Token of Esteem (3 ratings)
by William Alan Rieser
Page 1 of 8
"There," said Sergeant Ciccelo, pointing at the old, vast, orange Martian
pyramid on the consoleís scanner. "This is their favorite spot so far, right on
top of the Cydonian Plateau. We donít know why, but you can bank your blood on
it. Mully over there will show you the ropes."
"How long you want me to do this?" asked Pook, the latest scrub to get stuck
with rat duty. It seemed like an unfair assignment immediately upon his
arrival. After all, Pook thought, he wasnít done with shuttle lag, let alone
impulse trauma conditioning. He glimpsed Private Mully, who appeared to ignore
both him and the sergeant as he sat quietly before his monitor. Still, the man
must have his orders, he reasoned, even if they were impersonal.
"Until I get back from Phobos," answered the sergeant, not bothering with
spelling things out any better for the new transferee from Luna. "If ya need
help, use the com. Thereís enough guys around to lend a hand, unless it gets
serious. If itís real bad, you just haul ass outta here and over to barracks,
especially if the rats turn nasty. Make your report to the Louie. Do a good job
Ďn Iíll remember. Everything clear?"
"Clear enough, sir," replied Pook.
"Piece Ďo cake. Routine stuff, right corporal?"
The two men saluted each other and the sergeant hastily departed the mesa
in his cruiser. Pook looked around the spartan sentry post and settled again
on the lone figure of Mully, who sat in the roomís single comfortable chair
while listening to some music on a juiced headset. Pook gave him the high sign
when he thought the manís eyes rested on him, but there was no recognition. In
fact, he hadnít seen Mullyís eyes or hands move at all since the sergeant
brought him into the place. Pook was still garbed in his flight suit because
the sergeant hadnít given him a chance to change into anything comfortable. The
vacuum duffel, containing his clothes and other belongings, was still slung
over his right shoulder since first meeting Ciccelo.
"Whatcha listeniní to, Jandia?" asked Pook, assuming the soldier was hooked
on the latest Lunar fripwaves. There was no response, though Pook could clearly
see that the crooning membrane surrounding Mullyís head, covering the ears, was
active. The guy was just out of it or mesmerized, he thought. Pook dropped his
duffel on the floor in front of some wall lockers and decided to change before
studying the computerís data on the infestation. He walked past the absorbed
private and barely nudged the manís shoulder as he squeezed by the console.
Mully fell over dead on the floor, jarred by the impact and splayed out in an
unnatural position. Pook froze where he stood, frying the shocking truth in his
shaking brain. He nervously opted to remain suited, especially when he saw a
burgeoning circle of blood spread wide beneath the soldierís static body.
"Medical," beckoned Pook quickly in his helmetís com. "Iíve got a dead man
here." He tried to stay calm.
"Where are you?" said a mechanical voice. "Sensors are malfunctioning."
"Mesa sentry," answered Pook, already growing restless. "Corporal Pook."
"You talkiní Ďbout Mully? Donít know your voice."
"Guess so. Blood all over the place."
"OK. Hang tight. Donít touch anything. Weíll be up."
"Yeah," said Pook on the disconnect. "Hang is the operative word!" Things
werenít going to be as routine as Sergeant Ciccelo indicated. He got to the
console without stepping in red and managed to punch up some data. The
so-called rat was displayed on the screen, but its features were
indistinct. The text was a little better and Pook read it carefully, keeping
his eyes off Mullyís body.
N0N-INDIGENOUS LIFE FORM - UNKNOWN ORIGIN - MAMMALIAN - ALTERABLENext Page
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