Sat
Jan 28 2012 11:00am

Legion of the Damned (Excerpt)

William C Dietz

Today’s Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Pick is Legion of the Damned by William C. Dietz. We hope you enjoy this excerpt from the novel, but first, here’s a note from the editor:

 

Many a year ago (1991, approximately), an Ace author named William Dietz who had been writing some pretty neat mid-list science fiction adventure novels (with protagonists graduated from the Han Solo School of Charming Rogues), wanted to step up his game.  A military vet and a student of military history, he pitched the idea of a series detailing the exploits of the French Foreign Legion of the far-future, one in which some of the Legionnaires were no longer completely human—and some were not human at all.  The setting was an intricately-realized universe, with as much attention paid to the politics “back home” as the fighting at the “front”. There were multiple viewpoints, shifting settings, and characters who were all shades of grey. And he proposed basing some of the stories on famous Legion campaigns of the past.  It was one of the most detailed, well-thought out, lengthiest proposals that I had ever seen. I was suitably impressed. We did a deal, moved him from the mid-list to Feature Release status, then eventually into hardcover, and in 2011 (twenty years later) published A Fighting Chance, the novel that completed the story arc begun in Legion of the Damned.  A terrific run for a terrific series! (Bill, however, just can’t quit universe—this year, Ace will publish the first of a trilogy of Legion prequel novels. Look for Andromeda’s Fall, in December!)

In the early ‘70’s, Ginjer Buchanan moved from Pittsburgh, PA. to New York City where she made her living as a social worker, while doing free-lance editorial work. In 1984, she took a job as an editor at Ace Books. She has been promoted several times. Her current title is Editor-in-Chief, Ace/Roc Books. In her spare time, she watches far too much television, evidenced by the fact that she wrote a Highlander tie-in novel titled White Silence, and has also had “pop culture” essays included in the third Buffy, The Vampire Slayer episode guide, in Finding Serenity (a collection about Firefly) and in A Taste of True Blood.

1

 

There is nothing more dangerous than an honest man falsely accused.

Lin Po Lee
Philosopher Emeritus
The League of Planets
Standard year 2169

 

Worber’s World,
the Human Empire

Colonel Natalie Norwood stepped out of the underground command post and into the elevator. Though normally spotless, it stank of vomit and was littered with bloody bandages, used hypo cartridges, and empty IV bags. Medics had used the elevator to ferry an endless stream of wounded soldiers down from the now devastated surface.

She nodded to the guard and watched the armor-plated doors slide closed. Blood had been spattered on the shiny metal. She noticed that the dots were uniform in size and thicker towards the bottom.

The soldier touched a button, machinery hummed, and the elevator rose. Norwood felt self-conscious in her dress uniform, gleaming medals, and polished boots. They made a marked contrast to the guard’s fire-scorched armor, cracked visor, and battle-worn rifle.

Both had fought and both had lost.

The alien Hudatha had taken less than five days to destroy the four battle stations that orbited Worber’s World, to decimate the three squadrons of antiquated aerospace fighters the Navy had sent up to protect it, and to lay waste to all of the planet’s major cities.

One of them, the city of Helena, had been home to the governor and headquarters for the general staff. They had been trying to decide on what to do when a subsurface torpedo had burrowed its way under the command post and detonated.

The resulting explosion created a crater so large that it diverted the south fork of the Black River, formed a new lake and left a heretofore obscure Army colonel named Natalie Norwood in command.

What a joke. In command of what? The shuttle that would carry her to the enemy battleship? The stylus that she would use to surrender?

The elevator came to a stop. The door slid open. The guard flipped his visor up and out of the way. He was no more than seventeen or eighteen, a kid really, with soft blond peach fuzz crawling over his cheeks and chin. His voice cracked as he spoke.

“Ma’am?”

She paused. “Yes?”

“Why don’t they stop?”

Norwood searched for something to say. The soldier had put his finger on the very thing that bothered her the most. The Hudatha had won the battle many times over. So why continue?

Why attack objectives already taken? Why bomb cities already destroyed? It didn’t make sense. Not to a human anyway. She forced a smile.

“I don’t know, son.”

His eyes beseeched her. “Will you make them stop?”

Norwood shrugged. “I’ll try.” She forced is smile. “Your job is to keep the slimy bastards out of my liquor cabinet.”

The soldier laughed. “No problem, Colonel. I’ll take care of it.’’

Norwood nodded. ”Thanks. I’ll see you later.“

She felt guilty about her inability to answer the guard’s questions. Officers knew everything, or were supposed to anyway, but the Hudathans were a mystery.

An Imperial survey ship had encountered them two years before, had established rudimentary contact, and learned very little other than the fact that the aliens were technologically sophisticated, and very wary of strangers.

Why they attacked, and kept on attacking, was unknown. Her only chance lay in communicating with the Hudathans, meeting whatever demands they made, and waiting for help.

She stepped off the elevator and into the underground aircraft hangar. It was a huge place, made even larger by the fact that the aerospace fighters normally housed there were gone, along with the crews that flew them. Not ”gone“ as in “gone out on patrol,” but “gone” as in “gone and never coming back.”

They had left their marks, though. Yellow lines that divided one bay from the next, grease stains that resisted even the most ardent crew chiefs efforts to remove them, and the eternal stink of jet fuel.

The walls were covered with a maze of conduit, equipment readouts, safety slogans, and there, right in the middle of the back wall, a twenty-foot-tall three-dimensional holographic of the squadron’s insignia, a skull wearing an officer’s cap, and the motto “Touch me and die.”

It seemed a bit ironic now.

The sound of Norwood’s footsteps echoed off cavernous walls as she made her way towards the darkly crouching shuttle. It was a large V-shaped aircraft, originally intended as a VIP toy, now comprising roughly 25 percent of the planet’s surviving Air Force.

They appeared like ghosts from the shadows. Power techs, com techs, weapons techs, and more. Some came on foot, some on ground-effect boards, and one wore a twelve-foot-tall exoskeleton.

These were the men and women who had armed the planes, traded jokes with the pilots, and sent them out to die. They looked at Norwood with pleading eyes, not expecting good news, but hoping for it anyway.

She nodded, forced a smile, and marched across what seemed like a mile of duracrete.

The ground crew watched her go, absorbed her silence, and faded into the shadows whence they’d come.

Captain Bob Ellis stood waiting by the shuttle. He was a reservist and, like many of his kind, incredibly sloppy. His battle dress hung around his body like a deflated balloon, his sidearm threatened to pull his pants down, and his left boot was only half-laced. Ellis tried to salute but looked like he was summoning a cab instead. Norwood returned it.

“Captain.”

“Colonel”

“Did you get through?”

Ellis nodded miserably. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And?”

“And the -refuse to grant you safe passage through the atmosphere.“

”But that’s outrageous, it’s . . .“ Norwood was about to say ”uncivilized“ but caught herself. The Hudathans were aliens and what seemed outrageous to her could be normal practice for them.

”So they refuse to see me?“

Ellis shook his head. ”No, they’re willing to see you, but they won’t protect you.“

”Says who?“

”That’s another thing, Colonel. Their spokesperson is human. Some guy named Baldwin. Colonel Alex Baldwin.“

The named sounded familiar but Norwood couldn’t place it. ”Terrific. A goddamned traitor. Well, get on the horn and tell Colonel Baldwin that I’m on my way.“

Ellis bobbed his head obediently. ”Yes, ma’am. I’ll get on it.“

Norwood smiled. He would too. No matter how Ellis might look, he was sincere, and, a helluva lot more competent than some of the regulars she knew.

”Thanks, Ellis. How ’bout the message torps?“

”They were launched two hours ago, just as you ordered,“ Ellis replied. ”Twenty-two at random intervals.“

Norwood nodded. Given the fact that the scientific types had yet to develop any sort of faster-than-ship method of communications, the torps were the best that she could do.

Maybe a missile would find its way through the Hudathan blockade. Maybe an admiral would get up off his or her ass long enough to mention the matter to the Emperor. And maybe the Emperor would make the right decision.

But, given the fact that Worber’s World was just inside the rim, and given the fact that the empire was contracting rather than expanding, Norwood had her doubts.

”Good. We gave the bastards a chance . . . which is a helluva lot more than we got.“

Ellis nodded soberly.

”Major Laske will assume command until I return, and Ellis...“

”Yes, ma’am?“

”Lace your fraxing boot.“

”Yes, ma’am.“

Ellis bent over to lace his boot, realized that he should have saluted, and straightened up. It was too late. Norwood had turned her back on him and was entering the shuttle. She looked terribly small for such a big job. Why hadn’t he noticed that before?

The hatch closed behind her and Ellis felt a hollowness in the pit of his stomach. Something, he didn’t know what, told him that he’d never see her again.

Repellers roared, a million pieces of grit flew sideways through the air, and the shuttle lifted off. Norwood looked out a window and saw Ellis. His hat was centered on his head, his back was ramrod straight, and his salute was textbook perfect.

”Well, I’ll be damned. He got it right.“

The pilot rotated the ship on its axis. ”Did you say something, Colonel?“

Norwood made a small adjustment to her headset. ”No, talking to myself, that’s all.“

The pilot shrugged, knowing that Norwood was to the rear and couldn’t see through the back of his seat. Brass. Who could figure ’em anyway?

The shuttle rode its repellers up one of six massive ramps, paused while armored doors slid open, and lifted straight up. The aliens had become quite adept at nailing low-atmosphere aircraft, so the pilot applied full military power.

G-forces pushed Norwood down into soft leather which had until recently served to cushion an admiral’s rather ample posterior. She was certain that he would have disapproved of a mere colonel using his private gig, but like all of his peers, the admiral was entombed under Black Lake and unavailable for comment.

The G-forces eased and Norwood looked out the window. This was the first time that she’d been outside since the initial attack. She’d seen most of it before, but secondhand, via satellites, drones, and helmet cameras. This was far more immediate and therefore shocking.

The shuttle had climbed to about five thousand feet. High enough to provide a good view but low enough to see some detail. What had been some of the most productive farmland on Worber’s World looked like a landscape from hell.

Clouds of dense black smoke rolled away towards the horizon and were momentarily illuminated as a nuclear device went off hundreds of miles to the east. Lightning flickered as bolt after bolt struck the ground and added its destruction to that already wrought by the aliens.

Fires burned for as far as the eye could see, not in random order as one might expect, but in carefully calculated fifty-mile bands. That’s the way the Hudathans did it, like suburbanites mowing their lawns, making neat overlapping swatches of destruction.

First came the low-orbit bombardment. It began with suppressive fire intended to keep aerospace fighters on the ground, and was almost immediately followed by an overwhelming air assault, and landings in force.

Norwood had seen video shot from the ground, had seen a thousand carefully spaced attack ships darken the sky, had seen the death rain down.

And not just on military installations, or on factories, but on each and every structure that was larger than a garage. Homes, churches, libraries, museums, schools, all were destroyed with the same plodding perfection that was applied to everything else.

The Hudathans were ruthless, implacable, and absolutely remorseless. Such were the beings to whom she was about to appeal. A tremendous sense of hopelessness rose up and nearly overwhelmed her. Norwood pushed it down and held it there. She felt tired, very tired, and wished that she could sleep.

The pilot jinked right, left, and right again.

Norwood tightened her harness. ”What’s up?“

”Surface-to-air missile. One of ours. Some poor slob saw us, assumed we were geeks, and took his best shot. I sent a recognition code along with instructions to look for another target.“

Norwood imagined what it was like on the surface, cut off from your superiors and hunted by remorseless aliens. She shivered at the thought.

Norwood noticed that the copilot’s seat was empty. ”What happened to your number two?“

The pilot scanned his heads-up display and felt feedback flow through his fingertips. The shuttle had no -controls other the implant in his brain.

She took a flitter and went home.”

Norwood was not especially surprised. While some continued to fight, thousands of men and women had deserted during the last couple of days. She didn’t approve but understood nonetheless. After all, why fight when there was absolutely no hope of winning? Of course the Legion had sacrificed more than a thousand legionnaires on Battle Station Delta, but they gloried in that sort of thing and were certifiably insane.

Where was home?“

“Neeber’s Knob.”

“It took a direct hit from a twenty-megaton bomb.“

“I think she knew that,” the pilot said evenly.

“Yes,“ Norwood replied. ”I suppose she did. So why stay?”

The pilot ran a mental systems check. It came up clean. “Different people react in different ways. She wanted to go home. I want to grease some geeks.“

“Yeah,” Norwood agreed. “So would I.”

The pilot sent a thought through the interface, felt the G-forces pile on, and arrowed up through the smoke.

 

Baldwin screamed, and screamed, and screamed. Not with pain, but with pleasure, for the Hudathan machines were capable of dispensing both. He lay naked on the metal table, muscles rigid under the surface of his skin, gasping for air as another orgasm rippled through his body. His penis was so rigid that he thought it would explode. Sometimes he almost wished it would.

Part of the human sex act involves release, but the aliens had bypassed that function in order to prolong his pleasure, and in so doing were unknowingly torturing him.

But there was no alternative. The Hudathans believed that it was important to dispense rewards and punishments in a timely fashion. By associating pleasure or pain with a particular event, they hoped to reinforce or discourage the behavior in question. Since Baldwin had provided them with some excellent advice concerning the attack on Worber’s World, he deserved a reward. Never mind whether he liked the reward, or wanted the reward, he deserved the reward and had to receive it.

So Baldwin screamed, the technician waited, and a timer measuredthe seconds. Finally, when the allotted amount oftime had passed, the pleasure stopped. His body tingled all over. The human was only vaguely aware, of the 350-pound alien that stepped in to remove his restraints. The straps were intended to protect rather than punish.

There were no wires or leads to disconnect, since all of the necessary circuitry had been surgically implanted into his brain, and was radio-controlled.

That was the part of the bargain that Baldwin liked the least, the knowledge that the aliens were in total control of his body. But it was absolutely necessary -if he wanted to continue his relationship with them. If a single word could be used to describe the Hudathan race, it would be “paranoid.”

Except that humans classify “paranoia” as aberrant behavior and Hudathans considered it to be normal. Normal, and desirable given the nature of their home system.

Baldwin knew that Hudatha, their home planet, was fairly Earth-like, and rotated around a star called Ember, which was 29 percent more massive than Terra’s sun.

So even though both stars were about the same age, the gravity generated by Ember’s greater mass had compressed its core, which led to higher central temperatures and more rapid nuclear fusion. That in turn had shortened the star’s life span and caused it to grow significantly larger, redder, and more luminous over the last few million years. The result had been warmer temperatures on the surface of Hudatha, the loss of some species, and increasingly bright sunlight that hurt the eyes.

Having observed these changes, and being scientifically advanced, the Hudatha knew that their sun was headed for red-gianthood and that they would have to move.

Making things even more complicated was the fact that the planet Hudatha was in a Trojan relationship with a jovian binary. The jovians’ centers were separated by only 280,000 kilometers, so their surfaces were only 110,000 kilometers apart.

If there had been no other planets in the system, Hudatha would have followed along behind the jovians in a near perfect circular orbit, but there were other planets, and they tugged on

Hudatha just enough to make it oscillate around the following Trojan point. The upshot of it all was a wildly fluctuating climate.

Hudatha had no seasons as such. Major changes came in response to the ever-changing distance between Hudatha and Ember. The chances took place on a time scale of weeks, rather than months, and that meant that at any given time of the year it could be searingly hot, frigidly cold, or anything in between.

And that, Baldwin knew, explained why the Hudathans felt the universe was out to get them, because in a sense it was.

All of which accounted for the implant. If the Hudathans could control a variable, they were sure to do so, knowing that control meant survival. And, to a race like the Hudatha, the very existence of another sentient species was an unendurable threat. A threat that must be encountered, controlled, and if at all possible, completely eliminated.

It was this tendency, this need, that Baldwin was determined to exploit. The only problem was whether he could survive long enough to do so.

The technician released the final restraint and Baldwin sat up. The alien backed away, careful to protect his back, always ready to defend himself—a reaction so ingrained, so natural, that the Hudathan hadn’t even thought about it.

He was seven feet tall, weighed about 350 pounds, and had temperature-sensitive skin. It was gray at the moment, but would turn black under conditions of extreme cold, and white when the air surrounding it became excessively warm. He had a large humanoid head, the vestige of a dorsal fin that ran front to back along the top of his skull, a pair of funnel-like ears, and a frog-like mouth with a bony upper lip, which remained stationary when the creature talked.

“Do you have needs?”

The human swung his feet over the side and addressed the technician in his own tongue, a sibilant language that sounded like snakes hissing. “Yes A cigarette would be nice.”

“What is a cigarette?”

“Never mind. May I have my equipment, please?”

The Hudathans had no need to wear garb other than equipment such as armor, which explained why the word “clothing” had no equivalent in their language.

The alien made a jabbing motion that meant “yes,” and disappeared. He was back a few moments later with Baldwin’s clothes.

“The war commander requests your presence.” Baldwin smiled. The humans had arrived, just as he had predicted that they would.

“Excellent. Inform the war commander that I am on my way.”

The Hudathan made no visible response, but Baldwin knew that his message bad been subvocalized and transmitted via the technician’s implant.

He zipped the uniform jacket, wished that he could see himself in a mirror, and made his way out into the corridor. It was taller and wider than a human passageway.

His guard, a huge brute named Nikko Imbala-Sa, was waiting (still another precaution to make sure that the human-thing remained under control). Baldwin moved towards the core of the ship. Imbala-Sa followed. The Hudathan equivalent of argrav had generated a rather comfortable 96.1 gee.

This corridor looked exactly like every other passageway on the ship. There were evenly spaced light strips on ceilings and bulkheads, identical junction boxes every twenty feet or so, and gratings that could be removed to service the fiber-optic cables that lay beneath them. Baldwin thought the sameness was boring, but knew that the Hudatha found comfort in the uniformity, suggesting as it did a well-ordered universe.

They arrived at an intersection, waited while a lance commander and his contingent of bodyguards passed by, and approached the lift tubes. There were eight of them clustered together. Four up and four down.

Baldwin waited for an up platform, stepped aboard, and knew that Imbala-Sa would take the next. Each platform was intended to carry one passenger and no more. The human had noticed that Hudathans had a tendency to avoid unstructured group situations whenever possible.

The platforms never actually came to a stop, so it was necessary to watch for the deck that he wanted and jump. Baldwin made the transition smoothly, waited for Imbala-Sa to catch up, and headed for the battleship’s command center.

There were four sentries outside the war commander’s door. All were members of the elite Sun Guard and were heavily armed. They made no attempt to bar Baldwin’s way but omitted the gestures of respect that would be afforded to a Hudathan officer. Baldwin ignored it. He had no choice.

The airtight hatch disappeared into the ceiling and Baldwin strode through the newly created opening. Imbala-Sa was right behind him.

The command center was oval in shape, with fifteen niches set into the outer walls, one for each member of the war commander’s personal staff. The cave-like seating arrangements gave the aliens a sense of security and served to protect their backs. Seven of the seats were filled. Baldwin felt fourteen sets of cold, hard eyes bore their way through him.

The fifteenth seat, the one that belonged to Niman Poseen-Ka himself, was empty.

The center of the room contained a huge holo tank, presently filled with a likeness of Worber’s World and the surrounding system. The holo was at least twenty feet in diameter and

looked absolutely life-like. Baldwin knew that if he watched the simulacrum closely enough, he would see tiny fighters strafe the planet’s surface, lights flash as nuclear bombs were detonated, and cities glow as they were burned to slag.

But his eyes were focused on a far more satisfying sign of victory, a woman in the uniform of a full colonel and a man dressed in a flight suit.

Indescribable joy filled Baldwin’s heart. This was it! The moment that he’d been waiting for, the moment when they groveled at his feet, the moment when his revenge was complete! He looked to the right and left.

“Where are they?“

The woman was about his age, pretty, with gray-streaked auburn hair. She was small, five-four or five-five, and very shapely. She projected an aura of strength.

“Where is who?”

“The admiral. The general. The officer they sent to surrender.”

The woman shook her head sadly. “That would be me. The rest are dead.”

Baldwin felt the joy drain away like water released from a dam. “Dead?”

The woman frowned. “Yes, dead.” She gestured towards the holographic likeness of the planet below. The cloud cover was streaked with black smoke. “What did you expect?”

Baldwin struggled to forget long-harbored fantasies and deal with things as they actually were. “Yes, of course. I’m Colonel Alex Baldwin. And you are?”

“Colonel Natalie Norwood. This is Flight Lieutenant Tom Martin.”

Baldwin nodded to Martin and turned back to Norwood. “You had a pleasant trip, I trust?”

“No, we didn’t,”Norwood replied. “Two of your fighters jumped us in the., upper atmosphere. We managed to shake them off. Now, let’s eliminate the small talk and get down to brass tacks. You attacked and we lost. What do you want?”

Baldwin smiled. The line came straight from his fantasies. Never mind the fact that the governor or an admiral should have uttered it, the words were perfect.

“Nothing.”

Norwood’s eyebrows shot up. “Nothing?”

“That is correct,” a new voice said. It spoke standard with a hissing accent. “Colonel Baldwin desired nothing more than the satisfaction derived from your arrival.”

Norwood turned to find herself face-to-face with a 450-pound Hudathan. He wore a belt and cross-strap. The strap borea large green gem. It sparkled with inner light.

Baldwin made a sign of respect. “Colonel Norwood, Lieutenant Martin, this is War Commander Niman Poseen-Ka.”

Norwood held her hands palm-out in the universal gesture of peaceful greeting. She looked the Hudathan in the eye. She saw intelligence there, plus something else. Curiosity? Empathy? A little of both? Or were his emotions so different, so alien, that she could never understand them? But she must try. An entire world was at stake.

“It is an honor to meet you, War Commander Poseen-Ka. Am I to understand that there will be no discussions? No opportunity for a cease-fire?”

“That is correct,” the Hudathan replied evenly. “There is no need to negotiate for that which is already ours.”

Norwood felt a heaviness settle into her stomach. She chose her words carefully.

“But why? Why attack that which you have sacrificed lives to conquer?”

Poseen-Ka blinked, and for a moment, and a moment only, she saw what looked like doubt in his eyes. But was it? There was no way to be sure. His answer was measured and seemed empty of all emotion.

“We will attack as long as there are signs of resistance. Resistance cannot and will not be tolerated.”

“And it’s good practice for the troops,” Baldwin put in cheerfully. “Sort of a warm-up for battles to come. We let all the message torps through, you know. Here’s hoping the Emp responds.”

Norwood looked at Baldwin the same way that a scientist might examine a not altogether pleasant specimen. She saw thick brown hair, parted in the middle and swept back on both sides, a high forehead, intense eyes, patrician nose, and an expressive mouth. A handsome man except for what? A weakness of some kind, which, like a flaw within a metal blade, reveals itself when stressed. Her eyes narrowed and her voice grew hard. “So this is a game? A sop to your ego?”

Baldwin’s eyes flashed with pent-up emotion. A vein started throb just over his left temple. “No! It’s proof! Proof that they were wrong! Proof that I’m fit for command!”

Suddenly she had it. Colonel Alex Baldwin. Of course! She should have remembered earlier. His court-martial had been big news on Imperial Earth, and even bigger news in military circles, where it was widely believed that he’d been railroaded. Something about a massacre on a rim world, drug addiction, and the Emperor’s nephew.

“Yes,” Poseen-Ka said, as if reading her mind. “Colonel Baldwin betrayed his people in order to prove his competence. That is what he claims anyway. There is an alternative explanation, however. Some of our best xenopsychologists have examined Colonel Baldwin and concluded that his true motive is revenge.”

Norwood didn’t know which surprised her the most. The Hudathan’s calm, almost clinical description of Baldwin’s psychology, or the subject’s lack of visible reaction.

It was as if the war commander had never spoken, as if Baldwin could filter things he didn’t want to hear, as if he was not entirely sane.

Norwood looked at Poseen-Ka. There it was again, that ineffable something that she couldn’t quite put a finger on. Sympathy? Understanding? What?

“Well, that about covers it.”

The voice belonged to Martin. They turned. Norwood frowned. “Covers what?”

Martin shrugged. His eyes were dark and flashed when he spoke. “What we came for. You heard the geek . . . no negotiations until resistance ends . . . and that means we have nothing to lose.“

“Now, Martin, don’t do anything…”

But the flight lieutenant closed his eyes, activated his implant, and sent a thought towards the shuttle. And, on a desk half a mile away, relays closed, power flowed, tolerances were exceeded, and an aircraft exploded. It was Martin’s ace in the hole, a little surprise that he and a crew chief named Perez had dreamed up.

It worked like a charm. The first explosion caused a Hudathan attack ship to blow as well, which triggered more explosions, which caused the deck under Martin’s feet to shudder in sympathy. A series of dull thuds followed moments later and served to confirm what had happened.

Martin opened his eyes and a lot of things took place once.

Imbala-Sa put two low-velocity darts through Martin’s heart.

Klaxons began to bleat, orders were issued over the ship’s PA system, and the surviving humans were dragged from the room.

Norwood tried to memorize the maze of seemingly identical corridors but was soon lost.

Crew members ran in every direction, shouted orders at each other, and did the multiplicity of things that they’d been trained to do.

It was hard to think in the midst of all the confusion, but one thing was clear. Martin had managed to kill some Hudathans, and in doing so, had unintentionally reinforced their xenophobia.

It would be a long time, if ever, before the Hudathans would agree to meet with human beings again. Other thoughts might have followed, but were lost when she was shoved into a freight elevator and herded into a corner.

Then, after a very short ride, she was pushed, pulled, and prodded into a hallway, led to a small compartment, and secured to some wall-mounted rings.

Baldwin was stripped, forced to lie on a metal table, and strapped into place. He said something in Hudathan and the technician made a hissing reply.

Norwood was very, very frightened but did her best to hide it.

”What’s going on?“ she asked.

Baldwin tried for a nonchalant grin but wound up looking sick instead.

“The Hudathans believe that immediate reward or punishment can alter subsequent behavior. And, since I was the one that brought you here, responsibility for your actions rests with me.”

“What will they do?”

“They forced me to accept an implant. Through it they can dispense pleasure or pain.“

Norwood thought about that for a moment. ”You deserve some pain.”

Baldwin nodded understandingly. “Yes, from your perspective, I suppose I do.”

The technician started a timer and touched one of the lights on his control panel.

Baldwin screamed, arched his back in agony, and started to convulse.

Norwood thought of the planet below, of the people he had killed, and tried to take pleasure in Baldwin’s pain.

But the screams went on and on, and no matter how much she tried to do otherwise, Norwood couldn’t help but feel sorry the man who made them.

William C. Dietz © Legion of the Damned 1993

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