Dave Freer and & Eric Flint present:
“It’s an opportunity to get rid of a major problem. If we can get the ‘Great Leader’ satisfied that we meet his conditions, and he’ll meet ours, a space habitat is a small price to pay. It’ll get rid of a festering sore and allow development in the Far Eastern sector of Earth to finally fulfill its promise. Yes, it will be tough on those he takes with him, but better a few should suffer than we all do. I do think we need to get him to leave his nukes behind though, Mister Chairman.”
Dillon Wan Chu, Senior Policy Advisor to SysGov Chairman Thomas Barattachi: Transcript of Secret Service recordings.
Abret admitted that he was scared out of his wits and that he had no idea what to do about it. The radio-silence from the main ship just made it worse. They’d been carried head high through the corridors by the thronging crowds, cheering, clapping and making various other less comprehensible noises. They’d certainly covered a great distance. Even if they could persuade the aliens—who admittedly had done them no harm—to put them down, Abret wasn’t too sure they could find there way back… if he could persuade Derfel to even try. He appeared to be reveling in this. At least he, Abret, was no longer under the mentally disturbed male’s gaze and gun. He’d liberated his own laser from the holster—not that it would do him any kind of good in a crowd this size.
They had been carried to a huge building. Every other structure that Abret had seen was tiny. This was vast. Columns and carved stonework fronted it. As they advanced, the shallow ponds and great banks of colored plant-matter were covered by the sea of aliens. They were carried to the front of the mob, which had stopped moving. Abret saw a small group of aliens, in odd brown, bright buttoned clothes, were standing or kneeling in the archway. They were pointing at the crowd with shiny metal objects that said “weapon” even if one didn’t know what they were.
The crowd carried the two of them straight towards the brown uniforms. Everything had gone very ominously quiet.
There was an explosion. Something hit Abret. The suit wasn’t punctured, but they’d shot a projectile at him. Hit him, too.
He reacted instinctively with the weapon in his hand.
The brown clothes with their bright buttons were not proof against laser.
Before Abret had time to fully grasp the horror of what he’d done, the crowd roared—a deafening sound—and surged forward over the remains of those he’d shot.
At the main door there was an alien that the crowd held back from. Standing dead still on a plinth, he was a sort greenish-brown all over. He stood there with a fist raised and held back the mob.
This solitary alien barred the way.
Derfel shot him. Severed his neck with his laser.
The head fell with a metallic clang.
The alien figurine still stood. But it no longer held back the crowd. They just skirted the fallen head with its angry staring eyes.
Then came the worst part.
They found a small, round-bodied alien, dressed in the same odd brown clothes.
He tried to run, but the alien crowd picked him up and tore him apart. Literally, limb from limb. Then they kicked and danced and stamped on the remains until there was nothing left. The bright buttons and brown uniform were shredded and scattered.
Abret did not know what to do.
There was no reply from the ship.
Derfel had gotten down and kicked the dead torso too.
They were carried again, and Derfel was seated in a great chair on a dais in an enormous hall. Another one was fetched for Abret—not quite as ornate, but close. Frightened and wary, Abret had sat almost comatose with terror.
Derfel got them to start teaching his Transcomp words.
Abret turned his off and looked, desperately, for a way to escape.
He could see none. Every possible space was taken up by aliens. Aliens come to stare. Aliens in brown uniforms like the ones he’d shot came through also. They were pushed and jostled by the crowd, but not treated as they had the rotund alien. The brown-uniformed ones knelt before Derfel and Abret and groveled on their faces.
Derfel said something in the language of the aliens, and the crowd cheered.
He had them. But all Abret had was abject terror, and a desperate desire to escape from the maddening crowd.