They stopped beating Trelayne when they saw that he enjoyed it. The thugs that passed as cops in that town on Long Shot backed away from where he lay curled on the dirt floor, as if he was something dead or dangerous. He watched them lock the door of his cold little cell again. Disgust and something like fear showed in their eyes. The taste of their contempt for him mixed with the sharpness of his own blood in his mouth. And the Scream in that blood shot another stab of pleasure through him.
He expected their reaction. The Merged Corporate Entity guarded its secrets well, and Scream was its most precious. Long Shot lay far from any Entity project world and well off the jump route linking Earth and the frontier. No one on this backwater planet would know of the drug, let alone have encountered a Screamer or an Angel. That was why he had picked it.
Their footsteps receded, and the outer door of the plasteel storage hut that served as the town jail clanged shut. Alone, he rolled onto his side on the floor, relishing the agony the movement brought. He tried to recall how he came to be there, but the Scream in him turned each attempt into an emotional sideshow. Finally he remembered something burning, something…
It had been one of their better shows.
He remembered now. Remembered last night, standing in the ring of their makeshift circus dome, announcing the performers to an uncaring crowd, crying out the names of the damned, the conquered. Each member of his refugee band emerged from behind torn red curtains and propelled themselves in the manner of their species into or above the ring, depending on their chosen act.
He knew the acts meant little. The crowd came not to see feats of acrobatics or strength, but to gawk at otherworldly strangeness, to watch aliens bow in submission before the mighty human. Trelayne’s circus consisted of the remnants of the subjugated races of a score of worlds, victims to the Entity’s resource extraction or terraforming projects: the Stone Puppies, lumbering silica beasts of slate-sided bulk—Guppert the Strong, squat bulbous-limbed refugee from the crushing gravity and equally crushing mining of Mendlos II—Feran the fox-child, his people hunted down like animals on Fandor IV.
And the Angels. Always the Angels.
But curled in the dirt in the cold cell, recalling last night, Trelayne pushed away any thoughts of the Angels. And of her.
Yes, it had been a fine show. Until the Ta’lona died, exploding in blood and brilliance high above the ring, after floating too near a torch. Trelayne had bought the gas bag creature’s freedom a week before from an ip slaver, knowing that its species had been nearly wiped out.
As pieces of the fat alien had fallen flaming into the crowd, Trelayne’s grip on reality had shattered like a funhouse mirror struck by a hammer. He could now recall only flashes of what had followed last night: people burning—screaming—panic—a stampede to the exits—his arrest.
Nor could he remember doing any Scream. He usually stayed clean before a show. But he knew what he felt now lying in the cell—the joy of the beating, the ecstasy of humiliation. He must have done a hit when the chaos began and the smell of burnt flesh reached him. To escape the horror.
Or to enter it. For with Scream, horror opened a door to heaven.
Someone cleared their throat in the cell. Trelayne jumped, then shivered at the thrill of surprise. Moaning, he rolled onto his back on the floor and opened his eyes, struggling to orient himself again.
A man now sat on the cot in the cell. A man with a lean face and eyes that reminded Trelayne of his own. He wore a long grey cloak with a major’s rank and a small insignia on which a red “RIP” hovered over a green planet split by a lightning bolt.
The uniform of RIP Force. A uniform that Trelayne had worn a lifetime ago. Grey meant Special Services: this man was RIP, but not a Screamer. RIP kept senior officers and the SS clean.
The man studied a PerComm unit held in a black-gloved hand, then looked down at Trelayne and smiled. “Hello, Captain Trelayne,” he said softly, as if he were addressing a child.
Trelayne swallowed. He was shaking and realized he had been since he had recognized the uniform. “My name is not Trelayne.”
“I am Weitz,” the man said. The PerComm disappeared inside his cloak. “And the blood sample I took from you confirms that you are Jason Lewiston Trelayne, former captain and wing commander in the Entity’s Forces for the Relocation of Indigenous Peoples, commonly known as RIP Force. Convicted of treason in absentia three years ago, 2056-12-05 AD. Presumed dead in the MCE raid on the rebel base on Darcon III in 2057-08-26.”
Trelayne licked his lips, savoring the flavor of his fear.
“You’re a wanted man, Trelayne.” Weitz’s voice was soft. “Or would be, if the Entity knew you were still alive.”
The Scream in Trelayne turned the threat in those words into a thrilling chill up his spine. He giggled.
Weitz sighed. “I’ve never seen a Screamer alive three years after RIP. Dead by their own hand inside a month more likely. But then, most don’t have their own source, do they?”
The implication of those words broke through the walls of Scream in Trelayne’s mind. Weitz represented real danger—to him, to those in the circus that depended on him. To her. Trelayne struggled to focus on the man’s words.
“. . . good choice,” Weitz was saying. “Not a spot the Entity has any interest in now. You’d never see Rippers here—” Weitz smiled. “—unless they had ship trouble. I was in the next town waiting for repairs when I heard of a riot at a circus of ips.”
Ips—I.P.’s—Indigenous Peoples. A Ripper slur for aliens.
Weitz stood up. “You have an Angel breeding pair, Captain, and I need them.” He pushed open the cell door and walked out, leaving the door open. “I’ve arranged for your release. You’re free to go. Not that you can go far. We’ll talk again soon.” Looking back to where Trelayne lay shivering, Weitz shook his head. “Jeezus, Trelayne. You used to be my hero.”
Trelayne slumped back down on the floor, smiling as the smell of dirt and stale urine stung his throat. “I used to be a lot of things,” he said, as much to himself as to Weitz.
Weitz shook his head again. “We’ll talk soon, Captain.” He turned and left the hut.
Think of human emotional response as a sine wave function. Peaks and valleys. The peaks represent pleasure, and the valleys pain. The greater your joy, the higher the peak; the greater your pain, the deeper the valley.
Imagine a drug that takes the valleys and flips them, makes them peaks, too. You react now to an event based not on the pleasure or pain inherent in it, but solely on the intensity of the emotion created. Pain brings pleasure, grief gives joy, horror renders ecstasy.
Now give this drug to one who must perform an unpleasant task. No. Worse than that. An immoral deed. Still worse. A nightmare act of chilling terminal brutality. Give it to a soldier. Tell them to kill. Not in the historically acceptable murder we call war, but in a systematic corporate strategy—planned, scheduled, and budgeted—of xenocide.
They will kill. And they will revel in it.
Welcome to the world of Scream.
—Extract from propaganda data bomb launched on Fandor IV CommCon by rebel forces, 2056-10-05 AD. Attributed to Capt. Jason L. Trelayne during his subsequent trial in absentia for treason.
Feran thought tonight’s show was their finest since the marvelous Ta’lona had died, now a five-day ago. From behind the red curtains that hid the performers’ entrance, the young kit watched the two Angels, Philomela and Procne, plummet from the top of the dome to swoop over the man-people crowd. Remembering how wonderfully the fat alien had burnt, Feran also recalled the Captain explaining to him how that night had been bad. The Captain had been forced to give much power-stuff for the burnt man-people and other things that Feran did not understand.
The Angels completed a complicated spiral dive, interweaving their descents. Linking arms just above the main ring, they finished with a dizzying spin like the top the Captain had made him. They bowed to the applauding crowd, folding and unfolding diaphanous wings so the spotlights sparkled on the colors.
Feran clapped his furred hands together as Mojo had taught him, closing his ear folds to shut out the painful noise of the man-people. As the performers filed out for the closing procession around the center ring, Feran ran to take his spot behind the Stone Puppies. Guppert the Strong lifted Feran gently to place him on the slate-grey back of the nearest silica beast.
“Good show, little friend!” Guppert cried. His squat form waddled beside Feran. Guppert liked Long Shot because it did not hold him to the ground as did his home of Mendlos. “Of course, Guppert never go home now,” he had told Feran once, his skin color darkening to show sadness. “Off-planet too long. Mendlos crush Guppert, as if Stone Puppy step on Feran. But with Earth soldiers there in mecha-suits, now Mendlos not home anyway.”
Waving to the crowd, the performers disappeared one by one through the red curtains. Feran leapt from the Stone Puppy, shouted a goodbye to Guppert, and scurried off to search for Philomela. Outside the show dome, he sniffed the cool night air for her scent, found it, then turned and ran into the Cutter.
“Whoa, Red! What’s the rush?” The tall thin man scowled down at Feran like an angry mantis. The Cutter was the healer for the circus. “Helpin’ us die in easy stages, s’more like it,” was how the Cutter had introduced himself when Feran had arrived.
“I seek the Bird Queen, Cutter,” Feran replied.
Sighing, the Cutter jerked a thumb toward a cluster of small dome pods where the performers lived. Feran thought of it as the den area. “Don’t let him take too much, you hear?”
Feran nodded and ran off again, until a voice like wind in crystal trees halted him. “You did well tonight, sharp ears.”
Feran turned. Philomela smiled down at him, white hair and pale skin, tall and thin like an earth woman stretched to something alien in a trick mirror. Even walking, she made Feran think of birds in flight. Philomela was beautiful. The Captain had told him so many times. He would likely tell Feran again tonight, once he had breathed her dust that Feran brought him.
“Thank you, Bird Queen,” Feran replied, bowing low with a sweep of his hand as the Captain had taught him. Philomela laughed, and Feran bared his teeth in joy. He had made the beautiful bird lady laugh. The Captain would be pleased.
Procne came to stand behind Philomela, his spider-fingered hand circling her slim waist. “Where do you go now, Feran? Does Mojo still have chores for you?” He looked much like her, taller, heavier, but features still delicate, almost feminine. His stomach pouch skin rippled where the brood moved inside him.
“He goes to the Captain’s pod,” Philomela said. “They talk—about the times when the Captain flew in the ships. Don’t you?”
Feran nodded. Procne’s eyelids slid in from each side, leaving only a vertical slit. “The times when those ships flew over our homes, you mean? Your home, too, Feran.” Procne spun and stalked away, his wings pulled tight against his back.
Feran stared after him, then up at Philomela. “Did I do wrong, Bird Queen?”
Philomela folded and unfolded her wings. “No, little one, no. My mate remembers too much, yet forgets much, too.” She paused. “As does the Captain.” She stroked Feran’s fur where it lay red and soft between his large ears, then handed him a small pouch. “Feran, tonight don’t let the Captain breath too much of my dust. Get him to sleep early. He looks so…tired.”
Feran took the pouch and nodded. He decided he would not tell the Captain of Philomela’s face as she walked away.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Merged Corporate Entity, Inc. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Project Search Request
Search Date: 2059-06-02
Requestor: Weitz, David R., Major, RIP Special Services
Project World: All Division: PharmaCorps
Product: Scream Context: Field Ops / Post-Imp
Clearance Required: AAA Your Clearance: AAA
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Access Granted. Search results follow. >>>>>>>>>>>
Scream mimics several classes of psychotropics, including psychomotor stimulants, antidepressants, and narcotic analgesics. It acts on both stimulatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, but avoids hallucinogenic effects by maintaining neurotransmitter balance. It enhances sensory ability, speeds muscular reaction, and lessens nerve response to pain. It affects all three opiate receptors, inducing intense euphoria without narcotic drowsiness.
Physical addiction is achieved by four to six ingestions at dosage prescribed in Field Ops release 220.127.116.11. Treated personnel exhibit significantly lowered resistance to violence. Secondary benefits for field operations include decreased fatigue, delayed sleep on-set, and enhanced mental capacity.
Negative side effects include uncontrolled masochistic or sadistic tendencies, such as self-mutilation or attacks on fellow soldiers. Scream is therefore not administered until military discipline and obedience programming is completed in boot camp. Long-term complications include paranoid psychoses and suicidal depression. Withdrawal is characterized by hallucinations, delirium, and seizures, terminating with strokes or heart attacks.
Attempts to synthesize continue, but at present our sole source remains extraction from females of the dominant humanoids on Lania II, Xeno sapiens lania var. angelus (colloq.: Scream Angel). The liquid produced crystallizes into powder form. Since the drug is tied to reproduction (see Xenobiology: Lania: Life Forms: 1275), ensuring supply requires an inventory of breeding pairs with brood delivery dates spread evenly over—
*** File Transfer Request Acknowledged ***
Xenobiology File: Lania: Life Forms: 1275
The adult female produces the drug from mammary glands at all times but at higher levels in the reproductive cycle. Sexual coupling occurs at both the start and end of the cycle. The first act impregnates the female. The brood develops in her until delivery after thirty weeks in what the original Teplosky journal called the “larval form,” transferring then to the male’s pouch via orifices in his abdominal wall. For the next nineteen weeks, they feed from the male, who ingests large quantities of Scream from the female. The brood’s impending release as mature nestlings prompts the male to initiate the final coupling—
Trelayne lay in his sleep pod at the circus waiting for Feran and the hit of Scream that the kit brought each night. The meeting with Weitz had burst a dam of times past, flooding him with memories. He closed his eyes, his face wet with delicious tears. Though all his dreams were nightmares, he did not fear them. Terror was now but another form of pleasure. Sleep at least freed him from the tyranny of decision.
Twenty again. My first action. I remember…Remember? I’d give my soul to forget, if my soul remains for me to barter.
Bodies falling against a slate-grey sky…
The RIP transports on Fandor IV were huge oblate spheroids, flattened and wider in the middle than at the ends. Trelayne and almost one hundred other Rippers occupied the jump seats that lined the perimeter of the main bay, facing in, officers near the cockpit. Before them, maybe a hundred Fandor natives huddled on the metal floor, eyes downcast but constantly darting around the hold and over their captors. The adults were about five feet tall and humanoid, but their soft red facial hair, pointed snouts and ears gave them a feral look. The children reminded Trelayne of a stuffed toy he had as a child.
Fresh from RIP boot camp, this was to be his first action. These Fandorae came from a village located over rich mineral deposits soon to be an Entity mining operation. They were to be “relocated” to an island off the west coast. He added the quotes in response to a growing suspicion, fed by overheard jokes shared by RIP veterans. He also recalled arriving on Fandor, scanning the ocean on the approach to the RIP base on the west shore.
There were no islands off the coast.
The other Rippers shifted and fidgeted, waiting for their first hit of the day. The life support system of their field suits released Scream directly into their blood, once each suit’s computer received the transmitted command from the RIP Force unit leader. If you wanted your Scream, you suited up and followed orders. And god, you wanted your Scream.
His unit had been on Scream since the end of boot camp. Trelayne knew he was addicted. He knew that RIP wanted him and all his unit addicted. He just didn’t know why. He had also noticed that no one in his unit had family. No one would miss any of them. Another reason to follow orders.
Twenty minutes out from the coast, a major unbuckled his boost harness and nodded to a captain to his right. Every Ripper watched as the captain hit a button on his wrist pad.
The Scream came like the remembered sting of an old wound, a friend that you hadn’t seen in years and once reunited, you wondered why you had missed them.
The captain’s voice barked in their headsets, ordering them out of their harnesses. Trelayne rose as one with the other Rippers, StAB rod charged and ready, the Scream in him twisting his growing horror into the anticipation of ecstasy. The Fandorae huddled closer together in the middle of the bay.
The captain punched another button. Trelayne felt the deck thrumming through his boots as the center bay doors split open. The Fandorae leapt up, grabbing their young and skittering back from the widening hole, only to face an advancing wall of Rippers with lowered StAB rods.
Some of the Fandorae chose to leap. Some were pushed by their own people in the panic. Others fell on the StAB rods or died huddled over their young.
Trelayne pulled a kit, no more than a year, from under a dead female. He held the child in his arms, waiting his turn as the Rippers in front of him lifted or pushed the remaining bodies through the bay doors. When he reached the edge, Trelayne lifted the kit from his shoulder and held it over the opening. It did not squirm or cry, only stared a mute accusation. Trelayne let go, then knelt to peer over the edge.
A salt wind stung sharp and cold where it crept under his helmet. He watched the kit fall to hit the rough grey sea a hundred feet below. Most of the bodies had already slipped beneath the waves. The kit disappeared to join them.
A nausea that even Scream could not deflect seized Trelayne. Pushing back from the edge, he wrenched his visor up to gasp in air. A Ripper beside him turned to him, and for a brief moment Trelayne caught his own reflection in the man’s mirrored visor. The image burned into his memory as he fought to reconcile the horror engulfing him with the grinning mask of his own face…
Dreaming still…falling still…falling in love…
Trelayne made captain in a year, as high as Screamers could rise in RIP. He took no pride in it. When the Scream ran low in him, his guilt rose black and bottomless. But his addiction was now complete. Withdrawal for a Screamer meant weeks of agony, without the filter of Scream, then death. The Entity was his only source. He did what he was told.
Rippers burnt out fast on project worlds, so the Entity rotated them off relo work every six months for a four-week tour on a “processed” world. Trelayne’s first tour after making captain was on Lania, the Angel home planet, arranging transport of Angel breeding pairs from Lania to project worlds with RIP Force units. The Entity had found that, with Angels on-planet, concerns over Scream delivery could be put aside for that world.
Sex with an Angel, said RIP veterans, was the ultimate high. But upon arrival, Trelayne had found them too alien, too thin and wraith-like. He decided that their reputation was due more to ingesting uncut Scream during sex than to their ethereal beauty.
Then he saw her.
She was one of a hundred Angels being herded into a cargo shuttle that would dock with an orbiting jump ship. Angels staggered by Trelayne, their eyes downcast. He started to turn away when he saw her: striding with head held high, glaring at the guards. She turned as she passed him. Their eyes locked.
He ordered her removed from the shipment. That is how he met her. As her captor. Then her liberator. Then her lover.
The Earth name she had taken was Philomela. Her Angel name could not be produced by a human throat. She brought him joy and pain. He was never sure what he brought her. She gave herself willingly, and her pleasure in their lovemaking seemed so sincere that he sometimes let himself believe—believe that she clung to him in those moments, not to a desperate hope for freedom. That she did not hate him for what RIP had done to her people.
That she loved him.
But Scream strangled such moments. Though not on combat doses, he still needed it for physical dependency. On low doses, depression clouded life in a grey mist. Could she love him when he doubted his own love for her? Why was he drawn to her? Sex? His private source of Scream? To wash his hands clean by saving one of his victims? And always between them loomed an impassable chasm: they were separate species who could never be truly mated.
The news reached him one rare afternoon as they lay together in his quarters. His PerComm unit, hanging on the wall above them, began to buzz like an angry insect. He pulled it down and read the message from the Cutter, the medic in his unit.
She watched him as he read. “Jase, is something wrong?”
He had come to expect her empathy. Whether she could now read his human expressions or sense his mood, he didn’t know. He threw the unit away as if it had stung him and covered his face with a hand. “Mojo. One of my men, a friend. He’s fallen.”
“He’s alive. No serious injuries.” As if that mattered.
“Do you think he tried to take his life?”
“No,” he said, though the drug in him screamed yes.
“No! Not Mojo.” But he knew she was right. Suicide was common with Screamers, and “joining the Fallen” was a favored method—a dive that you never came out of. The Entity punished any survivors brutally. Screamers were easily replaced, but one LASh jet could cut the return on a project world by a full point.
“Now comes the judging your people do?” she asked.
“Court martial. Two weeks.” If they found Mojo guilty they would discharge him. No source of Scream. Better to have died in the crash, he thought. He got out of bed and began dressing. “I have to leave Lania, return to my base. Try to help him.”
“They will judge against him. You will not change that.”
“I know. But I have to try. He has no one else.”
She turned away. “We have few moments together.”
She was shaking, and he realized that she was crying. He misunderstood. “I’ll be back soon. It’ll be better then.”
She shook her head and looked up at him. “I mean that we have few moments left. It is my time.”
He stood there staring down at her. “What do you mean?”
“I must produce a brood.” She turned away again.
“You mean you will take a mate. One of your own kind.”
“His name is Procne,” she said, still not looking at him.
He didn’t know what to do or say, so he kept dressing.
She turned to him. “I love you,” she said quietly.
He stopped. She waited. He said nothing. She lay down, sobbing. He swallowed and formed the thought in his mind, opened his mouth to tell her that he loved her, too, when she spoke again. “What will become of me?” she asked.
All his doubts about her rushed in to drown the words in his mouth. He was but a way of escape to her. She did not love him. She would give herself to one of her own. She was alien. The Angels hated RIP for what they had done. She hated him.
He pulled on his jacket and turned away…
The trial. I tried, Mojo—but nothing can save us when we fall, and we were falling the moment they put it in our blood…
The day after Mojo’s trial, Trelayne entered the RIP barracks pod. The Cutter and two other Rippers sat on drop-bunks watching Mojo stuff his few possessions into a canister pack. Mojo wore his old civvies, now at least a size too small. He still had a Medistim on his arm, and he moved with a limp.
The others jumped to attention when they saw their visitor. Cutter just nodded. Trelayne returned the salutes then motioned toward the door. After a few words and half-hearted slaps on Mojo’s back, they filed out, leaving Trelayne and Mojo alone.
Mojo sat down on his bunk. “Thanks, Cap. Hell of a try.”
Trelayne sat, forcing a smile. “You forget we lost?”
Mojo shrugged. “Never had a chance. You know that. None of us do. Just a matter of time. If the Scream don’t get you, they will. No way out for the likes of us.”
Trelayne searched Mojo’s broad face. I have to try, he thought. We won’t get another chance. “Maybe there is a way.”
Narrowing his eyes, Mojo glanced at the door and back again. He looked grim. “I’m with you, Cap. Whatever, wherever.”
Trelayne shook his head. “They’ll kill us if we’re caught.”
“I’m a dead man already. We all are.”
Trelayne sighed and started talking…
And so the fallen dreamed of rising again, eh Mojo? What fools we were. But we gave them a run for a while, didn’t we?
Trelayne returned to Lania. In his absence, Philomela had taken Procne as her mate. She refused to see Trelayne. He added her and Procne to the next cargo of Angels being shipped to the project worlds, with himself as the ship’s captain.
He did not see her until after their ship had made the first jump. Philomela was summoned to the captain’s cabin, to be told to which planet she and her mate had been consigned.
She stiffened when she entered and saw him. “You.”
He nodded and waited.
“Sending us into slavery to be bred and milked like animals, this was not enough? You had to be here to see it happen, did you, Jason?” She looked around. “Where is the captain?”
“I am the captain on this trip.”
She looked confused. “But you have never gone on these . . .”
He sighed. “Please sit. I have much to say . . .”
Why did I risk everything to save her? Love? Guilt? As penance? For her Scream? In a desperate hope that one day she would turn to me again? Or as I fell, was I willing to grasp at anything, even if I pulled those I loved down with me?
From the ship’s observation deck, Trelayne and Philomela watched a shuttle depart, carrying a “shipment” of twenty pairs of Angels for the project world below.
“Do you know why I chose my Earth name?” she asked.
Her voice was flat, dead, but he heard the pain that each of these worlds brought her as more of her people were torn away, while she remained safe, protected. “No. Tell me,” he said.
“In a legend of your planet, Philomela was a girl turned into a nightingale by the gods. That image pleased me, to be chosen by the gods, elevated to the heavens. Only later did I learn that the nightingale is also a symbol of death.”
Trelayne bowed his head. “Phi, there’s nothing—”
“No, but allow me at least my bitterness. And guilt.”
Guilty of being spared. By him. She and Procne spared, only because an addict and xenocide and soon-to-be traitor needed his drug source close. He had stopped trying to examine his motives beyond that. The Scream would mock the small voice in him that spoke of a last remnant of honor and noble intent.
“My sister is on that shuttle,” Philomela said quietly.
Trelayne said nothing for there was nothing to say. They watched the tiny ship fall toward the planet below…
At each planet on that trip, we gathered to us the castoffs, the unwanted, the remnants of a dozen races, together with the Fallen. And then, suddenly, there was no turning back…
Trelayne’s first officer, a young lieutenant-commander named Glandis, confronted him on the bridge. She wasn’t backing down this time. “Captain, I must again register my concern over continued irregularities in your command of this mission.”
Trelayne glanced at the monitor by his chair. Mojo and eleven other ex-Rippers were disembarking from a shuttle in the ship’s docking bay. In two minutes, they would be on the bridge. He tapped a command, deactivating all internal communications and alarms. He turned to Glandis. “Irregularities?”
“The ip cargo we have acquired at each of our stops.”
“Those people are to be transported to the Entity’s Product R&D center on Earth,” Trelayne responded.
Glandis snorted. “What research could the Entity conduct with—” She read from her PerComm. “—a Mendlos subject?”
“Physiological adaptation to high-grav,” Trelayne replied.
“A Fandorae kit? A Fanarucci viper egg?”
“Biotech aural receptor design, and neural poison mutagenics development.” One minute more, he thought.
Glandis hesitated, some of the confidence leaving her face. “You have also protected one specific breeding pair of Angels for purposes that have yet to be made clear to me.”
“They, too, are slated for Entity research.” Trelayne rose. Thirty seconds. “Synthesization of Scream.”
“What about this stop? It was not on our filed flight plan.”
“Late orders from RIP Force command.” Fifteen seconds.
“I was not informed.”
“You just were.”
Glandis reddened. “And what purpose will a dozen disgraced ex-members of RIP Force serve?”
Now, thought Trelayne. The door to the bridge slid open. Mojo and four other ex-Rippers burst in, Tanzer rifles charged and pointed at Glandis and the bridge crew. Glandis turned to Trelayne with mouth open then froze.
Trelayne had his own weapon leveled at Glandis. “Their purpose, I’m afraid, is to replace the crew of this ship.”
And so the Fallen rose again, to scale a precipice from which there was no retreat, and each new height we gained only made the final fall that much farther…
After leaving the Bird Queen, Feran ran past the closed tubes of the barkers, the games of chance, and the sleep pods of the performers. The kit moved easily among the ropes, refuse, and equipment, his path clear to him even in the dim light of sputtering torches and an occasional hovering glow-globe.
The show used fewer glow-globes than when Feran had first arrived. The Captain said the globes cost too much now. Feran didn’t mind. He needed little light to see, and liked the smell of the torches and the crackle they made.
Turning a corner, Feran froze. Weasel Man stood outside the Captain’s pod. The Captain said that the man’s name was Weitz, but he reminded Feran of the animals the kit hunted in the woods outside the circus. The door opened. Weasel Man stepped inside.
Feran crept to the open window at the pod’s side. He could hear voices. His nose twitched. His ears snapped up and opened wide, adjusting until the sound was the sharpest.
Trelayne lay on his sleep pod bunk, shaking from withdrawal. Feran was late bringing his nightly hit. Weitz lounged in a chair, staring at him. It had been five days since their meeting in the jail. “Where’ve you been, Weitz?” Trelayne wheezed.
“Had some arrangements to make. Need a hit, don’t you?”
“It’s coming,” Trelayne mumbled. “What do you want?”
Weitz shrugged. “I told you. The Angels.”
“But not to hand them back to the Entity, or you’d have done it by now,” Trelayne said. But if Weitz wanted the Angels, why didn’t he just take them? He had his own men and a ship.
Weitz smiled. “Do you know there are rebels on Fandor IV?”
“Rebels? What are you talking about?” Where was Feran?
“Ex-RIP rebels like you, or rather, like you once were.”
“Like me? God, then I pity the rebels on Fandor IV.”
Weitz leaned forward in his chair. “I’m one of them.”
Trelayne laughed. “You’re RIP SS.”
“I assist from the inside. I supply them with Scream.”
Trelayne stared at Weitz. This man was far more dangerous than he had first appeared. “You’ve managed to surprise me, Major. Why would you risk your life for a bunch of rebels?”
Weitz shrugged. “I said you were my hero. The man who defied an empire. I want to do my part, too.”
Trelayne snorted. “Out of the goodness of your heart.”
Weitz reddened. “I cover my costs. No more.”
I’ll bet, Trelayne thought. “Where do you get Scream?”
“I…acquired a store doing an SS audit of a RIP warehouse.”
“You stole it. A store? Since when can you store Scream?”
Weitz smiled. “A result of intense research prompted by your escape with the Angels. You made the Entity realize the risk of transporting breeding pairs. Angels are now kept in secure facilities on Lania and two other worlds, producing Scream that’s shipped to project worlds with RIP forces. Angels live and die without ever leaving the facility they were born into.”
Trelayne shuddered. Because of him. But the Scream in him ran too low to find any joy in this new horror.
They fell silent. Finally Weitz spoke. “So what happened, Trelayne? To the Great Rebel Leader? To the one man who stood up to the Entity? How’d it all go to hell?”
“Screamers are in hell already. We were trying to get out.”
“You got out, in a stolen Entity cruiser. Then what?”
Shivering, Trelayne struggled to sit up. Where was Feran? “We jumped to a system the Entity had already rejected. Only one habitable planet. No resources worth the extraction cost.”
“And set up a base for a guerrilla war on the Entity.”
“No. A colony. A home for the dispossessed races.”
“You attacked Entity project worlds,” Weitz said.
“We sent messages. There was never any physical assault.”
“Your data bombs flooded Comm systems for entire planets.”
“We tried to make people aware of what the Entity was doing. Almost worked.” Trelayne fought withdrawal, trying to focus on Weitz. The man was afraid of something. But what?
“I’ll say. You cost them trillions hushing it up, flushing systems. But then what? The reports just end.”
“The Entity still has a file on us?” That pleased Trelayne.
“On you,” Weitz corrected. “You’ve got your own entire file sequence. Special clearance needed to get at them. Well?”
Trelayne fell silent, remembering the day, remembering his guilt. “I got careless. They tracked us through a jump somehow, found the colony, T-beamed it from orbit.”
“An entire planet? My god!” Weitz whispered.
“A few of us escaped.” But not Phi’s children, her first brood. More guilt, though she had never blamed him.
“In a heavily armed cruiser with a crew of ex-Rippers.”
He looked at Weitz. That was it. Even through the haze of withdrawal, he knew he had his answer: Weitz thought Trelayne still had a band of ex-Rippers at hand, battle-proven trained killers with super-human reflexes and their own Scream supply. Something like hope tried to fight through the black despair of his withdrawal. Weitz would try to deal first.
“And this?” Weitz took in the circus with a wave of a hand.
“After we lost the base, we had to keep moving. As a cover story to clear immigration on each world, I concocted a circus of aliens. Then I ran out of money, had to do it for real.”
“What if someone had recognized you? Or knew about Angels?”
Trelayne struggled to speak. “We avoided anywhere with an Entity presence, stayed off the main jump routes.” He started to shiver. “Why do you want Angels if you have a store of Scream?”
“My supply’ll run out, and I can’t count on stealing more.”
Trelayne stared at Weitz. “So what’s the deal?”
Weitz smiled. “Why do you think I won’t just take them?”
“Against a crew of ex-Rippers pumped on Scream?”
Weitz’s smile faded. He studied Trelayne. “Okay. Let’s assess your position. One: I gave your ship’s beacon signature to Long Shot’s space defense. If you run, you’ll be caught.”
Trelayne said nothing.
“Two: if you’re caught, your ip pals get sent back to their home worlds. And you know what that means.”
Trelayne stayed silent, but his skin went cold.
“Three: you, Mojo, and the medic get executed for treason.”
“Like I said, what’s the deal?”
Weitz studied Trelayne again, then finally spoke. “Both Angels for my store of Scream—a lifetime supply for you and your men. I lift the order on your ship and turn my back as you and your band jump. Your life goes on, with Scream but no Angels.”
Life goes on, if you called this life. That much Scream was worth a fortune. But nowhere near the value of a breeding pair.
So there it was. Betray his love or die. What choice did he have? Refuse, and Weitz would turn them over to the Entity, and all would die. Run, and be killed or caught by the planetary fleet. Give her up, along with Procne, and at least the others would be free. Besides, she had turned from him, taken one of her own. She had only used him to escape, had always used him. She was an alien and hated him for what he had done to her race.
She had never really loved him.
All that stood against this were the remnants of his love for her, and a phantom memory of the man he once had been.
Outside, Feran waited for the Captain’s reply to Weasel Man. He didn’t know what the Captain would do but he knew it would be brave and noble. Feran listened for the sound of the Captain leaping to his feet and striking Weasel Man to the floor. But when a sound came, it was only the Captain’s voice, small and hoarse. “All right,” was all he said.
“You’ll do it?” That was Weasel Man. Feran did not hear a reply. “Tomorrow morning.” Weasel Man again. The door opened, and Feran scooted under the pod. Weasel Man stepped out smiling. Feran had seen sand babies smile like that on Fandor just before they spit their venom in your eyes.
As he watched the man walk away, fading into the darkness, something inside Feran faded away as well. He stood staring into the shadows for a long time, then turned and entered the pod. The Captain lay in his sleeping place. He seemed not to notice Feran. The kit put the pouch from the Bird Queen on the table, then left without a word. The Captain did not call after him.
How long Feran wandered the grounds, he did not know. Some time later, he found the Cutter and Mojo sitting in front of a fire burning on an old heat shield panel from the ship.
“Seen the Captain, Feran?” asked Mojo. Feran just nodded.
“He’s had his bottle? All tucked in for the night?” the Cutter asked. Feran nodded again as Mojo scowled at the Cutter.
They sat silently for a while. “Does it hurt when you lose someone you love?” Feran asked, ashamed of the fear in his voice, the fear that he felt for Philomela.
The Cutter spoke. “Hurts even more to lose ’em slowly. Watch ’em disappear bit by bit ’til nothing’s left you remember.”
Feran knew the Cutter meant the Captain. “Shut up, Cutter,” Mojo growled. “You’ve never been there. Only a Screamer knows what he lives with.” He patted Feran’s head. “Never mind, kid.”
The Cutter shook his head but spoke no more. Feran rose and walked slowly away to once again wander the Circus grounds. This time, however, something resolved itself inside his young mind so that when he found himself outside the sleep pod of the Angels he interpreted this as a sign that his plan was pure.
The Bird Queen was alone. She spoke little as he told his tale, a question here or there when the words he chose were poor. She thanked him, then sat in silence, her strange eyes staring out the small round window of the pod.
Feran left the Angel then, not knowing whether he had done good or evil, yet somehow aware that his world was a much different place than it had been an hour before.
*** Search Results Continued ***
Xenobiology File: Lania: Life Forms: 1275
The impending release of a brood of mature nestlings prompts the male Angel to initiate final coupling. This act triggers the female’s production of higher concentrations of Scream. Scream is the sole nourishment that the young can ingest upon emergence, and also relieves the agony of the male after the brood bursts from him. The female must receive the nestlings within hours of the final coupling, or she will die from the higher Scream level in her blood, which the nestlings cleanse from her system.
The evolutionary advantage of this reproductive approach appears to stem from the increased survival expectations of a brood carried by the stronger male, and the ensured presence of both parents at birth. Although Teplosky drew parallels to the Thendotae on Thendos IV, we feel . . .
Unable to sleep, Feran rose early the next day. A chill mist hung from a grey sky. For an hour, he wandered outside the big dome, worrying how to tell the Captain what he had done and why. He stopped. Toward him strode the Captain, with Mojo at his side. Both wore their old long black cloaks, thrown back to reveal weapons strapped to each leg. The gun metal glinted blue and cold, matching the look in the Captain’s eyes.
Feran felt all his fears of the previous night vanish like grass swimmers into the brush. The Captain was going to fight. He would beat Weasel Man, and all would be well.
The Cutter stepped out of the dome as the Captain and Mojo stopped beside Feran. The Captain reached down to ruffle the fur on Feran’s head, then glanced toward the dome. “Ready?”
The Cutter nodded. “Just get him inside.”
A cry made them turn. Procne ran toward them, stumbling with the bulging weight of the brood inside him. “She’s gone! She’s gone!” he cried. He fell gasping into the Cutter’s arms. Feran went cold inside.
The talking box on the Captain’s belt beeped. He lifted it to his face. “It’s from Phi. Time delayed delivery from last night.” They waited as he read. When he spoke, his voice was raspy, like when he took too much dust. “She’s given herself to Weitz. She knows that I won’t surrender her and Pro, that I’ll fight. She doesn’t wish me or any of us to die.” He dropped the device in the dirt. “She knows me better than I know myself, it would seem,” he whispered.
“Our brood—” Procne began.
“She says she would rather her children die than live as slaves, kept only to feed monsters that destroy races.”
“No! Our final coupling was last night. The brood comes!” He placed a thin hand on his pouch. “The essence they must feed on is rising in her blood. If she is not here when they emerge, they will die. If they die without cleansing her . . .”
“She will die, too,” the Captain finished. “She knew this.”
Mojo frowned. “How’d she know about Weitz? You only told me and Cutter, and just this morning.” The Captain shook his head. Cutter shrugged.
Feran felt as if he were outside his body watching this scene but not part of it, unable to act. Well, he had acted, and this was what had come of it. He heard a voice saying “I told her.” It seemed to be coming from somewhere else, and only when they all turned to look at him did he realize he had spoken.
Silence fell. The Captain knelt down before him, and all the words that Feran had tried to find before came pouring out. He turned his head, baring his throat to the Captain, offering his life. Instead, warm arms encircled him and held him tight. Feran knew that this was a “hug” and found it oddly comforting. The Captain whispered “Oh Feran,” and Feran began to sob.
“So now what?” the Cutter growled as the Captain stood.
They waited. Then the Captain spoke, his voice as calm as when he told Feran a story. “Same plan, with one change. We need Pro with us.” He turned to Procne, and Feran felt a stillness settle, like before two alpha males fought. “You and I, we’ve never quite got it straight between us. Just knew that she somehow needed us both. You never forgave, never trusted me. Can’t say I ever blamed you. Well, I’m asking you to trust me now. If only because you know I wouldn’t hurt her.”
Procne stared at the Captain for several of Feran’s heart beats, then nodded. The Captain turned to the Cutter. “Take Pro inside. Make it look like his hands are tied.” He spoke then to all of them. “Nobody moves till I do, and I won’t move until I know where he’s got Phi. And remember: we need Weitz alive.”
Muttering under his breath, the Cutter pulled Feran into the dome. Feran looked back. The Captain and Mojo strode toward the main entrance, their long cloaks closed, hiding their weapons and shutting out the rain that began to fall hard and cold.
Inside, Feran saw Guppert standing beside two Stone Puppies. He scampered over to them, glad to leave the morose Cutter, then stopped. Weapons were strapped to one side of the great silica beasts, the side hidden from the door. The Puppies lay on the ground, and Guppert’s shoulder came to the top of their backs.
Guppert grinned and rapped a fat fist on the slate side of the nearest one. “Puppies make good fort, Guppert thinks.” He pointed to the ground. “This where you come, little one, with Guppert, when I give word.” He waddled around to the other side of the Puppies where water buckets and scrub brushes lay. “Now, we get busy looking not dangerous.” He and Feran began scrubbing the Puppies. The Cutter stood with Procne between them and the entrance, Procne’s hands bound behind him.
Feran heard them first. “They are here,” he whispered.
Cutter nodded. A few seconds later, two men in RIP SS uniforms entered with guns. They looked around, then one called outside. “All clear.” Weasel Man came in, then the Captain and Mojo, and more men in SS uniforms. Feran counted, his hope fading as each one entered. Ten, plus the first two, and Weasel Man. Four carried a metal case, their guns slung.
“Thirteen. Damn, I hate thirteen,” muttered the Cutter as he left Procne and sauntered toward a Puppy. Still scrubbing, Guppert moved to the hidden side of his beast. Feran followed.
Weasel Man looked around. “Where’s the rest of your crew?”
The Captain shrugged. “Dead or deserted.”
Weasel Man raised an eyebrow and glanced at his men. The Captain nodded at the case. “That our stuff?” he asked, pulling back a sleeve to reveal a Medistim pack. He hit a button on it. Feran knew that he had just taken a “hit.” Mojo did the same.
Weasel Man wrinkled his brow. “It was going to be.”
The Captain smiled. “But you’ve reconsidered.”
“We have the female already—,” Weasel Man said.
“Her name is Philomela,” the Captain said.
“And you’re outnumbered—”
The Captain nodded. “Just a bunch of old derelicts.”
“—so now I think we’ll just take this one, too.”
“His name is Procne.” The Captain hit the stim pack again. So did Mojo. Feran had never seen the Captain take two hits. “So you’ll leave me and Mojo to die in slow agony?”
Weasel Man shifted on his feet. Feran smelt his fear. The man nodded at the case. “That’s worth a fortune—”
“And you have to cover your costs, don’t you? Where is she?” the Captain said, taking a third hit.
“On my ship, hovering above us waiting for my call.” Weasel Man patted his talking device. “Now, why don’t—”
Being a predator, Feran was the first other than the Captain to know that the moment had arrived. The killing moment. And in that moment, for the first time, Feran realized something.
The Captain was a predator, too.
Weasel Man was still talking, “—this over with—”
The Captain and Mojo, moving faster than Feran thought men could move, threw back their cloaks and pulled their guns. The Captain shot Weasel Man twice, once through his gun arm and once through his leg. The air sizzled as Mojo fired, killing three before they could even raise their weapons. The Captain shot three more before Weasel Man hit the ground screaming. Feran closed his ear flaps to shut out the screams, his nose stinging from the burnt-air smell. The Cutter and Guppert shot one Ripper each from behind the Puppies. The last four, who had kept their guns slung, died still reaching for their weapons.
As he watched, Feran felt only fear. Not of the killing, for he knew killing, but fear of the look on the Captain’s face.
The Captain stepped over the bodies to where Weasel Man lay like a trapped animal. “Call your ship. Tell them to land outside this dome to pick up the other Angel.”
Weasel Man spat blood. “Screw you.”
The Captain put his gun against Weasel Man’s forehead. The man swallowed, but shook his head. “You wouldn’t kill an unarmed man in cold blood, Trelayne. You aren’t capable of it.”
But for the twitching of one eye, the Captain seemed carved from stone. Then he laughed. He laughed and laughed until Feran felt fear again—fear that he did not really know this man. Suddenly the Captain reached down and with one hand lifted Weasel Man by the throat and held him off the ground. Feran had no words for what he saw in the Captain’s eyes as his voice boomed inside the dome. “I HAVE RIPPED BABIES FROM MOTHER’S ARMS. I HAVE KILLED THOUSANDS AND LAUGHED WHILE THEY DIED. I HAVE ENDED RACES. LITTLE MAN, I AM CAPABLE OF THINGS YOU COULD NEVER IMAGINE.” The Captain dropped him then and looked down at the man, and Feran heard the sadness in the Captain’s voice as he almost whispered, “I am capable of anything.”
Weasel Man lay gasping in the dirt. Then he looked up, and Feran knew the Captain had won. Weasel Man was baring his belly and neck, showing submission. He took his talking device with a shaking hand and spoke into it. Feran couldn’t hear the words, but the Captain nodded to the others.
Feran relaxed. Guppert and the Cutter were slapping each other on their backs. Mojo sat slumped on the ground, his head between his knees, sobbing but apparently unhurt.
A cry cut the air. Feran spun, teeth bared. High above, Procne hovered, wings beating, head thrown back, face contorted in agony. His pouch bulged, then split as a cloud of bloody winged things burst from him and fell screeching toward them.
The brood had arrived.
Trelayne had not taken combat doses of Scream for over two years. The killing, and the joy it had brought, had shaken him. Now as the brood rained down bloody chaos from above, he felt his tenuous grip on reality slipping away. Knowing that the brood must live or Phi would die, he tried to follow what they were doing, but the Scream kept drawing him to the bloody corpses. He realized then that the brood was also being drawn to them.
Resembling winged toads with humanoid faces, grey and slick, the brood swarmed over the bodies, driving a long tendril that protruded from their abdomen into any open wound. But they stayed only a second at each spot, and with each attempt became more frenzied. Scream, he thought, they need blood with Scream.
The cry spun Trelayne around. Weitz knelt, Tanzer held in a shaking hand. Blood soaked an arm and leg, and flowed from his forehead. Weitz leveled the gun at Trelayne.
The brood found Weitz before he could fire, swarming him, plunging their tendrils into each wound, into his eyes where the blood had run down from his forehead, probing, searching. Screaming, he clawed at them, then stiffened and fell forward.
The nestlings leapt up from his corpse to form a shrieking, swirling mass above the ring. They were tiring. They are dying, Trelayne thought. Blood with Scream. Blood with Scream.
He tore open his shirt. Pulling a knife from his belt, he slashed at his chest and upper arms. He dropped the knife and stood with arms outspread, blood streaming down him, waiting for the smell of the Scream in his blood to reach the brood.
They swooped down from above the ring, swarming him like bees on honey, driving their tendrils into his flesh wherever he bled. The pain surpassed even what Scream let him endure. A dark chasm yawned below him, and he felt himself falling.
Trelayne awoke on his back, pale green light illuminating a bulkhead above him. The weight pressing him into the bed and the throb of engines told him he was on a ship under acceleration.
Something was wrong. No. Something was right. Finally he felt right. He felt human. He felt…
Pain. Real pain. Pain that hurt. He tried to rise.
“The Captain has returned to us.” It was Feran’s voice.
“In more ways than one, fox boy, in more ways than one.” The Cutter’s face appeared above him. “Lie still for chrissakes. You’ll open the wounds again.”
Trelayne lay back gasping. “What happened?”
“We won. We took Weitz’s ship.”
“Mojo? Procne? Phi—where’s Phi?” he wheezed.
Her voice came from across the room. “All your family is safe. Guppert, the Puppies. All are here with us.”
Trelayne twisted his head. She lay on another bunk, Procne asleep beside her. “Didn’t know I had a family,” he said weakly.
“We knew, Jason Trelayne. All along we were your family.”
The Cutter moved aside, and Trelayne could see the brood clinging to her. She smiled. “Yes. You saved my children.”
“I haven’t seen that smile in a long time, Phi.”
“I have not had reason for a long time.”
“I feel…I feel…“
“You feel true pain. And you wonder why.” Her gaze dropped to something at his side. Only then did Trelayne realize that one of the brood lay beside him, and that the tiny creature still had its tendril inside him. He tried to move away.
“Lie still, dammit,” the Cutter snapped. “This ugly little vacuum cleaner hasn’t got you quite cleaned up yet.”
“What are you talking about?”
The Cutter checked a monitor on the wall above the bunk. “The brood’s feeding’s reduced the Scream in your blood to almost nil. The big bonus is zero withdrawal signs. Remember when you tried to kick it when we started the colony?”
Trelayne nodded, shuddering at the memory.
The Cutter rubbed his chin. “These little suckers must leave somethin’ behind in the blood, lets the body adjust to lower levels of Scream. Angels’d need the same thing when the brood feeds from ’em.” He looked at Trelayne. “You just bought a new life for every Screamer the Entity ever got hooked.”
As the implication of that sank in, Mojo’s face appeared at the door. One of the brood clung to him as well. “We’re nearing the jump insertion point. Where’re we headed, Cap?”
Silence fell, and Trelayne could sense them waiting for his answer. He remembered something Weitz had said and smiled through his pain. “I hear there are still rebels on Fandor IV.”
Mojo grinned and disappeared toward the bridge with Cutter. Trelayne turned to Feran. The kit moved away. Trelayne’s smile faded as he understood. He stared at the kit then spoke very quietly. “Feran, the Captain Trelayne that you saw in the dome today…he died with all those other men. Do you understand?”
An eternity passed. Then Feran ran to him and hugged him far too hard, and it hurt. His wounds hurt. The nestling at his side hurt. God, it all hurt, and it was wonderful to hurt again and to want it to stop.
Later, the ship slowed for the jump, and weightlessness took him. But to Trelayne, the sensation this time was not of falling. Instead, he felt himself rising, rising above something he was finally leaving behind.