behind
this? Whatever it meant, I de- cided not to think about it.
     I  could  easily have gone through the computer room  without noticing,
but  an  undamaged  map to  the  section  made it impossible  to ignore  the
swastika floor plan. My adventure with the kiosk had been dead center in the
largest circle. Above it and  slightly  to the left was  the swastika of the
computer room. Walking through, one might figure  it  out. At certain angles
one couldn't help but recognize that the bloodred design of the floor had  a
certain association. The map was like a slap in the face.
     It barely bothered me  when I triggered another of those  damned motion
detectors. They were  becoming  routine by  now. Of course, there was always
some element of surprise. In this case, the  swastika-crays lowered into the
floor,  real slow  with a  grinding sound like the bones  of a  million dead
being  rendered  to powder, and  I  expected  to see soul-shattering horror.
Instead, I won another jackpot.
     I'd just  found two boxes  of  rockets,  five  to  a box. And I found a
yellow security card with a  note that if  I were trying  to  find the  card
where it was supposed to be, north of the  "maze" at the northwest corner of
the  installation  (maze? talk  about feeling  like a trapped  rat), well, I
wouldn't find it there because it was here instead. Safe and  sound with the
rockets. The note was signed A.S.!
     Man, I was going to have a lot of questions  for that girl when I found
her. It was hard enough staying alive without going to a lot of  trouble for
a  hypothetical fellow  soldier,  who  on a wild  off-chance  might still be
breathing  and putting  one foot  in front  of  the other. She had performed
incredible feats here. As Arlene found sup- plies along  the way--everything
from weapons and ammo to these ugly key cards--she took  only what she could
carry and stowed the rest where a thinking man might find it.
     Anyway,  the  least I could do  under the  circumstances was  load  the
battery-sized  rockets  into  my pack (aside from the two I loaded  into the
launcher), pocket the yellow card next to the blue one, and blow this horror
show.
     I ran into one minor obstacle along the way. I should say I avoided it;
I  was just about  to barge through a flimsy, narrow  door, en  route to the
exit from Command Control, following Arlene's latest arrow, when I heard the
horrible pig  sound to which I'd taken an instant hatred. This  time it  was
accompanied by heavy footfalls suggesting tons of flesh waddling ponderously
in the  artificial gravity of  the base.  These  pig  noises  were sloppier,
wetter, deeper than before.
     Part  of me  wanted to kick in that door and face the creature; part of
me had had enough. I had rockets; from the sound, this pig thing was made of
flesh and blood-- plenty of both to spare.
     The  rational part of me said I'd probably  find out sooner rather than
later whether  I could  kill  this  new monster  or not. Why race it to  the
grave?
     While  I  was  having   this  debate   with   myself,  the   pig  thing
thumped-thumped  on past the door. I  waited a  few more breathless minutes,
then opened the door a crack and listened. Nothing.
     But the instant my book crossed the threshold, I heard a warning  grunt
from my right, down the black-dark hallway, followed by a heavy, meaty tread
accelerating toward me like a main battle tank.
     I  could barely  make out a bulky shape  shambling out of the night  to
starboard;  but directly  in front of my  nose was a heavy, armored door,  a
pressure  hatch, rimmed  with blue lights.  I  bolted  across the  corridor,
jamming my hand in my pocket and fishing out both key cards.
     The first one I tried turned out to be yellow. The door buzzed angrily,
and I began to smell the rotten stench of corruption that comes from animals
that chow-down on decayed carrion.
     Swallowing panic, I yanked out the yellow and in- serted the  blue. The
door  chimed and  ponderously  rolled  up;  I  darted  through,  unslung  my
scattergun, and waited, shaking, for the Thing Without a Name.
     The heavy security  door rolled shut,  mocking me  with  its  lethargy.
Fortune loved  me  this  time; slow  as the door was, the nightmare was just
that much  slower. The door  shut, and  the frustrated pig-thing beat on the
heavy metal and howled its rage and hunger.
     And still I hadn't seen even one of the things in the light.
     Knees weak, I followed a  trail of three marks and three arrows to  the
next door--which wanted the yellow card, surprisingly enough. This door  led
to a  lift  that  wasn't working, naturally;  but the  open  shaft had guide
cables along the sides, and that was good enough for the human  Fly. I  slid
down almost fifty meters before finding another open lift door.
     I swung  through  the  hatch  and saw the  level-schematic on the wall;
Welcome to Phobos Laboratories.
     Five minutes in the Phobos lab convinced me that Command Control hadn't
been all that  bad. It didn't escape me that  every  time  I went  to  a new
center, it  was a  level farther  down than  the previous one. Living condi-
tions were not  improving, not  by a long shot. However, none of that really
mattered. If Arlene had come this way, then so would I. I had to find her; I
had to find any other human survivors.
     All of this  made a lot of sense to me intellectually.  Emotionally,  I
was willing  to jettison honor, duty, and loyalty and run like a  thief as I
contemplated my first real swim in the toxic goo. Semper fi, Mac.
     I'd talked myself into wading through the  toxin  way up above, and the
protective  boots that  were  part of  the armor  sizzled like bacon on  the
griddle. But the material  was plenty thick, and the corrosive liquid hadn't
reached my tender flesh yet. And like last time, there was no way around the
horrible stuff.
     Got to be some way to avoid full body immersion, I thought. But without
a  heavy-duty flashlight that I didn't have and wouldn't dare show if I did,
damned if I could find it.
     Arlene's  arrow  pointed across the  pool. Grudgingly, I  had to  admit
there was no way to proceed without a little swim.
     I was damned glad for the edge that blue face-sphere had given  me when
it exploded all over me, making  me feel healthier than I have in years.  If
ever I needed that edge, it was now.
     I took a deep breath. Then I took a few more. Man, I did not want to do
this! But it was the only way to get past a wall  that blocked me from going
any farther  along the trail  Arlene blazed;  I had  to go under  the damned
thing.  Thinking of  how  much  I  hated monsters  from beyond  the stars, I
splashed down.
     Only one  advantage  over before:  this time,  I  was prepared  for the
freezing pain, so it wasn't quite as unexpectedly horrible. Just a throbbing
ache that sapped my strength, leaving me enervated and  gasping  for breath.
One way  or  the  other, the swim  wasn't going to last very long. The toxin
glowed with an eerie, green phosphorescence, and  the light helped a little.
It showed me a metallic object that I would have missed otherwise.
     I snagged it in passing, a small, hand-sized television thing,  showing
a ghostly schematic.
     If  I struggled,  I  could  pretend  the  liquid  was  nothing  but  an
algae-infested  swimming hole I'd haunted as a kid.  Yes, I  wanted to think
about water instead of the thick, toxic crap I was in right now.
     The wall  did  not  extend all  the way  to the  bottom of the  pool. I
pinched my nose, squeezed my eyelids  tight,  and ducked  underneath.  I was
starting to tremble in the icy liquid; I felt sick, like a monster flu.
     Then I  surfaced as fast  as the  law of buoyancy  allows, grabbing the
opposite  catwalk, and the swim was over. Air never tasted  better, even the
stinking  stuff in  this  place.  Two  or  three  breaths later,  I put  the
breathing filter back in place. Too bad I hadn't had a full environment suit
with  its own oxygen supply, but I'd already  regretted that  absence before
and nothing came of it. A Marine couldn't have everything.
     For example, I couldn't keep the blue  glow forever. I had taken it for
granted  until I realized what this swim  could  mean. Now I felt sapped and
drained.  I was all  set  to curse  my lousy luck until I realized something
very  important: without that earlier boost to my system, this  dunk  in the
sludge would have killed me.
     So what about Arlene? Could she have come this way? Could I have passed
her body  in the green murk? Had  to  think this through--there was no arrow
immediately beyond the toxin; maybe she found a better route. She might have
a decent flashlight or light-amp goggles so she could see. Or she might have
had a full environment suit.
     Or what  the  hell, maybe she  had a touch  of  the blue medicine show.
There were all kinds of ways she could have survived.
     But maybe she didn't. I refused to think about it.
     It was time to move on.





     12




     I was back to trusting the old Fly instincts again.  There  were plenty
of more unreliable  things, such as any decision by Lieutenant Weems. Hadn't
thought of Weems  for a while. My  lip curled;  Weems was probably the first
zombie; reworking him would take the least amount of effort.
     I  felt something in my hand. I stared--the thing I'd fished out of the
sludge! I held it up close, staring in  confusion. Then it clicked--it was a
map, a video  schematic of  the  labs.  Jesus and Mary ... I guess even  the
greenest cloud can have a silver-screen lining.
     I decided  to follow  the same road map I'd been  on for several levels
now: down, down, down ... no reason to stop. I might as well see what was at
the very bottom level--which, according to the map  I'd  seen in the nuclear
plant, was the main computer station, two floors down. But in the absence of
Arlene marks, I'd have to plan the route myself. . . just as soon as I could
make tops and bottoms out of my new toy.
     I suddenly felt a wave of weakness and fever; I hoped I  hadn't already
given myself a death sentence from the toxin.
     Phobos Lab  was dark. Phobos Lab stank like an open sewer. But if there
was anything left of the original  installation here,  then medical supplies
had to be near at hand, if they hadn't been left in the typical condition of
guns and  radio sets. I picked  that  as  my  first  priority; I  needed  an
all-purpose antitoxin and a stimulant.
     Leaning against  a wall for support, I found a weapons  locker the hard
way: I leaned against it and the door collapsed inward.
     Guns! I  pawed through my treasure trove, scooping up as much ammo as I
could shovel into  my  pack. Then I stared in reverence; beneath the  shells
and bullets rested a state-of-the-art, AB-10 machine  pistol.  The  question
was, did it still work after scores of zombies and spinys had monkeyed  with
it?
     I checked it out, cleaned the barrel, then reloaded it. I almost pulled
the trigger to do the only test that really counts, but stuck to my original
policy of not making any more noise than was absolutely required.
     I cleaned the machine pistol as thoroughly as  I could before adding it
to my arsenal. There  was  little  doubt of this lethal  package receiving a
test real soon, with  a real target, and hopefully with a margin of error to
try something else if it failed. The best choice might be to have the pistol
in one hand and the shotgun in the other. Nothing wrong with insurance, even
if it made me feel a bit like a Wild West gunfighter.
     As I stood, shifting the backpack to be more comfort- able  and finding
a place for all the weapons,  a sudden  attack of  dizziness hit me  like  a
grenade. Medical atten- tion had just become my number-one priority again.
     I  studied my hand map, working the buttons  to make the pretty picture
slide up and down. First  task was to find  me--no helpful "You Are Here" on
this puppy. At last I found the  wall crossing a trench ... no sign of toxic
sludge on the map, of course.
     I  must have been living  right, because  the nearest infirmary--marked
with a red cross--was located just  a quarter klick away, spitting distance.
I  found it, and there wasn't  a single monster doctor  or devil nurse. Here
I'd  been  expecting  a typical medical  establishment  and  was  pleasantly
surprised.
     And there were  lights, the first fully operational light  I'd found in
the complex. If the lights had survived, maybe the doctoring stuff was still
here and intact.
     I  resisted the impulse to cross my fingers  as I  unlatched and opened
the  first  promising cabinet. Mother lode  . .  . thanks,  Mom. I removed a
Medikit  with the  seal still unbroken  and popped  her  open.  Inside  were
bandages, antitoxin compounds, even  ointment for burns. (My face still felt
as  hot as if I had a sunburn, for which I could thank a fireball instead of
a weekend at the beach.)
     I  found a  clean room,  a metal  table next to a mirror, all  kinds of
light,  even a shower cubicle. It was  time for Dr. Taggart to  make a house
call.
     I  didn't do too  badly, really. First off, I  locked the doors, turned
out all the lights except the one in the room with the table and the shower,
placed  the shotgun right up against the stall, where I could  grab it in  a
second, and, facing the  closed office door the entire time and leaving  the
shower door ajar, I took the risk of bathing.
     Sick as I'd been feeling since immersing myself  in the ooze, the  mere
act of washing it all  away  made me feel  considerably better. I turned the
nozzle for Hot up as high as I could stand it and felt the cuts and  bruises
sting,  then  feel  better. My  burned face didn't  get anything  out of the
shower but pain, but the rest of my body was doing too well for me to care.
     If the shower was heaven, then  the  fresh  towel  was a piece of Eden.
Here I  had struck a mortal  blow against the shores  of hell. The  rest was
pretty  simple. I put antibiotic and bandages on the worst of  my wounds and
cuts,  taped my  bruised ribs  (didn't even remember where I  got them), and
took my time smearing the cold, soothing ointment on the burns.
     The  only  moment when Doc Taggart almost failed  his patient was  when
he--when I--noticed thirty or forty hypodermics, all neatly labeled  GENERAL
STIMULANT. I don't like needles. Never have.
     But  there was  good  reason to pick up  one of those needles and  give
myself a shot. Just as good  a reason to pack some in  shock-proof  carriers
and take them along. I  could run into Arlene, and she might need a  lift. I
might run into some other  survivor. And if I were going to do all that, the
only reasonable thing was for me to give myself an injection first.
     You don't need to  do that, said the little voice in my head. Just find
another blue-faced sphere.
     I argued  with  the voice: "It  might be a once in a lifetime  fluke. I
can't  count on  that  happening  again." That's  when I noticed  that I was
talking to myself. Sheeesh,  all this  just to  avoid sticking myself with a
needle!
     No  more. I bravely wielded the needle, got out the alcohol  and cotton
swab. This couldn't  be any worse than what I'd  been  going through lately.
Well, not by much anyway.
     I  wolfed some  food from  the small  refrigerator,  then  hunted for a
flashlight. Alas,  all I  found  was one of those  pencil-beam lights; if  I
wanted  to  find out  if a zombie had a sore throat, or any throat at all, I
was set.
     According to my map, I had to go north to find some sort of route down.
At  least  my  compass was  still  functioning.  I hated to leave,  but  the
infirmary  had  done  its  job. I was  tired,  not  exhausted,  hungry,  not
starving, and not  shaking  like  I had amebic dysentery. The  only problem,
aside from demons, two-legged pigs, and mur- derous corpses, was that  I had
lost  Arlene's  trail;  if  she  were hurt,  laying  up  somewhere, I  might
accidentally leave her behind on an  upper level. The point was that I could
concentrate again.
     The last thing  I did before stepping out again into the dark was check
the  boots.  They'd  held up better  than I  thought,  but  I  stuffed  some
pillowcases in for added insulation.
     Outside, it was just  as dark as before, but I wasn't as bothered  this
time;  the  human race may  not have blue spheres,  but we do  all  right. I
stayed  in  that  frame  of  mind  as I  went north.  I  scuttled  along the
corridors, letting my shotgun  peek  around corners first, until I reached a
huge chamber. It was dark, but not  the pitch-black I had just come from. At
least I could tell I had entered a larger area.
     The next  moment I was under  attack. Claws  raked  across the shoulder
plates  of the battle armor I  had just reinforced. When I tried to fend off
the  enemy, I half expected to  feel the  crocodile-type hide of the  spiked
monsters; but instead, my hands sank into a pulpy mass. And the contact made
my flesh crawl even through my thick gloves.
     The  light was on, and I  should  have been able to see the scum, but I
was getting nothing. Then as I pushed against the jellylike stuff and took a
few faltering  steps back, I saw a familiar shimmering. The  same thing  I'd
seen when  I  thought I was  fighting a  ghost.  That  time, the  issue  was
resolved by a miracle fireball; this time, I was on my own.
     Didn't this goddamned, jelly-shimmering, half-assed, invisible son of a
bitch know the rules? Ghosts can't hurt  people--they can only scare them to
death! Then the Caspar pounded me,  knocking  me back on my butt and kicking
the wind out  of me.  I thanked Mary for the armor as I shoved the barrel of
the shotgun right into the shimmering effect and  pulled the trigger, hoping
that  if this thing had a mouth, that was  exactly where he was going to get
it.
     I don't know if I killed it. I  don't know if it can be killed. But  it
didn't bother me anymore after that. Not  liking the idea of  being followed
by more invisible spooks, I jogged for a  while, hoping to be done with this
part as soon as possible. I also kept both eyes open for a pair of light-amp
goggles, but I'd used up my good luck quotient at the infirmary.
     To exit the labs, I had to enter the darkest room yet, black as coal. I
wasn't surprised.  This was at the  north  end of  the  installation, where,
after groping in the dark by touch and even daring to  use my tiny penlight,
I finally found a small opening. This led down a narrow corridor to a tight,
metal, spiral staircase going down--way  down. I started to get very  dizzy,
spinning around so many times.
     Central  Processing had more tight, narrow corridors than anywhere else
on Phobos. Good  thing I'm not claustrophobic. The light was better than the
labs;  but  that's  like saying  L.A.  cab drivers  are more polite than cab
drivers in Mexico City.
     And  at  long,  long  last,  I  found another  A.S.!  I  stared  at it,
overwhelmed by  inappropriate  emotion.  She  was alive! She  got this  far!
Relief was a physical thing, perched on my back.
     The arrow pointed to a  branching  corridor that seemed small enough to
give a midget a backache; but crawling down it was a good move. At the other
end was a completely intact map of this section. The bad guys must have been
getting careless lately. If this kept up, I might find a functioning radio.
     Central Processing  was  laid out in  a rough triangular shape. Made me
think  of a  robot riding  a  motorcycle. Maybe I  was  more wasted  than  I
realized.
     The  southeast  corner  was made up  of four  intercon- nected rooms. A
warning note was attached that three motion detector triggers will close any
door  in the facility for a span of thirty seconds as a security precaution.
I could just see myself getting caught in  a room with wall-to-wall  enemies
while I counted off: "Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight . . . notify next of
kin."
     Unfortunately, I couldn't take the map with me, unless I ripped  it out
of the wall  and  dragged it along,  and my hand map  still showed the  labs
above; if there were a way of changing the view, I couldn't find it.
     It occurred to me that  we  humans needed  to learn everything possible
about these bastards; otherwise, Earth was a sitting duck. We couldn't shoot
it out with these things and expect to  survive. We had to outsmart them--or
die.
     I was surprised that  I had survived  this long.  I  was  a pretty good
Marine. There was no false modesty about that. But Arlene was remarkable; if
I could  survive, surely  she could! Hoped  she  would  keep it up.  Hoped I
would, too; but this nonsense couldn't go on forever.
     As  I  looked at the map, I  knew, I just knew, that  the thirty-second
security rule about doors meant there was a welcoming committee  waiting for
me. Well, you knew the job was dangerous  when you took it, Fly. They'll get
you in the end.
     But who were "they?"
     They weren't the pitiful wrecks that  looked  human though dead inside.
They weren't  the spinys or metal  skulls or ghosts, either. The one  making
snuffling pig sounds gave me the creeps; but somehow I knew the creature was
mentally no more than an animal. If I hadn't encountered the one monster who
enjoyed talk- ing, I'd be tempted to conclude  we were  being  invaded by an
alien barnyard.
     But  the  intelligence was there; just  well-hidden. Even  without  the
talking demon, the alien technology itself was proof of a "mastermind."
     So why didn't the intelligence simply organize the monsters and zombies
into a naval search pattern and be done with it? Why were Arlene and I being
allowed to play Gypsy,  entering one  level after  another, shooting it  out
with  pretty much  the  same cast  of  characters,  en- countering  the same
hazards . . . and beating them over and over and over again?
     Maybe it was all  a pre-invasion test, or worse still, a sadistic game.
But test or  game, it had to be teaching the Enemy Mind something important.
The  important ques- tion for the survival of the human race  was:  What the
hell was I learning?
     I hated to admit it, but so far the answer was not much.
     13




     One  thing  I  was learning, though:  speed. While I debated the  finer
points  of philosophy with myself, a mob of zombies and spinys burst through
the  door at the back end of the corridor, the one I'd come through  myself,
as if they owned the damned place;  they noticed me and tore down the narrow
corridor.  I  did  not  take  longer  than  a  microsecond  to  resolve  the
question--I ran like a bat out of hell, a bat trying  to get the hell out of
hell.  Although finding the  commanding  officer  of  the  invasion  was  an
important issue, I decided it could wait until later for review. Much later.
     With this many  of the  enemy breathing down my neck,  the shotgun  was
useless. Maybe  my new machine pistol  would  have  worked . . .  but what I
already had in my hands was the rocket launcher.
     For an instant I considered the narrow corridor  that might channel the
blast  right back in my face, the proximity of  the nearest spiny ... for an
instant. Then I dug my heel in and spun, ready to rock 'n' roll.
     The explosion  was  so loud that I didn't hear it.  I felt it. A giant,
invisible hand threw me  to  the ground.  My eyes  were open,  and I saw the
whole contingent that was on my tail vanish in a spray of blood and fire.
     The sight was  something  to think about; especially  since  it was the
last sight I saw.
     I must have lost consciousness. An indeterminate time later, I began to
hear a  sound,  too  loud and annoying to sleep through. Like all the church
bells the penguins ever rung at me, all the bells in the world in my head. I
still couldn't see anything, just a bright afterimage.
     It  was  about  fifteen  minutes  before the bells  were replaced by  a
buzzing sound, then the slosh-slosh of  blood in my ears. I would have  been
easy  pickin's, as Gunny Goforth would say.  Maybe I was saved by looking as
dead as the rest of them.
     When I  was able, I crawled along  the  corridor,  drag- ging  my feet.
There was  no time to examine  my  posses-  sions. One thing for certain: if
those  glass  syringes  were still  in one  piece  inside  their  supposedly
shock-proof container, I'd be giving more product endorsements.
     Shaking my head  clear and staggering to my feet, I  finally made it to
the  one  long,  spacious  corridor   in   the  otherwise   cramped,  tight,
ore-processing center. This one was well marked  on the map I'd studied--the
only route to what  the map indicated were the stairs down. Judging from the
red  and gold and brown streaks on the rough  walls,  this corridor had been
carved right out of the rock of Phobos. I liked it and hoped it  wouldn't be
reworked into something sickening.
     Halfway down the corridor, I suddenly felt light- headed and my stomach
broke loose from its  moorings.  At  first I thought I was experiencing more
symptoms from the rocket blast. Then I realized what was happen- ing. No one
goes to space without experiencing zero-g, and you never forget it. This was
damned close  enough! I should have studied the map more closely when  I had
the chance . .  . the middle section  of this corridor must pass outside the
ancient, alien gravity-zone.
     A handrail  was  installed for  the  obvious reason.  Grab- bing it,  I
pulled myself  along; a  single tug  was  enough  to  overcome  friction  in
Phobos's minuscule  natural gravity.  I'd spent enough time on the  ship  to
Mars that this was  simple enough, unless I had  the bad luck to be attacked
right now; I'd never taken zero-g combat training.
     Pulling myself around a corner, I floated practically into the arms  of
a triplet  of spinys.  Luck has never been my long suit.  But these leathery
bastards were  walking on  the walls and ceiling, as if they  enjoyed  their
own,  personal gravity  that  followed them  around, each  ori-  ented  in a
different direction.
     One more piece of evidence that they  were unbeatable. Then one of them
looked right at me and spoke: "Gosh --are we having a ball, or what?"
     It hocked a  loogie into  its hand, where the  mucus immediately  burst
into flame.
     My hog leg  was tucked in the webbing at my back, and there was no room
to draw it in this corridor, no time to work it  free. The demon raised  the
flaming ball of snot, grinning like a goblin.
     I  threw my head back,  rotating my body in the microgravity. I  didn't
bother drawing  the  shotgun;  when  I  rotated  my body so  the barrel  was
pointing at that cracked and grinning face, I fired.
     A  lucky shot. Blew its head clean off.  Guess my luck's not so abysmal
after all.
     The  blast acted like a rocket, propelling me backward. When I  stopped
spinning, I grabbed the rail, drew the shotgun  free, and pulled myself back
where I'd left off.
     The two  remaining  monsters  had forgotten  all  about  me; they  were
fighting  each other, claws dug into throats,  bloody drool  trickling  down
wrinkled chins and bursting into flame.
     Was  it possible, just one "brain"  to a set?  Kill the mastermind, and
the rest turn on each other?
     Evidently,  the Mind  behind the  invasion  had  the power  to manifest
itself through only one or two individ- uals in a group.
     I tucked that one away in the hindbrain; I would use it later.
     I  waited  politely until  one brain-dead spiny offed the other; then I
rewarded the victor with the spoils: a twelve-gauge  blast to the face, this
time with my back braced against the wall.
     I  hauled ass along  the corridor to the gravity zone. At the far north
end  of  the facility,  I found a  switch that opened a door  leading to the
stairway where I could process myself right out of Central Processing.
     Down one  flight on  the  spiral,  metal-grate stairway,  the  Computer
Station welcomed  me with a thin layer of green sludge. At this point I just
didn't care. I was willing to jump into the ooze and slog through it as long
as my boots  held out. I wanted out of here! I  ran without stopping until I
discovered that whatever crap-for-brains  idiot designed this playground set
it up so you go around in circles before noticing  you  were going around in
circles.
     The  Computer Station was a haze of forgetfulness. It started out badly
when I couldn't find an Arlene mark. I hunted along every passageway without
luck; either  she followed a totally  different route  and our paths did not
cross,  or more likely, she had a  reception  committee waiting for her when
she  climbed down  the ladder, and she was in a running firefight until  she
found a bolt-hole.
     The damnedest part was, this was the lowest level, so far as I knew. If
they finally ran her to ground, I should have found her  ... or her remains.
There was nowhere else for Arlene to go.
     There were few monsters on this floor; I shot a couple of spinys in the
back--hey, I'm not proud--but mostly avoided the patrols.
     En route,  I  picked  up two blue key cards and three yellows, plucking
one off the "dead" body of a zombie. Something or someone had gnawed off its
legs and one arm; it was still  animate as  I approached,  and tried to bite
me; but I was faster  (and more ruthless). I blew its brains out, putting it
out of misery, and took the key card tucked into its belt.
     I  found  two  maps,  both  burned  beyond recognition.  But  by  sheer
persistence, I finally found  it: one of those big, metallic doors that like
to stand  between me and where  I  want to  go. One of those key-card teases
that demand you stick it in.
     But this bitch had a special  feature--an irritating,  unisex, nasally,
parking-lot  ticket-machine  voice,  the kind  that  says  "Please take  the
ticket," as  if  you're a bumpkin from Mad Dog, Arkansas, who's never seen a
car park before. No  monster could ever create such a surreal torture device
of art. It took a human touch.
     "Hello,"  it said,  "to exit the Computer Station, please  insert  your
gold security card now."
     All right; I supposed yellow was as good  as gold. I inserted the card,
and the cheap trick chirped "Thank you. To exit the  Control Station, please
insert your blue security card now."
     I began to hear screams behind me, up the corridor; the damned door had
probably notified "security" while it deliberately delayed me. I fumbled the
blue key card into the slot--but I knew exactly what was coming.
     "Thank  you.  To  exit the Computer Station,  please  insert  your  red
security card now."
     If  there  were  a  red  key  card  anywhere on  this  level,  I was  a
purple-assed baboon.
     And I didn't become a Marine  to put up with this crap. Even the spinys
were less frustrating than this!
     But I  had  a solution. Last  time I'd fired  a  rocket,  I'd  made the
mistake of standing  too damned  close.  So I made sure I got far away  from
that smug bitch  of a door, placing myself squarely behind a column and part
of a staircase.
     I fired both rockets from the launcher simultaneously. Just to be sure.
The  result was outstanding, excellent, a credit to the Corps. As loud as it
was, it didn't deafen me this time.  At this distance,  the head gear worked
like it was supposed to.
     I walked through the smoking ruins of that bloody door with a sense  of
satisfaction greater than when I'd winged that toxin barrel and taken  out a
roomful of zombies with one bullet. I'd struck a blow against the True Evil,
the chowderheaded humans who designed these installations!
     From now on I  refused to  worry about plastic cards and security keys.
Nothing could stop me. Then I found the lift that  should have  taken me out
of there--the lift at the very end of the facility, my reward for having all
the stupid cards.
     The entire shaft  was  filled with human and  animal remains, a hellish
grain elevator.  I don't know how long I stood there, staring stupidly. Then
nausea overwhelmed me and I vomited for  several minutes.  Weak and shaky, I
thought for  several  more minutes that I  had climbed the  farthest  down I
could go in the Phobos installation. A dead end. Nowhere to go but back  the
way I came. I  knew I couldn't make it, but I was long  past crawling into a
corner and playing  fetus. I'd go down  fighting if I went,  hoping  somehow
Arlene had escaped what was a death trap for me.
     Even though it was a long  shot, I thought  again of the possibility of
blowing up Phobos. Better that than let these bastards win! Then I noticed a
foul,  bloodred, evil-glowing circle in  the  floor; it had not been there a
moment ago. A ghastly stench arose from the orifice, like human flesh frying
on the griddle. I once missed getting firebombed by a Kerifistani terrorist;
I was on guard duty at the Marine Corps compound when the main barracks went
up. Thirty-three buddies burned to death. You never forget that smell.
     They transferred me to Fox Company within forty- eight hours.
     This hole pulsed like a heartbeat. There was a  "ladder" made of  light
pink, fleshy cords that appeared to sweat.
     I didn't  have to be a rocket scientist to know that no human ever made
this baby. Besides, this wasn't a job for a rocket scientist; this was a job
for someone rock stupid enough to  be a Marine. Resigned, I slung my shotgun
and rifle, bolstered  the  machine pistol, and  started  climbing  down  the
sticky, wet, springy ladder.
     At the  bottom  there was plenty  of light, at  least; a sickly reddish
light.  The flesh-pit ladder dropped  me into the  largest corridor I'd seen
yet. I would have said it was carved out of the rock of  this moon, the same
as  Phobos  Lab,  but the  inside of the walls seemed to perspire,  like the
ladder. Holding my breath and  looking close, I saw hundreds,  thousands, of
small  orifices opening and clos- ing to the  same  steady  beat  as the red
circle  above. I  decided  that  I'd  done  enough close  examination for  a
lifetime.
     Then,  by God, I saw it--another  A.S., biggest one  yet! Even  in  the
heart of hell, I  was cheered  to  know I  wasn't  alone.  I  didn't exactly
whistle a tune, but I smiled grimly.
     Arlene's  mark  was  accompanied  by a crude  drawing of  a  skull  and
crossbones with an arrow pointing straight ahead. A second arrow pointed out
a  narrow slit in  the  wall, a slit that was a  friendly  hole-in-rock, not
pulsating or anything disgusting; a slit into what looked to be the outside.
We were hundreds of meters  below the surface  of tiny Phobos, but there was
goddamn daylight coming through that opening.
     But  that was one mother  of a narrow crack. Could I  get through that?
Could Arlene, even? I touched the edge of the slit--tacky blood, a couple of
hours old, tops. Mary, Mother of  God... I had  a  vision. She had gone out,
right  there. She  shoved  herself so hard, tearing at that  crack, that she
flayed off  huge strips of  skin--but she didn't  care.  She wanted out; she
wanted out bad; she wanted out right then, not five seconds later.
     Leading me to the obvious  conclusion: Arlene  had  seen  something  up
ahead that even she was too terrified to face.
     14




     I  stared at the  skull and crossbones.  Whatever was up  ahead was bad
enough  for Arlene to claw her way  through a tiny crack  in the wall rather
than face it.  Yet she wasted precious seconds leaving the warning for Yours
Truly.
     Thank  God  I didn't  have  to  solve  the  mystery  of  the  skull and
crossbones.  Getting  through  that crack  would  be an  achievement all  by
itself.
     Ahead I began to hear a low, slow pounding, almost like someone beating
on a  monster drum a  mile distant.  Well,  I could take that--so long as it
stayed  there. I  struggled  out of my armor  and pressed  my right arm  and
shoulder into the crack.
     But  there I  stuck. I  braced my foot  against  the floor  and shoved;
several minutes and several pounds of flesh later, I was utterly convinced I
could never fit through that crack unless I dismembered myself and threw the
pieces through one at a time. Wonder  if I'll seriously consider that option
when I see what's ahead? I thought.
     So now what?  I sat  on the floor,  pounding my head  with  my hand  in
frustration. If I went forward, I was on my own. Arlene was no coward ... if
the Thing ahead scared the  bejesus  out of her, enough that she forced  her
way through a crack several sizes too small--then what in God's name was it?
     Numbly,  I stood, pulling on the armor again. As Mehitabel the cat said
to Archie the  cockroach, wotthehell, wotthehell  I already roamed the halls
of the damned;  what did  I have  to  lose? I  suppose  I could sit here and
starve to death.
     Shaking,  I  moved forward at  snail  speed, loaded rocket launcher  in
hand;  but  what if  I  found myself  eyeball-to- eyeball  with . .  .  with
whatever It was? A rocket  up the nose might piss it off--but at point-blank
range, it would also fry Corporal Fly!
     Ahead,  I   found  an   old-fashioned   wooden  elevator  next  to   an
old-fashioned rusted button. Somehow they  seemed to fit right in here. In a
place with living ladders, a few museum places were hardly out of line.
     I  pushed the  button. With a slow  grinding  sound,  the Sift began to
descend. So far so good. It reached ground level, and I clumped aboard. What
the hell else could I do? There was one button, and I pushed it.
     The  lift  creaked  and  groaned,  like  it was  a  hundred years  old,
announcing my arrival to anyone inside. I braced, wondering whether to shift
to the  shotgun. Then it stopped up one floor . . . and my  God, I  saw what
was inside!
     On a pair  of iron thrones  sat  the largest,  reddest,  most  horrible
demons I  could  imagine, compared to  which the other  guys  were  fit  for
hosting kiddie  shows on Saturday  mornings. Giant minotaurs with goat limbs
for  legs, and curling, savage  horns on the top of their flat, broad heads.
The  chests  and arms were carved  from pure  muscle. Their  claws  were  so
vicious that there was  no  comparison  to the  puny stuff I'd seen up until
now.
     Princes of hell. . .
     And they were looking directly at me. So far, so bad.
     I froze,  whimpering like a Cub Scout.  All I could think was, Oh Lord,
the sisters were right all along!
     The hell-prince on the left rose, trumpeting a marrow- freezing roar of
discovery.
     Come  on, come on, come on, Fly! Snap out of  it; get  the hell out  of
Dodge! I  hated  every minute of every day  of basic at Parris Island--and I
bow at Staff Sergeant Stern's feet and kiss his shiny boots for every second
of  it: my training kick-started my  paralyzed  legs even while my brain was
struggling to  remember  the  Lord's  Prayer ... all I could  get was "Hail,
Jesus," and I knew that was wrong.
     Faster than I thought myself capable, I bolted--but  forward, right  at
the things--and  skirted  between  the  forest  of  red  legs  and into  the
black-dark beyond! If they'd been  any smaller, they would have  had my head
for lunch.
     I ran across a long stretch of floor and heard  the familiar pig snorts
left and right. I ran through utter blackness until I hit a wall, banging my
shins. I hardly noticed. There I spun, snarling, fishing for my riot gun.
     If the porcine sons  of bitches wanted Fly  Taggart,  they could bloody
well take him . . . but not cheaply!
     They  were converging  on me; I could hear  their snufflings and hungry
growls.  What the hell; I was dead anyway,  right? I  raised the shotgun and
pounded a shell straight in front of me.
     One of the pig-demons screamed  in pain.  Oh ... you mean  they  can be
hurt? I'd been wondering.
     I scuttled right; the wall came to a point, folding back  on  itself. I
slipped around and immediately barked my already-bruised shin on a barrel of
that green, toxic mess.
     Staring into  the sickly glow,  I had  a  shimmer of an  idea. Quickly,
before I could think twice and decide against it, I heaved over the  barrel.
The goo spilled out of the 120-liter drum . . . and now  my whole corner was
lit by a hellish, green glow. I could see!
     I  was  in  a pointy corner amid a forest  of  toxin  barrels; but  the
monsters coming after me were still invisible. I was under attack  by ghosts
. . . and the ghosts and the pig-things were evidently one and the same.
     But Yours Truly, Flynn Taggart, never forgets a scam.
     I backed away from the flickering shadows, into the actual point. Maybe
I couldn't see them, but they sure as hell could see me; they charged.
     I shot. Not a ghost; I shot a barrel.
     The explosion chain-reactioned, and I dived for the  deck. Too late,  I
remembered  the  ten  or  eleven rockets  in  my  bandoleers.  Luckily,  the
explosion stopped just short of me.
     When  the acrid rain  of  toxic  waste stopped falling, I  jumped to my
feet. My entire body  resonated, and  my  inner ear was confused; I balanced
precariously  on my hind legs, shotgun wavering up, down, and sideways . . .
but my ghosts appeared to have died--again. At least, they didn't attack.
     Staring  wildly  around the  room, now lit  by  the green glow  of  ten
thousand  droplets of toxin sprayed far and  near, I realized to my surprise
that the room was actually a huge, star-shaped chamber. That seemed right in
line  with  everything   else.  If  they  could   have  swastikas,  why  not
star-chamber  proceedings? Alas,  my  restful reverie  was  short-lived; the
hideous hell-princes had seen my explosion and come to investigate.
     But this time, I knew what to expect. Nuns or no nuns,  I  told  myself
over and over  that these were alien life- forms, not  demons. They couldn't
be real demons, could they? Hell was a myth--wasn't it?
     I raised  my rocket launcher  and let the first  hell-prince have it at
forty meters. The blast blew the  motherless bastard backward, but it got to
its feet. I couldn't believe it!
     I fired a second time, pack-loaded  with  one smooth move, and  shot  a
third rocket. The giant got up again  and now  it was joined by its comrade.
This was not going according to plan.
     They pointed their clawed hands at me; but instead of  the  usual balls
of   flaming  snot,  these   "demons"  fired  green  energy  pulses  out  of
wrist-launchers. I  hugged  the dirt as  the stuff crackled over my head and
made every hair on my head stand on end. Not very demonic, but pretty damned
deadly!
     My  turn again; in desperation, I  pumped rocket num- ber  four at  the
first hell-prince, and at last  it  seemed to do some damage. It got to  its
feet slowly and seemed confused about where I was.  There  was  no reason to
even  try  bothering the  new one  if  I  couldn't find  out  what  repeated
hammering did to the first minotaur.  Yeah,  minotaurs. They weren't demons;
that Greek, Theseus, killed one.
     Reload, rocket five, and  finally that did the  trick:  number one went
down and  didn't  get up again. But with  behavior I was starting  to expect
from all  godless crea- tures, it reached up a clawed  hand  and grabbed the
other hell-prince.
     Number two struggled  to  free itself,  and  I  seized my  opportunity.
Screaming like  a banshee,  I  charged  to  just out of range of  its reach.
Enraged, it slashed furiously;  but my prayers were answered, and it was too
mad to think  of shooting energy bolts. I  leaned in  to shove  the launcher
right down the creature's enormous, howling mouth. And Fly let fly ...
     I won't even try to describe its breath.
     The minotaur swallowed  the little rocket, about the relative size of a
multivitamin, and was literally blown away. I was knocked silly by the blast
at such close proximity.
     I came to, surprised to be coming to. Losing conscious- ness in a place
like this seemed like a one-way ticket to oblivion.
     I was lying on  the floor of the same  enormous, star- shaped  chamber;
but the walls had fallen, crumbling into constituent bricks outside, leaving
the  way clear to  the outside. That whole concept of "outside" bothered me.
Why wasn't I a corpse-side, floating in space?
     There was air to breathe. There was an overcast sky  to watch, complete
with low-hanging clouds; dark clouds before a storm. Wherever I was, it sure
as hell wasn't Phobos.
     I  found a platform behind the building. There was a  switch. I pressed
it  and watched a stairway slowly rise. Wotthehell. Archie,  wotthehell... I
walked up the stairs.
     At  the very  top was a Gate ... a working  Gate. It  was marked  by  a
flickering symbol  that  gave  me  a  splitting  headache  when I  tried  to
concentrate on the design. I approached it, eyes averted.
     And damn  me if  there wasn't Arlene Sanders's last mark, right next to
the Gate, pointing directly at the symbol. She'd written a single word: OUT?
     I didn't know.  But I  didn't hesitate a moment.  If  that were the way
Arlene went.. .
     Then that was where I was going.
     Without a glance back, I stepped aboard.





     15




     Time had no meaning  for Fly Taggart--the  memory of being Fly Taggart.
He had  no body but retained a consciousness somehow, somewhere. A sense  of
motion, but that might only be another memory.
     Remembering  a hand created a hand. Remembering  a foot resulted in the
sensation  of a foot,  a  painful  sensation  from where  his ankle had been
bruised. Memory of a backache condensed into a patch of flesh and blood that
was a back.
     Memory of breath turned emptiness  into a pair  of lungs. Recollections
of hot days on a summer  beach  left their imprint on a forehead slick  with
sweat.
     Then  he  had a whole  body, floating in  a  warm current of air slowly
cooling; an  upside-down vertigo turning his stomach,  which meant  he had a
stomach. The fall  wasn't long,  and he skinned  his knees on a  hard  metal
surface before falling forward on his face. The air was cold.
     He blinked  eyes in an aching head.  He couldn't see anything but white
and red spots chasing each other across afield of darkness. The man panicked
at the thought  that he'd been blinded; but gradually vision returned. There
wasn't much worth seeing.
     The light  was dim.  He  wanted to  breathe fresh air again,  as he had
before stepping  on  the  platform. He'd been  breathing  the  stale  air of
spaceships  and the Mars station and the  Phobos  installations for so  long
he'd almost forgotten what fresh air was like. Even if it had been fake,  he
wanted  it  again.  But when  he filled his  lungs,  it was that  disgusting
sour-lemon smell  he had first noticed when he killed  his first  zombie. He
was a man again, but he didn't want to be  back in hell. Yet he had traveled
somewhere, hadn't he? He felt he'd come a very long way just to reach . . .
     I didn't know where I was.  Instinctively, I reached with  my left hand
for the machine pistol, the  weapon I could most quickly bring into play. My
hand slapped bare  flesh. There was  nothing on my chest  but  air, I looked
down and saw that I was naked.
     Jesus and  Mother Mary. And after all that  work gather-  ing  shotgun,
Sig-Cow, and rocket launcher.
     Having lost my  clothes during the  strange journey didn't  bother  me,
except for the drop in temperature; but I didn't want to turn into dead meat
because I didn't have weapons. A naked man is an unarmed man.
     I  wasn't going  to waste another  second  before  recon- noitering. If
there  were monsters anywhere near here,  then  I had to get  my  hands on a
firearm right away. The sour-lemon smell was a dead giveaway--zombies lurked
somewhere in the  shadows. I'd come through a gateway  with nothing  but  my
body, but at least I was breathing. I wanted to keep it that way.
     The gravity was Earth normal. As my eyes adjusted to dim light, I saw I
was in an oblong, rectangular building. Having  had  the experience of being
"outside"  before  the transfer. I didn't look forward to  roaming corridors
again. I almost hated that idea more than the prospect of fighting monsters.
     Suddenly it didn't feel merely cool any longer. It had gotten downright
cold.  Being  stark  naked presented other problems; with all the disgusting
ways to die I had recently discovered, I'd be damned if I wanted to catch my
death of cold.
     Adrenaline  pumping  madly--my  drug  of  choice--I  ran  in  the  most
promising direction. A red light pulsed dimly in the shadows directly ahead;
and  the flat, slap- ping sound  of bare feet against the metal floor seemed
almost as loud as my boots had earlier.
     If this setup were anything like the one I'd left, I actually wanted to
find a  zombie! "Alive" or dead, they were  armed with what I  needed, and a
lot easier to deal with than the spinys or ghosts.
     I found the  source of  the  red light: an  entire wall emitted crimson
illumination; at the bottom was an inverted-cross cutout, just big enough to
serve  as a  doorway. It was directly  in line with a square platform on the
ground.  The  platform  was red, too.  The  symbolism was  blasphemy--anyone
walking through the "door- way" would have the privilege of being crucified.
The religious  imagery was starting to piss me  off; whoever or whatever was
behind this had learned  things about  human psychology that I preferred  it
not know. I slipped through, feeling dirty and corrupted.
     I felt  an unholy chill as I walked through  the inverted cross in  the
red  wall,  the  color  of communion wine, the color  of blood  from  fallen
comrades.
     How right  I  was to  think of buddies  lost in battle. Directly on the
other  side of the opening was the dead body of a UAC technician  locked  in
mortal embrace with a soldier I recognized from Fox Company. I wasn't likely
to forget Ordover.
     The youngest kid in the outfit, we'd bagged on him something fierce. He
was patriotic to the "Corps" and easy to rag.  As I looked at the remains of
this  friendly  private,  the boyish face  that hadn't been  altered even in
death, I regretted the times I'd helped get him drunk.
     Finding out  that  Johnny enjoyed singing  old ballads, badly  off-key,
when he was honed and capped was too  much temptation. I thought that was as
funny as every- one else did.
     "Sorry, kid,"  I muttered to his corpse, relieved that  at  least  he'd
received the gift of  a  clean  death.  He hadn't been reworked. Now  it was
Johnny's turn  to provide Fly Taggart with a piece of serious artillery.  He
was lying on top of a Sig-Cow with a fifty-round magazine. Thanks to him,  I
might  still be a naked savage, but I was back  in  the game. I was a Marine
once more.
     As I examined  my surroundings, I had the feeling I'd been dropped into
a giant warehouse. There were huge boxes, or crates, all over the place with
UAC stenciled on them. I began to explore and  noticed a red, glowing square
that emitted a curious heat. I avoided it for the moment, welcome though the
heat would be.
     Having gotten in  the habit of following Arlene's ar- rows,  I  started
hunting.  And  looking  for  more  weapons, as well as food,  water,  and an
unbroken radio. I was so intent on all this that I barely noticed  it when I
turned a corner and was back in zombie country.
     I shouldered the rifle and  fired while  they wasted time  roaring. The
shot was  good; the nearest head  exploded like a ripe melon. That  startled
me; it was a single bullet, not a  grenade! This zombie had to be especially
ripe.
     The  next one reacted more typically; the bullet made a normal hole and
the creature fell to the floor, twitching.  But  I  was  already  pounding a
round into the head of number three, scutting sideways, firing two or  three
shots at a  time.  I lost count of how many  zombies  went  down. A few  had
weapons, but none had taken a shot at me yet.
     It was  all  too easy;  then  something  on  the  other  side  returned
fire--actual fire.  The damned, brown spinys were  back, complete with their
bizarre ability  to toss  flaming snotballs  like  warm-up pitchers for  the
devil.
     The  easy zombie pickin's had  made me careless. The first fireball was
too  close, far too  close, to my  face and neck. The stuff stuck to my skin
like  napalm, burning like hell and  reminding  me that I had  no protection
over any part of my skin or vulnerable parts.
     But I was pumped.  With  a roar  to match a hell-prince, I charged  the
nearest spiny  and let my bayonet do the talking. The blade split thick neck
like a cantaloupe, and the demon dropped, bleeding a deep, ruby red.
     But even with a bayonet  stuck in its windpipe and blood pumping out in
buckets,  it stretched a clawed hand up toward me. With a thrust and a yank,
I tore the neck so badly that the head was hanging lopsided. It would take a
lot more work than that to  actually decapitate the mother, but at least  it
wouldn't bother me anymore. I needed the bayonet back. I had other fields to
plow.
     A number of zombies had  gathered around  as I  was busy taking care of
the demon  that I  hoped  had been the one who  burned  my face. More spinys
loitered by the weirdest piece of wall I'd seen yet, with human skulls stuck
all over it like raisins in a cake.
     A thin female zombie went  first, a fat male second, an ex-PFC third. I
used the bayonet on all of them because there wasn't room to shoot.
     Pivoting, slashing and stabbing,  shouting gleeful curses--this was the
way to kill!  The feel, the smell,  the blood  pouring out  of them  beating
through  my veins, all linked.  A  world of blood. Some had  to be mine; but
this was no time to worry over details.
     Then  there was  one zombie left. I  recognized  its face.  Recognition
slowed me down . . . this was a good face,  honest and stern, like  the  men
who'd settled the frontier.
     Corporal  Ryan. Dead eyes in a face I once respected were an invitation
to do more than kill. I had to erase him from the universe.
     I pinned him with the bayonet; but he was made  of stern stuff, even as
a zombie.  Squirming  forward, he clawed  my  face with long,  dirty  nails.
Damned rifle was stuck in him! He was far stronger than the others, stronger
than me.
     Thank  God I  knew  Ryan  better  than his reanimated  corpse did.  The
corporal  always  carried  a  10mm pistol in a back-draw holster.  I reached
behind him. The gun was  there!  I drew the piece, stuck the business end in
Ryan's mouth, and squeezed the trigger.
     His death  grip combined with the pool of blood underfoot pulled me  to
the floor. It  was  too slippery to get  up  easily. While I freed myself, I
tried real  hard to  assimilate  the latest data. If zombies were  holding a
weapon when  they died, they still used it. But the intelligence required to
remember a hidden weapon was beyond their reach.
     Slipping  and  sliding on the  blood was distracting . .  . and  then I
realized  that I was  sobbing. Having given  myself  strict  orders  to keep
emotions under control, I felt betrayed. At least I held onto the pistol.
     Standing up, I realized with disgust that the real reason I was weeping
was because  I  had temporarily  run out  of  enemy.  All  the zombies  were
dead-dead, and the  mon- sters  who  had been  watching over by the  wall of
skulls had  run off. This was worse than being interrupted in the  middle of
making love. I really felt that. I had good reason to be crying like a baby.
     "Pull yourself  together," I ordered  Yours Truly. "I mean it.  Cut the
crap, right now!" I wasn't going to put up with any insubordination.
     "Damn you  all!" I screamed at the universe. "How long am I supposed to
take  this, over  and  over?" It was a  good question,  but nobody  had  any
answers.  I kicked  a zombie's  head, angry that he  wasn't contributing his
part to the conversation.
     Zombies  weren't  the only inanimate  objects around; I  found  a metal
cabinet that I  tore off and flung at a console. Great sound effect. I would
have moved  on in  search  of  glass  to  break--an even better sound--but I
noticed  my  little  tantrum  had actually led  to  something useful. As the
forest fire raging in my brain toned down to  a mild fever-delirium, I vowed
never to say anything bad about dumb luck again.
     A hidden drawer in the console sprang open. I investi- gated, hoping to
find a weapon.  Instead,  I found  another of those computer  key cards, the
very same cards I had sworn not to use again while I had my trusty rockets .
. . the very same rockets I  no longer had. Buck Rogers, back to square one.
I picked up the translucent, blue computer disk. Waste not, want not.
     A rifle in one hand, pistol in the other, and a key card clenched in my
teeth. Not having pockets was becoming a major pain in the butt.
     Why didn't I simply  field-strip a corpse? I  don't know;  I  guess  my
brain wasn't rolling on all tank treads.
     One direction seemed  as good  or bad as  any other, so I went back the
way I had come. As the frenzy of the battle wore off, I was starting to feel
cold again. The red platform was appealing as the only source of heat I knew
about around here, the next best thing to a roaring fireplace. It felt great
as the heat warmed my cold, naked skin.
     Then, as idiots  have asked themselves throughout history,  I asked the
magic words "Why not?"--and rubbed my hands over the thing.
     A million flashbulbs exploded in my face.
     By the time I finished blinking the world back into focus, I realized I
was not in the room I just had been.
     My mouth dropped open. Fly, you  gorm,  I thought, I think  you've just
discovered your first teleporter!
     That  square,  red  platform  just had to be  the "teleport" pads I had
heard about when they posted Fox Company to Mars. They were just big  enough
for a man to stand on ... assuming he felt adventurous.
     I  was  dubious  about  the whole thing from  day one, and so was Gunny
Goforth.  If I  were surrounded  by trolls and  out of  ammo, I'd decided, I
might try one; nothing short of that would tempt me.
     The  teleport  pads  were  already  there  when  humans first  arrived,
presumably  built  the same  time  as  the  Gates  and  gravity  generators.
Practical folk that we are, we  incorporated them into  the  design  of  the
base;  UAC used them to transport heavy ingots  and equipment. I don't think
many  people used  them; most of  us  worried  about things like  souls  and
continuity of consciousness and all that crap.
     Trust  Corporal  Fly  Taggart  to  render  the  whole  philo-  sophical
discussion moot by tripping over his own feet into it!
     As I stared stupidly  at my new surroundings, a swarm of zombies poured
around  the  corner. As  the  first one  fired a round  that took me in  the
shoulder, several thoughts whizzed through my mind. First, as  I fell to the
floor,  I  thought  of  writing  up  the  careless  dolt  who'd  triggered a
teleporter by sticking  his  paws where they  weren't supposed  to  be.  The
second thought, as I rolled  onto  my back, was more ironic: moments before,
I'd been unhappy over running out of zombies. My third thought, as I sat up,
stunned, was: I'm shot!
     My Sig-Cow was out of reach. I'd let go of it, along with the key card.
I opened fire with the 10mm.
     A nearby stone platform provided me cover;  the zombies were too stupid
to do the same. They reminded me of Army privates.
     Taking  my time about it,  I aimed  and fired,  aimed  and  fired.  The
bullets  went  in, the blood came out. I took  them  one by one, killing the
very last at point-blank range.
     This  time I wasn't  sorry  I'd run  out of  zombies. The  bullet in my
shoulder made me groggy. There was nothing I'd rather do at that moment than
lie down in a nice, warm pool of blood and sleep forever.
     Nothing suicidal; sleep was good. Rest was a sacra- ment.
     Willing my reluctant body to move, I got up.
     16




     By now I must have  looked like a zombie myself, I felt like one. Being
honest about it, I had to admit that I didn't know how a human being crossed
over into the zombie state. I hadn't seen the process. The talkative monster
implied  that he could control zombies,  but he never said a word about  how
they were made--he simply lied about not reworking me if I surrendered.
     I  wondered .  . .  was  this how the others  became  what  they  were,
righting a never-ending war  that  finally drove them  mad? Wasn't a sign of
insanity the conviction that everyone and everything  is the enemy? That was
the  way  I'd been  living since I  left  the cafeteria and the two Rons and
began my assault on Phobos Base and . . . and wherever the hell I was now.
     Turning a corner, I was greeted by a sight not calcu- lated to reassure
a man doubting his sanity. A gigantic skull, half the length of a full-grown
man, glared at me through  empty  sockets. It seemed to be made of  brass. I
stared into its eyeless sockets before allowing my gaze to lower. The giant,
metal skull had a tongue; a curving, snaky, metal tongue.
     There was no way this was standard-issue in a UAC refinery!
     Of course, the skull's tongue had to be a lever.
     "I can't help it," I said, "I'm a born lever-puller."
     If I were  already  dead and  in hell, it hardly  mattered  what  would
happen if I pulled the lever. I still had my curiosity. And if I  were still
alive, trying to save  humani- ty  from an alien invasion,  then  I had even
more curiosity.
     I pulled the lever. It was ice cold against my already chilled flesh. A
metallic, grinding noise riveted my attention. It sounded  like all the old,
abandoned automo- bile  plants in Detroit had started up at  once.  And with
all  that  sound, one stupid box rose from the ground  contain-  ing another
pair  of skull-tongue switches!  I pulled  the next one in  line and heard a
click from the wall directly in front of me.
     Moving to investigate, I saw a crack of light in the wall, then another
and another until the yellow lines had formed a perfect square. Secret doors
were  losing  their appeal for me.  If  this one  were  going to  improve my
opinion, then it had better offer something better than the usual collection
of monsters. I shoved open the door with one mighty heave.
     A  bloody,  naked figure held  a  gun  pointed directly at my face.  By
reflex, I shoved my own piece right between its eyes.
     "DROP THE GUN!"
     "DROP THE FREAKIN' GUN!"
     "PUT IT DOWN, I SWEAR TO GOD I'LL BLOW YOUR FOOL HEAD--"
     "--WHERE I CAN SEE THEM, PUT YOUR HANDS UP--"
     "--AND DON'T MOVE OR--"
     "--GROUND! ON THE GROUND, MOVE!"
     Her eyes. Her  eyes  were alive. And she spoke .  . . words. By  now we
both stood,  each  pistol pressed against the other's face, eyes  wide  with
fear, wonder, and hope-- Was it? Could it be? Could she be?--shouting at the
top of our voices in pain, rage, and desperate need.
     My  hammer was cocked, but my finger outside the  trigger  guard; I had
just begun to suspect, just begun . . .
     Something clicked  in my brain.  The  penny  dropped. I  recognized the
bloody, disheveled, pallid creature.
     A  dream   come  true--if  true--in  a  world  that  special-  ized  in
nightmares. Panting before my face, watching warily, ready to  fire off half
the  magazine if necessary, stood the reason  I had come this far and hadn't
yet given up.
     I  wanted to say  her  name, but  I  couldn't. We were each locked in a
perimeter of silence, holding  a  gun against each other's face,  doubts and
paranoia having the only voice. One of us would have to say something.
     She went  first.  "Drop the  friggin'  gun!" The  command  came  from a
lifetime of giving  not an inch or trusting  without two forms of picture ID
... and that had been back on Earth! She'd worked hard, her every friendship
based on a sense  of honor. She'd kicked  her way onto the Mars mission. And
this is what she'd found.
     But  she'd survived. And I'd survived. She'd kept me  alive with  every
A.S.  and arrow;  and  maybe  her fantasy that  I'd come after her  kept her
alive--why else use our private code, a link between just the two of us?
     But now there was no room for sentiment, only for certainty.
     "You are a dead man if you do not drop the freaking gun now."
     Oops. My arm and hand had been through too much to even consider it. My
body  was  wired for instant re- sponses. The same  as her body if she  were
still  the  old  Arlene.  The only  reason  I  hadn't  blown  her away auto-
matically was the  time  spent praying  she was alive,  and a willingness to
take a risk right  now that  she wasn't really a zombie. No  zombie had ever
spoken before. And somehow, covered with mud and gore, she looked too damned
bad to be a zombie. Only the living could look that fried!
     "Arlene, your  ass is mine," I replied. "I've had the drop on you since
I opened the damned door."
     Zombies  didn't talk that  way, either. They didn't  tease  or smile  a
moment later when  awareness crept across a  human  face. She returned  that
smile, and I knew every- thing would be all right.
     "Your finger wasn't  even on  the trigger, big guy. I'd have  blown you
away before you fumbled  around and  found it." She was wounded, disheveled,
filthy, terrified, naked . . . and totally, totally alive.
     "You're alive!" I shouted.
     "No, really?" she shouted back.
     We slowly lowered our weapons simultaneously, mir- ror images  of  each
other. Grinning.
     Staring me up and  down, she commented, "Nice  fashion  statement." I'd
forgotten  I was buck naked. My damned reflexes insisted on embarrassing me,
and I reflexively covered myself.
     Well, I guess it  was one more proof I was still fully human.  I  doubt
that zombies are modest. "Turn your back, for Christ's sake," I implored.
     "I will not" she answered,  eyes  roving where they shouldn't.  "You're
the first decent thing I've seen since this creep show began."
     If we kept this up, maybe things  would  get so  bloody normal that the
monsters would simply pack their suit- cases and leave.
     Arlene could  dish  out  a hard time when she  wanted. I decided to get
dressed, and finally I noticed the corpses and stripped one. She reached out
a hand. "No, Fly; don't put those on yet. Please?"
     My  right  foot  was halfway into  a  boot  far  too  small  to fit. It
stretched, conforming to the  size of  my  foot: one size  truly  fits  all.
Arlene turned as red as the crimson wall. "Jesus, I'm  sorry, Fly. You're my
buddy; I shouldn't have made you uncomfortable. Forgive me?"
     I finished dressing. It didn't take  long. Now  it was my turn to  look
her over, which I  did with a lot more subtlety than she did with me. I kept
my  eyes moving where she'd let  hers stop in  embarrassing places. God, she
looked good. All  the  dirt and  blood  almost gave her the appear- ance  of
being dressed in  a weirdly hip-punk outfit. Her slender  waist, tight, firm
thighs, medium bust, and long arms made me think of more than the undeniable
fact that  she had the body  of the ideal  orbital  pilot--her ultimate goal
when she'd earned enough in service to take a hiatus, get a degree, and take
a commission. Space travel needed the occasional boost in morale.
     She  finally got  the  idea. There were plenty of corpses  around  with
uniforms waiting to be stripped. I watched her from the corner of my eye  as
she followed my example.  The best aspect of these form-fitting uniforms was
the way they conformed to every contour of the human  body. She  looked just
as good in clothes.
     I  tried  to  think  of  something  appropriate  to say, then  grunted,
punching  her  shoulder middling hard. "Now  I forgive  you," I said  with a
grin. The  grin  didn't last long. I'd completely forgotten about the bullet
wound in my shoulder. The pain finally caught up with  me as the  adrenaline
wore off.
     "Jeez, that looks bad," she  said. "Maybe there's  some Medikits around
here. You mind holding still  while I  do some alterations on your shoulder?
Meanwhile, tell me where the hell you came from."
     Seemed like a fair deal to me. "Long as  you tell  me what  happened to
you, A.S. You  and the company. And what the hell were you doing hiding in a
cupboard?"
     She made  me go first. I recapped everything that had happened  since I
left Ron  and Ron behind in the mess hall. She'd been through the same crap;
I didn't need to  be overly detailed  about the killing. It would be nothing
more than a sentence completion exercise.
     While I told her my adventures, hoping I wasn't boring  her, we weren't
standing still. With the soft suction sounds of our boots on the cold, stone
floor, we went  hunting for  medical  supplies. "I'd  rather go up against a
dozen zombies than one of these monster aliens," I was telling Arlene as she
yanked open a closet door.
     Dozens of  shotguns cascaded  down on us like bales of hay . . . heavy,
painful bales of hale. Fortunately, they weren't loaded.
     Staring at the pile  of  weapons for  a long moment,  I put on my  best
annoyed face and asked Arlene: "Can't you keep your space neat and tidy?"
     Rolling  her eyes, she  scooped up one of the weapons  and tossed it to
me. She took one,  too.  I regretted leaving behind such a beautiful pile of
weaponry. But Arlene and I only had four hands between us. We still needed a
Medikit, and Arlene  was  starving. With the burning sensation growing in my
arm, the Medikit was first on the list.
     Then I was going to get my Recon Babe out of this hellhole.  I'd e-mail
her, if that's what it took to pack her back to Mars. No, Earth.
     "Get your crap together," I said, "and take mental notes."
     "Notes?"
     "We've got to give a full report when we  get back.  We're blowing this
popcorn stand."
     Arlene smiled wanly. "You have any good ideas on that one, Ace?"
     "I left a land-cart back at the entrance; we can hot-rod it back to the
air base and take the troopship back to Mars. Or even Earth ... it should be
able to make it."
     Arlene looked around, studying the architecture.
     The architect must have been hired by the Addams Family. Nothing seemed
normal. The surface of the walls was rough,  twisted, the sickening color of
internal or- gans. Skulls, monster faces, and decay dominated every- where I
chanced to glance.
     Arlene  coughed politely. "Just  two problems  with  that plan.  First,
we're not on Phobos anymore, Toto."
     "Huh?"
     "We're on Deimos, and there ain't no land-carts, or rockets, either. We
used all the ships to  bug our people out four years ago.  Fly,  we're stuck
here, and we don't even know where 'here' is!"
     I must have looked blank; she continued. "Look, Fly, don't you remember
when Deimos vanished from the screens?"
     "No, actually. What the hell are you talking about?"
     "Whoops. I guess you were already in custody when we got word from Boyd
that Deimos had disappeared from the Martian sky."
     The  idea that  a  moon  could vanish  bothered  me  for  some  reason.
"Wouldn't there have been gravitational effects?" I asked.
     She  laughed before  asking, "Are  you kidding? Do you  know how  small
Deimos is? It's even smaller than Phobos."
     "I knew that." These chunks of space rock were so small that their real
gravity was theoretical, notwith- standing the alien gravity zones. Although
I'd become used to fantastic events lately, a little nugget  of skepti- cism
scratched at my capacity to believe just anything. "How do you know we're on
Deimos?"
     " 'Cause I've been here,  Fly. I did a TDS as a yeoman right here while
I was waiting for an opening in the Light Drop."
     "A  yeoman! But the Marines don't  have any staff positions, only  line
positions."
     "On loan to the Navy. Technically, I was still a rifleman, but the only
weapon they issued me was a word processor."
     I had  to think about this. The implications were definitely  bad.  And
the image of Arlene Sanders as a secretary was astonishing.
     I looked up. There was a skylight in the ceiling, and where Mars should
have been, there was nothing.  Where  stars should have  been, there were no
stars. The black  of space was missing, too. All I  saw was a gray mist, not
to be confused with clouds; the texture was all wrong.
     Having a gift for the obvious, I said, "We're not in orbit around Mars,
are we?"
     She smiled and patted me on the head. "Congrats, Fly. You win the Nobel
Prize. You don't see  a pressure  dome  up  there,  do you?  But we're still
sucking air. I know  we're on  Deimos; I  recognize all the stuff that H. P.
Lovecraft didn't redecorate."
     Who, I wanted to know, was H. P. Lovecraft? If  he'd had anything to do
with this, I wanted to punch his lights out.
     "No, Fly," Arlene  said.  "He was a  fantasy  writer,  early  twentieth
century   American.  Obsessed  with  hybrid  mon-  sters   and   underground
labyrinths. Always describing ancient menaces as eldritch."
     I'd  never  heard  the word  before, but it sounded  just  right. "This
situation has got eldritch coming out the ass."
     "You  can  say that again," she agreed.  "And this is Deimos, muchacho;
only thing is, these bastards have taken it somewhere."
     "Great. So what's number two?"
     She looked puzzled for  a  moment, then she frowned.  "I don't  want to
hurt you, Fly."
     I licked  my lips,  feeling my stomach contract. I never liked anything
from a girl that began like that. "What?"
     "You've always been more loyal to the Corps than I was, my friend."
     I stiffened. "What's wrong with the Corps? The  Ma- rines have given me
a lot, babe, in case you've forgotten."
     She smiled and shook her  head. Arlene hadn't  forgot- ten my father, a
pathological liar and petty thief who ended up doing twenty-five to life for
his fourth felony  conviction . . . trying to run down a state trooper  with
his  pickup  truck.  He died in Vacaville two years  later,  from a cerebral
hemorrhage, they said.
     My  father  was  the pettiest,  lowest,  meanest  man  I  ever knew. He
couldn't  even understand the word "honor." He  never knew  why I joined the
Corps, never would have understood if I told him I did it for him  ... so  I
would never be him.
     All right, I confess. Father, forgive me, for I have sinned.  The Corps
was the world to me.
     "There's  nothing  wrong with the United  States Marine Corps, Fly. But
damn you, there's something a bit more important."
     "Like what?"
     "Like the human freakin' race!"
     She  had  me  cold.  So  I  got  pissed. "Hang  the human  race!  'It's
Tommy-this, an' Tommy-that--'"
     "Oh, don't quote Kipling at me; I'm the one who gave you the book. Fly,
what do you think the whole purpose of the Corps is?"
     I didn't say anything. I  didn't like  where  this was  leading; I knew
what she was going to say. But I couldn't figure where she was wrong.
     "You're  so much  into honor and  duty, Fly. Don't you  know what  duty
means? We're the ones on  the wall, kiddo. They might not know  we're there;
might not  even know there is a wall, might not give a hang. But that's what
we're here for.
     "Fly, this thing  is bigger than just getting us both  out alive. We're
the only  ones here,  only  ones who know about the invasion  . . . the only
ones who might be able to throw something  big and heavy into the gears. And
damn it to hell, I'm not going to bug out until I do it!"
     I glared  at Arlene. I  wanted to protect her, get  her out of there. I
was a man, she was my--
     Bull. I was a  Marine. And so was  Arlene. I understood what  she meant
about the wall; somebody had to man it. Who else?
     I  lowered my gaze. We couldn't just bug out, even  if we could  find a
transport on abandoned Deimos. We had to get to the  bottom of all this--and
if  Deimos was like Phobos, I had a bad  feeling  that meant getting to  the
bottom  of the Deimos facility.  For  some weird  reason,  the alien monster
demons preferred "down."
     Besides, her point number one still made sense, too. We don't even know
where "here" is. Deimos had been yanked away somewhere ... we were stuck, no
rocket, no clue  where we might be ... only that we weren't in orbit  around
Mars  anymore.  "Up"  meant--what?  Emp- ty space? Nothingness? The only way
out--if  there was  one--was  "down," following the levels of Deimos  to the
bottom.
     I glared up  at her  again; her eyes were as cold  as steel, as warm as
the sacred heart. "Well don't expect me to say I'm sorry," I muttered.





     17




     While we'd been talking, we  came across an undamaged crate that looked
promising. All that stood between us and it was  one of my fireball-throwing
buddies.
     This one never got a chance to warm up. Arlene whirled and blasted him;
the demon went down without a chance to hock and spit.
     The  label  on the crate promised Medikits and  com- rats. We opened it
and found a full pantry.
     Arlene insisted on playing nurse before I played chef.  She examined my
shoulder; the bullet had gone straight  through. Score  one for my side. She
injected  universal antiviral/antibiotic  and wrapped  a  bandage  around my
shoulder, while I gritted my teeth and groaned like a big baby.
     When she finished with my arm, I heaved a sigh  of relief.  God, I hate
medical crap! But I was premature; I'd forgotten about my burns.
     Arlene didn't forget. The cream she applied on my forehead, cheeks, and
chin hurt worse  than the  arm  injections!  It  hurt so bad that I  started
hunting for any serious cuts or burns Arlene might have . . . something that
would  require  my  delicate  attention--and  lots  of  cream.  Despite  her
appearance, she was disgustingly healthy.
     Now it was her turn to  tell a story. "Fly," she began, pausing to gulp
water  from a  bottle we'd extracted from the  crate, "I don't  want  to see
anything like that first assault ever again."
     She sat with her back to a wall, and I stood where I had a good view of
anything  coming or  going. I had to find out  what happened to Fox Company.
Munching on a bland,  fast-energy bar that tasted as fine as a steak at that
moment, I gave her my undivided attention (and a chocolate bar of her own).
     The situation had been as bad as  I imagined.  The assault simply  fell
apart.   Seeing   the  zombies  was  enough  --the  guys  didn't  even  need
flaming-snot  demons  to  drive them  off the  deep end.  Walking,  staring,
drooling, rotting human corpses proved  sufficient to make them forget every
combat lesson they'd ever learned.
     They went crazy; they broke ranks and charged the zombies. Fox was full
of fighting spirit, all right; it just Sacked a  plan, strategy and tactics,
a  command structure,  and  a snowball's  chance  in they-should-have-known-
where as soon as they let themselves get isolated,  cut off from each other.
The fire-hocking spinys picked them off one at a time.
     I couldn't really blame my buds. I'd  had the  same reaction, the  same
rage to rip the zombies apart with my bare hands.
     Arlene  was saved because she wasn't  as affected by the male berserker
fury. It  must  be a male  thing;  testoster- one, maybe?  Jesus,  did  that
sour-lemon odor actually stimulate a testosterone and adrenal rush overdose?
     Then again, she might simply have had better self- control than  a guy.
I interrupted to say, "You're a better man than I am, Arlene."
     "Shush, Fly, if you want to hear the rest of this." I shushed.
     "I found  a cupboard  and hid out,"  she continued. "I could hear  them
moving just beyond the door. Some- times hearing is worse than seeing."
     I nodded at the truth of that observation. "Like  this  ugly  demon," I
said, kicking the  brown hide of  the creature she'd dispatched.  "They hiss
like giant serpents. Scares the piss out of you in the dark."
     She laughed. "I wouldn't  call that a demon! I've seen some others that
more deserve the name."
     "Yeah,"   I   agreed,  remembering  the  minotaurs.   "I   guess  those
hell-princes  you warned me about with your  skull and crossbones are a more
traditional demon design."
     "I wouldn't know,"  she  said. "I  never saw them. You're talking about
the pentagram room?"
     "You didn't see them?"
     "I  put one foot into that room and heard one of 'em scream. I guess it
saw me, but I didn't stick around to see it! What do they look like?"
     "Eight feet tall, bright, flaming red, with goat  legs  and huge horns.
They fire some sort of electrical-ball light- ning from wrist-launchers."
     She shook  her head. "Nasty. But  the  thing I call a demon is  a huge,
bloated, pink thing with tusks. Maybe we should call it a pinkie?"
     "Does your pink demon make a pig sound?"
     The way  she  shuddered  answered the question before  she  nodded. She
wasn't  kidding  about what you hear being worse than what you see. I didn't
press  her for further  details. I had a sinking feeling that no description
was  necessary. Before this was over,  I imagined we'd be seeing lots  worse
nightmares, a full menagerie from the lowest pits of hell.
     "So what happened after you left me the warning?"
     She smiled,  happy  to oblige. "I ran  like the devil." She interrupted
herself, uncomfortable with the expression. The way things were going, there
was no telling  who we might meet next. "I  ran," she  said,  "and found the
crack.  I had enough paint  stick left for a final  warning. I want  you  to
know, Fly Taggart, that taking the time for  that Do  Not Enter sign was the
stupidest thing I did all day; while I  was making like a public information
booth, one of those hell-princes,  as you call them, came tromping  down the
hall."
     "You've  got guts," I piped in, and  didn't care if she shushed me this
time. Instead, she insisted on my going back  into the  narrative and giving
all the gory details  of how close I'd come to  cashing in when facing these
monsters.
     Then  she resumed: "While  I was writing as fast as  I could, I studied
that crack in the wall, wishing I could make it larger."
     "I couldn't squeeze through."
     "I know.  I felt like dog dirt.  But what could I  do? I didn't have  a
jaws with  me,  and no  time to crank the crack wider  even if I did have. I
wormed my way through, leaving a  few  layers  of skin behind, and hoofed it
for the Gate."
     She stopped to catch her breath.
     "You must have  been surprised  when you came through stripped bare," I
said.
     She sighed. "I  was surprised to still be alive, which is how I've felt
every leg of this mission. There was a corpse-reception committee waiting at
the  other  end; but  at least they  weren't zombies. While  I picked my way
through all those  bodies, a metric ton of  zombies started teleporting  in.
There were too many of them to handle-- so I dived into that secret cupboard
you found . . . and somebody pressed a switch, and the freaking door slammed
shut! And then you showed up, looking. . . " --she struggled for words--"not
a helluva lot better than the zombies, Fly."
     "Thanks," I said. She always had a knack for compli- ments.
     Sometimes I  suspected she liked toying with me. I pointed at the brown
carcass of a spiny. "So if  you  don't want me calling it a demon,"  I said,
"how about a spiny?"
     "How about an imp?"
     "An imp?"
     "Why not? I had a book of fairy tales when I was a kid with goblins and
things. The  picture closest to this  critter had the  caption 'imp.' It was
playing with magical fire."
     Our game was becoming fun. We didn't have a lot of entertainment at the
moment. "I dunno," I said. "Some- thing about the head reminds me of an  old
monster movie about a fish-guy who lived in a lagoon."
     "He's an imp," she insisted, reminding me that tough Marine or not, she
was still a woman.
     My mother didn't raise any fools. "He's an imp," I agreed.
     "We should name  the others, too," she  said, encour-  aged. "We've got
zombies,  imps, demons  or  pinkies, and hell-princes.  What do we call  the
rest?"
     I laughed. "That's pretty biblical, isn't it?"
     She  stared blankly. Not everyone had enjoyed the benefits of religious
schooling. "Anyway, it's a great idea, Arlene. If we ever find  a functional
radio, we'll need to report  to someone. We might as  well play Adam and Eve
and name all the beasts."
     She  relaxed, convinced  now  that I  wasn't making  fun of  her,  so I
continued.  "One of  these imps talked to me--" I started, but Arlene cut me
off.
     "Talked?"  This was the  most  surprised  I'd seen  her  yet. We hadn't
exactly duplicated each other's adventures.
     "He tried to get  me to surrender, promising if I  did,  I wouldn't  be
reworked--uh, zombiefied. But the son of a bitch was such a liar, I wouldn't
trust him for the time with a clock stuck to his face."
     The way she laughed made me laugh. Finding  her had changed everything.
I wanted to live  now as well as fight, report back to  Mars or to Earth, do
my duty for the survival of homo sap, the home team.
     "Are those all the monsters we've discovered so far?" she asked.
     "No,"  I  admitted.   "There's  something  around  here  that's  partly
invisible. I was thinking of them as killer ghosts."
     "Specters," she corrected offhand. If we got out of this alive, I would
recommend Arlene for the job of an editor. On a  religious magazine. I had a
sense of justice. "I haven't run into them yet," she added.
     "And some flying skulls. What should we call those?"
     "Flying skulls."
     "Right. What do you want to call them?"
     "Flying skulls, you lamebrain! Call 'em as you see 'em."
     I found out  she  hadn't run into any of  the  mysterious blue spheres,
either, so far  the  only good  thing  to come  out  of the Gate.  I had the
feeling that before this was over, there would be much more of the naming of
names.
     Now it was back to business. Lunchtime was over.
     It was a brief rest; we  needed real sleep. We needed to find somewhere
secure  so that  we  could  take turns sleeping  and watch-standing.  And we
needed real food.
     "Something  feels  weird about  this  place," she said. Something about
Deimos was creepier than Phobos.  The place was  colder, but that wasn't it.
The  odors were about  the same, but a bad taste seemed to go with it. Maybe
we  were closer to the  source of the sour-lemon stench that hung around the
zombies. Whatever it  was,  a  cloying odor  underrode everything, something
very slowly rot- ting.
     "I hate looking at it," I answered her. If lesser demons were in charge
of the other Martian moon, then  Old Nick  himself had  drawn  the blueprint
here.  The  skulls were  starting to get on my nerves. They were everywhere,
all different sizes and shapes, always more evil than a normal human skull.
     As we explored. the color we noticed  most Was red.  darkening into the
shade of rare steak. The little voice  wanted  to know why it wasn't getting
hotter. Red was hot. Hell was supposed to be hot.
     The  floor  became moist with the hated  ooze, not yet  deep  enough to
require  slogging through a river of  the stuff. I wondered if Arlene  and I
were exploring the great intestine of something so gigantic that I was going
to have a hard time ripping out its guts.
     It seemed like the deeper we went into  hell,  the closer we got to the
life  force. Screw that. The  Martian moons were  more appealing as desolate
rocks exposed to the cold of space.
     "Bad news," said Arlene, pointing at a  teleport  plat- form at the end
of  a  corridor. We had  no choice: use it  or go back.  Along with all  the
normal maps I wanted, I now wished for a map  showing where all  these grids
con- nected up. How many shopping days before Christmas?
     "Somebody's got to do it, Arlene."
     "Do what?"
     "Recon these teleport things."
     She  placed a firm hand  on my  shoulder.  "Nice of  you  to volunteer,
Corporal. Rank before beauty."
     "Pearls before swine. I was about  to delegate, PFC!"  I looked around.
"The layout's different here than on Phobos."
     Looking  back, I observed the vista of emptiness we  had walked through
to get to this point. I had the feeling that the walls were squirming when I
didn't look at them.
     "More dead ends. I don't  like jumping into a fire when I'm getting fat
and  happy in  the frying pan. But  we're  humanity's vanguard,  right?"  It
sounded sarcastic, but I didn't mean it to be. "We've got to find out what's
happened and communicate with someone up the chain."
     Whenever Arlene smiled, it felt warmer, nicer, than when we'd just been
palling around. War brings out something good in a certain kind of person. I
didn't know about me, but I was sure about Arlene.
     "Besides," she  elaborated, "best way  to  stay  alive is to be  on the
offense.  I'm coming  right  behind you." There was no  one I'd  rather have
backing me up.
     "Give  me  thirty  seconds." They wouldn't be  my famous last words,  I
hoped.
     The teleporter sensation, now that I was ready for it, was  similar  to
the Gate,  but quicker,  less  disorienting.  My clothes stayed  on  and the
weapons didn't disappear. I was ready to secure the beachhead.
     I'd arrived on a  platform virtually identical to the one at  point  of
departure.  I should have jumped off right away, but I was distracted by the
sound of heavy  pile drivers,  coming closer and closer. Jesus  and Mary,  I
realized, they're footsteps!





     18




     Abruptly,  I remembered where I stood. I leapt off the platform just in
time; Arlene had counted the full thirty seconds before following.
     "Clear?" she asked as she sparkled into view.
     "No," I answered.  "Listen to that."  Light as a cat,  she pounced down
beside me. The thudding sound wasn't getting any softer.
     "Poke your head  around the corner," she suggested.  "I  have  a pretty
good idea what's making all that racket."
     We took our time approaching the corner. Arlene gestured that she would
go first. I don't argue with a lady. When she glanced back  at  me, her face
was stern. "You've been wondering what I call a demon," she said. "So take a
good look."
     I  did.  And  as  Gunny  Goforth  might  have  said,  she  wasn't  just
a-whistlin' Dixie.
     A  whole  box of  demons marched around atop a two-story  platform that
looked  as though it  might lower any moment. One  of  the "pinkies" started
making those pig sounds I found so disgusting. But as I paid close attention
to  the  anatomical  details   of   this  thing,  I  de-  cided  the  Porker
Anti-Defamation League might dis- agree with my description.
     These  monsters were the most  massively  concentrated  collections  of
muscle power in the whole zoo. They were  about six feet tall,  with  mouths
that looked like they could swallow Cleveland  .. . and  probably  had. They
were demons,  all  right. She  had  me there.  So long  as  these guys  were
wandering the  corridors, nothing else deserved the name.  Their flesh was a
dark pink; Arlene's nickname for them was accurate.
     They didn't see us yet; but it didn't look as if we'd be going anywhere
if we didn't deal  with  them. There were no  other  doors; eventually, that
platform would have to lower so we could ride it up.
     They stamped  around on  short, stubby legs,  like shaved gorillas with
horns and saw teeth. "Do they have any projectiles?" I asked Arlene.
     "What do you mean?"
     "Fireballs, lightning, anything like that?"
     "They don't throw anything at you." She noticed my body relax a little.
"Don't let it  fool you," she warned.  "They're  deadly  if you get anywhere
near them."
     "Can we pop them from down here?" I asked.
     "Not likely. You need concentrated force, like  a .458 Weatherby  or  a
twelve-gauge at ten feet. I saw an imp go after a demon, and the pinkie took
three fireballs in the  face and swallowed the imp whole!  It burped out the
bloody spines."
     Data point: imps and demons, like imps and zombies, don't get along.
     "Fly.  if we're going to progress, we've got  to lower  that  platform.
There's no other way to kill them with what we've got."
     I noticed I'd been leaning against  something hard and metallic. It was
another skull switch, just begging to be  flicked. I started reaching for it
but Arlene butted my hand away with her shotgun. That hurt.
     "You don't know what that's going to do," she pro- tested.
     "I can't help it... I'm a  born  lever-puller."  I  flicked the tongue.
With  a  loud  groan,  the  platform  lowered  like an elevator. The  demons
wandered off. They  snuffled their  pig snouts and evidently scented us, for
they made a beeline.
     As they  came  for us,  we scutted  back around the corner.  The demons
didn't seem able to run, but they  could power-walk with that thud-thud-thud
pounding through our skulls.
     Arlene and I  both had  shotguns  and a serious attitude problem toward
demons. I  found their open mouths an irresistible target. The first one ate
my powder,  and the back of its head opened up  like a watermelon. There  is
always  something  to say  for close range.  Arlene  took  hers  out with  a
well-placed blast to the chest.
     If we were acting like a team with  our  backs to the wall, the pinkies
were  dying as  individuals,  marching forward two abreast  to receive their
quota of  shotgun death. The corpses piled up, providing sufficient time for
us to reload and do it again.
     As an added bonus, none of the monsters made that snuffling pig  sound.
They were too  busy  roaring as they died.  The roaring was loud, but it was
the mark of their defeat. I started feeling good about my bloody work.
     "Like shooting drunks in a barrel," I said to Arlene.
     "Don't get cocky!"
     She was right. Hubris.
     The ranks of the enemy finally diminished. We'd  stumbled into a finite
number and we were using up our demons fast. .. about as fast as our shotgun
shells.
     "Don't discount them," Arlene warned me. I wasn't about to discount her
experiences. "So long as you can keep them at a safe distance,  this  is all
right. But I saw what happened when a buddy got his arm bitten off; and then
it ate his head. He avoided being a zombie, only to wind up as demon food."
     Good things come  to an  end,  even in a paradise like Deimos. A bullet
came very close to ending the career of Yours Truly. This tipped me off that
someone was shooting at me.
     "Look  out!"  I shouted  at Arlene; but she was already down, crouching
behind the wall of demon bodies.
     During  the precious  seconds  I spent saving myself  from whoever  was
playing sniper, the last demon charged like a runaway bulldozer. I turned to
find myself staring into a meter-wide maw.
     I thought I knew what a bad smell was before that moment. A square mile
of  human  cesspool might come  close.  The  odor was  so  bad it was like a
weapon. My eyes watered so I could hardly see.
     Arlene shouted something, but I couldn't make out her  words.  She  was
busy with problems of her own; the sniper was still at it.
     One of  those  bullets, clearly meant for Arlene or me, connected  with
the back of the demon. It had the same reaction as  a human being would have
...  if stung by a mosquito. While  it tried to scratch at  its back  (and I
wondered  how  it  could  accomplish such  a task without  ripping itself to
ribbons), I swung the shotgun back into action. The target came forward, and
the bore  of my  weapon  literally  went down its  gaping  maw. I pulled the
trigger.
     My  eyes filled with  stinking monster blood; not a desirable  state of
affairs when trying to avoid the persis- tent rifleman. I could hear Arlene,
though, shouting, "That's the last of them," as  her shotgun finished speak-
ing for her. She had to be speaking about the demons. I could still hear the
ping-ping of rifle fire over  mv head.  But it  was a relief to know that no
pinkish mouths would chew my tender epidermis.
     Arlene crawled over to me and started rubbing the blood out of my eyes.
I could manage that  on my own. I  just hadn't gotten  around to it. "Spread
out," I ordered, "don't make one target!"
     She didn't argue with  my superior combat experience.  She  rolled away
without a word  while I finished clearing my vision. Whoever was  trying  to
shoot  us had  taken  a  break, probably  just to reload. I  was  certain it
wouldn't last;  he had the  high ground, beyond where the platform had been.
We needed to alter the situation in our favor immediately.
     "Platform!" I shouted,  then charged  the lowered  lift. It had its own
switch, which  I flipped. The lift  started up, and  Arlene finally realized
what was happening. She  ran and  leapt, barely catching  the edge. I pulled
her up; we crouched back-to-back and took a little trip.
     On the next level, we rounded  a corner  and  came  face-to-, well, you
couldn't call it  a  face really--we  ran right into another demon. I didn't
know about Arlene, but I  found the situation very annoying. We'd  just been
through all that.  We were  so close that, as it charged, I fell back  on my
butt and  fired a round  between his  legs. This staggered  the  demon,  and
Arlene  finished the  job, plug- ging  it  head-on  and killing it  good and
proper.
     Now we could return  to the more traditional task of trying to find out
who was shooting at us.
     Past  the platform we saw two doors. Exchanging glances, we approached.
One had a  blue border and the  other had a red border. Of course, they were
both locked. I missed my rockets.
     I  extracted my blue  key  card and  inserted it into  the proper slot,
swiping it across the mag reader.
     The door opened with a clean, whistling, hydraulic sound.  At the other
end was a teleport. Deimos had a "thing" for teleports, all right.
     "The lady or the tiger?" asked Arlene.
     "What?"
     "A  story  I read once. We've got  a  red door and a  tele- port. Which
one?"
     "Yeah, too bad we don't have a red key."
     "Hell, Fly, all you had to do was  ask!"  She produced  a key card  and
presented it to me. Arlene liked  to play when working. "I found  it in  the
secret room while waiting for you to rescue me," she said with a wink.
     "I'll pick the lady," I said, and started to insert the red key.
     Marine training conies in handy. I heard something on the other side of
the door; and there was nothing wrong with Arlene's  ears,  either. I swiped
the key through the slot, then skipped to the side, scattergun ready. Arlene
took the opposite side.
     The moment the door opened, she discharged a shell, killing a zombie on
the  other side.  He  was  holding a shotgun  just like ours.  He wasn't the
sniper. The zombie standing next to him  had a Sig-Cow, and I wasted him. We
cleared the room, each covering 270 degrees.
     The room was  really more  of a walk-in closet.  It was  empty of  more
zombies. But I was already worried about something else: if the one with the
rifle had been shooting at us, then had ducked in here, it had all the signs
of  an ambush.  But  zombies  didn't  think!  An  ambush  suggested tactical
thinking . . . thinking!
     I hadn't yet had an opportunity  to confide in Arlene my suspicions  of
an overall  Mind guiding the  invasion,  using a  great  number  of mindless
opponents against a few human survivors to learn our limits.
     She  probably wasn't in  the  mood for a quiet,  analytical  discussion
right then. There was too much blood on her, on me.
     Now  it was the lady's turn to find a switch. The room was flooded with
clean, white light. We had  found a treasure chamber .. . medical  supplies,
more corn-rats, and ammunition, lots of it. Best of all was another of those
handheld video things.
     "Fly, you know what this is?" exclaimed Arlene in excitement. I let her
tell me. "It's a computer map of the entire floor plan!"
     The medical supplies allowed me  to return the  "favor" Arlene had done
me. She'd been winged by  the sniper. She wasn't carrying any bullets around
with  her, but  one  had grazed her  shoulder. And  she  had other  cuts and
bruises from our last battle.
     "I'm your doctor now," I said.
     Eyeing  the self-heating tins  of  food  and coffee, she  sized  me  up
through slitted eyes and said, "I'd rather you were the cook."
     "Chef," I corrected her. "And what's the difference, anyway?"
     "Between a cook and a chef?"
     "No, between a doctor and a cook!"
     "You win. Feed me, Fly."
     I bit  my  tongue. "Doctoring first."  She didn't argue,  but continued
working on  the computer map  as  I tended her wounds. I found a tube of the
same  cream she'd used on me; but she didn't  grimace.  I  used the hypo  to
inject the antiviral; but  she never  flinched. She  really was a better man
than I.
     We didn't have any  disagreement until  I insisted  we get  some sleep.
"You've got to be kidding, Fly. I'm not about  to close my eyes and lie down
in a rotting pile of zombie corpses!"
     "We can carry them out and pile them in front of the door."
     "Oh, great--an announcement that we're in here."
     "All right. I'll throw them onto the last teleport platform."
     "We'll throw them." As simple as that, sweet reason had prevailed.
     The  job took twenty minutes. We didn't bother with  the teleporter; we
spread them  like  speed bumps  among the demons. Maybe visitors would think
they had killed each other.
     Then  we enjoyed  our first real meal together. The snack had only kept
us going; this was a veritable feast by comparison.
     I  insisted  that she sleep  first. She'd been on the go longer than I.
While I was still being nursemaided by the Rons, she was at risk, in battle,
up to her eyeballs in demon guts. She would sleep first, whatever it took.
     Turned out all it took was getting her to put her head down "just for a
moment." I let her sleep for four.
     When it was my turn,  I  went out like  a drained  tallboy. She woke me
with a gentle hand on  my shoulder and a beautiful face to appreciate.  We'd
both been too ex- hausted for nightmares. We were living them.
     I hated to leave that room.  The same way I'd felt about the Phobos lab
infirmary. No, that was  wrong. This room  was better than  that. I'd shared
the time with a woman whose survival turned my universe from empty muck back
into gold.
     Blinking away pieces of sleep, I  slung the  Sig-Cow across my back and
we returned to the blue door and again faced the  teleporter. "Same  routine
as last time?" I asked.
     "Nah. Let's go together."
     "Why not?"
     "What the hell."
     We  found  ourselves in  a room with no doors, no  windows,  and one of
Arlene's big, pink demons.
     "Mine," I called, and pounded a shell before Arlene could argue.
     "I have a feeling there's plenty to go around," she said.
     I  was  almost starting to  like  the  pink  bastards.  Their  lack  of
projectile weaponry made them favorites in my book. Of course, I hadn't seen
them chow-down on a comrade the way Arlene had.
     I  took point, positively greedy for my  next  demon kill. I moved well
ahead of Arlene.
     Oh, Fly.  Hubris, hubris, hubris! Pride goeth before destruction, and a
haughty spirit before a fall.
     Turning one of those  treacherous  corners so common in both Phobos and
Deimos, I stepped right into The Wizard  of Oz. What else could  you  call a
giant, floating head?





     19




     This head wasn't handsome enough to be a movie star. Its grotesque skin
was made of  millions of squirming, knotted, bloodred worms stretched over a
huge,  inflated  balloon.  For  an instant  I thought of  the floating  blue
sphere.
     Staring into the single  red eye  of this floating pumpkin with  a tube
for a mouth, I doubted it would make me feel like a million . . . years old,
maybe.
     I dived  sideways as the pumpkin spit a ball of lightning  out the tube
mouth, burning my scalp and hair as it sailed  past. It exploded against the
wall, producing a  million slivers of  blue-flickering  electricity that had
every hair on any part of my body standing at attention.
     "Mary, Mother of God!" I cried. "Another one that shoots stuff!"
     I  ran back  toward Arlene, shouting,  "Run,  run, run!" With  pain and
surprise still fresh, I couldn't think of anything else to do.
     But the floating  head  hadn't been in  Arlene's face; she was still in
control. The red ball floated around the corner, and she let it have a blast
from behind.
     It rebounded from the  blast,  roaring in  pain,  then slowly turned to
face her. While it did, I caught hold of myself.
     I blasted the floating  pumpkin from my angle. As it turned back to me,
Arlene skated to the side and blasted it again.
     Now we both knew what to do. We dropped naturally into a standard Light
Drop  tactic--move,  fire, move again, fire  again. The  ball did  a lot  of
bouncing. Whatev-  er life force  kept it going hadn't  left it yet.  But we
kept firing.
     Then it died the  messiest monster death I  had seen so far. One moment
the  ball was bouncing  against the walls; the next, there  came  a spray of
sticky,  blue goo that smelled like caramelized pumpkin pie and sounded like
an overripe squash dropped ten  stories. I seriously considered  losing  the
lunch I had struggled so hard to ingest.
     "Oo-rah!"  exulted  Arlene.  "Smashing pumpkins  into  small pieces  of
putrid debris! What the hell was that?"
     "Um. I was going to ask you the same question."
     I couldn't take my eyes off the disgusting, deflated remains. We should
have been expecting  brand new  monsters, but this floating beach-ball thing
was so weird, it meant anything was possible.
     That scared the  hell  out of me. It meant we might  run into something
indestructible, or at least unkillable.
     "What, ah, do you want to call this one?" Arlene asked.
     I'd forgotten our little game. It was a good question, but  my mind was
blank. "Call it a pumpkin," I suggested at last.
     Arlene wasn't impressed. She wrinkled her nose as if smelling limburger
cheese. "I didn't mean that as a serious name, Fly. We need  something more.
. . frightening."
     "All right, then, you name it."
     "No dice, Fly. First person  who sees a monster  has to name it. That's
the rule."
     I was about to demand to know why she got to  make the rules; I stifled
myself in time. Of course she made the rules--she was the female.
     "Then it's a pumpkin, Arlene." I put my foot down. Maybe I'll get lucky
and she'll dislike my name enough that the rule will change.
     We secured the corridor. It was monster-free.  It wasn't ooze-free, but
the stuff didn't look deep until pretty far along. Ahead  lay a  small ocean
of the stuff with an exit at the other end.
     "Best way to get through shallow goo is jogging," she said. "Eats  away
your boots, but you last longer."
     "Sure beats swimming in it," I agreed.
     "Don't be silly. That would kill you."
     I made a mental note to brag to Arlene about my swim.
     I searched the immediate vicinity for any life-giving blue spheres, but
we were alone in the sea of green. "So what does your computer map say?"
     Arlene zoomed the room we were in, and we noticed a  couple of switches
and a teleporter.
     We threw the first switch, and  stairs  slid into view  like shark fins
rising  from a tranquil sea. We  hoofed  it  to the next switch,  then  went
straight to  the  teleporter.  We did  not pass  GO, we did  not collect 200
monsters.
     "My turn to go first," she declared; I knew better than to argue.
     "I'll count to thirty."
     Her trim  form faded  from  view,  and I  started  the count.  ".  .  .
Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty."
     Weapon  up,  I followed,  ready for  almost anything--  except  what  I
actually saw: a whole bank of shiny, new, undamaged  radios! "Bank is open,"
said Arlene.
     "I  guess they missed this  room," I  said,  checking  the corners  for
possible ambush. There was nowhere to hide, and we seemed to be alone; but I
didn't let  down my guard. The invisible ghosts were  reason  enough not  to
completely trust the old eyeballs.
     Arlene fired  up one of the radios  then whooped for joy when it hummed
and came on-line. But no matter what frequency she  typed, we heard  nothing
but crashing- ocean static.
     Arlene took  her time, running carefully by five  mega-  hertz jumps up
the entire  spectrum;  then  she  tried the  same procedure  with  different
radios. The results were the same.
     "Fly, this doesn't make sense," she said finally.
     "They couldn't be blocking the signal somehow?" I asked.
     "These  antennas  stick  half a  kilometer  off the  surface of Deimos!
Whatever's blanking the signal must be enveloping the entire moon."
     Time to put on  the  thinking cap. I  even paced. "Arlene,"  I said  at
last, "every radio I came across on Phobos was smashed."
     "Same with me."
     "Now here is a vitally important communications room that they couldn't
possibly miss . . ."
     "You're assuming an intelligent enemy here," she said.
     "There has  to  be,  Arlene! Phobos  and Deimos are  part  of the  same
invasion. Why leave this room intact, but not the ones on Phobos?"
     "Fly, Deimos  was abandoned  four  years  ago.  I was  present when the
Marines picked up everything and left. Budget cuts,  reduction in force, and
a lack of tactical imagination sent us packing."
     I nodded, sitting on the floor with my  back to the  wall, at  an angle
where I had an unobstructed view of the door. "A big mistake," I said.
     She was on a roll: "What if  the aliens invaded back then? Or some time
ago--weeks, months, or  longer. They could take their time spreading through
the facility  . .  . and  there'd be no reason to smash  the radios here  on
alien-controlled Deimos."
     We listened to  the  symphony of  white noise. "So  why can't  we reach
anyone now, Arlene?"
     When enough crazy stuff happens all at once, the imagination is free to
float off like that damned pump- kin. I didn't know if it was inspiration or
not, but I asked the trillion-dollar question: "Maybe Deimos is no longer in
orbit around Mars?"
     I was so used to the  way  she liked to  watch  me through slitted eyes
that when she stared at me wide-eyed, she looked like a different person. "I
never thought  of that,"  she said. "It would explain Deimos  vanishing from
the screens. I just assumed it was destroyed somehow."
     Having started  down  the twisting path,  I ran  to  keep up. "You said
Deimos is so small that gravitational effects are negligible. It's more like
a giant spaceship than a planet."
     We stared at each other. Inspiration can be  catching. "But how  do you
remove  an entire moon instantaneous- ly," she mused, "even one as  small as
Deimos?"
     I don't spend all my time on target practice and working out; sometimes
I read. "By shifting it into a different dimension?"
     She smiled. "Fly, you've been watching too many sci-fi trideos."
     "I  don't  know about  that,  A.S.;  but  special  F/X  will  never  be
convincing again after facing the real thing."
     "What  makes you  think  we'll ever see  another movie?"  Neither of us
spoke for a bit; then Arlene continued.
     "So suppose they've turned Deimos  into a giant space- ship," she said.
"Where would they be taking us? Back to their home world?"
     "With  us as  prime specimens?"  I  said,  not  feeling  the  least bit
comfortable  about the  idea. "Whatever  the destination,  I've  got  a  bad
feeling about this."
     "Any destination is probably bad for us," she agreed.
     "We could be in some kind of artificial wormhole on the way to hell."
     "As if  this weren't  hell already! Besides, I'm  not religious, Fly; I
didn't go to any parochial school."
     My  mind's  eye conjured up old  images  from  the  Chapel of Mary  and
Martha. Sister Lucrezia, who taught
     us Dante's Inferno, acted as if she'd just returned from a
     special tourist-class trip through the infernal regions and
     couldn't wait to share her Bad News for Modern Man.
     One July weekend at Saint Malachi Summer Camp, I saw
     her in full regalia, standing up in a rowboat and pushing
     off from the dock with a long oar. I thought I'd seen a
     vision of Charon the Boatman, ferrying lost souls across
     the River Styx. I doubt any monster here could beat her
     out for the job.
     I was half convinced I was already on a one-way trip to
     the real place. But the idea that Arlene was coming along
     drove me mad with anger. I wasn't about to let one
     stinking demon-claw touch that noble soul of hers.
     Arlene stood up from the useless radios. "I've been
     trying to get a fix on the enemy, some handle; but all I'm
     doing is drawing blanks. I've had the experience of
     running down corridors before," she confided, "with
     dozens of armed men out for my blood. Sometimes your
     best chance for survival is to go right into the rooms and
     corridors they hold and destroy whatever they came for.
     We made our way into the embassy vault and burned all
     our important documents ... and the KPLA left. You
     know what I'm talking about?"
     "I'm glad you got out of there, A.S. It was a real
     hellhole."
     "Yeah, I wouldn't miss this hell pit for the world."
     I stared at the radios myself. Yep . . . that's a radio, all
     right, I thought, which is about as far as my education in
     electronic communications gear went.
     Why on Earth--on Deimos--would the Corps give up
     such a strategic position as this station? By Executive
     Order number whatever, the Marines had military juris-
     diction on all extraterrestrial planetary surfaces; the
     Navy had deep space; the Air Force had atmospheric;
     and the Army had Earth itself.
     Mars, Phobos, and Deimos were surely ours to the
     bone. The only reason I could imagine us giving it up was
     if the  other services  conspired to cut our space-ops budget. . . with
pretty disastrous consequences. Wonder if anybody felt shame about that,  or
would if we lived to tell anyone?
     "Round of ammo for your thoughts," she said.
     "Nothing important. Politics back on the old home planet."
     "At least there's no politics here. Unless you count that swastika."
     "You saw it, too?" I was beginning to wonder if I'd dreamed that damned
crooked cross. "That's not poli- tics; it's a bad joke."
     "You think they put it there to scare us,  huh?  The way they--what  do
you call it? rework--the physical build- ings gives me the creeps."
     "Nothing from Earth scares  me  after  what  I've  seen, Arlene. What's
next, a hammer and sickle?"
     "A what?"
     "Never mind. You're too young to  remember. I'll make you a bet that we
don't find any other symbols from the home planet."
     We  shook  hands. "You'll lose," she said.  "You  are thinking too much
about  politics. I win if we find any symbols, including religious symbols .
. . and there've been plenty enough of those."
     "Damn, you're right. I lose. All the Satan stuff."
     She could sound  like  a  professor  when  she wanted  to:  "Maybe  the
demons--the aliens--were confused by Hollywood into thinking the swastika is
a satanic sym- bol. It sure seems suspiciously like somebody had an official
list of Things that Scare  Westerners . .  . like they knew it would be seen
by  UAC workers and  Marines, not by Native  American  Indians  or Japanese.
Wonder if they'd  change the symbols  for different  humans,  say  using the
letters kyo or oni if they were invading the Nippon Electric space station?
     "In  any  case,  the  religious  symbols are terrestrial, so you  lose,
Corporal."
     Now it was  my turn to grin. "Well, Arlene, if you  are going to lose a
bet, it's good to find out before you set the amount." She gave me a playful
punch in the shoulder.  We started out while  I massaged the numbness out of
my arm. At  the next inverted cross we passed, I'd  pay anything she wanted.
Within reason.





     20




     The video  map  showed us how to get to the central elevator for all of
the Deimos installation. We were  very  near. All that separated us from our
goal was a wall.
     The wall had a switch, a full-body bas relief of a cloven-hoofed alien.
And it wasn't his tongue that re- quired flicking.
     My face flushed. "Um, you'd better take this one, PFC Sanders.
     "And  here I thought you were  a born lever-puller." Arlene flicked the
switch; the blue-gray wall cranked  down into a slit in the floor, revealing
a spacious lift. "Deluxe service," Arlene said, pointing at the labeled bank
of elevator buttons. We'd made it through the Containment Area. Below us was
the Refinery, then Deimos Lab, the  Command Center,  the  Central  Hall, and
three levels below that which were unlabeled.
     "Basement? Skip the crap?" I said.
     "Hm. Yeah, well, maybe."
     "Maybe? Makes sense to me. Every time that door slides open, we run the
risk  of  being stormed by giant vampire  slugs from  the planet  Pornos, or
being machine- gunned to death by Nazi schutzstaffel."
     "Fly,  these lifts  didn't work too  well even back  when we had people
maintaining  them!  They  got stuck all  the time.  If  the sensors detected
anything in  the shaft, you stopped at the floor above.  If  a door was open
some- where, the whole elevator could freeze. Go ahead and push the basement
button . . . I'll bet you a month's pay we won't make it  more than a couple
of levels; then we'll have to find another lift somewhere."
     I looked at her and snorted. "You're so full of good cheer. Well, ready
or not, here goes nothing."
     Here went nothing, all right.
     I  pushed  the  button;  we started with  a  jerk and ground  downward,
skewing back and  forth  dangerously. As we descended toward the refinery, I
saw that the lift didn't take us  there directly, but to a warehouse section
we'd have  to pass through first. In the  distance  we had an actual view of
the refinery through  large, gaping  holes in the floors and  ceilings. Some
kind of fighting had gone on here.
     We had descended some fifty meters. What we could see  of  the refinery
was laid out like an open maze; it  was  possible to see  in the distance an
expanse of  pink, moving objects that looked like  fleshy cubes or blocks. I
hoped they weren't alive, weren't the next creatures on the hit parade. They
were gigantic,  reminding me of the  "organic ladder" and the  pulsing walls
back on  Phobos. Then we'd  moved  past the point  where  we could  see  the
refinery. Our descent brought us to a more normal scene.
     "Normal" in this case meant a  warehouse area stuffed with UAC boxes to
the height of twelve feet or more  and so  densely packed as to create their
own pseudo- corridors. We'd noticed  a number of humanoid figures  with  the
familiar  brown hide and white  spikes scurrying for cover . . . back in imp
country again.
     The lift  stopped, not quite all the  way to the floor; we  had to jump
down about three meters.
     Arlene peeked  over the  edge.  "You  owe me a  month's  pay,  Corporal
Flaggart."
     "Did I take the bet? I don't recall saying any such thing."
     "Native American giver."
     We hopped out onto the ugliest, puke-green marble I'd ever seen; but it
was still good to have something solid underfoot.
     "All right, PFC Sanders, let's do this by the numbers."
     "Sure, Fly. So which box is number  one? And how come we never do stuff
by the letters?" I threw her a withering glance, like an older brother to  a
pesky sister. We were ready to rock and roll.
     Fighting  demons  had spoiled me.  I liked an  enemy that  didn't shoot
back.  We  popped  through  the  warehouse  like  nobody's  business,  pulse
galloping, keyed to  instant reaction. The refinery had  its share of  toxic
ooze.  We didn't  pay it any mind,  but so far, there were only a few sticky
regions  instead of  slime beach. I  looked  for  barrels of  the  stuff, my
favorite way of dealing with imps; but there were none.
     The first  fireball missed us by  a  country klick. The second came too
close to Arlene  to suit me, so after I killed the imp, I wasted ammo  . . .
and killed him again  to teach him a lesson. They were smart enough to  duck
in and  out of the  natural defenses  provided by the stacked boxes, but not
enough to gang up  on us or show any other sign of working together. None of
these guys were talking.
     Still, there were a lot more of them than there were of us. One  almost
got me from behind. If he'd had a partner, I'd have been dead meat. Instead,
Arlene slid in behind the both of us and used her bayonet like a can opener.
Busy as I was staying alive,  I could appreciate the sheer  grace of Arlene,
back to the wall of boxes, cradling her shotgun like a baby; never mind dogs
as "man's best friend."
     With  hand gestures  I  indicated who would take which section. Another
fifteen minutes and we were back in the same place. She'd killed more than I
had. The warehouse area had been cleared.
     I was tired enough to wish one of those magical blue spheres would make
an  appearance.  I  hadn't  told  her  about  that  because  it  seemed  too
unbelievable, even  in a place  like  this.  But Arlene  the mind reader had
brought a small black case back  with her.  It  looked medical. I'd have  to
start calling her "Doc."
     Opening it,  she produced a syringe  filled with clear liquid,  labeled
"cardiac  augmentation stimulation  unit."  I  held  it for  a second,  then
carefully passed it back to her as if it were a loaded weapon.
     "Can't believe I  found this," she said. "It's synthetic adrenaline  to
be used on patients who are in the throes of cardiac arrest."
     "What would it do to you or me?"
     She  paused, biting her lip  again. "In a normal person, the adrenaline
rush would make you super strong. There's a drawback,  though; it could also
give you tachycardia and kill you."
     "Just say no to having an edge," I commented, taking the black  package
and its contents and adding it to my collection.
     "Fly, maybe  we should  toss  it.  That  stuff could be too  much of  a
temptation."
     "Hey, if push comes to  shove, we can inject one of them with it, right
up their monster fundaments. All in the interests of science."
     The only unlocked  door  led to  a huge,  green marble  chamber with  a
collection  of  weird,  red  pillars.  Pulsing veins stretched  around these
pillars like  living ropes. The sharp, cloying odor of perspiration combined
with  the sick-sweet stench of rotting  meat. Mechanical stuff was fine with
me, even  organic stuff like the  arboretum. But I didn't like it  when they
combined, and I couldn't tell where one  part left off and the  other began.
The throb- bing of the veins matched the throbbing in my head.
     I was almost grateful for the  appearance of a number of imps. At least
they  took my mind off the architecture.  Then some more imps . . . and some
more after that. Too much of a good thing.
     "Check your six, Fly," said Arlene.
     I   looked  behind  me,   across  the  room;  sure  enough,  even  more
snot-spitting spinys.
     My gratitude faded fast. I made out a dozen imps.
     I  started the  donnybrook  with  a  well-aimed  shell;  between  their
fireballs and our shotguns, we  had  one  serious  firefight.  I thought the
pillars would catch fire, so thick were the red flames and black smoke.
     I killed two. Arlene killed three. The  survivors were better than  the
previous imps at dodging behind  the pillars,  and even our shotgun extender
mags were run- ning dry. They forced us back into a corner, pinning us down.
Mexican standoff time. I wanted to bail.
     Then I pumped, and the slide locked! Nothing up my sleeve;  nothing  in
my gun.
     Now what?
     Time to even  the odds. Arlene was watching the imps, firing off a shot
now and then, looking down at her mag window and frowning.
     I  reached  inside  my  vest,  pulled  a  hypodermic  and  studied  it.
Intravenous? No, intramuscular. Well, that was easier, at least. But could I
actually do it? To myself? Jesus, what a dilemma.
     For a moment it was like  being back on Phobos. That needle bothered me
more than flaming  mucus in my  face. Without question,  the next scientific
revolution should  move beyond  the  need  for needles.  But more important,
could I risk a heart attack if I had a bad reaction?
     Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I'm a Marine! Semper  fi,  Mac. I gave  myself
the shot.
     At first, nothing; then the stuff stimulated my adrenal  glands; and in
a minute I was filled with red rage! The  world turned crimson and my breath
was fire. My heart beat so fast that it spun in my chest like a gyroscope. I
drew my bayonet from my webbing and bolted from the corner; if Arlene yelled
after me, I didn't hear it.
     All that mattered was to kill, getting in tight  and cutting the steak.
Blood-rare--God, how I  loved imp blood, thick as red ink  from  a shattered
paint stick, communion wine splashing on the floors of eternity.
     Every motion was  a target to strike. Flesh  was too easy. Bone was the
real work, the blade sticking in the carti- lage, the cracking and crunching
inspiring me to greater efforts. I hardly noticed the blood  splashing in my
eyes. The world was  already a red  haze; liquid salt was trivial pain as  I
swung my blade in the center of adrenal agony.
     The more I killed,  the  heavier the  weight in my arms. But exhaustion
spurred me to greater fury. I  no  longer saw the Chinese-mask faces of  the
imps, only a blur. Their claws rent my flesh, but we were too tight for them
to use their best weapon.
     Dimly I realized that I was bleeding from  many  wounds.  That was fine
with me. Blood  kept  me  warm, theirs, mine, anyone's . ..  just  so that I
could continue  to swing  a blade  and slay the bastards. Motion must be met
with motion.
     An imp exploded in front of me  before I could even reach it. Only  one
imp left now.
     "Fly!" A voice called my name, near at  hand. I hadn't  expected any of
these  imps to  speak,  especially  not in a  high,  almost  feminine voice,
calling my name. I  was so surprised that I hesitated  for a  moment,  blade
poised over the last imp.
     "Fly!"
     My vision  began to clear.  My arm was a bar of lead, my  chest a sharp
pain, as the old heart slowed to merely fast. The fury slowly lifted from me
like  a thick,  red, trideo theater  curtain  drawing back.  The  hazy shape
before me grew solid and took on familiar features, Arlene's fea- tures.
     I was very glad that I hadn't killed that last imp.
     21




     They're all dead," she reported. "Are you all right, Fly?"
     "Thirsty,"  I croaked.  My own canteen had split open during the fight,
spilling its contents. She shared water from her supplies.
     "Better?" she asked.
     I nodded, utterly spent.
     I almost fell as she helped  me out of the room. She set me down,  held
my arm. My mind still raced, but my body was exhausted.
     Arlene made me rest twenty minutes, then reluctantly helped me up so we
could move on.
     We walked  past the  secure area,  beyond  the  pillar room, and  faced
another  closed  door. It was hardly worth kicking. On the other  side was a
shimmering floor  of the noxious slime,  across  which was a  console with a
blue key card. "Doesn't look too promising," Arlene said.
     I was never optimistic where  toxic goo was concerned; but my  head was
still flying from the adrenaline, a perfect recipe to make a volunteer.
     "I'll go," I said. "I could use  the exercise. Jogging is just  what my
heart needs right now."
     "You need to rest, Fly!"
     That was thoughtful  of her. I appreciated her senti- ments as I evaded
her grasp  and stepped into the gunk, my  boots  making shunk-shoosh sounds,
slowing  me  down  and  eating bit by  bit through  the  thick soles. Then I
stepped on something  hard and felt it shift under me. Heavy  machine sounds
came up through the slime, followed by something more substantial. A section
of floor rose through the toxin.
     Staggering was not a good idea. I  didn't want to fall  down in this. I
regained  my footing as I saw a wire-mesh platform rising  to match a set of
blue-paneled  lights directly overhead. I was just about  to take steps when
Arlene brushed past, turned, and stepped to  the right  to follow  the  path
that was under those lights.
     As she ran  out of the pathway an  odd thing happened.  More  wire mesh
rose to  meet her  footsteps, correspond- ing to the  lights  above, winking
like the stars  I hoped  I  would  live long enough to see again. I followed
her. A major improvement over the normal way of crossing the slimelands--did
any other spills have such shortcuts installed, I wondered?
     When  we  reached the  "island" on the  other side  of the green ocean,
Arlene said, "You may have something with that rats-in-the-maze idea."
     "No human would design this, except maybe a game show host."
     "Game is right. I  wonder if the  entire moon has  been reworked?"  She
reached over and grabbed the blue key card.
     We found a  door with  pretty, blue  trim; the key card popped it open.
Inside,  I whooped  with pleasure to  see my old buddy, the rocket launcher,
with lots of little battery rockets as well as another AB-10 machine pistol.
     The body of  an imp lay  in  a  corner. "Think that one died of natural
causes?" Arlene asked.
     "Unnatural more likely."
     "Say,"  she said, "if imps are smart enough to talk, why don't they use
weapons?"
     It was a good question  . . .  one of many that had  started to gnaw at
me. "Maybe because it wouldn't be fair," I said.
     "Excuse me?" Arlene's eyebrows shot skyward. "I  must have misheard; it
sounded like you said they don't use weapons because it wouldn't be fair."
     "Let me rephrase ... it would be  a fair test of our defensive ability.
The  mastermind--whoever, whatever --wouldn't learn much except what we look
like when we die ... and God knows, it already knows that well enough."
     After a moment of silent thought,  Arlene  whispered, "I don't like it,
Fly; it makes me feel like we're being watched."
     "You think I'm paranoid?"
     "I didn't say I didn't agree; I don't like the implica- tions, that the
whole  invasion of the Martian  moons is just practice, a war game, just the
prelude to . .."
     "To what?"
     "We'd damn well better find out, Flynn Taggart."
     Arlene took  the  AB-10.  I  took  the  sweet darling  that  could kill
minotaurs and open doors.
     We didn't run into  any trouble on our  way to  the other lift on  this
level; it was clearly marked on  the video map. Maybe that was because there
was so much trouble in the refinery. There must  be a Law of Conservation of
Tsouris. But the buttons for all  levels below the next were inoperative. It
was a local shuttle only. Arlene made triumphant noises, but  I reminded her
that we never did have a bet on.
     Only  way  out is  down, I repeated, and pressed  the button.  Whatever
Arlene  said, I still thought my primary duty was to get her the hell out of
hell; but at the moment,  her path and my path were the same: we both needed
to burn deeper into the nightmare.
     "I don't like the look of this place," said Arlene  as we  stepped from
the lift into a vine-covered hallway.
     "What's not to like?  Rows of skulls,  walls  covered  with  squirming,
writhing, fleshy ivy ... should be like high school by now."
     We gave the tendrils  a  wide berth; they  looked like they  might loop
around our throats and strangle the life from us.
     "Fly," Arlene whispered, "I see another lift right  through there." She
pointed to  the left, at  a gap in the  ivy  on that  side where I  suddenly
realized there was no wall--only the squirming expanse of "plant" life.
     "Uh-oh," I  said. There  was more on the other  side than a room with a
lift in it. There were our old friends, the demons . . . imps, too.
     We dropped back from the window while the imps began to hiss  and heave
flaming spitwads.  Then my pal Arlene froze my  marrow with a professionally
calm voice in my ear: "Fly, I think we're going to need the rocket launcher,
too."
     I  was already getting  ready to rock 'n' roll when I  turned to see  a
pair of giant, floating pumpkins trapped in a cage ahead of us. I could have
sworn that  spot was empty when we first came in  here! Maybe the  cage  had
been lowered just now.
     If  it had been demons, we could have ignored them; but  the  bars were
spaced far  enough  apart that the pumpkins had all the space they needed to
fire their deadly ball-lightning.
     There was no telling  why these  heads were locked up; but it  meant no
more security for us than caged machine gunners.
     The  air  crackled  above  us;  electrical discharge  ran  thousands of
prickling  little  fingers down  my head  and back,  and  our hair  stood at
attention. Arlene looked like a Goosh Ball. Focusing my concentration on the
single  task of standing up and firing, I  heard her  shout,  "I'll take our
nine!" referring to  the maddened imps and demons to our left, at  the "nine
o'clock" position, ripping through the ivy.
     We ducked  as  the fireballs  seared the  same area  where the balls of
lightning  had  played electric  hairdresser. I wished the imps and pumpkins
were only closer together,  so that the  fireballs and lightning balls might
cross paths and wipe out both monster lines.
     I  nearly got my wish. Arlene opened  up with the  AB-10; when the imps
returned fire, they hit their demon buddies. . . the rest was history. While
demons  swal-  lowed imps,  who did  their  best to give  a horrible case of
heartburn, I squeezed the firing ring,  turning  the  pump- kin cage into an
oven to bake pumpkin pie.
     "Are you all right?" I asked. I could tell from the way she was shaking
her head that she hadn't been this close to the rocket explosions before.
     "As soon as the phone stops ringing between my ears," she answered.
     "Pack a wallop, don't they?"
     I was still worrying about the giant blocks of flesh as  we skirted the
cage and  entered an empty,  gray room.  "They used to use a lot of chambers
around here  to  crush ore and refine  the  liquid," Arlene  explained.  "Be
careful  . . . lots of dangerous equipment." Indeed, I could hear some heavy
machinery really earning its keep right nearby. But what?
     No platforms or lifts, no rising  staircases; then Arlene won the prize
by looking straight overhead.
     "Holy ore-crusher, Batman!" she yelped.
     The damned ceiling was descending on us. Not too fast, but fast enough.
"Didn't I see this in a trideo?" I asked, edging back the way we'd come.
     "It's just too Edgar Allan poetic," said Arlene.
     We backed out before turning into grease spots. "Now what?"
     "Hate to say it, Fly . . . but there ain't no other way  to book. There
must be  a  door or something in there--if we can find it and  pop it before
they have to scrape us up with a spatula."
     The  ceiling hit bottom, then rose again  at the same stately pace. "We
could  hunt for another route past this garlic press,"  she said hesitantly.
"But I'm pretty sure this  is the  only direct route around to Sector  Nine,
where  we were  looking through the ivy window at the other lift. At  least,
that's how I remember it from when I was posted here.
     "Look, Fly, let me  go in  and hunt;  I  know what  this place  is like
better than you."
     I hated the thought--Arlene under the crushing ceil- ing while I waited
outside, "guarding"! But. . . she had a point.
     Flashlight  in one hand, Arlene ran to  the opposite  end of  the  room
while  the ceiling  was still rising. She rubbed her  palm gently across the
smooth surface.
     "How are you doing?" my voice was strong enough to call out.
     "I can't find  any switches!" she called. Worried,  I started pacing in
front of the Poe chamber,  a restless sentry. Arlene found nothing . . . but
would you believe it? I triggered a motion  sensor,  causing a door to slide
open near her. It was pure, dumb luck.
     "Come on,"  she  shouted.  The  ceiling had  reached  the  top  and was
descending again.  I ducked my head like a  halfback center-punching through
the  line and bolted  across  the room through  the  door--which had already
begun to close as the ceiling fell.
     The door led to the  room  I'd seen from above, with huge, fleshy cubes
rising and falling, an alien mockery of the ore-crushers.
     But the blocks  weren't just flesh; they  were alive. Twenty-five pink,
fleshy pumping platforms  completely covering a  room seemed  more pointless
than disgusting. They made high, whining sounds like newborn infants.
     "What the hell are they?" I asked.
     "Wonder if they can move out of those holes in the floor?"
     "Christ," I added, "what do they do?"
     Arlene  edged  closer  to  one block. She squatted and  rose  with  it,
following it down and up. "This isn't just random flesh, Fly; this is muscle
tissue. Human muscle tissue."
     I approached another block. "This is a heart or  liver or something." I
tracked  along the  edge of  blocks.  The last of  the five blocks comprised
convoluted ridges and furrows, folds in a grayish, spongy medium. "Unless my
grandma's been lying all these years," I said, "them there's brains, A.S."
     "Yecch." We backed away. "All right. . .  muscles, brains, some kind of
organ meat--this suggest a pattern to you, Fly?"
     "Several." None of them pleasant.
     "Are they farming meat, human flesh?"
     "That's the best-case scenario, Arlene."
     She looked at me with eyes widening. "And the worst-case?"
     I smiled grimly. "They're farming humans. They're  getting the hang  of
growing   human  cells  because  they're  trying  to   genetically  engineer
zombie-soldiers, better than the pathetic ones they have now."
     We watched the  blocks rise and fall a couple more minutes. Then Arlene
upspake. "Corporal?"
     "Yes, PFC?"
     "Permission to hose their research?"
     "Permission enthusiastically granted. You have  some-  thing  in  mind,
Arlene?"
     She did.  There was a row of torches along the wall we'd entered by. We
blew them out, then  upended them, spilling the oil as  we hopped from block
to squishy  block.  At  the far end,  I  let  Arlene  light  the  ceremonial
cigarette lighter. It was her idea, after all.
     We left the  flesh blocks joyously in  flame. I supposed the bone block
would survive. Well, let the bastards animate skeletons, then!
     We  bolted down  a  corridor and  turned the corner;  there I halted in
astonishment. Arlene plowed into me, then she too stared.
     Fifteen demons had arranged themselves in a semicir-  cle, backs to us,
and they were grunting in unison, giving the impression  of  speech. Over to
the right I noticed a barrel of the ooze.
     "Have I ever told you about my barrel trick?" I whispered.
     "Back up around the corner." I followed her, then peered around,  lined
up my shot very carefully, and gently squeezed the trigger.
     The  world exploded.  The heat blast pressed on  my right eye and right
hand as  I pulled back. The explosion even  drowned  out  the screams of the
demons.
     When the debris settled and the last  piece of pink and red demon flesh
flopped to the smooth floor, Arlene nodded. "Impressive," she pronounced.
     Then we  found out  what the  demons  had been doing  crowded into that
semicircle. They had been worshiping.
     Out  of the smoke and flame  strode a hell-prince ... and it was as mad
as its  name. It  burst  through the wreckage, throwing pieces of demon  and
chunks of  masonry in all directions,  a  state-of-the-art minotaur with one
hell of a 'tude.
     The hell-prince roared  defiance  and began firing dead- ly bolts at us
from its wrist launchers.





     22

     .


     Run!"  I shouted  as I  started loading the rocket launcher. She wasn't
listening. Her AB-10  was  rattling  off hundreds  of shots  that harmlessly
bounced off the hel- lion. Our only chance was the rocket launcher.
     I fired off the  first two rockets as I was dancing backward; the force
knocked me into Arlene and  sent us both sprawling. The AB-10 skidded across
the  floor, and  Arlene  went  after it on hands  and knees.  An energy bolt
flashed between us,  searing my eyeballs for a moment.  I  didn't care if  I
could  see, so long as I could feel the smooth, metal surfaces of the little
D-cell rockets and finish reloading. Just as I finished  loading,  my vision
cleared;  the eight-foot hell-prince bore down upon us,  surrounded by smoke
and stinking of brimstone.
     I'd promised myself never, ever to fire off rockets this  close to  the
target!  But a good look at that green  gorgon face with the ram's horns was
all I needed to reassess my position. I squeezed.
     The  third and fourth direct  hits  slowed the behemoth  to  a confused
crawl; but still it stood. I could see again--but now I couldn't hear.
     Loading, fingers numb, I didn't bother getting back to my feet; I fired
from where I  lay. I slid past Arlene, who had picked up her machine  pistol
and was aiming it.
     She  shielded  her eyes and hugged the ground as  rockets five  and six
pounded the same tough chest that had withstood the previous four.
     I closed my  eyes while sliding; the force  of the sound took me like a
physical wave, carrying me down the  hall. The weight of Mars pressed on  my
eardrums as I rose groggily to my feet to reload the launcher. The Prince of
Hell stood stock-still, eyeing me with a doleful expres- sion.
     I aimed and prepared to  fire; but  the  monster  made a loud, wheezing
sound--a sigh?--and tumbled over, stiff  as a  statue, to impact directly on
its face.
     "What in God's name was that?" Arlene gasped, still shaking.
     "No  naming  game  for this baby," I said. "Already has a name.  You're
looking at the same model of Hell Prince you dodged when you slipped through
the crack on Phobos,  before  the  Gate. This  is what was tramping down the
corridor while you scrawled a skull and C- bones on the wall."
     She shook her head, clearing alien cobwebs and ap-  pearing truly weary
for the  first time. "Boy, if the light  had been better, you'd have been on
your own, Fly, 'cause I sure as hell wouldn't have wasted two seconds making
a mark with that mother staring me in the face."
     "Oh yes you would have."
     "Egomaniac."
     We  needed all the  cheering  we could give each other. Picking through
the  carcasses,  it seemed  unfair that  our only reward  would be more ooze
exactly where we needed to go.
     "Damn," said Arlene, "the whole place looks flooded."
     "You came up with the jogging theory," I reminded her.  "Let's find out
how good it is."
     I shouldn't have said anything, for then  she  insisted on going first,
running  through  the middle  of the toxin. I followed close behind, feeling
the pain  right through my  soles. We didn't quite manage to jog, but we did
keep up a brisk walk.
     The toxin slowed us down with a sucking, gripping quality; each  second
made me feel like it had been too long since my last checkup. I kept wishing
for another  of  those crazy  blue  spheres to show  up: I was beginning  to
wonder if I'd imagined the first.
     All bad things come to an  end. We finally made it  around the facility
to the other  elevator in Sector 9, not ten feet from where we'd started, if
only we'd been able  to shove through the flesh-ivy. I was beginning to hate
the ooze more than I did the monsters . . . except when it was in barrels.
     The lift was the antique  kind with  a  lever to start and stop, rather
than buttons. We had a hell of a  time trying to get it to stop at  the next
level down.
     The  level started with a  teleporter;  not a good sign,  far as I  was
concerned. "My turn to go first," I said; Arlene didn't argue.
     By the time she arrived, thirty seconds later, I was back  at work. I'd
killed three imps  and five former soldiers/ workers, a more dim-witted than
usual zombie collec- tion.
     "My turn to rescue you,"  she said;  but this was  duck soup after  the
hell-prince. Heck, most of the zombies weren't even armed!
     "We're getting good at this," I said.
     "Don't get cocky," she warned. I let it pass without remark.
     A platform lowered as we approached, as if inviting us into the parlor;
still  feeling cocky  despite Arlene's  warn- ing,  I stepped aboard. Arlene
followed, of course.
     At  the  top,  I took  a  turn and  came  face  to  face  with  another
hell-prince, holding a blue key card in its claws!
     "Get it--get it!" Arlene shouted; I didn't know wheth- er she meant the
card  or the monster ... but in either case,  I had only four  rockets left,
not enough!
     I jerked up the  launcher, then paused, staring. Some- thing was weird.
Then I realized: we were nose-to-snout, and the thing hadn't screamed yet.
     Or moved. I edged closer  ...  It was frozen solid, like  it had seen a
gorgon from Greek mythology. Turned to stone.
     Heart pounding like a  pile driver,  I stepped close and gently plucked
the blue key card from its claw.  Then I rejoined Arlene on the floor, still
shaking.
     Toxic waste  literally surrounded us, the dry space where we stood like
an island. The light was good enough to see other raised machinery platforms
making islands in this sea.
     Arlene found a pole of thin metal. She tapped around  for shallow parts
and  traced a crossable path to the  first "island"; then she  repeated  the
process  until we  made it through the  toxic  goop  and  into  blue-glowing
corridor.
     At least the color of the corridor made me glad  to  have the blue  key
card. On cue, we ran into a blue-trimmed door at the end of the corridor. We
crossed  into a narrow corridor with  red-glowing walls, floor, and ceiling,
so bright  that it hurt our eyes. We heard a familiar thud- thud  at the end
of the hall; it sounded like more flesh blocks.
     Variety  is the spice  of life, even on Deimos. The sounds came  from a
piece of stamping machinery that didn't seem to be  the least bit organic. I
was grateful for that.
     "Oh, great," said Arlene, "some jerk has tossed anoth- er key card onto
the  base." The implication was that we couldn't walk away from something so
valuable as anoth- er computer key card.
     A  giant,  metal  piston  repeatedly  smashed  down  to  within  a  few
centimeters of the base, stamping anything on the base into powder. "Arlene,
why would anyone put the card out for us, except as bait? We don't need it."
     "We used  the blue card to get  this far," she insisted. "What's behind
the mystery yellow door?"
     "But Arlene .. ." She was  through listening.  The  only way to get the
yellow  key  card  was to slide across the base, grab it,  and  roll off the
other side before the stamping  part came  down to turn the  contestant into
pate.
     She backed away, measuring the piston's rise  and fall with her eyes. I
was about  to  stop  her and tell her about the patented  Fly  technique for
opening doors; then I remembered my meager supply of rockets.
     "At least let me do that," I said.
     "You? Corporal Two-left-feet on the drill field?"
     I  opened  my  mouth to  angrily  protest;  then  I  realized  she  was
right--understating it,  if anything.  I never could get the timing right on
anything more complicated than dress-right-dress or point-and-shoot.
     My  heart in my mouth, I watched Arlene count, timing  the piston. Then
quickly, before she  could think  better of it or I could object  again, she
jumped just as it hit the low point and started to rise again.
     Arlene sprinted  across  the  room and threw  herself into a face-first
baseball slide, scooping the key card in her arms. She slid to a halt... but
she was still on the base!
     For an instant she froze. I couldn't possibly reach her  in time--and a
horrible image flashed through my mind.
     If Arlene died, in the next  cycle,  I knew I would jump on the machine
and die alongside her.
     Thank  God I didn't have to make that decision; at  the last second she
made a panic roll off the platform.
     Arlene left the  key card on  the stamper, near the edge; but it was  a
simple matter, when the piston rose, to scoop it off from where she stood.
     She pocketed  it...  and good thing;  past  the stamping machine  was a
thick airlock door, tough as  a  bank vault,  surrounded by yellow lights. I
doubt a rocket would even have scratched the chrome. Maybe a SAM.
     The  yellow  key  card  let  us  into  a  central,  circular   corridor
surrounding a giant, cylindrical  room. We  took  a lift down into the room;
once inside, the lift moved up again.
     "Uh, Fly, I don't see any switch to bring it back down." Damned  if she
wasn't right.
     From inside, the lift door looked like a spine  with ribs coming out of
it. Once again, no human would ever have made anything like this. The aliens
were definitely re- working Deimos, and had been for some time.
     "I don't like  their interior  decorator," she  said, as if reading  my
mind. She  tilted her  head in the direction of the latest attraction. A row
of  what  looked like red spittoons stretched out of sight, and  on each one
there was a skull bathed in red light.
     "If  these  were  human  minds,  I'd  say  they  were  psy- chotic,"  I
commented.
     "You know something, Fly? Every monster we've seen has a head too large
or strangely shaped to be mistaken for a human head."
     "Yes."
     "Then how  do you  account for  the skulls?  Whether they're designs on
walls or ceilings or whole skulls like these, they're all human."
     "And they couldn't have been taken from us, not all of  them;  with all
the zombies and unbeheaded corpses, who'd be left?"
     She  touched one.  "This isn't real,"  she  said. "More like metal than
bone."
     I turned it over, looking at it from  different angles.  "I'll bet it's
meant to scare  us, same as  the  freakin' swastika. Well, we're past  being
bothered by Halloween."
     I instantly  regretted my choice of words.  No sooner  would I  toss  a
challenge into the air than  it  would be answered. Was someone watching our
every move?
     This  time it  was a horde of  imps, zombies, and a couple of  pumpkins
coming  around  the  curve  of  the  room,  screaming  doom  in  our   ears.
Fortunately, they were only coming  at us from the one direction.  We  would
have had no chance if attacked from both directions.
     Arlene dropped flat, and I let  fly with my last rockets. I ignored the
imps, concentrating on the two pumpkins, the greater threat.
     Somebody got careless on the other side, and soon all the monsters were
mixing it up among themselves.
     We drew back around the curve and waited for silence; then we slid back
and  smoked the  survivors with  shotgun  and AB-10.  I  still had one  last
rocket.
     In the  course  of  the  fight,  somebody--us  or  them--  accidentally
activated  a switch in the floor  that  caused part  of a staircase to rise.
When the last pumpkin smashed into orange and blue slime  against the ruined
head of the last assassinated imp, we started up the steps. Arlene activated
the next switch.
     Another set of steps rose, and we took them to the third switch and set
of stairs. At the top we found a teleporter.
     We  stepped  aboard  one at a  time, me  first, teleporting  to a  long
corridor with barred windows looking outside. Arlene  bent over for a closer
view and pulled back with a gasp.
     "Let me guess," I said. "You didn't see the stars or Mars."
     Swallowing hard, she motioned  for me to look for myself. She wasn't in
the mood  for humor. Blood had drained from her face, a  reaction  I'd never
before seen in Arlene. I put my face against the window.
     As a child,  I'd  seen a painting in  a museum that  gave  me my  first
nightmare. I hadn't thought of it in years; but now it came back to me.
     Beyond the window was a river of human faces, hundreds of them, each an
island in an ocean of flesh. Each face had a horrified expression stamped on
it, each a damned soul.
     The spectacle achieved its purpose. We were  both distracted. Otherwise
we  wouldn't have  been so careless  as to allow a  stomping,  single-minded
demon to get close enough to clamp its jaws on Arlene's back and shoulder.
     Her  cries were echoed by each face in the river of damned souls,  each
screaming Arlene's pain and tor- ment.
     23




     Arlene!" I  shouted. I grabbed  the monster with my hands and literally
pulled it  off  her  before it  could position itself  to  take a second and
certainly lethal bite.
     It stumbled clumsily. I  grabbed the AB-10 and pumped two  dozen rounds
into its open, blood-caked maw. It didn't get up.
     I was  almost afraid  to  touch her. Blood pumped out  of the horrible,
fatal wound.
     Arlene was dying.
     Her  face was sallow,  eyes vacant and staring. One  pupil was dilated,
the  other  contracted to a pinpoint. There was nothing I could do, not even
with a full medical lab.
     But damn  her,  she was not  going to die here  and  join that river of
faces.
     As gently as I could,  I lifted  Arlene's bleeding body in  my arms and
carried her out  of  that circle of hell. Her rasping breath  was  a call to
arms, a signal that life and hope still remained in the young gal.
     I set her down at the end of the corridor; the lift door was blocked by
a river of what  appeared to  be lava. Hoping the red  stuff was at least no
worse than the green stuff,  I dashed across  into an  alcove where a single
switch mocked me.
     I flipped it, causing a path to rise up through the "lava."  So far, so
good. I  ran back, grabbed  Arlene, and walked across the path as quickly as
possible.
     At  the last  step  before reaching the lift, I heard a  grinding noise
from behind. I paused and looked back: a new path rose slowly, leading to an
alcove hidden from view except from where I now stood.
     The cubbyhole  contained another  one of  the  blue-face spheres that I
thought  I'd never  see again, the one  item  that  I  had hesitated to tell
Arlene about because it seemed so incredible.
     The sight was  like another of  the adrenaline bursts. Quickly,  before
the  path could lower again, I powered her across, not bothering to stop and
pick up pieces of  equipment that fell from us,  some landing on  the  path,
some lost  in the lava. I had a great terror that the sphere  would fly away
just before I got there, like a carnival balloon just out of reach.
     I reached  it, hesitated for a moment--then literally threw Arlene onto
the sphere to make sure I wouldn't be the one to touch it first.
     With a nearly audible silent pop, the blue liquid was all over her; and
the red liquid  on her body, the blood, evaporated into the blue. Arlene sat
up and coughed, looking like someone coming out of a deep sleep.
     "How do you feel?"
     "My shoulder hurts like a son of a bitch. What the hell happened?"
     "Pinkie  decided to have you for a midnight snack. I put him on a diet.
You sure you're all right?"
     Standing  up,  she  shook  her  arm, staring in wonder at  the shredded
sleeve and tooth marks. "What in God's name did you do to me?"
     I  figured the  time had finally come to  tell  her about the  magical
blue spheres. She had no trouble believing me.
     Only  my pistol  and some  shotgun shells  had  been lost  to the lava.
Weapons  in hand, we  slid  into  the elevator  and  pressed  the only floor
button, labeled Command Center.
     The lift had barely begun to grind slowly downward when suddenly Arlene
reached past me  and pushed  the  red "kill" button.  The  elevator stopped,
falling silent.
     "Why did you kill the power?"
     She  stared  at me before answering. For a moment I had a terrible fear
that something had gone wrong with the blue sphere and she was going to turn
into a zombie in front of me. Instead she  asked, "Fly, are you starving, or
is it just me?" I shook my head. She continued: "Maybe it's that blue thing,
but I'm so famished I could swallow one of those pink demons."
     "How about floating pumpkin pie for dessert?"
     "And I'm  suddenly exhausted. Fly, I need some sleep." I had completely
lost  track of  the  supplies.  Arlene  hadn't.  "Don't you ever  listen  to
training  videos?  Never wander into battle without MREs."  She demonstrated
the truth of her maxim. Suddenly, I realized I was hungrier than  I thought.
A  Meal Ready to Eat  sounded like  the finest, gourmet cuisine in the solar
system.
     "A stopped elevator as a secure base. I never would've thought of it."
     "Next  best thing  to a  Holiday  Inn," she  added, raising an eyebrow.
Arlene showed a domestic side that sur- prised me. While we talked, she took
the packages of  freeze-dried  food  and  mixed  them in  the water  of  her
canteen. "Sorry it'll be cold," she said as I watched her shake the contents
with the skill of a bartender preparing the perfect martini.
     "That's  all right, beautiful. I like  cold--" I picked up the package,
glanced at the title. "--cold beef stew."
     I also liked the fact that Arlene was  alive. As we chowed down, I felt
the strongest emotions since finding her on Deimos.
     Maybe she sensed the inappropriate feelings coming off me in waves. She
lowered her head and blinked rapidly, as if stopping herself  from crying by
main force.
     "What's wrong?" I asked.
     "Don't want to tell you."
     "Why not?"
     She hesitated. "Willy," she said. "PFC Dodd."
     "Oh." I squirmed uncomfortably.
     "I've been forcing myself not to think  about him. He's dead, isn't he?
Or ... worse."
     "You don't know that! I thought you were dead or  reworked, but I found
you alive."
     "Find anybody else?"
     I didn't say anything.
     "Fly,  I've accepted the fact. That he's dead, I mean. I don't think  I
could  face--the  other possibility." She looked  up, her eyes moist but not
tearing. "Promise me something."
     "Anything possible."
     "If we find him and he is, you know  . . . and if I can't do it... will
you? Promise? And don't mention him again."
     I nodded,  not trusting myself to speak. Funny lump in my throat. Yeah,
babe; I'll be happy to blow away my rival for your hand if  he should happen
to turn up a zombie. No problemo!
     She changed the  subject, wrenching my mind back on  the primary issue.
"Fly, I think  it's pretty  likely that the aliens we're fighting aren't the
same ones who built the Gates."
     "I was wondering about  that  myself," I said.  "All this weird  stuff,
skulls and  satanic  symbols--there was noth- ing about the Gates themselves
that hinted at this. The Gates don't look like a Vincent Price movie."
     "There's nothing eldritch about the Gates," she said. I was starting to
like that word. "So let's assume these aliens found the Gates and discovered
a way to turn them on from the other  end. But why do they look so much like
human-style demons?"
     "Genetic  engineering?"  I  suggested.   "They  could  be  deliberately
designed to look like our conception of hell, particularly the hell-princes.
They're the dead give- aways."
     "Can't you find some other  word than dead?" she begged, a fleck of red
tomato paste on her lips.
     "The hell-princes are just too much like medieval drawings of the devil
to be natural."
     "Unless they really are hell-princes," Arlene said.
     ! shook my head,  unwilling to consider that possibility. So we sat  in
silence for a moment, finishing our food and drink. Much more thinking along
these lines and I'd be ready to take communion again.
     "I was  never  really  afraid of monsters as a child,"  Arlene  finally
said. "Grown-ups were scary enough by themselves."
     "Why invade at all? What is this for?"
     "Good question," she said.  "Here's another:  If they  can  genetically
engineer imps and demons, why do they need human zombie-slaves? And why grow
human flesh?"
     "Maybe they want  super-zombies, more powerful than these  dead excuses
for lemmings, but still able to pass among us undetected."
     Arlene yawned, struggling  to show  enthusiasm. "But that may be  their
weakness, Fly. The zombies don't amount to much.  You and I aren't scared by
skulls and evil symbols.  What  if there is  a finite  number  of the actual
monsters and they can't easily  recreate them? What if the monsters  too are
'reworked' from other creatures,  creatures the mastermind has  to breed and
raise?  That  would  mean  every  horrible creature we kill  is one fewer to
invade  Earth if they  can't be replaced. Until the new, improved pod-people
come on-line."
     I  liked it.  "Arlene,  if  you're right, all  we  have to  do is  kill
everything . . . and we end the invasion."
     We didn't have anything for dessert, so we  used imagination to sweeten
the conversation. "I've been thinking about the idea they're using Deimos as
a spaceship," I said. "How can you move something as large as a whole moon?"
     "I was thinking some sort of hyperspace tunnel. Yeah, I know; I've been
reading too much sci-fi, Fly."
     I  didn't  say  it.  At  least it was  something, a  hypothesis. "Maybe
there's some way to break through the tunnel walls?" I asked.
     "Maybe. But it could also kill us. We don't know if 'outside the walls'
has the same physical laws; and even if it does, if there's even any air."
     "It  could  also  disrupt  what's happening, maybe de- stroy Deimos and
everything on it."
     "Including us? But that would throw a monkey wrench  in  their invasion
plans," she said with a smile that turned into a yawn. She wasn't bored. Her
eyelids were heavy from exhaustion.
     "If these creatures run the moon--the ship," I said, "then what horrors
guard the tunnel wall?"
     "Those faces couldn't be real, could they? I  hated those  faces . . ."
Her head nodded forward and she snored. It wasn't a very loud snore.
     The elevator was as  secure a place as we were likely  to  find.  I sat
watch and  let her  sleep.  There was  an eerie silence  despite  the  faint
vibration. After four hours I woke her up.
     "Your turn," she insisted, rubbing pieces of sleep from her eyes.
     "Don't let me sleep more than three hours."
     "Fly, sleep! I command you to sleep," she said, making hypnotic passes.
I  slept. .  .  not  because of  the mystic passes, but  because  of  a  mud
slogger's ability to sleep anywhere.
     I could have done without the dreams.
     The river of  faces touched something deep  in both of  us,  the  place
where you store up all your fears and regrets.  Going to sleep meant sinking
right into that place.
     I was tangled in long, sticky fibers like a giant spiderweb, but at the
center of the web  was a face made of  a hundred  different faces.  I didn't
want to look at it; but the face came closer, slowly rotating like a planet,
showing  different  faces  spread across  its surface,  smiles  melting into
frowns, rows of eyes like so many beads of glass,  noses creating  an uneven
mountain range stretch- ing to the horizon.
     Then the sphere of blue  faces was  pressed right against  mine, and it
had stopped turning. In the center  was the face of my long dead grandfather
as I had seen him in the open  casket. His toothless mouth was working, lips
twisting, but no sounds came out.
     I knew what he  was saying,  though: "Dinna  let them rework me, Fianna
Flynn, me lad . . . dinna never let them rework us all, b'Gad."
     The sticky fibers became tendrils sliding up my nose and into my mouth,
choking me. The truth is out there . . .
     I woke up  in a cold sweat. Arlene was shaking me hard. "Fly,  are  you
okay?"
     "Sleep is  overrated," I gasped. I was just as tired as when I'd put my
head down. Standing,  I felt dizzy. Probably running a fever,  but  I didn't
want to mention it. There was nothing to be done anyway. I pushed the button
back  in to reactivate the power; then  I pushed  the  floor button, and the
elevator continued its trip to the Command Center.
     It was a good thing we'd eaten and tried to  get some rest.  The moment
the doors opened, we were in  another  damned firefight with  zombies, imps,
pumpkins, and a specter.
     The ambush trapped us in the lift. We used the lift doors for cover.
     By the  time  we worked  our way  out, we'd  cleaned  a huge room  with
stairways  at either  end,  leading up  to  a  split-level.  There were  six
pillars; each had its designated nasty hiding behind it.
     Pushing  through  a  door at  the top of the split-level,  we  found  a
gigantic  indoor garden or arboretum. The air  was thick with pollen  from a
jungle of fleshy plants overgrowing  where some breed  of computers used  to
be.
     Arlene sneezed repeatedly. I lucked out.  I was so exhausted that maybe
I wasn't breathing as deeply. "You can say one thing for the greenhouse,"  I
observed. "Plants are plants here, and not combined with ma- chines."
     Blowing her nose--allergies--Arlene added: "And men are men, and so are
the women." All that was missing was a handsome horse and blazing six-guns.
     The  absence of monsters  was  reason enough to  ex-  plore.  We  could
breathe later.  The primary motif  seemed to be  a  blackish, oily wood that
sure as hell never originated on the old home planet. Periodically, the wood
bubbled and popped,  like  ulcerated sores in what- ever monstrous trees had
produced  it.  I imagined  a three-headed Paul  Bunyan  with ax-handle hands
cutting the planks.
     The ground squished underfoot as we walked; I looked  closely  and  saw
incredibly long, wafer-thin insects  scoot- ing out from  under our feet. We
finally reached the end  of the arboretum and the vegetation ran out against
puke- green marble, just as we'd seen back in the warehouse.
     "Will  you look  at that?" said Arlene, pointing at red-orange curtains
of  fire  crackling beyond the high walls, at a sufficient  distance that we
weren't roasting.
     "Now that's bad taste," I said. "Next they'll have  Lieutenant Weems in
a red devil suit pop out of a cake."
     "Complete with pointy tail?" she asked wryly.
     "You have a twisted mind, PFC Sanders."
     The better to explore with, I  added  mentally. I hoped  this situation
wasn't like those  science fiction  stories where the terrifying menaces are
taken telepathically from the greatest fears of  the human  beings involved.
My worst fears couldn't be this corny!
     Arlene found a switch that opened a hidden room; we went with the flow.
Entering  the chamber, we marveled at  how different it  was from what  we'd
seen before. The entire room was constructed of that black,  oily,  ulcerat-
ing  wood. There was one object  in the room, placed at dead  center:  a bas
relief of a demonic monster more horrible, or more ridiculous, than any we'd
fought. Every physical attribute of  the  thing was  exaggerated so that  it
almost seemed to be  a cartoon.  The  largest protuberance  of all  was  its
penis, sticking out at a 45-degree angle.
     "They've got to be kidding," said Arlene.
     "I  hate  to bring it  up,  but  that's  probably  another  switch,"  I
suggested.
     "I've handled worse," she admitted.





     24




     As she  flipped the  switch, we  heard familiar heavy,  grinding sounds
outside  in the  marble chamber. Being nearer the door, I took a look-see. I
wasn't  the least bit surprised  to see  a set  of stairs  rising  up in the
marble room  leading straight up to one of the walls  of fire. Arlene joined
me in pondering this new development. Neither  of us seemed to be in a great
hurry to run up those stairs.
     "Do you feel fireproof?" she asked me.
     "I left my asbestos pajamas back on Earth."
     "Maybe there's an opening we can't see from down here."
     "We can only dream,"  I sighed. I went  first. She  was  close  behind,
though. As soon  as  it became too hot, I had every intention of stopping. I
didn't feel any heat at all.
     Arlene  noticed  as well.  "This isn't a bit like Campfire  Girls," she
said.  "By now, all  the marshmallows in my pocket  should be screaming out:
'Put me on a stick!'"
     "You have marshmallows?"
     "No."
     "I don't think it's a real flame. Wait here, Arlene. If I catch on fire
or  die of  heat stroke,  you'll  know  there was  something wrong  with  my
theory."  Another ten steps up the stairs convinced me that I was definitely
on to  something. Ten more steps and I was becoming certain.  I still wasn't
hot  as I  walked right up to the curtain of seething flame  and very slowly
put my hand out.
     The hand went  right through  the fire,  disappearing from view without
causing Yours Truly  the least discom- fort. I didn't  even  get  a blister.
"Arlene," I called out, "the fire is an illusion. Come on up."
     I walked right through, then turned around where the fire should be ...
and there was nothing there but  the welcome sight of  Arlene  coming up the
stairs. "Arlene, can you see me?" I asked.
     "No," she answered, staring right at me. "You've disappeared behind the
fire."
     "For my next  illusion,"  I  announced  with  my  best stage magician's
voice,  and  stepped back  through where  the  curtain had to  be,  "I  pull
something cool out of my hat."
     "Like  a beer?" she asked, taking  the  last steps two at a time  so we
stood on the same level.
     "No beer,  but I do have a surprise." She  was curious, and I bent from
the  waist,  gesturing  through the curtain.  She  preceded  me  to  the big
surprise.
     "Oh, no," she said, "not another teleporter."
     We were both pretty worn-down by this point, but a new teleporter meant
we had to  make a decision. What we needed was a map to show us the location
of  all the  frying pans and fires.  "So should we bother  with this  one or
not?"
     She sighed. "We'd better try it, Fly. We've got to  find a way off this
moon, and this is pretty carefully hidden away. Let's give it a shot, hon."
     "Who's first this time?" I asked.
     She hooked her arm in mine. "Let's do it together again."
     Weapons out, we stepped aboard. With a  flash of light,  we zapped to a
huge room shaped like the spokes of a wagon wheel.
     Six hell-princes surrounded us.
     Six monstrous mouths opened.
     Six monstrous throats emitted guttural screams.
     Twelve angry, red eyes burned at us in the dim light.
     The  hell-princes  were  not  the  only  ones screaming.  Arlene  and I
screamed, too.  This  was a sight to make anyone  howl at  the moon. As  the
green fireballs began  exploding all around us,  we simply lost  it--running
around like chickens  with their  legs cut off,  shooting wildly. There  was
nowhere to run, but we sure as hell tried!
     "Duck!" we shouted at each other at about  the same  time. The balls of
energy made  fireworks over our heads.  Our gunfire was nothing more than  a
quiet popping in that chaos, mild raindrops, but we kept firing,  me with my
shotgun and Arlene with her AB-10.
     I found  a  door  by pure,  random  chance. Praying  for a  miracle,  I
hollered for Arlene and yanked the  door open . . . and now I was surrounded
by a dozen floating pumpkins! Frying pans and fires--definitely  frying pans
and pumpkins.
     Arlene screamed something from the chamber with the hell-princes, but I
couldn't hear her over my  own  screaming. This  situation was fast becoming
unaccepta- ble.
     There were too many pumpkins even to think about shooting; death, doom,
and destruction from all direc- tions!  I ran as fast as I could . . . right
back into the room with the hell-princes.
     I wasn't thinking very clearly, but  Arlene  still had her head screwed
on. Her hand snaked out and grabbed me. She'd stepped inside  another of the
spoke-chambers and  now hauled me  inside with  her. I imagined wall-to-wall
demons waiting for  us, zombies  stacked like cordwood  to the ceiling,  imp
tartare ..  . but inside, for the moment, was nothing  but Arlene and  Yours
Truly.
     She held a finger against her lips; I braced myself for the Bad Guys to
come after us and imagined the absolute worst. A tidal wave of sound crashed
on us--roaring, screaming, crashing. But all that  came through that doorway
was sound. The pumpkins  and the hell-princes collided in a torrent of blood
and vengeance.
     There were so many monsters that they took a long time to die. At least
fifteen minutes Arlene and I crouched in  our little closet of safety as the
pumpkins splattered themselves against the horned heads of the hell-princes.
Blue balls of energy evaporated against lethal lightning bolts. Blood flowed
thick on the floor. We stayed right where we were.
     Finally, there  was beautiful silence. We heard each other's breathing.
"Who goes first?" Arlene whispered.
     "What do you mean?"
     "Who takes a peek?"
     I raised my hand as if I were back in grade school. Cautiously I  poked
my head outside the star-pointed hideaway. A single  hell-prince remained on
its feet. I pulled back inside our hideaway and reported.
     "Then why isn't he at the doorway threatening to rip our lungs out?"
     I looked past her.  The hell-prince loomed in the  doorway,  waiting to
...
     It looked like yesterday's lunch today. Arlene saw my face, followed my
eyes and saw it.
     I   grabbed  for  my  rocket  launcher,   but  it  was  gone  from  the
webbing--dropped in panic in one of the two rooms, of course!
     Arlene pointed her AB-10. "That  won't  work," I shouted.  A peashooter
against the most powerful mon- ster we'd run into! Had she gone insane?
     She pulled the trigger three times, and thrice the hammer clicked on an
empty chamber.
     She  stared  as  the  mauled,   bloody  beast  staggered  forward  like
Frankenstein's monster, clutching at her. Winding up like the Mud Hens' star
pitcher, she  heaved the  gun into the minotaur's  ugly face.  Good God. I'm
watching an old episode of Superman! I thought.
     It blinked. The horned head shook slowly back and forth, left to right,
as if trying to remember something.
     Then it fell, straight as a toppling redwood, to the cold marble--dead.
     "And I didn't even know he  was sick," said  Arlene. We both burst into
hysterical laughter--stress released.
     The floor was slippery with  slick, tacky pumpkin juice, and  we almost
slipped several  times. Clambering across  the  body of another hell-prince,
Arlene pushed into the pumpkins' room and shouted, "You won't believe this!"
     "What?" I was hunting for my good pal, Mr. Launcher.
     "Get your  butt in here! Um,  please get your butt in  here, Corporal."
There it was! I snagged it and clambered after her.
     The light was flickering, but I could see well enough. Crucified on the
walls were the mutilated bodies of four hell-princes, with spidery trails of
dried blood extending from their hands--if  those hams with claws on the end
could be called hands.
     "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! What the  hell is  going on here?" Blasphemy!
chanted my memory-nuns. . . demons crucified in mockery of Our Lord.
     The hell-princes were killed a long time  ago; the  dried blood told us
that much. We made a circuit  of the  chamber and found plastic spheres with
cracks so that they could  swing open  or  close as  easily. All the spheres
were empty. . . but they were just the size to hold pumpkins.
     "Pumpkin nests," said Arlene.
     I stared awhile longer at  the four crucified  bodies of the minotaurs.
"My God, it must have been the damned pumpkins themselves put the princes up
there! They must hate them worse than they do us."
     It was a religious  revelation  for both of us. "No wonder it's so easy
to  pit them  against each other,"  said  Arlene in awe.  "They despise  and
loathe  each  other  so  much,  they  proudly  display each  other's  ripped
carcasses." She looked  up at me,  face lighting up. "Jesus, Fly, we  have a
chance to win!"
     I saw where she was headed. I had  thought that the monster-aliens were
simply so bad-tempered  that when a  zombie  stumbled in  the  way of an imp
fireball, or  a demon  took a  bullet  meant for one of us, they lost  their
concentration and turned on each other with mindless ferocity.
     But   "mindless  ferocity"  didn't  explain  the  cold,   delib-  erate
crucifixion of hell-princes by pumpkins, did  it?  Such  a contemplative act
required  a  deep,  abiding  ani-  mosity  or hatred,  and the single-minded
determination to torture.
     Something,   the   "mastermind,"  held  them   together;  but  left  to
themselves, the natural inclination of each  monster  would be to  hunt down
all the other kinds and kill them.
     The thought certainly suggested our tactic: kill the damned mastermind,
and let nature take her course!
     Now the only question was where in this hell that mastermind was.
     We continued searching the pumpkin room. We found it stuffed with ammo,
everything from rockets to shells to rounds for Arlene's depleted AB-10; the
various firefights had run us dry. After loading  up, we pushed past  one of
the crucified hell-prince  bodies and checked  out  the  rest  of  the wagon
wheel.
     Not a creature was stirring, not even a zombie.
     "Shall we teleport?" asked Arlene.
     "After what happened the last time we teleported?"
     "We going to spend the rest of our lives on this karmic wheel?"
     "Apres vous, Bodhisattva."
     We teleported together. Appearing on a platform in a metallic  room, we
saw a door with blue trim that  sure  as shootin' required a blue  key card.
Arlene  went over  and  put  her  ear to it. "I  hear what might  be a  lift
operating; I guess we go thataway."
     "Key, key,  who's got the  key?" I asked. "Another  typical day on  the
job. Teleport. Get a key. Open a door. Find a teleport."
     Arlene smiled. "I guess we're in a rut."





     25




     Nothing remarkable about this area,  except one  dark section that  was
just begging for  a flashlight. I  went  up, cast  a  light, and saw  twisty
passages that suggested  a  maze. The light was  curiously muted, dying  out
after only a few feet.
     "You want to poke in here?" I whispered; whispering seemed appropriate.
     "Um ...  no.  Maybe we don't need to;  and I don't like the look of the
place. It's dark--not that I'm afraid of the dark!"
     "Really? I  sure  am, especially recently. All right, it's pitch-black,
it's a maze, and the  ceilings are low and  claustrophobic.  Pass." I  mean,
why? Life is short, espe- cially on Deimos.
     I  was  still  staring into  the  blackness  when  gunshots  yanked  my
attention  back to Arlene. I raced down the hall  and saw her  pumping slugs
into tiny, emaciated demons, so small I almost didn't  recognize them. "Look
what I found!" she exclaimed, kicking the tiny bodies aside. Reaching behind
their corpses, Arlene extracted a blue key card.
     Tiny demons? I wondered . . . were they mutants? Failed experiments? Or
did  demons   shrink  when  they  starved?  Other  possibilities  were  more
disturbing: Were these child demons? Were demons born or hatched, or created
whole somewhere? I  shuddered;  whatever they were, they gave me the  creeps
more than their gigantic counterparts.
     She sprang  the  door with  the key card, and  we went  right  through,
smooth as you please  . . . only  to discover another door  right behind it,
this one requiring a yellow card! "Egah," I bellowed, and by God I meant it!
     An hour  later we had  traded a bunch of  ammunition for a shiny,  new,
yellow key card. Don't ask.
     We shuffled back to the mystery door, and Arlene inserted the card.
     It slid. Revealing . . . Yet another door: red.
     "You know," I said, "there's only one section of this whole place we've
avoided."
     "The dark, mazy thing we passed? Fly, we  don't even know there's a key
card in there, or that if there is, it's red."
     "Well... I shot a door open with a rocket once."
     "How many rockets we have?"
     "Now? Six."
     "How many does it take to kill a hell-prince?"
     "Usually six."
     Arlene sucked air through her teeth. "Maze," she voted.
     I  understood her concern;  if we used one or  two rockets to open  the
last  door,  then encountered a mino- taur on the other side, we'd be out of
luck. I shrugged; maze it was.
     As  we   entered  the  pitch-black  corridor,  our  flashlights  barely
penetrated the darkness. "There must be some kind of neutralizing or damping
field," Arlene whispered behind me.
     This bit was  too close to that Jules Verne movie, where the members of
the  expedition get separated in the dark. I wasn't going to let that happen
to us.
     "Fly--didn't  I  see  a  pair  of  goggles of some  sort  back  in  the
yellow-key room?"
     "Did you? What of it?"
     "Could they be light-amplification goggles?"
     That  sounded like a  good  excuse  to  get out of the dark.  Actually,
anything sounded like a good  excuse to get out of that dark maze; I had the
creepy feeling  that creatures were shadowing  us ... creatures that  didn't
need light- amp goggles.
     We returned the  way we  had  come,  and sure enough, the goggles  were
there.  Arlene  was   right:  one  pair.  "Will  these  even  work   in  the
energy-sucking field?" I won- dered.
     Arlene shrugged. How else could we find out?
     At the mouth of the maze we hesitated. Who was to wear them? We settled
it scientifically: my vision was 20-40, barely good enough to avoid glasses;
Arlene's  was 20-15,  better than  "perfect."  In other  words, she  got the
goggles.
     Besides, she  was the girl. I don't  know why that occurred to me then;
she seemed to get the goggles an awful lot.
     She put them on  and adjusted for  ambient light, then led me back into
the tunnel of darkness. I don't  even  like haunted-house rides at amusement
parks. "Oh, spit," she said.
     "Don't give me any bad news."
     "Battery's low."
     "I told you not to give me any bad news."
     "The goggles keep fading in and out." She'd stopped walking forward and
I bumped  up against  her  again.  "Or maybe  it's because of the field; but
they're lower power than the flashlights, and they do work .. . sort of."
     She started moving again, and dark as it was, I made  believe I was her
shadow, hand on her shoulder. "Tell me what you see."
     "Everything is green  and fuzzy. It's like looking at the world through
a Coke bottle."
     About five minutes into the maze  Arlene dived to the side, bowling  me
over.  An exploding ball of energy lit up our surroundings for a fraction of
a second; but all I saw was the back of Arlene's head.
     "Hell-prince!" she shouted. "Fly, use the launcher!"
     "Can't we run?"
     "No," she said, strangely insistent, "we've got to fight it!"
     I unslung and waited, staring  wide-eyed into  the black. "Where? Where
is it?"
     "I'll guide you,"  Arlene said, voice  lower,  more in control. Holding
her  shoulder so she wouldn't be be- tween me and my monster, I tried to aim
the rocket launcher with the other hand. I couldn't do it!
     "Still--stand still, beside me,"  she urged. "Right. Now  listen .  .."
Another lightning  ball scorched the  air,  pounding the wall just  above my
head, and I dropped  the  damned weapon! She didn't miss a beat. "It's right
at your feet, Fly. Bend down, pick it up.
     "Why don't you take it? You can see!"
     "Fly,  I  don't  know how  to  shoot it--never checked out  on it.  Now
shoulder it, damn you."
     "Aim me." I was becoming impatient, but I knew she was working as  fast
as she could.
     "Left, to  the  left, more, more;  elevate . . . shoot now!" I squeezed
the firing ring. The flare of  the rockets lit up a cone of vision around us
but I still couldn't see the attacker. "Where is he? Where?"
     "Never mind--you winged him, Fly! Glancing blow to the stomach, knocked
him down."
     "Aim me again."
     The second  shot scored  a direct  hit.  Normally that wouldn't stop  a
hell-prince. He'd only redouble his  efforts. But  this one must have gotten
lazy in the  maze, only encountering victims  occasionally, and  no  resist-
ance worth mentioning.  Suddenly I  realized we  were facing  a minotaur  in
something like its natural habitat.
     Aim me--fire!--aim me ... I loaded my sixth and final round. "Where?"
     Arlene waited a long time. "Fly . . . you knocked it to its  butt  in a
chair thing with your last shot; it's still breathing, but it's  not getting
up."
     We waited; the situation remained static. "All  right, kid," I said. "I
guess we're officially clear."
     "And now I can  officially  tell you  why  we  had  to fight.  Look  at
this--whoops,  I  mean feel this: a key  card, though  I have no  idea  what
color; they all look green to me. That slime had it in its claws."
     "You mean  it was there  while I fired rockets  at  the  hell-prince? I
could have destroyed the key, too!"
     "Well, that's why I kept  it a  secret.  Now  aren't you glad you saved
those rockets?"
     "I guess so," I said, not bothering to point out that if we hadn't gone
into the maze at all, just used one or  two rockets on the door, we'd be out
of here by now, and richer in rockets, to boot.
     We started  trekking back, and  with the unerring in- stinct such items
have, the batteries chose that moment to burn out.
     Arlene tipped me off with, "Damn it to hell!"
     She  pulled the goggles off and shoved them into her pocket. "God, Fly,
I don't want to  die in the dark." I thought she  had a perfectly reasonable
attitude. The  idea of  being caught and torn  to shreds when you can't even
see to fight back didn't appeal to me, either.
     I had a vague idea of  the way we must return. I took her  hand and led
her as fast as possible  in  that direction. Even found time to pray  again.
The nuns always knew the power of a dark room to inspire piety.
     After all that, I really was in no mood for a damned imp waiting for us
when we'd almost made it  through the  maze. It  hissed, and we stopped cold
... we could hear it--but where was it? Hands shaking, I spun left and right
with my scattergun,  afraid to shoot lest I give  away our  own position. Or
worse, hit Arlene!
     "Jesus!" Arlene  shouted, finding religion as a fireball  careened over
our  heads.  What  a  dolt--the  imp,  not  Arlene;  the  fireball  lit  our
surroundings, and in the glare I fixed Arlene and the imp. When the fireball
faded, I shot where the imp was. Arlene didn't kill time when she could kill
a monster instead; she fired just as I did, and the imp was toast.
     We were back in the light in short order. We returned to the three-door
stack.  I performed  the honors of  opening the last door, popping  through,
finding the  lift, pressing the  down button  . . . and asking Arlene if she
didn't enjoy the music of  screams and explosions behind us  as the monsters
took care of each other. They were running out of humans.
     "This is a hell of an invasion," she said.
     "You can say that again."
     Deimos must have been listening and eager to confirm every prejudice we
had. As the lift  door slid open at the next  level down, we found ourselves
staring into the hugest, hairiest, foulest, and pinkest butt I'd ever seen.
     One of  the demons, Arlene's "pinkies," was standing with its  backside
up against the lift door. It hadn't even noticed that the  door  had opened.
Cautiously, I raised  a machine gun  and Arlene raised a shotgun. We gritted
our teeth  against the noise  and fired simultaneously. A Light  Drop rectal
suppository.
     But on  the other side of Demon One  was Demon Two--and it did not take
kindly to our prescription. This  one charged like a hausfrau on speed in  a
megastore.
     We  hadn't been able to see it originally because its buddy had blocked
the view. Now it dived through the door after us.
     The  big silly got itself stuck. We took  our time  blowing this one to
oblivion at point-blank range. Oh, our bruised eardrums!
     As  Arlene  wiped demon gunk out of her eyes, she took a  gander at her
clothes and asked, "Does this come out or is it like gravy?"
     "Don't ask me. I was never much of a house husband."
     Although we  felt  good  about  our  most recent  bout of  carnage,  we
couldn't  help  but  notice  that we'd trapped  ourselves between  two demon
bodies, each of  which probably weighed over five  hundred kilos; a half ton
per baby. We'd have to climb out between them.
     "How are you at mountain climbing?" she asked.
     "How are you at spelunking?" I asked back.
     She  owned  I  was right; we didn't so  much climb  over the bodies  as
burrow  our  way through them. It  took a bit of wriggling and writhing, and
breath holding, but even- tually even I made it.
     The next problem consisted of some imps. Mighty monster slayers such as
Arlene and myself could no longer be bothered with something so trivial as a
few imps. We mopped up the floor with them on our way
     "I think we're getting a bit cocky," Arlene said.
     "We earn the right to wear the haircut of our choos- ing," I shot back,
and she laughed louder than ever before.
     We  entered a warehouse through  an open door  and around a  couple  of
corners;  this one was stacked wall-to- wall with pinkies, none as large  as
our  elevator  pals.  They charged; having nowhere  else  to go, I leapt up,
grabbed  the edge  of  a  huge box  and  hauled myself onto  the  top,  then
stretched out my hand for Arlene.
     The way the demons screamed and growled and pounded  on  the box, you'd
think  they didn't appreciate initiative  and quick thinking.  They were  so
upset they made the box shake violently.  I  was afraid  we  might be thrown
off, but by God, we hung on. Then we aimed, squeezed, and eventually the box
stopped shaking. We didn't have any trouble getting down.
     Now we had a moment to enjoy the new decor. The motif here was gleaming
chrome  and  intricate,  blued  enamel.  The appearance  was rather  sci-fi,
actually ... utterly  misplaced, considering the monsters inhabiting it. But
then, I didn't subscribe to Better Homes and Demons.
     Then we  kicked the door at  the far  end--well, I kicked it--and found
the spawning vats themselves.
     Huge,  metal  containers  they were, a  heaping helping of  pure  evil;
cisterns containing a weird, toxic-green junk, but not thick like the slime;
inside each container was the body of a half-formed monster.
     Arlene, on a whim of personal revulsion against the aliens, shot one of
the partly  formed torsos.  The  wound sealed up with a giant sucking sound,
and the  creature continued cooking. "How do  you stop something like this?"
she asked.
     "I  wish  I knew. We can  give  up  the hope of a finite number  of the
things.  They  must  be  genetically  engi-  neered  soldiers.   The   alien
mastermind, whoever or what- ever it is, must be stealing our nightmares and
producing them wholesale."
     "Uh, yeah. I  wonder how long it takes for a vat to finish producing  a
newborn monster?"
     Arlene held up  her watch. Six minutes  later the  one  she'd shot  was
finished, and none the  worse for wear. She shot it again as it stumbled out
of the vat. Again and again. Now the bullets worked. We repeated the experi-
ment several more times at six minute intervals.
     "The fluid is life-preserving as well as life-producing," I  said. "But
when a critter is born--"
     "In  other words," Arlene said, "we can't do abortion, but  we sure  as
hell can nail 'em  as newborns." She wrinkled  her brow.  "Let's do a  rough
calculation: at six minutes to cook a monster, that's ten creatures per hour
per vat.  Say  sixty-four vats in the room, means 640 monsters per hour just
from this one room. Christ! That's fifteen thousand per day."
     "There, ah ... there could be scores of rooms."
     "In a  few  days  they could  have an  army of millions," Arlene  said,
finishing her number exercise.
     "We  still have  one  chance, Arlene.  Find  the  alien mastermind  and
destroy it."
     "Yeah, that's all we have to do," she scoffed. "Piece of cake."





     26




     Too many, too many monsters, monsters, mon- sters," I muttered.
     "Monsters,  monsters  everywhere," she  echoed.  "I  don't  suppose  it
matters if there are any new types. We're doomed no matter what."
     "Don't say that, Arlene. We've been  able to kill everything we've come
up against  so  far.  That  matters. The weapons  and ammunition  give  us a
fighting chance."
     "Rats in  a maze," she said in a tone  of voice new to her. She sounded
defeated. I  didn't  like that  one  bit. "You were  right,  Fly. Even if we
always find  enough ammo, it won't save us. There are millions of them. They
are testing us."
     They are!
     At a moment like this I realized how important it was  that we had each
other. I'd experienced this  same sense  of defeat on  Phobos,  and for less
cause.  Now it was my  turn  to  encourage  the natural fighting spirit that
burned so deeply in her.
     "Then  how  we respond to  this is part of the  test, as well. We won't
defeat them  by firepower. That's only to buy us time so we can reason out a
solution."
     She looked at me without  blinking and asked, "Fly, what if there is no
solution?"
     "Don't believe that!" I urged, and  in so doing helped convince myself.
"If they were unbeatable, they wouldn't need to collect data on us."
     That took some of the shadows  out of her dark mood. "Don't worry," she
said. "I won't let you down."
     She'd been my buddy, my pal. We'd been careful not to confuse the issue
by trying  to  be lovers. But this was the  right  moment to  take her in my
arms, bring our faces close together and whisper, "It's you and me. We'll go
to the end together. We'll make them pay for everything."
     "Outstanding," she said breathily, transforming the  traditional Marine
bravado into  something very  differ- ent.  A moment passed between  us that
reminded me of the time we could have been lovers and chose buddies instead.
Now  I kissed her hard and she responded.  We might not have another chance.
And we weren't going any farther than this; not in a place where we could so
easily be reworked into dead meat, still on the hoof.
     "I'm feeling  better," she  said. "My brain is working again. You know,
we're in a good spot to do some damage."
     "Go on."
     "The bottom  level of Deimos, directly below us, is one huge  tank that
was eventually going to be filled with liquid oxygen."
     "What the hell for?"
     She flashed her  sneaky smile. "You'll love this. The UAC was  thinking
of using the entire moon of Deimos as a spaceship, too."
     "You're kidding!" I said, but I could tell she wasn't.
     "The idea was to move it to  the asteroid belt and use it for  a mining
base,"  she  said, finishing the news flash. "When I  first realized we were
moving, I thought some of us  might be back in charge here. Then I suspected
the more horrible possibility of a human-alien alliance."
     "Jesus, what a morbid  imagination! How is it I never heard about  this
plan even in casual talk?"
     "There's  secret, there's top secret, and then  there's 'rat us out and
we'll push you out the airlock.'"
     "Point  taken. If we're going to find out what's really going on, then,
I think we need to go the same way as before. Down."
     We hunted through the level, but couldn't find  an exit, a secret door,
anything.  While  we  were searching,  Arlene's mood improved. That  we were
still alive was a miracle. Any monsters who tried to have us for lunch would
get  a bad case  of indigestion.  No matter what we were up against,  I  was
going to  bet on human  unpredicta-  bility. We hadn't  spent  a  couple  of
billion years clawing to the top of the food chain for nothing.
     "Fly, have you noticed how this section is shaped?" Actually, I hadn't.
We'd been working  our  way  along  the  inside of the  wall  in  search  of
switches. "It's shaped like a skull," she said.
     "These guys are running out of ideas," I answered.
     "Those two pillars over there," she said, pointing, "are the eyes."
     "Cute," I  said. Less cute was the  pumpkin that sud- denly came out of
nowhere and began firing at us. Arlene and I hadn't  shot anything in  whole
minutes. We deflated  the  pumpkin;  and this one acted more  like a balloon
with  the air let out that any  of its brothers, as  it zigged and zagged on
the way down.
     We chased it  beyond  the two  pillars,  where  we  found  its limp and
leaking remains sitting like a cork  on a narrow  ladder-tube leading  down.
"At last," she said, "a guidepost."
     "Just what the place needs," I concurred.
     And now what? Should we still continue "down"? Or was it time to settle
once and for all whether  we were bugging out and reporting  or  going after
the mastermind ourselves?
     I stared  at the tube. So far as I could tell, down was still  the only
way out. So far, our paths still coincided.
     But  there  would come a time  when one  of us would  have  to prevail:
either Arlene's romantic sense of duty to the entire human  race, or my more
practical duty to her as my buddy,  as a Marine, and--all  right, let's face
it--and as a man to a woman.
     We  popped the  "cork" and  climbed down what seemed  like two  hundred
meters,  down into the heart  of the lox tank. The climb  was long enough to
make us  tired even if we weren't carrying all the crap that was neces- sary
to keep us alive. By the time we reached bottom, my hands were aching and my
right  knee was acting  up. I could imagine how  Arlene was feeling from the
way she tottered on her feet. I hurried over  to catch  her if she fell, but
she recovered herself and made no comment.
     We found a cozy room with four doors and a single switch in the center.
"Do you hear that?" Arlene asked.
     Until  she  mentioned  it,  I  hadn't  heard  anything  but  our  heavy
breathing; but then I noticed something so unbelievably loud that a deaf man
should have felt it; concentration is a funny thing.
     It sounded like the World Trade Center taking a stroll just outside.
     We rotated slowly, tracking the  noise, and I thought about that  movie
with the tyrannosaurus stomping around.
     "Well, Fly, what now? I doubt we could climb back up again."
     I  looked up; the hole we'd climbed through was far over our heads. "We
already know there's no way to get us out in that direction. We're  here; if
an exit exists, it has to be through one of those doors."
     "Besides, we came  here to do  a job, Fly, even if that  means fighting
Godzilla."
     I shrugged;  what else was there to say? "One switch; four doors. Which
one does it open?"
     I went to  a door at  random and tried to open it manually. Nothing. It
wouldn't  budge, even when  I kicked it. The behemoth still marched back and
forth outside, shaking the entire building with every step.
     "I can't help it," I said at last, "I'm a born lever- puller."
     "You're repeating yourself," Arlene repeated.
     She flattened against the  wall  as I  slapped  the switch, then joined
her. All four doors opened smoothly, simul- taneously.
     "Move out!" I shouted.
     As fast  as we could,  we bolted  through the door and entered a  tiny,
garagelike  room  looking  into  a   brilliantly  lit,  silver  and   white,
chrome-covered keep--the size of Texas. Wings from the central room extended
like an X into the huge tank.
     We slid  outside on the double.  The sound  of the  walking  skyscraper
inspired speed on  our  part--and that  was without  even bothering  to look
behind to see what was making all the ruckus.
     Halfway to one of the wings,  I  couldn't stand the suspense; like Mrs.
Lot, I looked back.
     I  thought I'd seen everything. After imps and demons and  pumpkins and
hell-princes, I'd be able to handle anything else they threw at us! At least
that's what I thought.
     I'd also thought the hell-princes were giants when I first saw them. My
scale was in for a rude awakening.
     "Mother Mary!" I shouted involuntarily. The others weren't monsters any
longer, not compared to this!
     It stood five meters tall, with piston-driven legs sup-  porting a body
that must have weighed  hundreds of tons.  Deep within its massive structure
came the grinding of many  gears.  The arms were also piston-driven, and the
left arm ended in a huge box that didn't look anything like a lunch box.
     "No!"  This  time it was Arlene who  had glanced behind  and echoed  my
opinion.  Now  that we'd  had our turn at making  noise, it was time for the
colossus to speak.
     The  scream of rage that came out of its mouth was so loud that it  was
as if  the two long horns--one on each  side of its head, and growing out so
far  as to end over the  muscled shoulders--were actually 50,000-watt stereo
speakers amplifying the sound so that  everyone could hear it from Deimos to
Phobos to Mars.
     While it roared, the arm  with the box on the end pointed  at us.  That
broke the spell. We were both very good at noticing anything pointing at us.
     We ran like hell itself was on our tail, up the left wing seconds ahead
of  a terrific  detonation.  A  miniature  cruise  missile  had  missed  us,
impacting  against  the  far wall. Even at a distance of two hundred meters,
the explosion knocked us off our feet.
     We ran as we'd  never run  before. All the  eighteen- wheelers  in  the
universe were coming at us on a down- grade to doom. We needed an exit ramp.
     "Look!"  Arlene screamed, pointing at  a  narrow  hole where  the wings
joined the central building we'd just  exited.  She dived  through without a
hitch. Me, I got stuck--it was Phobos all  over again! But I wasn't going to
waste an opportunity, even with the wits scared out of me.
     I turned  and loosed a few  rounds from my trusty  rocket  launcher.  I
figured, Why the hell not?
     The rockets struck dead-on--with no apparent effect.
     The titan  roared; a good translation, I guess,  would be, "Now it's my
turn!"
     27




     The  steam-driven demon returned fire, striking the wall  of the  wing,
blowing us to the  ground. The good news was that  this finished the task of
getting me through the hole.
     We were so stunned, we could barely pick ourselves up from the floor; a
floor that was shaking  from the ap- proaching leviathan.  "Get up!" I said,
grabbing Arlene by the arm and pulling her to her feet. The colossus stomped
straight toward us, and I knew that  a flimsy piece of wall would  be like a
piece  of Kleenex  to  the thing even before  he  ripped  through it without
slowing down.
     We  staggered  in the  other direction,  up the  other  wing, "My right
foot's numb!" Arlene hollered. "It's asleep!" I heard the fear in her voice.
I'm sure she could hear the fear in mine, too.
     "Wake it up," I said, and while she stomped her foot, forcing the blood
to circulate, I fired a few more rockets at the monster. There was no effect
worth mentioning.
     "This thing won't die!" Arlene shouted as we ran.
     "Not without  something heavier," I  agreed.  Arlene stared  at the far
wall  and   started  mumbling  to   herself,   obviously  making   thumbnail
calculations. I  added one  and one, and  got  two human  beings  crazy with
terror.
     As we rounded the corner  of the  next wing, we heard  the steam-driven
demon crunching after us. At least  he wasn't moving any faster than a brisk
walk.  At his size, if  he didn't tire, that walk would finish  us. I didn't
want to think about the missiles he could fire. We turned another corner. So
long as we heard him but didn't see him, I figured we were doing our best.
     "Fly!" Arlene cried.  "Near as I can figure, this  room is much  larger
than  the  Gate gravity  field the aliens  set  up." She  took another  deep
breath, coughed, continued:  "The periphery of the room should be  at normal
Deimos gravity."
     "Close to zero, you mean."
     "Yes."
     I froze, staring at the far  wall. Something was nagging at the back of
my  brain.  This  was  no  time  to ignore  hunches,  instincts,  or  sudden
revelation.  "Arlene, we've got to lure Godzilla out of the anomaly and into
the normal gravity zone."
     She didn't ask why. She had a better question: "Which one of us?"
     She  was right. The only way to do this was for one  of  us to get into
the zone and taunt the creature until it charged.
     Arlene did  some quick mind reading. "There's  only  one  choice,"  she
said. "I'm faster, you lumbering ox."
     I couldn't argue with her about that.  I was already  a lot more winded
than  she. I used to kid her  about having the  fastest cleats in the  Light
Drop; now it was life or death riding  on her foot speed. She  must not have
liked my expression.  "Fly, it has  to be me! Besides, you're a much  better
shot with the rockets."
     "Lot of good that's done us."
     "It's the only weapon might even slow it down," she insisted; and there
was  no arguing with logic. She stopped  running  and so did I.  She put her
hand on my cheek  and it was warm and damp. We were both  sweating like mad.
"If I don't make it," she said, forcing her breathing to slow, and the words
to come  out slow and easy, "it's been a cool  couple of  years. Take  care,
Fly, and when you start firing those rockets, try  not to mix me up with the
big guy."
     I wanted to say too much, so I  only nodded and kept my mouth shut. She
jogged toward  the distant wall, looking back over her shoulder once. I felt
like a heel, but she was right. Got sweat in my eyes, too.
     Then the biggest monster in the universe rounded the edge and loped by.
It  walked  right  by  me, sniffed  the air  with  nauseating  nostrils, and
stopped! That unbelievable head slowly began to turn in my direction. I gave
myself up for dead . . . but Arlene had other ideas.
     She  made  so much  noise she could have been a three-piece  band.  She
caterwauled,  taunted, laughed, pointed, howled and  hooted, and  tap-danced
for a big finish. She passed the audition.
     The big mother raised its missile arm. Arlene, back against the wall in
the corner, planted her feet firmly and  shoved off, like a  kid shoving off
in a pool to get a head start at a swim meet. Darn near zero-g could be fun.
     She streaked sideways along the adjacent wall, and the missile impacted
astern of her, pissing off the steam- demon.
     "Roaaaarrrrrrrrrgggggggrrrrrraaaaaaaauuughghh," it complained, stomping
after her.  She crouched, safe in a corner, watching every  move  the  enemy
made. When Godzilla  stopped halfway and fired another three mis- siles, she
was ready for it. She  timed her leap to  take her farther  along  the  back
wall, out of the blast radius.
     As  the demon  pumped after  her, I  had a clear  view from behind, and
noticed that a whole  rack of small missiles was built into  the  creature's
back! What did that say about the thing's creators?
     Then,  one cannonball-crashing  step  past  the invisible  line did the
trick,  and  the  big guy launched into the  air, smashing against the  high
ceiling.  "Welcome to the gravity zone, sucker!" I yelled, then stepped  out
of cover and fired a barrage of rockets at a target that was just too damned
big to miss. Hell, Lieutenant Weems could have hit this one.
     The  rockets  exploded  against  the  demon, knocking  it farther  back
against the  wall.  This got its attention. Eyes big as dinner plates looked
at me in  an unkindly  fashion. The demon raised  its arm, but  didn't fire.
This was because it was slowly rotating in the air like a windmill. Good old
zero-g!
     Every time it lined me up  for a  shot, it had shifted again. And while
it was  unable  to  steady itself,  I  kept firing rockets. By the  time  it
managed  to  stabilize  itself  and line up a shot,  I had pumped a total of
fifteen rockets. Fifteen, and it didn't give a spit!
     Realizing that  sooner or later the steam-demon might get off a missile
in my direction, I made plans.
     The essence of virtually every martial art--and they taught us a lot in
the Light Drop Infantry--is to use the  other guy's own weapons against him.
Like, what the hell? What did I have to lose except my life, and all Earth?
     I stood  perfectly visible  and stopped shooting; I wanted that titanic
SOB to finally bring its missile launcher to bear. Sounds stupid, I know . .
. but it really was all part of the plan.
     I meant to do that!
     Behind me the walls came to a point,  and there was another hole in the
wing just begging for me to fill her up. I waited until the steam-demon drew
a  bead  on me ... then I dived into the slit  as  it fired. By the time the
cruise missile impacted  against the wing wall, I'd rolled on the other side
of it, protected.
     What happened next was in the hands of Sir Isaac Newton.
     The  force of  the shot threw the demon backward  against the wall with
such terrific force that five meters of solid monster was torn to shreds.
     It sounded as  if an  entire supermarket had been  slam-dunked into the
side of a mountain. The next sound was music to my ears: Arlene giving a war
cry of such  glee and  joy that I wanted to join her around some prehistoric
campfire to gloat over the dead enemy and marvel at our own survival.
     I  still exercised some  caution as  I  peeped  around the wall.  A few
lights still flashed and flickered on the demon as it feebly tried to crawl.
But this baby wasn't going to bother us anymore.
     "Shall we put it out of our misery?" asked Arlene as she rejoined me.
     "Does it deserve so merciful a fate?" I asked. She raised an eyebrow in
surprise. Sometimes I think she underestimated my  intelligence. What,  only
girl Marines can get away with sounding pompous?
     "Best  to  play it safe,"  she said.  "I don't want to get back on that
merry-go-round."
     I nodded. It only took the  rest  of  my rockets, fired point-blank, to
turn  the prone body into cotton candy.  "Whose turn is it to name  the  new
monster?" I asked when the job was done.
     "You saw it first," she said.
     "All right,  then:  steam-demon. That's what  I  kept  thinking when  I
watched it move."
     "Not bad, Fly.  You're getting  better  at this.  Maybe  you could be a
writer."
     "No  need to  be insulting,"  I  said,  patting  her on the head  in  a
patronizing way.  This time I could  get away with it. I felt good. It's not
every day you trick an unstoppable force into an immovable object.
     We explored and found a huge, round manhole in the floor near where the
demon was originally  standing. Perhaps it had been  performing guard  duty.
Arlene  did  the inspection  and laughed.  "You're  going to love this," she
said, standing up.
     "Let me guess. It needs a key."
     "You don't like having to mess with keys, do you?"
     "Not when  I'm fresh out  of rockets." But we had plenty of time for  a
scavenger  hunt. Great. Whoever came up with the need for all these keys was
on a par with the  guy who  invented cross-merging back on Earth. No torture
too severe.
     "I'll bet  I  know where  it  is," Arlene  said. Following her lead, we
returned  to  the still-sparking, burning  body  of the  steam-demon. Arlene
found  a key stuck in a  slot in the creature's belly.  So he had definitely
been the guardi- an.  She started to pull it out and quickly yanked her hand
away, cussing.
     "What's the matter?"
     "It's freakin' hot!" Being careful not  to  burn herself on the quickly
slagging metal, she gingerly extracted  it, shielding her eyes from the heat
with her other hand. Wisps of steam rose  off the  purple computer key card,
but  it retained  its  shape.  She grinned like a kid who'd just  gotten the
prize in the cereal box.
     We ran to the door in the floor, the hole for a mole. Arlene plugged it
into the  slot. The hatch  rose, then rotated  open. Through this opening we
saw a brilliant, eye-hurting red. A rickety,  wooden ladder descended out of
sight. "I can hardly believe it," she said.
     "Believe what?"
     "Has  to be,  babe.  Fly,  we're  looking right  at  the  wall  of  the
hyperspace tunnel itself."
     We looked long and hard. "Now what?" she asked.
     I  shrugged. When there's no data, flip a coin.  After all,  the ladder
wasn't even charred.
     I reached my  naked hand down  into the red-red- redness.  I touched  a
color. Arlene touched my shoulder.
     "What does it feel like?" she asked.
     I told her: "You'd think it would be hot, but it isn't. It's ice-cold."
     "Weird," she  said, and  put her  hand down next  to  mine. "So  what's
outside a hyperspace wormhole?" she asked.
     "Outer space?" I suggested. "That river of faces we saw earlier? Heaven
and hell? Death?"
     We  glanced at each other  and nodded. Holding  hands, we  took a  deep
breath and stepped into the redness.
     Crimson red. Fire-engine red. Rose red. Bloodred. Lipstick red. Martian
red. The color curled around us like cold, smothering, arctic water, filling
our brains with the redness of death. We were on fire! But I felt no pain.
     The experience was not pleasant. The  flames  burned away our  clothing
and weapons, but not our skin.
     The ladder vanished; it was only in our minds, any- way. For a while we
slipped  and  slid as if we were at a crazy  amusement park; but at least we
could see. No matter how bad a situation, I was always grateful for light.





     28




     The red tunnel  was bathed in the  kind of hazy glow you get in  a dark
room when you're developing photos. So  long as I could see my hand in front
of my face, I wasn't going to freak.  But that was the only good thing about
the situation.
     Then we fell into a room. Room? Some sort of internal  organ . .  . the
walls, floor, and ceiling were pink, pulsat- ing flesh, ribbed and liberally
coated with slippery mu- cus.
     Once again both Arlene  and I were naked as  jaybirds. Instinctively, I
covered myself again, just as I had before.
     "Oh,  come  on,  Fly!" Arlene  complained. "You're a human being, thank
God. We have little enough to remind us of who we are and why we're here ...
we don't need you being shy on top of everything else."
     I  slowly took  my hands away. But I  tried  not  to  look  to hard  at
Arlene--I didn't  trust myself. We were  buddies; I wanted it to  stay  that
way.
     "This  place stinks," Arlene said. Maybe my nose had stopped working. I
counted  myself  lucky;  the organ was  diseased, sickly, and I  was glad  I
couldn't  smell it. There  was a  downward slope that wasn't  so steep as to
cause us to lose our  footing  altogether, but  I wasn't  comfortable  as we
stumbled through the giant organ. I had a disturbing sense of what organ  it
was ... a place we've all been before.
     "I just had a bad thought, Fly; I hope whatever burned away our clothes
didn't also burn away all the microbes in our guts that help us digest food.
Without them, we'll die of starvation no matter how much we eat."
     "I  doubt  it," I said,  my voice  shaky, as  if I  hadn't  used it for
decades. "I  don't  feel ravenously hungry, so evi- dently the Gate left the
MRE food in my stomach. Probably left  the microbes, as well. .  .  anything
or- ganic."
     We  both jumped when  the  demonic  uterus  started  contracting. I had
always hated amusement parks. Then we were sliding out of control. I grabbed
Arlene's hand and she squeezed hard.
     The  contractions  pushed  us  along  the floor  to a "door," a  giant,
semitransparent  cyst membrane with a doorknob  in the middle.  The knob was
made of some kind of cartilage. I pushed my  arm into a wet opening all  the
way to the shoulder and turned the knob.
     Two  corpses were  on the  other  side. They'd  only  been shadows seen
through the membrane; we couldn't tell what they were.
     One was  male, the other female. After our experience  with deja vu,  I
experienced  a momentary shock  of  thinking  the bodies were our  own! They
weren't, but they could have been related to us--similar body types, similar
faces.
     I sure as  hell knew who they were, though:  one was the third woman in
Fox Company besides Dardier and Arlene, Midori Yoshida.
     The man was Lieutenant Weems.
     I felt a curious  lack of emotion, looking at the  pair. They lay in an
awkward position,  head-to-head, each with a pistol in the other's mouth. It
was pretty clearly  a suicide pact--I supposed because of finding themselves
in hell.
     Arlene leaned down to separate them, and we made  a horrific discovery:
they weren't just lying tete-a-tete; their heads were joined together, fused
at the crowns,  the scalp flowing smoothly from one  to the other.  . . like
Siamese twins joined at the head. The  hair  color  faded  continuously from
blond (Weems) to black (Yoshida) without seam or break.
     "Jesus and Mary," I gasped.
     "I don't guess there's any  question why they blew  their brains  out,"
Arlene whispered, dropping the bodies.
     Arlene silently pointed to bloody imp  prints all around the bodies. We
both  knew  the  shape of an imp footprint when we saw one. Judging from the
depth of the heels, the bastards had been dancing around the bodies of their
human victims. I spat at one of the footprints. Arlene gripped my shoulder.
     "Fly,  please don't  think I'm a  ghoul--but  goddamn it, we need those
pistols! And much as I like looking at your . .  . your manly chest, I think
we need the clothes, too. Definitely the boots."
     She  had a point. A  stomach-turning,  revolting point;  but still  one
against which I couldn't argue.
     We spent the next several minutes robbing the  corpses  and throwing up
in the corner. But afterward we each had a pistol and twenty-six rounds.
     To exit the room we had to squeeze through a narrow opening that looked
exactly like . . . well, I didn't like to even think about it.
     I volunteered to go first, and she didn't object. "Fly," came her voice
as we wriggled and writhed through the orifice, "do you ever get the feeling
you're being born again?"
     I'm  not a  huge  fan of morbid  jokes;  this time  all I  could do was
shudder. "Arlene--maybe we shouldn't be piss- ing  off the only friend we've
got down here by blas- phemy."
     The moist,  decaying walls pressed in around my shoulders, but I  could
still push through, and where I went it  was easy for Arlene to  follow. The
thought  crossed  my mind  that the  passage  might narrow  so much that I'd
become stuck. I wasn't completely rational about this one.
     I was so glad to pop out  the other end that I barely  minded the seven
imps waiting  on  the other side. For one truly insane  moment I wondered if
that would make  Arlene Snow  White! Then  I was busy again, doing  my  job.
Arlene was right behind  me, doing her job. We  only had a brace of pistols.
The sons of bitches didn't stand a chance.
     As was the usual  case after  a good killing, we took advantage of  the
opportunity to do more sightseeing. Not once did I regret that neither of us
had thought to bring a camera. "So this is hell," Arlene said.
     "What  they want us to think of as the infernal re- gions," I  replied.
Hell was made  of  fleshy walls, an open field whose  ground was  a  mottled
scalp with  comically giant, prickly hairs growing out of randomly scattered
tufts, rivers of fire, a black and red swirling sky . . . and air that stank
of  urine, decayed flowers, and bitter lemons. There may have been a hint of
old  cat boxes mixed in there as well. "Come to think of it," I contin- ued,
"not a bad try."
     "One of their more creative efforts."
     We saw a single door, sagging with moldy, rotten timbers. The stonework
lintel was crumbling. Arlene strolled to  the unpromising portal  and made a
close inspection. "Fly, come look at this."
     I went, but  my  stomach wished I  hadn't.  There were mites or  larvae
eating away at the stone, the wood, the fleshy walls, everything!  "Quite an
attention to detail," Arlene said as if evaluating an artwork.
     The  next moment  she stopped being an art critic.  A cloud of the tiny
creatures came off into the air as if we'd pounded on the door, but  neither
of us had  touched anything. They  settled  on  her. More followed and  they
settled  on  me. Holding  up  my hand, I could  see dozens of  little specks
spreading across my flesh . . . and there was a very slight itch.
     "Damn  it, get off'n me!" Arlene shook her arms  wildly, but enjoyed no
more  success than I. We ran, rolled, and still the little  vermin hung  on.
They were worse than lint.
     "Ah,  the  hell with it,"  I said.  "They don't seem to be  killing us.
First chance, we'll take a bath."
     "Or go through a teleporter," she said.
     "Being living organisms,  they would  probably go through  with us. No,
we'll look for water."
     "Or flea dip." She probably had a  very good  idea there. But her voice
cracked; she held on by main force.
     "Can't stand here forever," I said. "Let's pop it."
     I  cracked  the seal.  Surprise! A pair  of larger than  life  pumpkins
floated out. At  least they weren't going to crawl  around on our skin. They
were  up high enough  that we ducked and managed to  avoid being seen.  They
sailed past, looking for hoops and nets.
     The  pumpkins  saw the dead  imps  and  floated  over  to  investigate,
providing us with the opportunity  of darting through the doorway. Inside we
found a  single shotgun and a few shells. Arlene picked  it up and tossed it
to me.
     I was touched. We soldiered on.
     To the  left we saw a  rickety, wooden walkway over a pool  of boiling,
red stuff that seemed to  be a cross between lava and  the traditional green
toxin.  Annoying-  ly,  it was the only way  to  go.  As  we began to  cross
cautiously, the path started to give way. For some reason, neither of us was
the least bit surprised.
     There  was  nowhere to  go  but  forward  before  the  pathetic  bridge
collapsed into  the evil fluid below. We ran  like hell.  But at the end  we
were blocked by what appeared to be a solid stone wall.
     I threw myself at the wall, hoping to  grab a handful, and Arlene could
grab me. Instead, we  ended  up very much alive  on  the other side  of  the
illusion. There was no wall.
     If  we  were startled by the turn of  events, the imps we had landed on
were  downright  stunned. The  shotgun  lost  its virginity  then and there.
Arlene took care of a few stragglers with her 10mm.
     This  time, when we  lifted our eyes from  the carnage of the moment we
were in for a real surprise. Right in front of us  was the figure of a human
being  wrapped in  something sticky and suspended from  the  ceiling by  his
feet.
     We could tell by his clothing that he was a UAC civilian. We could tell
from his groans that he was alive.
     He was tall, nearly two meters. He was overweight and  suffering a  lot
more  because of it, the stomach hanging at a painful angle,  his belt about
to  come loose.  Blood  trickled down his  wrists from where he had tried to
free himself.
     "God, he's still kicking," Arlene said, focusing on the only  important
thing.
     I looked close; the man  appeared to be  wrapped up in spiderwebs;  the
web suspending him from  the ceiling was thick and didn't look like we could
easily break it.
     "Is there  a  knife anywhere?"  We pulled UAC  boxes over and  rummaged
through  them;  no knife,  but a  bottle would break to  serve  the purpose.
Arlene sliced,  and I cushioned his  fall as he came down, grunting  at  the
weight. Good thing there were  some medical supplies in the  UAC  boxes; the
man was in shock. Arlene pushed some D5W saline to pump up the volume; after
a while his eyes opened. He stared at us  without comprehension. I  expected
that.
     "Can you hear me?" I asked, and got nothing. "If you understand me, nod
your head."
     That took a moment but  he finally nodded. Arlene massaged his neck and
I held a finger in front of him until he focused on it. "Are you all right?"
Arlene asked him at last.
     "Unh," he grunted in a low, husky voice, carrying all the pain.
     "Who are you?" I asked.
     "Bill Ritch," he said, groggily.
     "How long were you up there?" Arlene asked.
     Further  proof that  life was  coming  back  into  him  was the way  he
shuddered. "Long enough that I thought I'd died."
     "Who put you up?" I asked.
     "The--goblin," he answered. "Spidermind."
     Oh, great;  a whole new nomenclature.  That narrowed it down to  any of
the monsters. If  we  ever reported to  Earth, We would need to  settle on a
common terminol- ogy.
     "Congratulations," said Arlene.
     "For what?" he asked, half turning to her, still dizzy.
     "Surviving." It was a big deal finding another human who could move and
wasn't a  damned  zombie! We would have  opened a  bottle of  champagne  and
celebrated  if  we'd had the  time ...  or the  booze.  As it was, Ritch was
stunned to receive a mouthful of cold water, if still a bit confused.
     Following a corridor that looped around, we  wound  up back at the same
damned  central  entrance. I would  never enjoy  an  amusement  park  again.
Peeking  cautiously around  the  corner,  I saw  we  had company,  tired  of
inspecting the dead imps outside. Pumpkins in the air, pumpkins everywhere .
. .
     They  roared  in  frustration  and  shot  their  nasty  little balls of
electricity at each other. Important datum: pumpkins are immune to their own
weapons.  And I  made a note  to see how they responded  to being baked in a
pie.
     "Were those the goblins you  meant?"  Arlene whis-  pered  to Ritch. He
shook  his  head,  but his  grim  expres-  sion  left  no  doubt  that  he'd
encountered pumpkins before.
     "They're so freaking stupid," said Arlene contemptu- ously.
     "You'd  think something  that was all head would have  more brains,"  I
added.
     The next step was obvious for those of us with brains. We dashed across
the  corridor to another closed door. I opened it a crack while Arlene  kept
watch, making sure  the pumpkins didn't  float  back. Ritch obviously hadn't
received  military training, but he caught on fast. Consid- ering what  he'd
been  through, he was a  quick study. He kept pace, which was all  we really
needed from him at the moment.
     Through the door I saw two pumpkins on the inside as well, hanging with
a  bunch  of  imps. Taking  a deep breath,  I waited  until a  mob of spinys
marched  between the  door  and  the nearest pumpkin. Then I stepped out and
fired five or six unaimed rounds. These guys didn't merit any wasted shotgun
shells. Having  done my dam- age, I popped back and braced  the door. Arlene
and Ritch helped.
     One thing you can say about  pumpkins: they don't let a little obstacle
like imps stand between them and a target.
     And one thing you can  say about imps: they  don't like  being  shot by
balls of electricity.
     We left them to each other's mercies. Over  the sound of carnage, Ritch
shouted at me. "How'd you get them fighting each other?"
     "We do it all the time," said Arlene, smiling. "It's the Iago tactic."
     "I'm impressed."
     I watched  for the two in the hall; but they'd gotten tired of shooting
each other and returned to shoot the imp carcasses.
     When the sounds behind the door died down, I slowly cracked it. I saw a
lot of dead imps  on  the floor and  the remains of  one deflated pumpkin on
top. I assumed the other one must be on the bottom of  the pile. That's when
I made a huge mistake.





     29




     Stepping  inside, I didn't think to look behind the door,  straight up,
the  logical  place  for a  surviving pumpkin to be  waiting in ambush.  And
that's exactly where the bastard was.
     "Fly!" Arlene  shouted. She was paying  attention. She never  used that
tone of voice except when it was life and death--and in this case, the issue
was my life. I threw myself on the floor just as  a lightning ball fried the
tip of my scalp. A run of 10mm rounds got my attention.
     I flipped over to see Arlene blasting away, then scram- bled to my feet
and pumped my shotgun at the floating head. She split left  and I right, and
we kept firing.
     When we were done, that  was the deadest pumpkin I had  ever seen still
floating.  It was almost like one of those old  cartoons where the character
hangs  in  space for several seconds before it remembers the law of gravity,
then quickly plummets to  the  ground. All that  was missing were  the sound
effects.
     "Incoming!" yelled Ritch,  outside the  door.  We  hadn't forgotten the
other pumpkins. We'd hoped they might have forgotten us, though.
     "Get  in!" Arlene  yelled,  pulling at  Ritch's sleeve. He  didn't need
another hint. The moment he  joined us, we slammed the door  shut and jammed
the latch with Arlene's pistol. The latch immediately rattled; God only knew
what the pumpkins were using for hands.
     "Look," Ritch said, pointing. Protruding from under a dead imp were the
pieces of a box of shotgun shells, along with shells.
     "They  may  be  covering all kinds of  supplies," I said.  The prospect
didn't appeal to me, but I thought  I should set a good example.  Getting on
my knees,  I  pulled the corpse away from the box, and dozens of shells went
rolling as Arlene and Ritch collected them.
     Then we all got busy moving the dead monsters and stacking them in  one
corner.  We received our just reward.  There was another functional shotgun,
lots of  ammo,  even  tools:  hammers,  nails, even a gas-powered chain saw.
Maybe the zombies had  been used to build condos for imps  and pumpkins.  We
even found  an  antique revolver  for Ritch; I  wondered which one of us the
civilian would accidentally shoot.
     We replaced  the pistol  in  the latch  with a handful of  nails,  then
collected  all the tools and  put them in a neat pile for later use. Weapons
and ammo  in hand, we explored  the room and found it led to a broader plaza
area. Then we found a door leading into a narrow corridor.
     "I'll go first," I said.
     "Fine with me," said Arlene. Ritch was more than happy  to bring up the
rear.
     No good deed goes unpunished.  I  realized that the  moment I heard the
familiar  pig-grunting noises,  the  ugly  snuffling  that always  turned my
stomach and might keep me  from ever eating bacon again. They didn't make us
wait  very long. The demons came storming down the corridor, pale pink flesh
with claws and lots and lots of teeth.
     Somehow,  though,  after the  steam-demon,  I couldn't take the pinkies
seriously.
     The narrowness  of  the  corridor  meant  I  had  taken  point  with  a
vengeance;  no one  could  shoot past me. I loosed  a  shotgun blast.  "Fall
back!"  I  shouted,  and  heard  Arlene and  Ritch doing  it.  Taking  steps
backward, I never took my eyes  off  the enemy. I shot a second time, then a
third and fourth time, before dropping the first demon.
     I didn't like the arithmetic. Despite  our extra ammo,  there were more
demons than we could take down  at this rate.  My  comrades had made it back
through  the  door as I held the corridor. Back to the wall, I  kept firing,
when suddenly . . .
     "Hold fire!" It was Arlene's voice,  and I  couldn't imagine that she'd
gone  nuts. I risked turning my head. She stood  in the doorway, holding the
chain saw. Then  with  a chugga-mmmmmm, chuggga-mmmmmm, she pulled the cord.
Third time was the charm, and it kicked to life with an honest roar to drown
out all but a steam-demon's scream.
     Elbowing past me,  she lifted the  buzzing blade and let the teeth bite
into  the nearest demon. "Die, Pinkie, die!" she screamed.  It  sounded odd,
but the results were great: red blood splashed us both, and she kept at  it,
screaming a war cry that just might scare a fallen angel.
     Arlene waded through them, working the saw, beads of sweat and drops of
blood covering her face. A demon arm fell to the floor, blood exploding in a
torrent. She slipped on the gore, but  the movement  carried her forward and
the saw buried itself in the chest of the next demon, ripping a death gurgle
from the creature.
     I tried  to get to her to help,  but the demon corpses were in the way.
She worked the chain saw loose but fell backward, swinging it in a wide arc.
A large demon swung its  claw down hard and knocked the chain saw out of her
hand.
     Before Arlene could  get away, another claw ripped her open. She didn't
scream but fell silently.
     The sight drove me mad.  Somewhere in the  back of my mind I'd accepted
the likelihood of  our being blown to bits; but I wouldn't have us  die like
animals!
     Picking up  the  saw, I revved it and finished  the damned job, shoving
the blade into the  face of the  one who had  hurt her. I lost  count of how
many were left  but I  kept at  it, swinging the  chain saw  back and forth,
covering the walls with gore. Finally, there was nothing left to kill.
     The  red haze lifted and I remembered  Arlene. Turning back, I saw that
Ritch was with her, trying to stanch the bleeding with improvised first-aid.
My right sleeve was already in tatters, so it was a simple matter to rip off
a strip  of cloth  and use  it for  bandages. We  patched her up  as best we
could.
     Her face was pale and she was weak; but she was  alive. "Can you move?"
I asked.
     "Move or  die," she wheezed, "so I'll move." We helped  her stand up. I
started to pick up her shotgun and pass it to Ritch, but she shook her head.
"That's mine," she said, reclaiming it proudly. I wasn't about to argue.
     We  left the heavy chain  saw on the deck  and staggered forward into a
last chamber. There were disgusting things  lying around, but as nothing was
moving or  alive,  I gave it no further attention. In the center of the room
was a  teleport  pad of rusted metal, designed  in a  heavy  and  cumbersome
manner. It looked like an antique.
     "That doesn't look promising," I said.
     "We have no choice," Arlene answered  through clenched teeth. We hadn't
had a good choice in a long, long time. All three of us stepped aboard, arms
linked. Ritch must have been religious. He said a prayer.
     Maybe  because it was  an  old-fashioned teleporter, the experience was
different  from  the others . .  . like  the special F/X were  provided by a
different  company. I noticed sounds that  were new, a wind tunnel  combined
with an  avalanche; and  there  was  the sensation  of falling turning  into
floating. Then we arrived.
     "Wow!" Ritch  said.  He wasn't  as  used to this stuff as  we were. The
terminus  was  a rock  garden. Although the light was dim, we could make out
the twisted, curved, and warped rocks  that made  me think of a  giant coral
reef,  except the color and texture of the formations was the same as desert
camo. Met our old friends, the zombies.
     Arlene fired  first.  The  opportunity  to fight  put life  back in her
again. Most of these zombies weren't armed--ex- UAC civvies--which  was fine
with me. Ritch got off a  couple  of shots as  well; I don't know if he  hit
anything.  Abruptly,  I  realized we had  a  more  serious problem than  the
walking dead crew. I'd  almost forgotten the real spooks--the ghost things I
thought of as specters.
     One touched my face with all the coldness of space. I hit at the horror
wildly but struck Ritch instead, knock- ing him to the ground. It was joined
by some  of  its buddies,  those flying  metal skulls I hoped  never  to see
again. They dive-bombed us like kamikaze pilots.
     Then Ritch  found the back of a specter head by swinging his hands;  he
put his revolver against its skull and squeezed off a point-blank round.
     That got the  critter's attention; it spun  to deal with Ritch, turning
its back on me; I blew its head apart with the riot gun.
     Somehow the  idea of a ghost you can slice  and dice appealed to  me. I
didn't think  the nuns would approve. The damned specter went down screaming
like a banshee and bleeding something that stank of ice-cold grave- yards.
     While I was auditioning  for Ghost  Busters,  Arlene popped  the flying
skulls. They didn't require as  much  firepower  as the pumpkins. Ritch took
care of the remaining zombies.
     "Aim for the head, just like the movie," Arlene shouted.
     He  was  doing okay  for a novice,  and naturally  gravi- tated  to the
easiest job; but he acquitted himself well. I was happy we had found him.
     Finally the wave of bad guys subsided  and we could play  beachcombers.
There wasn't much  worth grabbing this time, however--only a bit of ammo and
a Sig-Cow for Ritch from the poorly equipped zombies.
     Now seemed a  good moment to find  out more about Bill. Arlene  thought
his  "goblin"  might be a hell-prince and described one,  but  he shook  his
head. "Not a minotaur; it was more like a giant spider," he said.
     "Oh, great," said Arlene, "a new one for the files."
     We found  out  Bill Ritch was a  computer  programmer. If we  found any
monsters with laptops, he would prove invaluable. To be fair, he'd done fine
killing his quota of zombies.
     "How'd you get captured in the first place?" Arlene asked.
     Ritch sighed. "Classic  case of 'this can't really be happening to us.'
When we  were--"  He stopped, face turning red.  When he started up again, I
knew he had skipped something important. Later, I thought. "We were studying
the Gates, and suddenly  one  of them on Deimos experienced a marked drop in
temperature. It started glowing, too."
     "But  I  thought  Deimos  was   deserted  when  all  this  started,"  I
interrupted.
     "You were  supposed to  think that," he said. "When the UAC found alien
electronics and started--then we all crowded in to see, and that's when they
started coming through, the goblins. Aliens, I mean."
     "Which ones?" I asked. "Which ones came first?"
     "The first  thing through was one of those things  you  call an imp. It
looked at us  and grinned, and we were all frozen  in total shock. We didn't
know  what  to say or do--our first contact with an alien race, and  we were
speechless!  All  those wonderful plans about what  we were going to say and
how we were going to react--"
     "Well, how  did the  imp react?"  Arlene  was  always good  at  cutting
through the plastic to get to the meat.
     Ritch shook his head sadly,  remembering something  painful.  "It threw
one of those wads of  phosphorous mucoid and killed  a senior scientist  and
two  Air Force captains. I was in the back. . . thank God. A woman screamed;
I  think  it  was Dr.  Tyya Graf. Then  another one  came  through,  and  we
panicked."
     "Mob scene?"
     "Like Soylent Green." Arlene mm-hmmed,  but I  was  confused. Must have
been another old movie reference. "If I hadn't been such a big guy,  I would
have been trampled. As it was,  I was  knocked down. I tried to get up,  and
they squirted some  sort of webbing  around  me, a neurotoxin that paralyzed
me.
     "I was  out of it for  some indeterminate time;  when I came  to,  this
spider thing was  interrogating me and I was in a huge room,  surrounded  by
hundreds of goblins of different  types, and even some of those  zombies.  I
recognized Dr. Graf,  but I could tell right away she was dead and  her body
was just reanimated. And, well, that's the story."
     Speaking of which, Arlene  interrupted with her own  thoughts: "Fly, do
you notice there's a lot more zombie bodies here than anything else?"
     "Sure."
     "So with all  the  noise  we just  made, why  didn't a  lot  more  come
running?"
     "Curiosity may have killed the cat," I said, feeling flip, "but never a
zombie. Or maybe this is all of them."
     "No brains," said Ritch, bending over one of them.
     Arlene  shook  her  head. "I  think it's because they never do anything
they're not told," she said. "They must stay in constant  communication with
someone  or  something, and only go investigate when they receive a command.
If they've been  told to patrol,  looking  for humans,  then they'll attack;
otherwise, they might march right by us and not even see us."
     "That imp who talked to me made  me wonder if imps give them orders," I
said.
     "Maybe; but we've seen  zombies where there are no imps. Maybe they get
standing orders. I saw a bunch of imps come running to check out a situation
once where all I'd done was get the  zombies firing at each other. The  imps
couldn't control them."
     "Well,  the pig-snuffling  demons don't  have any intelli- gence  worth
mentioning,  either,"  I  said.  "If there's  any more  of them around, they
wouldn't hear a battle over their own breathing."
     "The  skulls  don't  even have ears," Arlene  said. "Look, it's  either
hell-princes, the  steam-demons,  or that  thing Bill described, the  spider
thing."
     "The spider creature that interrogated me," Ritch said, shuddering.
     "We'll  keep that in mind." Time to move on. Hugging the right wall, we
discovered a narrowing, "natural" corridor with more shotgun shells lying on
the floor  like  popcorn. We scooped them  up,  but  I  was  disappointed to
discover  that some were  defective  or  spent.  I was  preoc- cupied with a
handful  of  questionable-looking specimens  when they  spilled  through  my
fingers and  I dropped  to my knees to recover  them.  That saved my life. A
shotgun blast filled the space where my head had been a moment before.
     "Zombie!" Ritch called out anti-anticlimactically. No one ever shot  at
us with human  weapons except  former humans.  Another shot missed high, but
there was no third attempt on Yours Truly.
     Arlene turned to fire--and froze! "F-Fly . . ." she whispered hoarsely.
     I stared.  Jesus; it was Arlene's  worst nightmare  come  true. Wilhelm
Dodd, or what was left of him, lurched toward our little group, shifting his
twelve-gauge to get a better shot.
     30




     Arlene stared at him approaching, her mouth open, face pale as a ghost.
I didn't want to do it, but she'd made me promise!
     Feeling sick, I raised my own weapon. I knew what would happen: I would
blow  the f'ing SOB away--and  Arlene would  hate me for  the  rest  of  her
natural life . . . which might not be a very long time at that.
     Then a miracle happened.
     Just  as my finger  tightened on  the trigger,  Arlene's face  suddenly
hardened. The color returned. She closed her mouth.
     Then she pumped a shell into the receiver, shouldered her riot gun, and
blew the zombie-Dodd's face off.
     Nobody said  anything; Ritch took  his cue from  our awkward silence. I
put my hand on Arlene's  shoulder, and she spoke. Her  voice croaked like  a
rusty can  tied  behind  a very old car. "He was already gone,  Fly.  And  I
didn't want him to come between my buddy and me."
     There was that damned peculiar lump again. I blinked  --dust in my eye,
I guess--and squeezed her shoulder so hard  she winced. But she didn't  move
to push my hand away.
     She knew  what would  happen if  I  were  the one  to kill the reworked
Wilhelm Dodd . . . and she wouldn't allow that to happen.
     Evidently, our friendship was as important to her as it was to me.
     I'd forgotten  that the  zombies had  ever  been  human; I made  myself
forget. But the staring face of Willy Dodd wouldn't  let me get away with it
any longer. He was a man, a Marine, and very important in my life.  Now that
he was gone--I didn't know what to think about Arlene and me.
     Best not to think  at all, I advised me; it was good advice, and I took
it.
     Arlene was taking it  hard. Sitting  on  the floor,  she  put her  head
between her legs and took  a  series  of  long,  deep breaths.  I wanted  to
comfort her but felt helpless. "Arlene ..."  I reached out to touch her. She
shook her head and pulled away. Any other situation,  I  would have left her
alone to mourn  in private.  But there was  no privacy on Deimos  except the
solitude of the grave.
     Ritch understood what was going on and kept his mouth shut. I liked him
more and more. I glanced at my wristwatch,  a  pointless act in this  place,
perhaps; but it helped somehow: a tiny act of useless normalcy.
     "Arlene," I said, gently as  I could, "we've got to split.  You need to
pull it together."
     "Leave me alone!" she said,  keeping her face  turned away. "Don't look
at me."
     This didn't seem like a good time to  push the envelope. I'd never seen
her this badly shaken; without  another word,  I sat down, back-to-back with
her, and kept watch while she got it out of her system. Ritch stood a little
farther up the hallway, gun out, eyes averted.
     Every so often her entire body  shuddered; I  pretended not to  notice.
When she finished,  she wiped her eyes and stood up. "Let's move, Corporal,"
she  said. She was  a PFC  and I  outranked  her, but it  was all right. The
fighting tone of voice was back.
     Ritch rejoined us  and we  pushed on. Up the defile was a rise where we
could peek over  the rock wall to our left. The architect from hell had been
busy  again. A huge garden stretched out before us in  the shape  of a right
hand. We were in the thumb.
     "Can you believe this one?" Arlene asked.
     "Better than a swastika,"  I  said.  The hand covered  a good  piece of
territory, with  the "fingers" wide spread, each undoubtedly offering a wide
selection of motion  sensors  and other surprises.  The  "ring" finger had a
bizarre,  wooden  shack right where the ring would have been;  I wondered if
the "pinkie" finger would be full of Arlene's demons.
     We  started  with  the  thumb.  "Bet  the  only  prints   we  find  are
foot-prints," Ritch said. I've never  liked stupid jokes, either, but Arlene
laughed; anything to shake her out of her depression.
     I heard a familiar bubbling: the red "lava" liquid. The pool  was in  a
raised, stone  structure that could pass  as the swimming pool from  hell. I
thought I saw a switch just below the lava line.
     "What's that?" Ritch asked.
     "Toxic  yecch,"  Arlene answered.  "Haven't  you seen it before?" Ritch
shook  his head.  "You've been  lucky,"  she went  on. "Fly and I  have been
through an ocean of the stuff."
     "Looks like lava," Ritch said, proving an old  adage  about great minds
and small circles. "Is it hot?"
     "Not  enough,"  I said, "but it can  still kill you." The switch teased
me, like a piece of plastic sticking up from a bowl of red oatmeal.
     "You know,"  I  mused,  "that switch is awfully tempting..."  I found a
rock  and pitched it at the  button, jumping back. I didn't want any of that
spit splashing on me.
     I  should  have  tried  out for the majors when  the twelve-year strike
began. First try was the charm; we heard a  loud click,  and  a door rotated
open,  revealing  our latest take-home  pay:  another  AB-10, and  far  more
important, a pair  of beautiful Medikits. I would have preferred  another of
those magical blue health spheres, but this would definitely do in a pinch.
     But my heart sunk when I picked  up the  first one and saw the telltale
signs of imp. This was not  a virgin find. Tooth marks explained why most of
the drugs  were  missing.  Apparently the imps  liked  the  taste. A hurried
investigation  of the kits showed that barely enough  drugs had survived for
Arlene.
     Ritch helped  me gather together  what we needed. After  cleansing  her
wounds, with  special  care for  the  bad  gash  in  her  chest, I  gave her
painkillers and put on fresh bandages. Ritch seemed embarrassed, swabbing at
her amble, naked breasts; but titillation was the last  thing on any of  our
minds.
     "How's that?" I asked.
     "Better," she said, but  I could  tell from her strained voice and pale
face that she was far from perfect. Better would have to do.
     The dregs of the drugs proved a bonus for Ritch. He didn't look so hot,
either. Coming down from  the  ceiling and snapping out of shock  so quickly
couldn't be good for anyone, and he'd been holding his own in combat instead
of resting.
     I wish I could have offered him a needle of the stimulant I'd used back
in  the marble  room,  on Deimos; but stimulant seemed to have been what the
imps were after--the vials were all empty.
     Leaving the thumb,  we descended on the  palm as if storming heaven and
began a serious  housecleaning, sliding from rock to rock, blasting anything
in  our  way . .  .  and  scooping up anything useful.  The opposi- tion was
feeble, hardly worth mentioning except to say that they died quickly.
     Arlene lucked into finding a rocket launcher  of her  very own. Then we
helped  her locate the little battery-  sized rockets that were  nearby. She
collected seven of the little darlings, and I showed her where to stick them
and taught her the forbidden lore of proximity fuses and firing rings.
     We were so happy about the find that we must have  sent out a subverbal
signal. Monsters don't like humans being happy.
     We were ambushed by six  former comrades at  arms  and  ex-UAC workers,
four imps, three demons, two flying skulls, and a partridge in  a pear tree.
(I'm  lying  about the  pear tree.) In the ensuing carnage,  Arlene used  up
every rocket; but at least she could never again say she hadn't been checked
out on the launcher.
     Arlene and I barely worked up  a sweat. Ritch was  getting  good at the
game; he  was  a good draft pick. He'd been doing some thinking that he  was
eager to  share  with  us. Arlene still  seemed  numb  from the discovery of
Wilhelm, but I was ready to get to know this new Ritch better.
     So, as we surveyed our  latest  gaggle  of ex's, I encour- aged  him to
speak his piece.
     He'd already told us that computers were his area, but he'd been overly
modest. Evidently, he was a  bona-fide computer genius kidnapped from Deimos
by the aliens.
     "We had  already decided that  the Gates were  hypermass transportation
devices;  if they  really worked  and  weren't  just  some elaborate  failed
experiment from millenia past, it would blow every physics theory we had out
the wash.
     "We  discovered they  responded  to bursts  of high- energy microwaves;
their  circuits  responded  for  several  seconds   after  each   burst--not
electronics,  exactly,  but  something  involving  direct  manipulations  of
particle streams."
     As Ritch held court, Arlene perked up and started paying attention. She
was  getting  that  expression  she wore  when  a  boyfriend  betrayed  her.
Suddenly, her mouth dropped. "You mean you--activated the Gates  yourselves?
You turned them on? Jesus Christ, you brought those things here!"
     Arlene  had a  romantic  side that tried  to believe whatever  nonsense
officials put  out  as  the  truth  du  jour.  I'd gotten over that sort  of
silliness long  before I  joined  the  Corps--it wasn't  a long-term healthy
attitude for a jarhead.
     "I... I think we  brought these aliens through the Gate ourselves, in a
way," Ritch admitted pathetically. "But it was an accident!"
     "Ah,  an accident," I  snorted. "Well, that certainly relieves everyone
of any personal responsibility."
     Ritch continued, not noticing the  irony. "I think,  now, that whatever
these  creatures were, they were  listening  to  the  Gates. Maybe they were
trying to fire it up from their end, and until we 'answered the phone,' they
couldn't do it. But yeah, I guess we let them in.
     "Anyway, I don't believe these are the creatures that built the Gates."
     "That's what we figured," I said. "You  got anything  more  substantial
than a gut feeling?"
     "The UAC has . . . engravings that  the Gate builders left behind. They
are as old as  the  Gates, showing what the  Gate builders looked  like." He
paused, trying to find the right words.
     "And?" we asked as one.
     "You're not going to believe this--" he started.
     "After what  we've  been  through,  we'll believe any- thing," I  said,
launching a preemptive strike.
     "Well, they look like something out of H. P. Lovecraft," he said.
     "I knew it," Arlene said. She still looked furious.
     "Am I the only  person in the solar system who never read this  guy?" I
asked, irritated. "The first one of you to talk about anything 'eldritch' is
going to get a rocket right between the eyes."
     Ritch looked  at me like he thought I might be serious, but a big smile
from  Arlene put  him  at  ease.  He swal- lowed  hard and said,  "They have
snakelike trunks with multilimbed upper torsos, no visible head;  and they'd
have to move like sidewinders."
     "How big?" Arlene wanted to know.
     "Up  to ten meters  long," he  answered. They didn't say  it but I just
know they were both thinking, Oooh, eldritch!
     I agreed. "I'd bet my life we haven't met the  real intelligence behind
this."
     Arlene  joined  in:  "Bet something of more value than  that, Fly. What
value do you think an insurance compa- ny would put on us?"
     "I  don't  gamble,"  Ritch said with a  straight  face, "and I have met
the--what'd  you call it?  The mastermind.  That spider thing  . . . it's in
charge, I'm positive."
     "Tell us more," I requested.
     He shuddered. I  knew how he felt. Theory was  one thing, close contact
another. "So far as I can  tell, the spider thing has real intelligence," he
said.  "It spoke  in  clear  English." I wasn't about to doubt him  after my
experience with the imp back on Phobos.
     "What did it say?" asked Arlene.
     "Well, first it started  asking  me questions. It started with  simple,
yes-no,  true-false; I tried to lie a few times, but it already  knew a lot,
and I got caught."
     "What was its response to a lie?"
     Ritch shrugged. "Didn't seem  to care emotionally; but it punished  me.
Horrible stuff, but all hallucination. You know how  you're having  a dream,
and you dream that you're absolutely terrified? The spidermind thing  can do
that: I can see why people who encountered one of  those, maybe thousands of
years  ago, could think  they'd  died and gone to hell." He shuddered at the
memory.
     "But the fears were all unreal.  And  after a while  I realized I could
take it. You just have to accept  being afraid like you've never been afraid
before;  but if it can't break  you with  fear, it doesn't know  what to  do
next."
     "What did it do to you?"
     "It  started  ordering  me  to  reprogram  all  the  Phobos and  Deimos
equipment. When I refused, it  tortured  me with  more and more Fear Itself,
which is what I started calling the hallucinations.  When that didn't  work,
it hung me  from the  ceiling with  its  webbing, like it  was saving me for
later."
     "I  got the impression it needed to find out more  about  humans so  it
could figure out how to crack us. Mean- while, I think it went looking for a
more cooperative programmer. I'm sure it would have killed me when it  found
one."
     "To  find out more about humans," I repeated, feeling a  chill. "Arlene
... do you think all this crap that's been thrown against us ... ?"
     She  glared at me, then glared at the deck. She  knew what I meant; she
knew it made sense.
     We  had  been the  secondary  information sources.  Had  we  given  the
mastermind anything useful? Mater Dei, I hoped not.
     "Describe the monster," Arlene said.
     Ritch  gritted  his  teeth. "It's like a huge, brainlike thing inside a
mechanical, spiderlike body."
     "What about the weapons?" I asked.
     "Ringed with more weapons than you  can imagine," Ritch said. I doubted
that. I'd reached the point where I could imagine quite a lot.
     Actually I was glad to  receive Ritch's  news. A leader alien  meant we
had something to really fight. I was exhausted cutting off the inexhaustible
limbs of this army. I was ready  for a general.  The new information cheered
up Arlene as well, bringing color back to her cheeks. She and I didn't  need
to  talk  about it. We were on  the same wavelength. We  shared our theories
with Ritch, especially the  one about Deimos  as a spaceship and what we had
discovered about the hyperspace tunnel. He had already guessed a lot.
     Then we continued our journey  up the ring finger, where  we'd seen the
shack.  We ran into  one specter,  hardly a match  for  the three of  us.  I
couldn't  help contrasting our  casualness now with my terror  at seeing  my
first zombie. Nowadays, I was almost blase.
     We prowled our way up to the ancient, crumbly, wooded hut.  Hell needed
a facelift.
     "Check  out  the  lock,"  Arlene said,  grinning  like  a girl  with  a
Christmas of accessories for her favorite doll. "I love these!"
     "Why?" I asked.
     "They take an old-fashioned key."
     "I'll help you look for it," Ritch said before I could.
     "Hell with that," she  said. "I've already got one!" She dismantled one
of the  pistols; then  she took the gas-  expander stabilizer  spline for  a
flexor  and the fixed end of the  magazine-advance spring  for  a tensor. It
took her just five minutes to pick the lock.
     "Where'd you learn that?" Ritch asked.
     "I read a lot of comic books."
     "You need help  putting that back together?" I  asked with  a  straight
face.  I couldn't  resist teasing her  a  little. She rolled  her  eyes  and
reassembled the piece in nothing Hat. She  made us wait until  she  was good
and ready to open the shack door.
     Inside  was a  switch. Surprise,  surprise,  surprise ... as our patron
saint Gomer  might say. Arlene  did the  honors,  lowering  the  wall ahead,
revealing a hidden platform containing a dozen dead, mangled, squashed  imps
and a teleport pad.
     "It's about that time," she said.
     "I want a new travel agent," I said.
     We teleported and stared, stunned into angry silence.
     We  were  right  back  where  we'd  started  after  crawling  down  the
hyperspace  tunnel! The  only improvement was we  still  had our clothes and
weapons--and Ritch, of course.
     31




     "Deja," said Arlene.
     "Vu," I said.
     "Dejah Thoris," Ritch said, and Arlene snorted. They were speaking some
kind of secret code. I wasn't going to worry about it. Starting all over was
something to worry about.
     As  before, I inserted my  arm up to the elbow  in the membranal switch
and opened the door. Inside,  we  found Weems and Yoshida in the  same room,
same  position,  still joined head-to-head . .  .  and still  holding  their
pistols in exactly the same position as before. Clothed!
     We stared for  a long  time, and poor Bill Ritch had no idea why Arlene
and I were so stunned; he  started to examine the bodies,  but Arlene gently
pulled him back before he could see what they'd done to them.
     "This is worse than  the  monsters," I  said.  We passed by and crawled
through the narrow tunnel, a very tight fit for Ritch.
     When  we reached the end, we faced the same seven imps as before,  only
this time we used shotguns. At least that was an improvement.
     We popped  the same door. Out  came two pumpkins, just  like last time.
The pumpkins were pretty much the same except for varying sizes. Arlene used
the  AB-10, and  I finished them off with  a shotgun,  our favorite  tactic.
Ritch  made  a comment  that was new: "They'd look better  with two  burning
candles for eyes instead of that headlight in the center." No one argued.
     We started to  bypass  the  collapsing  pier, going for the  other door
instead;  but  suddenly  Arlene said,  "Fly,  I  have  a  feeling we  should
duplicate our actions as precise- ly as we can."
     "Arlene, last time the demons creamed you  in that  narrow  hallway," I
reminded her. She nodded, a  bit shaky at  the  thought.  She wasn't in  any
condition to survive a  bout like  that again.  I pursued the  point: "We've
already deviated by not taking Weems's and  Yoshida's pistols and by killing
the pumpkins outside."
     "I know," she said. "I  don't have any good argument except for  female
intuition."  I  was about  to make  a  crack about the  unlikelihood of that
particular  attribute  in Arlene Sanders,  but I  saw  that  she  was deadly
serious. She glared at me until I saw reason.
     We left Ritch in  the corridor. He wasn't in shape for  what we had  in
mind. Of course, after we cleared a path for him, he could stroll through in
relative safety. We  ran like  bats out of Deimos down the  pier, this  time
charging through  the  illusory  wall of flame  and blowing away the imps we
knew to be on the other side.
     There was another reason I'd insisted we leave Ritch behind, one I kept
to myself: I half thought we'd find a  second  Bill Ritch hanging  from  the
ceiling here.
     We didn't. . . and I never brought the  subject up to Arlene or  Ritch.
God only  knows whether they thought  of it  themselves--probably, but  they
kept quiet as well.
     We  slipped back by the secret corridor and used the  same trick on the
pumpkins and imps inside the room. It was a lot easier when  we knew what to
expect. This time I knew where the last pumpkin would be floating in  ambush
when I  opened the door, and I  enjoyed  not  being surprised. Pop goes  the
pumpkin.
     Crossing the patio, Arlene grabbed the chain saw and revved it up;  but
she  made me  promise  to start shooting the moment she  lost it  this time.
Except  that this time, since she knew what  to expect, she didn't  slip and
wasn't out of position  where a demon could knock the chain saw  out of  her
hand. She ducked. She weaved. She sawed all the demons to death. It was hard
to believe she'd been seriously injured only a short time before; but having
a  chance to get it right the second time did  wonders for her psychological
recovery.
     We continued up the  narrow corridor to the teleport. "So  what happens
now?" I asked. "Back to the hand again?
     I should've  kept  my hole  shut.  We stepped aboard,  but  instead  of
teleporting, the walls  of  the chamber lowered  into the floor, leaving  us
standing behind some pillars in a very wide open courtyard.
     A neat row of UAC boxes stretched across the court- yard before us like
a  skyscraper on its side. Every box held  a five-pack of  rockets--all  the
rockets in the world. There was also another launcher.
     A  silver  lining  like  this  couldn't  possibly   arrive  without  an
accompanying  thundercloud. We heard the thunder of the heaviest feet in all
monsterdom.  Another  lovely  steam-demon  .  .  .  and  there  weren't  any
convenient zero-g zones around this time.
     "What the hell is that?" Ritch whispered, crouching behind a pillar.
     "That, my friend, is a steam-demon. Fifteen feet tall,  long  horns,  a
missile launcher for an arm--"
     "Oh, one of those," Ritch said, nodding.
     "You know about them?" asked an incredulous Arlene.
     "Sure; I've just never seen one before. They ripped  off my programming
for an ore-crusher to run the creature." His tone of voice was what you hear
in small claims court, offended about business-as-usual.
     "Any way to sabotage it?"
     Ritch frowned in  thought.  A steam-demon was  large  enough to inspire
frowns in anyone. "If you can  get me around back, maybe," he  said. "That's
where the missile feeder is."
     "Worth a try,"  I said. I looked at Arlene, and she  nodded.  We dashed
out to  either side of  the pillars as the steam-demon spotted us. It was as
ugly as  last  time,  but not as  terrifying when frozen in indecision about
which  target  to  attack. While it made up its  mind, assuming it had  one,
Arlene and I fired rockets from opposite direc- tions.
     At  last  the  steam-demon  chose  the prettier  target and raised  its
missile-launching  hand.  Arlene saw what  was  coming and dived  behind her
pillar. Three small cruise missiles struck dead-on, shattering the pillar.
     I  jumped out  and  shot  the sucker over  and  over until  I  got  its
attention. As the big ugly mother deigned to  notice me, I  popped behind my
own  column;  Arlene  repeated  the  same process,  out from  her  cover and
blasting away. It was kind of  like dealing with the playground  bully where
the stakes were real.
     The steam-demon  proved  that  it  had a  mind  by  passing our  little
intelligence test. It stomped  closer to the pillars, cutting off our angle.
Arlene  was  ready for this. She ran  backward, zigzagging,  popping  off an
occa- sional rocket.
     Time for Ritch's plan.
     While all this was happening, Ritch  and  I were moving  into position.
When the monster was finally  standing with its back  to the pillars, lining
up a fatal  shot for  Arlene, I interlaced  my  fingers,  bent down, and let
Ritch climb aboard. Heavy as he was, I could barely boost him up high enough
to grab the back of Godzilla for the ride of his life.
     He  shoved his hand  into the missile-loading  machin-  ery  up  to the
elbow. I ditched him, as agreed beforehand, and leapt to a safer position to
try something else in case Ritch failed.
     Arlene  was  still  dodging  around as if  she were  an  actress  at  a
producers' convention. She was  too busy now to even  take  a shot. Besides,
she wasn't going  to risk hitting Ritch. As for the behemoth, it hadn't even
noticed that someone was riding on its back.
     Then Ritch ripped out a cable, and the steam-demon noticed.
     It jammed  its left  arm back  at  an impossible  angle;  it could just
barely brush Ritch, but couldn't bring much force against him, not enough to
dislodge him.
     The  hand  with the launcher had a better angle; the steam-demon got it
back, pointed at Ritch, and I held my breath, expecting  Armageddon. But  at
the last moment, rarely used self-preservation circuitry kicked in, prevent-
ing the big  guy from firing into its own  missile  supply.  The steam-demon
alternately swatted at Ritch from both sides until our man finished his task
and jumped down.
     Then  Bill  Ritch  started running,  headed  in  my  direc-  tion.  The
steam-demon turned around  with great  delib- eration  and aimed its missile
launcher at Ritch's head. This was point-blank range. Ritch would never have
to worry about a hat again. The monster fired. We heard a loud, empty click.
Nothing happened.  Ritch  kept run-  ning.  The  steam-demon  kept clicking,
pointing and clicking, as if it couldn't fathom the situational evolu- tion.
It flunked that intelligence test.
     Arlene  didn't waste  the opportunity. She  started pumping at it  from
behind. The poor bastard turned  and aimed its useless  arm at her. Click! I
shot it three times with my own compact rockets. I kept at it, squeezing the
ring until my palm became numb; after what must have been twenty-five direct
hits at least,  the  titan  finally staggered  and fell to  the deck like  a
skyscraper under demolition--I kept fifing, and it got weaker and weaker.
     Then Arlene got smart,  ran  around back, and pumped a couple  into the
missile supply; the steam-demon's last  words were pretty spectacular. I was
surprised the entire hyperspace tunnel didn't collapse.
     I was tired. But Arlene and Ritch were still full of fire.
     We  went back the  way we'd come,  but  there had been a change in  the
architecture.  Walls  no  longer  stood  where  they had.  Floor plans  were
different. A  room  that had been a small, empty antechamber  was now a huge
room with  the equivalent of a "beach" against  which  red  waves  of  toxin
washed relentlessly.
     "Look!" Arlene said.  I followed her  pointing finger to  the unwelcome
sight of a hell-prince wading  through the crimson toxic surf. After playing
patty-cake with  the  steam-demon, a  minotaur didn't seem that serious--but
back on Phobos, Arlene had ripped through a crack to avoid one, and I'd been
almost paralyzed with fright. How times change!
     But it wouldn't do to be careless. We took  it left, right, left, right
with  rockets  until it was slagged. It  made one gratifying  "Ork!"  before
dying.
     The long, narrow corridor where Arlene had chain-  sawed the demons was
now  one  edge of a triangular room full of specters. We gave  that a  pass,
rushing  through before the lumbering,  invisible pinkies could avenge their
more-visible cousins; we beat cleats back to the door leading to the central
corridor and slamming it, jamming the latch with some 10mm rounds.
     We  didn't see anything in the corridor outside,  so we went back along
the secret passage by  which we had exited from the room behind the illusory
wall.  From that room we could see that  the lava lake now had a wall at the
back,  and next to it a corridor that offered the possibility of dry land. I
was about to slog across the corridor when Ritch got into the act.
     "Why don't you use the toxic protection suit?" he asked, pointing.
     "What? Where?"
     "See those coveralls?"
     Huh! I  pulled one on over  my  armor  and boots  before making a  dash
through the crud to the island behind it. There, I found the damnedest rifle
I'd ever seen, huge, gyrostabilized, and with a  gigantic battery  backpack.
Hoisting it up, I  was pleased  that it was a lot lighter than it looked and
considerably less unwieldy. Grinning like I'd won a bowling league trophy, I
humped back to where the others were waiting.
     It was a good thing I  followed Ritch's advice  on the protective suit;
the toxic glop  ate  away at  the  material with  a consistent low hiss  for
company. I started feeling lousy by the time I was  out of the stuff, but at
least I wasn't in pain.  Arlene reached  out  to help me  climb from the red
pool.
     "Get it off!" she  said.  "Your  suit  is  disintegrating."  I  eagerly
stripped  for her.  She  noticed  a  telltale  bulge under the suit. "What's
this?" she asked.
     I looked at it. "It's a... it's a big, freaking gun, I guess."
     "What's it do?"
     "I hate to say it, but we'd better find out  in combat; I don't want to
waste power. Ritch?" He looked at the thing and shook his head.
     My skin was tingling after dumping  the suit.  We three exchanged  that
special expression that is only shared by those who skirt close to death. We
touched hands, more than a handshake--more like taking a secret oath.
     There was nowhere to go but back out to the court- yard, and now I  was
glad we'd already  popped the two  pumpkins. We  found another difference in
the pattern: a  new door next to the old, this one locked. Arlene dropped to
her knees and fiddled with it.  "Bad news,"  she said finally. "I can't pick
this one."
     That was annoying. I'd about convinced myself that she could handle any
of these. Surveying  the scenery, I noticed a third door on  the far side of
the  courtyard.  This place was turning into a hotel lobby! "Let's try  over
there," I suggested.
     We skulked through the  doorway  and  entered a  dark corridor.  I took
point and no one argued. I suppose I'd  become careless. I didn't notice the
teleport pad until I'd stepped on it.
     This one was quick,  but it  made me  feel like  I wanted to throw  up.
Suddenly  I  was standing  on  a  triangular  platform  directly  behind two
pumpkins, not two meters away!





     32




     They  didn't see me. That was  a good thing because there was no  way I
could  kill them quickly with a  shotgun or pistol.  It  would take multiple
shots to  destroy them, and at this range, long before  that happened they'd
fry me  with their lightning balls. And I could forget about rockets, unless
I had a "burning" desire to be a burn- ward poster boy.
     This seemed  a fine time to give the big freakin' gun--call it a BFG--a
shot. Taking  a deep breath, I raised  this  fine  piece  of Union Aerospace
Corporation craftsmanship  and pointed it  at the nearest oblivious  target.
There was  no obvious trigger mechanism, so I squeezed the hand grip.  There
was no kick at all.  Instead,  I heard  a loud whine of energy. The pumpkins
heard it also and started rotating.
     Nothing had come out of the  muzzle of the weapon yet; I had just about
decided I'd made a big freakin' mistake when a green ball of energy exploded
from the sealed mouth of the gun. The light  was so bright it seared my eyes
. . . the pumpkins  screamed and  popped  like balloons, leaving nothing but
smoking, blue and orange shreds.
     But my troubles were not over; I wasn't back home with my feet up.
     A  horde  of  zombies  poured out  of cubbyholes  that  were like  eyes
stretched up  and down both corridors. Funny how I hadn't noticed them until
trouble came out. Exhaustion was taking its toll and making me lose my edge.
     I'd already dropped to  my belly when I heard the  unmistakable clatter
of machine-gun bullets ripping over  my head. Who the hell was shooting now?
The attack came from behind. I was tired of attacks coming from behind.
     Rolling to the  side,  staying low, I fired off  another BFG blast down
the corridor to the left.  The results  were good--a  large bunch  of  fried
zombies. I  was ready to institute a firm gun-control policy for all undead:
I would firmly control my BFG as I fired it.
     Leaping down from  the pumpkin platform, I bolted along the corridor to
the left end, ducking into a cubby- hole  myself. Old rule: when a  bad  guy
comes out of a hole, he's not there anymore. I laid down the BFG and unslung
my trusty  shotgun,  then poked my  nose out of  the cubbyhole again. Seemed
like a good idea at the time.
     A stream of bullets came  out of  nowhere  and I ducked back in. And at
last I figured out  what the  hell was happening: it was Arlene! She must be
firing across the hidden teleport pad . . . and her bullets were being tele-
ported to where I had  first  emerged. No wonder the  zombies were confused.
This was enough to confuse someone with a functional brain.
     She was  doing just  as good a job of mowing them down as if she'd been
present and  accounted for. Encouraged,  I helped  out and shot the ones who
ran past  my cubbyhole, hunting  for an  enemy. So specters weren't the only
ones who could play this game.  Of  course, the  zombies got mad and started
shooting each other.
     They were all dead by the time Arlene joined me. She hopped off the pad
and I filled her in. Then we returned to the end of the corridor where I had
hidden; I'd seen a door awaiting our attentions.
     There was no special key required to open this one; of course not ... a
hell-prince waited for us on the other side.
     It had a blue key card in its mouth;  we took  it  after making a  fair
trade:  he got a whole bunch  of rockets. I'm sure the  minotaur appreciated
our generosity.
     Returning  to the mouth of the corridor,  we picked up Ritch. We hadn't
forgotten  him. Ritch never  seemed to regret  missing  out on  our repeated
exterminations, al- though he acquitted himself admirably when backed into a
corner  ... the  perfect  civilian. He'd have done  well  at  Lexington  and
Concord, provided there wasn't a lot of running involved.
     The  three  of  us  trucked back across the  courtyard  to  the  locked
door--and none of us was the least surprised when the key unlocked it.
     Inside was a single, ornate teleport pad.  We blinked into existence in
a  vast  room, a huge,  open  pit  with a narrow catwalk  running around the
periphery. Our eyes watered from mist in the air. The place stank of  boiled
rock and the walls were the color of  dried  blood,  and  everywhere was the
stench of sour lemons.
     "This  is it!" Ritch  said, suddenly excited. "This is the place  where
the spider, the mastermind, interrogated me."
     I'd  been getting to  the point of  dismissing any differ- ences in the
hellish architecture. All the chambers  seemed more and  more identical. But
they'd  never tortured  me, stringing me up to hang halfway between life and
death. There was no doubting Ritch's memory after what he'd been through.
     We heard a cacophony from below, as  if  a monster convention was being
held under our  noses. We  dropped on our bellies, hugging  the catwalk, and
listened.
     I heard roaring, grunting, screaming, wheezing,  howl-  ing, snuffling,
and even a weird piping or  whistling.  Heavy thumping and thudding left  no
doubt that some of the big guys were down there. Didn't hear a steam- demon,
though; that was the only good news.
     "If  you  want  to  see  the  spidermind,  now's  your  chance,"  Ritch
whispered.
     "Isn't it special invitation only?" Arlene asked.
     "I can't help it," I whispered. "I'm a born Gate- crasher."
     She  crawled to the  edge. "Pumpkins, hell-princes, those crazy  flying
skulls."
     "Did we ever get around to naming them?"
     Arlene looked  at  me with a  strange expression, as if I'd just missed
something. "Gee . . . how about 'flying skulls'? Any objections?"
     Shaking my head,  I  couldn't  help but notice  Hitch's  expression. He
probably  thought  our little name game the pinnacle of  insanity. And Ritch
had a gift  for it himself: he'd called our steam-demon a  "cyberdude,"  and
"spidermind" turned out to be a perfect description for the thing that chose
that moment to make a big entrance.
     It was worse than all the rest.
     If I'd found the steam-demon disgusting with its mixture of organic and
mechanical,  this completely alien  It scuttling across the floor down below
completely turned  my  stomach. Numerous mechanical legs sup-  ported a dome
housing a gigantic,  gray, pulsing brain with a hideous, ersatz face  formed
in the  center  of the squishy gray matter  itself, complete with "eyes" and
"teeth." It should have been funny, almost a cartoon-- but there was nothing
remotely humorous about the living incarnation of a nightmare.
     Its appearance was so  unnerving that  one could easily  neglect taking
inventory of the most important  thing: its weapons.  Even from this awkward
angle it was  easy to see that  it came equipped with  what  looked  like an
ultraspeed Gatling gun, like a Vulcan cannon. There was little doubt that up
close there'd be other unpleasant surprises.
     "Listen," I hissed, "suppose  we can take this spidermind  thing.  We'd
throw a  monkey wrench into the invasion plans right  here  and now! I could
run along the catwalk, drop down in front of the creature and fry it with my
new toy."
     "Too dangerous," Arlene said.
     "It would get you with  its machine guns before you got close enough to
try," Ritch added.
     These were extremely good points, I had to  admit. Rethinking the idea,
I realized  that  even if  I succeeded, I would be ripped to  shreds  by the
throng  of  monsters  surrounding the boss.  Ritch  seemed  to be reading my
thoughts when he  said: "We should kill some of the other creatures  so  the
spidermind  won't have  as much  back- up." Maybe  this guy  could  make  an
honorary Marine after all.
     Creeping along  the  catwalk rim, peeking over the  edge, we  made slow
progress. While  finding  a  more advanta- geous  position, Ritch sneezed. I
think he was allergic to monsters.
     The element of surprise blown, it was time to open  fire and  blow them
away. Their  reward  for paying  attention. Arlene and I worked  through the
rockets we'd scavenged from the steam-demon chamber. Good distance and angle
to use those little darlings.
     There had been  so  much  noise  already that plenty  of  the  monsters
farther  away still  hadn't noticed what was going  on.  They  were partying
down.  Our primary goal was to  keep the spidermind from noticing as long as
inhumanly possible, so we never shot a rocket in its direction.
     We  still had  a lot of  unanswered questions:  How  well did the brain
hear? And were other creatures  supposed to report  back--and  were they  in
constant communication, by radio or telepathy?
     We  continued  the slaughter.  Ritch was  proving himself useful again,
this  time with  his Sig-Cow. Finally,  the general run of  monsters noticed
that something was amiss.
     Some  became  agitated  and  began  to  run  about,  their  roars  more
thoughtful,  attuned  to  the  condition of  the  general  community  .  . .
communication, obviously. A few even attempted to apply what  mentality they
had to "investigate" the mysterious deaths of their comrades.
     Alas, the spidermind lived up to its name. It detected the trouble  and
began stomping around,  trying to identi- fy the source. But my respect  for
that great quantity of gray matter declined somewhat as the damned thing got
frustrated and started blasting away at random, killing its troops!
     Ritch crept over and offered more analysis: "Corporal Taggart, I--"
     "Call me Fly."
     "Well, Fly, I've been thinking  that the amount of energy  required  to
actually move  Deimos through hyper-  space would be monumental. There's  no
way they  could have snuck  such a  huge power generator onto Deimos through
those fairly small Gates. We're talking  many terawatts, thousands of Hoover
Dams worth of power."
     "Makes sense," I said. Arlene  nodded, while continu- ing to hold  down
the fort.
     "The most likely  explanation  is  that  the power  is coming  from  an
external source," he said, "and they're beaming it in somehow."
     "Ritch,"  Arlene  said, "are  you  saying  cut the  power  and  end the
invasion?"  For the  first time since seeing  the spawning  vats, I began to
think  we might really  have a chance. So long as they had power, they could
produce an endless number of monsters in their damned caldrons.
     It was time to cancel their service.
     33




     Arlene pointed at a central  building, a small pillbox  structure right
in  the  center  of the monster convention. In all  the chaos,  none of  the
creatures had  gotten anywhere near  this  pillbox  ... as if  they deliber-
ately avoided it.
     "Could that be the power receiver?" she asked.
     Ritch shrugged. "I don't know, but it seems like the best possibility."
     That possibility did  as much for our morale as if we'd each been given
a blue  face-sphere. The spidermind continued firing until many of the other
creatures, its own troops, were killed or driven off. It was now or never.
     I jumped first, feeling as if I could fly. Arlene followed and I turned
to help, but she didn't need  a hand. We both had to  help Ritch, who wasn't
exactly constructed for flight. The three of us made a  dash for the central
building.
     Monster corpses presented  a  major  obstacle; but  we  quickly  turned
grateful for  the thick-limbed,  heavy bod-  ies  all over  the  floor.  The
spidermind noticed us and opened fire with its 30mm Vulcans. We hit the deck
and used the bodies for cover.
     The incredible creature charged us, firing maybe three hundred rounds a
minute, five rounds a second.  In a few moments  it would be upon us, firing
so rapidly we'd never be able to return fire.
     Suddenly the firing  stopped. The  spidermind  was  tangled  up in  the
bodies  it had  helped produce. The mechanical spider legs were not designed
for an obstacle course.
     "Run!" I shouted, heading  for the building.  A  quick  glance  at  the
location of the spidermind told me what  I needed  to  know--the angles were
perfect. "Get between the spidermind and the building--move!"
     I  bolted hutward and immediately sprawled  gracefully over  the  prone
body of a steam-demon--a steam-demon! My heart leapt up  my throat. . . then
I  realized the damned  thing was under bloody construction. Great,  and  me
without my monkey wrench!
     The gigantic monster lay on its belly, face into the deck; the missiles
were exposed, and as bullets flew haphazardly over my head I swallowed hard:
a  couple of good shots might detonate the warheads on those puppies--or, if
the warheads weren't yet attached, the fuel cells could rupture and spray us
all with caustic and flammable rocket fuel.
     "Very adroit, Mr. Leslie," snapped Arlene, yanking me to my feet.
     We made  tracks. We had crossed  perhaps a third of the  open territory
when a wave of horror struck me like a physical hammer blow.
     Nightmarish  images  of  Degas,  Bosch,  Patrick  Woodruff.  .  . blood
dripping from the walls and ceiling, sprays of blood  in the distance, blood
from  overhead  sprinklers ...  it  probed,  trying to find  a weak spot: my
father lurched out of the building, grinning and slapping his body. "Me heap
big chief Kamehameha!" he shouted, then gave a Tarzan yell.
     He  humiliated me all over again, as he  had twenty years earlier; we'd
been in  Hawaii in a  museum, before a  life-size (huge)  statue of Hawaii's
greatest king. I shrank away from him,  praying to God no one knew he was my
father; but  he followed me, saying, "Did you see what I did? Watch!" And he
did it again!
     I was never more ashamed  of him in my life. We  were lucky to  make it
out  of  the museum  alive.  But goddamn  it,  he  was not going to  stop me
reaching that building. I pushed on, tuning out the spidermind.
     Then I saw myself  brought  up  on charges  again, but  this time I was
tried  and convicted, and they ripped  the stripes off my sleeve  like, what
was it, that  old television  show, two-dimensional, . . Branded,  something
like that.  They tore off my sharpshooter's medal,  my ribbons,  finally the
eagle-and-globe that told the world I was a Marine.
     But I gritted my  teeth, and through my tears I told myself that I knew
I was a Marine no matter what, and Arlene would never let me  forget it even
if I tried.
     My feet never stopped.
     God  knows what  horrors it sent to Arlene and Ritch;  their faces were
white, grim, but determined.
     The monstrosity realized  it didn't have our number psychologically and
tried the more direct route: it opened fire. But it was off balance, picking
its way  through the bodies,  and the  whole contraption tumbled over.  This
gave us the time to get  into position. Just as we got  behind the building,
the spidermind freed itself, stood up straight on mechanical  legs, swiveled
the  weap- onry into position . . . and started firing. A few quick burps of
gunfire probed our way; then it abruptly choked off and there was silence.
     "What happened?" Ritch asked.
     "It's like it stopped automatically," Arlene said.
     "It  can't shoot us without shooting  the  building!" I realized.  "The
guns were clearly cut off by a circuit breaker."
     We had  to  get inside; but the  spidermind  lived up  to its name. The
thing scuttled quickly to the  side, trying for a better angle and  a  clear
shot.  We  kept moving, dancing  around the pillbox in  a tightening spiral,
always  keeping ourselves between the  spidermind and the building.  It  was
like playing  some kind of  children's game,  only  this  playground was the
killing field.
     Then  we had  a  new problem. The  other monsters had  been considerate
enough to stay away, but now  the noise attracted them back into the fray. A
random sampling of  fireballs,  ball lightning, and even  the  hell-princes'
green fire creased our bow. Under the circumstances, it would have been rude
not to respond. We fired back, while we kept running from the spidermind.
     "One  rocket  left!"  I yelled as  I  fired the  penultimate  one  at a
minotaur.  I  slung the launcher--never know when  a  weapon might  come  in
handy. But Arlene must've figured  there'd be no  more rainy days: she  blew
through her AB-10 ammo and dropped the pistol with- out a second glance, not
wanting anything to slow her down.
     Bill Ritch fired his Sig-Cow at the spinys and actually dropped one.
     Despite  his bulk, he'd managed to keep up with  us, although his heavy
breathing was  cause for worry. I hoped  he wouldn't have a heart attack. We
still needed him. I  wasn't being callous in thinking this;  the mission was
all-important.
     God, did I actually think that? I guess I did.  Arlene had converted me
. .  . and I didn't even know when she managed it. My goal  had shifted from
rescuing her to fighting the last battle as the last Marine.
     I blew the door off its hinges with a point-blank shotgun blast. One of
the spinys didn't approve of my housebreaking; it dive-bombed me and flung a
ball of burning  mucus that just missed . . . just missed me that is. Arlene
took it out--but then I glanced over at Ritch and  saw that the imp had done
him serious damage.
     Ritch had taken  a faceful of  the poison and was coughing his guts up.
Holding the door open with my back, I racked and fired as fast as I could as
Arlene dragged Ritch inside.
     Vindication! The room was full of electronic  gear, cables, data banks.
While  Arlene  did  what  she  could  for  Ritch,  damned  little under  the
circumstances,  I  stood  guard on  all four doors,  shooting  anything that
ventured dose. Naturally, the  monsters couldn't fire back.  I en- joyed the
situation  until one  of the imps flung a spitwad  and  hit the door  frame,
missing me by a handsbreadth.
     For one moment in the history of the universe, the spidermind and Yours
Truly shared the  same  opinion.  The imp's action was ill-considered in the
extreme. The spidermind proved it was no dummy; it blew the imp to cutlets.
     I drifted from  doorway to  doorway  and nothing shot  at  me; however,
every time I passed within line-of-sight of the spidermind, I caught another
faceful of hypnogogic horror. It was the only weapon  the  critter had left;
in a way, you had to feel sorry for it.
     Well. . . maybe not.
     "How's it going?" I asked Arlene, already knowing the answer. She shook
her  head. Ritch was in a lot worse  shock than when we first found him. The
flaming goo  had stuck to his face,  catching  him just  as  he inhaled; his
lungs were fried . . . they could no longer transport oxy- gen to his blood.
     I didn't know what we were going to do; maybe a hospital could save him
. . . but we didn't even have bandages or painkiller.
     The skin  of his  face was angry red, and it was  bleeding  in a  dozen
spots where enough layers of epidermis had burned away. He must have been in
agony  .. . and Ritch knew it was hopeless, for him at least; he was a smart
man.
     Bill was dying.
     Arlene propped him against a wall and  whispered in his ear. He nodded,
making  the coughing worse; but she wiped his  eyes,  and he could  see well
enough to help us.
     In a weak  voice he began identifying critical compo- nents within  the
room. He  remembered  everything  from when they forced him to  work  on the
mess. He told us what we needed to know.
     Arlene left him propped against the wall and came to me. In a low voice
she said "I wish we had one of those blue spheres right now."
     "It's the only thing that would save him," I agreed.
     "We don't even have a Medikit. At least I could make him comfortable."
     I looked  her in  the  eye. "He  told us what we need to know," I said.
"That's the important thing."
     I felt professional. I felt several degrees colder than mean.
     But  Arlene was as much a pro as I. "Do you want to perform the coup de
grace on this energy conduit, or shall I?"
     While I thought about it, she  made up my mind for me: "You'd better do
it, Fly; we need a real sharpshooter's eye to keep those bastards far enough
away that they can't reach  in and grab us. I suppose  even you can't miss a
computer  bank from two meters  away, hey?  Even if you can't shoot an apple
off Goforth's head." She grinned.
     I turned and became a one-man wrecking crew. Rais- ing  the BFG, I took
a  deep breath and let fly at the collection  of electronics. The  explosion
knocked me  on my butt. I  staggered up and took out the rest of the targets
Ritch pointed out in the  mass of equipment. After four walloping shots, the
BFG fizzled  and  wouldn't  shoot anymore. Out of juice. I finished  the job
with a dozen shotgun shells.
     "Jesus, Fly! Come look at this," Arlene shouted. I came, still shaking,
ears still ringing like Christmas.
     This was turning  into an  hour of surprises. The monsters were  acting
like  they were  on  PCP, wandering in circles and  firing  at anything that
moved--which meant each other.
     The spidermind still seemed to have control over its ugly faculties. It
opened fire on several of  the hell-  princes, no  doubt with  the  idea  of
removing those of its  minions  most potentially dangerous if  there were no
way to give them orders.
     Naturally, the executions drew the attention  of  other monsters.  They
fired at the noise. We weren't cast members in  that  show, but we took full
advantage of our backstage passes.
     Fifteen minutes  later  there  was  one monster, count 'em, one monster
left that we could see. For the moment, the spidermind was boss over itself.
And it had one other problem besides not being able to get any  decent help.
The gun cylinders spun, empty. The spider hadn't saved any ammo for us.
     "Ritch," Arlene said, speaking  quietly but enunciating clearly,  "your
plan worked brilliantly."
     I'm sure he would have appreciated  her good opinion of him--if he  had
still been alive.
     The damned, stupid spiny had killed him after all. I stared at the dead
face of Bill Ritch, the captivity and torture survivor, comrade, the man who
gave us a real chance  to defeat the  alien invaders. I looked at this brand
new corpse and something snapped.
     "I'm sick  of this," I told  Arlene. I shrugged off my  beloved  rocket
launcher and handed it to my best gal-pal. "Keep an eye on  me, First Class.
You'll know when to use it... and don't, God damn it, miss."
     "Show me the apple, Flynn Taggart, and I'll pop it off your head."
     I loaded up my shotgun,  for attention-grabbing  pur- poses  only,  and
calmly walked out to face the ugliest alien of them all.
     "Hey, spider baby," I called out. "Yeah, I'm talking to you!"
     The turret turned. The spidermind and I looked at each other  ..  . and
suddenly  I was overwhelmed with the most horrific vision of all: I saw  the
Earth  in flames, burning  buildings, fields, oceans of  corpses.  I saw the
demons, not just aliens, but honest-to-Lucifer  demons, wading  through  the
rivers of filth and blood and urine, laughing in triumph.
     I  saw mankind under  the  heel. Collars around our  throats, chains on
wrists and  ankles. I saw collaborators, traitors,  quislings,  turncoats of
every race and culture.
     I saw a "Vichy" Earth government.
     And I saw in the distance an endless  parade of bigger and more ghastly
demons. They filled the land from end to end, sea to shining sea.
     And  I  knew  this  vision  was  no   nightmare  plucked  from  my  own
subconscious fears. This was reality.
     I saw the future. I leaned forward and  spat upon  the shredded machine
mind.
     "Remember  the  imp  you  had  talk  to me back on Phobos?  That creepy
leatherface asked for my surrender. Well, here's my answer, you insect!"
     Raising my shotgun,  I  took careful aim  and  blasted toward the brain
inside  the crystal case. Then I  did  it again.  And again.  And  again.  I
stopped at eight shots because I'd run out of shells, and because the turret
had finally  rotated in my direction  and was chewing up the deckplates with
30mm rounds.
     I slalomed through the heaped corpses, looking for one in particular. .
. one body  not dead but pre-born, as my nuns would say, though in a hell of
a different context.
     I was looking for my steam-demon, and that had to be a first!
     The spidermind scuttled after me; on open ground it could make quite  a
clip  ... quite a bit faster than a mere two-legger like  me. But we weren't
on open ground; I  chose my route well. I leapt from body to body like Eliza
across the ice floes, and the frustrated  arachnoid android started shooting
the corpses out of the way for clearer footing.
     I put some distance between us, and for a moment  the stupid thing lost
me!  Great... I should've brought an  air horn. Crouching so I  wouldn't get
clopped by a stray,  I  loaded  up,  stood, and fired  a few more shells. It
spotted me, screamed in triumph--just like you'd expect an  insect to sound,
magnified  a  billion  times--and  charged,  Gatling  barrels spinning  like
gyroscopes.
     I ran the hundred in world-record time. I flung myself  through the air
in  a  graceful  swan   dive,   tucked   at  the  last  second,  and  rolled
beautifully--dislocating my shoulder.
     I struggled up,  shifted the shotgun  to my right,  weak hand,  reached
over the steam-demon, and let fly with the last shell.
     My cough was answered by a  diarrhea of Vulcan Cannon rounds  that tore
up  the iron  flesh  of the steam- demon like an AB-10 tears up plaster. The
bullets ripped the legs apart; they ripped the head apart.
     They ripped the missiles apart.
     I clenched my teeth .. . now was the moment of truth. If they'd already
attached those warheads . .. Well, I guess I'd either go north and  meet the
nuns, or ... or stay right where I was--in Hell!
     Fifteen seconds and 750 rounds later, sudden silence  startled  me back
to the here-and-now. My ears throbbed and  rang, and  my skull  felt like it
was still vibrating; but the  spidermind had  stopped shooting to  see  what
dam- age it had done.
     I wasn't about to stick my head up, but I  didn't need to: I closed  my
eyes and sniffed deeply.
     There is a smell most people don't know, but once you've tasted it, you
never forget it. Anyone  who's hung around a Marine air base  or  Naval  air
station  remembers  and  pilots remember from the airport: it's  the pungent
aroma  of JP-9 "jet propellant," and it  tears through  your septum, up your
nasal  passages,  and   straight  into   your  brain.   Think  of   ammonia,
formaldehyde, and skunk- juice swirled together into a malt.
     There was no  possibility of  error . .  .  dozens  of  gallons  of the
burn-juice  pooled  around the steam-demon; in fact, looking  down, I saw it
seeping from under the body onto my side, eating away at my boots worse than
the green sludge.
     My bruised  eardrums were  trying to  tell me something urgent, a sound
behind the ringing and throbbing: click- ing feet. The spidermind was on its
way to investigate!
     I backed slowly  away, crouching lower  and  lower  to stay behind  the
steam-demon; then the spidermind loomed, and I could no longer hide.
     It screamed again, this time in rage, not triumph, and charged.
     It slipped in  the fuel slick that  it itself had  created. It tried to
rise and slipped again, skating in the horrible stuff. JP-9 dripped from the
spidermind's underbelly, splashed up and down  its legs, even sprayed across
the crystal canopy.
     Time to split that apple, A.S.!
     I  dashed  to the side,  waving frantically at the building; I couldn't
see Arlene. I  pointed at  the  spidermind, screaming, "Now, now, you  crazy
bitch!" She couldn't  hear me, of course, or I never would have  said such a
thing!
     A tiny bud  of red  bloomed in  the  black doorway, flowering  into the
bright-red tail exhaust of our very last rocket. I hit the deck, hands  over
head, belatedly wonder- ing whether any of the jet propellant had sprayed on
me. . .
     I barely heard the explosion through the  ringing, but the force kicked
me in my dislocated  shoulder. After a moment with my eyes shut, arms locked
over my head, I ventured a glance.
     The spidermind screeched and  skittered,  joyously engulfed  in  bright
white flames,  like one of Weem's  monks protesting the war in Kefiristan by
immolating himself with burning gasoline.
     I  watched  for  several  minutes,  keeping  low  as the  last  of  the
spidermind's ammo exploded, bursting off in all directions.  Mobility lasted
only half a minute, then the intense heat melted the crystal canopy, turning
the truck-size brain  into a crispie critter  in seconds. It took longer for
the metal body to liquefy, even longer for  the whole mass to bubble through
the  melted  deckplates.  At  last  there  was nothing left  of  the dreaded
spidermind but a smoking crater. . . . "Get used  to it," I muttered, unable
to  even  hear  my  own voice.  "Think  of this as a  rehearsal for the next
eternity."
     A hand  grabbed my arm--my  left arm. "No!" I screamed; then I screamed
again in pain as Arlene yanked on my dislocated shoulder.
     "Jesus, Fly,  I'm sorry!" I  faintly  heard her voice, as if through  a
speakerphone across the room.
     I rolled onto my back,  swearing  like a drunken long-  shoreman. "Oh,"
she said, "I see what it is. Hang on, Fly, this is going to hurt--but you'll
thank me for it in a minute."
     Would  you  believe she grabbed my  biceps,  pulled my  arm out  of the
socket, and snapped it back into place?
     I passed out.
     I came to  in  a few  seconds, then  cursed  her out again, sorting the
epithets alphabetically,  in  case  I  missed  any.  I  passed  through  the
scatological and  had started on  the blasphemous when  she  shut  me  up by
planting a big, wet boot-heel on my mouth.
     She sat me  up; by then, my ears  were starting to recover, and I could
hear what she said. "Pretty spectac- ular,  Fly. I guess we won. . . . Ritch
would've loved this spread now."
     But still I heard  the hum of power. The lights remained lit. Something
was wrong with this picture.
     "I  hope  you won't take  this  wrong,"  said Arlene, staring curiously
around, "but why aren't we plunged into terrible darkness, Fly Taggart?"
     "I  know what you  mean,  A.S. We can't  feel total  satisfaction until
we're freezing to death in the black night of space . . ."
     "And running out of air."
     "So what's gone wrong with Bill Ritch's plan?"
     She frowned in  thought. "I guess that building didn't house the  power
receiver, after all," she  said. "It must have been  the communications gear
by which the spidermind was controlling all the other creatures."
     "You mean all the creatures left on Deimos and  Phobos will destroy one
another, like these guys did?" I smiled ... I like that thought.
     "The spidermind was barely able to control them as it was," she pointed
out. "They have a natural hatred for each other."
     I  remembered  the crucified hell-princes.  Then  I re-  membered Bill,
dying from the stupid blast from a stupid imp. Now he was gone!
     Focus, Fly . . . focus.
     We  went back in the control  room and I  threw a  piece of canvas over
Ritch. We  laid his body out  in  the  place that was  the  most appropriate
crypt: the scene of his victory over the demons.
     "All right,"  I said. "I think we  should retrace our steps back to the
surface of Deimos. Maybe we can figure  out  how to  get  back to  Mars from
there, or at least figure out where in hell we are."
     "Watch your language," Arlene said seriously.  Hm, Arlene Sanders--with
religion.
     As we worked our way back up through the levels of Deimos, we found the
dead bodies of hundreds, then thousands, of the alien monsters. It was as if
the Cosmic Orkin company had come through and  done a big special on demonic
infestation.
     There were a  very few live ones, so completely out  of  it  that  they
hardly  seemed  worth  killing.  Somehow  Arlene  and I found  the  will  to
exterminate them anyway.
     When  we  reached  the surface, we  discovered the  pressure  dome  was
cracked, the air  rushing out,  creating a minihurricane. Of  course, we had
been adequately briefed on the basics of life in space. It would  take  days
for all the air to escape; we weren't planning to wait around that long.
     I  looked  past  the  crack--and stopped breathing. I stared  so  long,
forgetting to blink, that my eyes blurred.
     I  wasn't  staring at Mars anymore. Where Mars had loomed, hanging over
our heads  like a wrecking ball, was a  different planet,  one  that  looked
disturbingly  familiar:  blue-green,  familiar  land  masses,  cloud  cover,
teeming with six billion cousins and uncles.
     We weren't  in  a hyperspace tunnel  any longer. We  looked for several
minutes, hoping it was a shared hallucination. At last Arlene said, "I guess
we know their invasion plans now."
     As  I stared  at Earth  in the  skies of Deimos, through a  cracked and
broken pressure  dome, I felt a queer sense of  dislocation, as if I were no
longer sitting inside my own body--but standing alongside. I  shook, as if I
had a terrible fever, mindlessly clutching at my uniform-- Weems's  uniform.
"Well," I began feebly, "at least we stopped them."
     "Did we?" She reached out, as if trying to pet the planet.
     Beyond the domes, amid the bright-flecked black of space,  other bright
spots  flared  upon  the continents, shining  through the scattered  clouds.
Nuclear explosions would look just like that; other  things,  worse  things,
could look like that as well.
     "Jesus, they've already invaded," Arlene said, hope draining away  from
her voice faster than the escaping air.
     I  took  her by the arm and said, "It's not over, Arlene! We've already
proven who's tougher. We won't let it end like this!"
     But we had no  ship, no  radio, not  even a really  long  rope. We were
stuck  in low  orbit  around Earth, a  mere four  hundred  kilometers  away,
hanging  over our heads like the biggest  balloon we could ever hope to play
with.
     I shut my eyes tight, then opened them. How would we do the impossible?
How  could we jump four hundred  kilometers to  Earth and kill  the  orbital
velocity?
     We didn't say anything for a very long time. We watched the white spots
appearing over the northern  hemisphere, over the hot, blue oceans and cool,
green hills of earth.
     Suddenly, Arlene gasped; her eyes opened wide. "Fly, I have it!"
     "What?"
     "I know how to do it!"
     "Do what damn it?"
     Her lips moved, silently calculating. Then she grinned. "I know how  to
get us across to Earth, Fly!"

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