Chapter 1

Night Watch


Three in the morning, the time people prefer most to die. Marlon, however, was still fairly alert. He had long since gotten used to the rhythm of working at night. He was headed for the south gate again, checking the locks as always, when he thought he heard something. A rat squeaking, perhaps? It had been a tiny noise, and he dismissed it from his mind after listening for a few seconds to the subsequent silence.
A loud crash had him in a crouching run with his pistol out. As he approached the gate he saw the lid of the large crate he had noticed on his last round lying on the ground. He flitted to the nearest shadow and stopped to listen intently. Absolute quiet drummed on his ears.
What the hell?
The squeaking, it must have been the sound of the last nail holding the lid being pulled out. He’d been too far away to hear anything before that. He moved slowly and silently from shadow to shadow until he was next to the crate. Had they seen him coming, and run? He cursed himself for not having withdrawn and set off the alarm.
The side of the crate next to him vibrated slightly, making all the hairs on his body stand on end. Then it exploded all around him, throwing him down. He still lay there, stunned, covered with chunks of crating, when the attack came. He twisted away as he heard a step crunch into the debris lying around him, just in time to half-avoid the blow which would have broken his neck. As it was it grazed his jaw, and he felt the rock-hard fingertips smash slantingly against his Adam’s apple, making him choke and cough explosively. He turned his twist to a roll, trying to get space between him and the attacker, just enough space to . . . blearily he realized that the gun he was trying to hold up to shoot was gone, lost in the explosion. He tried to go with the kick aimed at his head, but it was too late. Blood filled his mouth as he received the blow almost full force. It was the taste of blood that made him growl. Lying there, of a sudden, all pain was gone. The kick in the ribs, which cracked sickeningly on contact, didn’t phase him in the least. Rolling away, he reached for his knife. He felt more than saw his opponent, and with a roar he was up and on him. He blocked two quick hand-chops and felt his knife scrape on armor as he went for the heart. In one smooth motion, uttering a short sharp scream as he did so, Marlon switched his grip and drove his knife upward, straight under the chin between the jaws, through the mouth, into the brain. With a bestial snarl, spattering blood and spittle, he jerked his knife out and threw the body to the ground.
Had there been anyone there to watch, they would likely have been shocked at the maniacal grin on Marlon’s face as he stood there in a loose fighting stance, his chest heaving, with the bloody knife in his hand and bloody froth on his lips. Marlon didn’t mind killing a man. In fact, he rather enjoyed it, and just now the bloodlust was on him. But there was no one left to fight, and slowly he relaxed, and began to feel the pain again.
Christ, I’m full of fucking splinters.
Wincing, Marlon got down on his knees and examined the corpse. He could hardly see anything in the darkness. It didn’t occur to him to use the flashlight dangling from his belt. The man wore some sort of armor. Though metal-hard, it was lightweight and had a plasticky feel to it. He was wearing a helmet of the same material, with a sort of mask that covered his face entirely. Fortunately for Marlon, the area around the throat and neck was not armored but rather covered with a flexible, rubberlike material, otherwise he’d never have gotten his knife through. The flat pouches attached to the armor here and there yielded nothing but a few of what to Marlon’s experienced eye looked like small explosive cartridges of some kind, of a type unknown to him.
„No papers, not even a pack of fucking chewing gum.“ he muttered, and then threw up convulsively.
Concussion and cracked ribs, at the very least . . . get up, man . . . UP!
He stood up, swaying like a drunk, and walked over to the crate, dripping blood. The least he could do, he thought groggily, before he went to set off the alarm, was to check if the contents of the crate had been damaged. He wasn’t thinking straight, and he had the odd idea it was his duty to do so.
Do what? Think straight, or check the crate, thick weight, or chew the bait?
The words seesawed in his head and made him giggle. Before he knew it he bumped into something: the contents of the crate.
Even in his state Marlon could tell it was some kind of plane, but it didn’t look like any plane he could have conceived of. It was all swerving, smooth curves; he could not see any welded seams or bolts anywhere, no right angles where anything was attached. It was as if it were carved — no, poured — out of one single piece of metal, or some other, unknown material . . . and it seemed small for a plane. He could see the open cockpit, emanating a glow from the instruments within, but there was no canopy, which normally would be jutting upward from its hinge when opened. In a moment of clarity he realized that it only seemed small because there was no landing gear, and it was lying right on its belly.
He felt a sort of throb go through him, felt a tiny displacement of air puff the wood-dust off of the back of his neck. He was feeling sick again, and wondered if he was hallucinating. When he saw the wingtips of the plane curl upward slightly and then back he was sure of it. Nevertheless, fascinated, he stumbled forwards to have a closer look. The cockpit was in the deep shadows of the undamaged sides of the crate, and he couldn’t see anything except for the dim red glow of the instruments. They looked somehow familiar, but certainly not like any cockpit-instruments he’d seen before. Another throb went through him, and he had to throw up again. His whole body hurt. Marlon couldn’t see it in the dark, but he was throwing up blood. His condition was far worse than he had imagined. He was, in fact, dying of internal injuries. Like so many dying animals, all he wanted to do at this point was crawl into the nearest hole and rest. The dark cockpit seemed very inviting indeed, so he climbed in, ignoring the gut-tearing pain it caused him. In spite of an all-encompassing agony in his head he felt the seat molding itself to his body, cradling him. Something crawled up his right arm.
Stop hallucinating, you damned fool.

He dreamt. Cold, cold to the very bone, surrounded by a milky light. No, it . . . it was fluid. He gasped, expecting to feel the gush of wet into his tortured lungs, but nothing happened. Nothing happened for a very, very long time. Some part of his mind registered that he was breathing normally, though ever so slowly, it seemed. Ever so slowly . . . One . . . breath . . . was . . . no. Something else was breathing. Something . . .? The liquid cradling him slowly cleared to complete transparency, and as his mind drifted away Marlon saw uncountable tiny translucent orange spheres floating slowly towards him, coalescing on his naked body, pulsing gently like jellyfish.

 

You can read chapter 2 here.

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