An alternate story of the Star Force
by Joe L. Hensley and Jeff Blend
Based on a story by Joe L. Hensley
It was an inevitable victory. It had taken almost a decade, but they won easily.
Seeking a new homeworld, the planet Gamilon had launched an assault on a planet called Earth. Using radioactive planet bombs that rained down in a lethal shower, the new homeworld for the Gamilon Empire was now a lifeless, barren rock. Once the radiation-removal equipment was utilized, though, the planet would be ready for colonization.
The High Command would be pleased. They would even get a bonus - a few specimens for the labs. Earthlings, who had incredibly lived through the attack.
In the bridge of the main battleship, two of the Gamilons conferred together.
“What of the prisoners, Bane?” the older one asked.
“They do nothing, Colonel Ganz. They stare at us and at the walls. They rarely talk or move. They don’t eat what we give them. I’m doubtful that they will survive the voyage back to Gamilon.”
“Their race is weak. It’s to be expected,” Ganz scoffed. “That’s why I can’t believe our scientists. They say that with the exception of their pink skin color that they are exactly like us!” He paused. “Well, we can’t let them die. Force-feed them if you have to. Our scientists demand specimens. We’re lucky that some of them lived through the planet bombs. I don’t see how it was possible - I thought humans couldn’t tolerate the radiation levels.”
“They have no real illness, not even a radiation burn,” Bane reported. “But they are sullen and frail.”
“Whatever their condition, make sure they’re kept alive and well, Bane.”
Bane saluted, yet seemed reluctant to leave the bridge.
“What is it now, Bane?”
“If I may ask, sir... I know it’s unusual, but...”
“Have you been having dreams, sir...?”
“Some of the men have been reporting strange dreams, sir.”
“What kind of nonsense is this? I have no time for such things!”
“Yes, sir,” Bane replied and turned away, knowing when it was best to make a retreat.
“These dreams... what were they about?”
“Blood, sir. Flying creatures and old women around a boiling cauldron.”
Bane arrived at the detention area, and a young guard brought right forearm up palm outwards in a snap salute. “Sir!”
“I’m here to inspect the survivors.”
The door whirled open and Bane started through.
A note of insistence in the guard’s voice stopped Bane short. “Yes?”
“May I be relieved, sir? I feel sick. I’ve been sick since... since my last sleep period.”
Bane recalled that the guard had been one of the men who had reported the dreams. ‘Better not allow it to start,’ he thought. “Request denied.”
“I said denied. You can’t be relieved right now. When you are relieved - *regularly* relieved - report to the infirmary for examination... physical *and* mental.”
Bane looked into the obviously frightened man’s eyes and briefly considered making an exception in his case. ‘No, I can’t. Once I allow one, there’ll be more,’ he thought.
While reluctance played over his face, the man’s salute was firm. “Yes, sir!”
Each cell was the same - spiritless faces, dead eyes. 58 cells - two prisoners to a cell. Males were normally segregated from females, but only one female had been recovered, so she was given a separate cell. 114 total prisoners.
228 eyes looking at and through him. Bane pushed down an involuntary shudder. ‘This is not the first planet we have conquered,’ he reminded himself. ‘Still... 114 out of how many billions?’
He went over the security reports. “Male in cell 32. Name: Stephen Sandor. Observed sketching patterns on the deck with chalk. Chalk taken from him without resistance.”
“Male in cell 40. Name: Mark Venture. Speaking to himself and at the walls. On orders of the Chief of Security, he was quieted by his cellmate, Derek Wildstar.”
The shadows were dark in the security tanks; the overhead lighting provided only a dim glow. The only constant besides the lifeless eyes of the imprisoned was the neverending hum of the instruments and the footfalls of the guards as each came to attention and presented Bane their inspection reports.
Once the books had been collected and processed, Bane turned to the Security Chief. “Get some more lighting down here. Force-feed them. Injections, if you must.”
“Anything else to report?”
The guard hesitated and then replied, “Some of our men are nervous.”
“And what of our *prisoners*?” Bane asked sharply.
The guard was unsettled. “They seem stronger, sir, though they still haven’t eaten anything.”
“Fine. Carry on, then.”
The guard saluted and Bane quickly went back up the row of cells. He turned his head, not wishing to look at their contents. He exited the detention area, and ignored the soldier who had wanted to be relieved. He went to his quarters and slumped into his cot, exhausted.
The sound of running feet came from outside. Then the door to Bane’s quarters was almost ripped from the hinges as an energy blast struck it. Bane jumped to his feet, grabbed his sidearm and pushed past what was left of the door.
The sick guard stood there, weaving as if drunk on legs without bone. “Stand back, Major. I see one over by the wall. See it over there?” He screamed. “It’s coming for me! Can’t get away - can’t!” He raised his grip gun as Bane watched.
“Stop - you fool!”
The man lay on the floor, gun pointed at his own shapeless body, his torso a mass of ripped, burned tissue. His eyes were still open and they stared sightlessly at the small porthole, beyond which the stars flew past.
Bane had seen too many dead bodies, his own race and others, to be revolted, but the implications of this death worried him - what the Colonel might say.
He called the guard on watch and gave orders until examination and disposal were accomplished. He made sure that the essential papers were filled out and signed, the personal effects catalogued - and the report to Ganz. ‘I wonder what he’ll say to me? He’ll say it was my fault... as usual.’ He felt panic begin to build, but his body made the necessary responses and fought it down.
After holding off for as long as possible, Bane finally went to report the incident to Ganz.
“Why did he do it, Bane?” Surprisingly, the Colonel seemed more puzzled than furious.
Bane gave a slight shrug. “Space fever,” he answered.
The anger finally erupted. “We have millions of men in space who don’t have space fever! Ever fewer commit non-combat suicide! It just doesn’t happen!” Ganz’s blue skin was starting to tint red from his anger.
Bane did his best not to wilt under the assault. “This was his first military campaign away from Gamilon. First time from home. A young boy in a uniform, that’s what he was.” Bane found himself almost murderously enraged at the dead guard. ‘What right did he have to cause me all of this trouble?’
Ganz was regarding Bane with a curious look. “That’s what most of our men happen to be... first-timers.” A doubtful squint. “You need to relax, Bane. You’re overworked.”
Bane brushed that off. “It could be the prisoners. All of the complaints have come from guards who have been standing watch on them.”
“I’ve seen the prisoners,” Ganz replied with disgust.
‘Have you really seen them? The way they look at you?’ Bane thought, but only answered aloud: “Yes, sir.”
“You will find out what’s wrong.”
“I’ll do my best, sir.” True military fashion.
“Have the doctors perform an autopsy - examine his brain.”
“They did, sir. They kept the head. They always do in these kinds of cases.”
“Then have them check again. Find out what went wrong. Find out!”
“Yes, sir!” Spinning his pudgy body around in spit and polish fashion, Bane marched off the bridge.
Bane made his way back to his quarters and reclined back into his cot. Then he fought his way upright again and looked into the room’s small mirror.
‘Still the same. I’m still the same - but so tired - why am I so tired?’
He touched his face. “Same face.” ‘But it was more deeply marked and harsh now.’
His hair: “Like always.” ‘Is that a streak of gray?’
His eyes: “They see.” ‘Why do they see? What? What?’
And then, finally, his mental barriers went down and he admitted the dreams and the long sleepless periods to himself. Remembered them for what they were. Knew he could no longer fool himself.
Insects crawling on him; great flying creatures with canine teeth at his throat; while strange women stirred a bubbling pot, their voices planning more terrors. And shadows, shadows of nightmare that leaped and ripped at his body.
The nightmares became real to him.
Bane turned from the mirror and walked out of his quarters.
The nightmares came close to him as he approached an airlock and together they planned the gruesome joke, while they laughed together. He opened the hatch and locked it, ignoring the soldiers outside who shouted at him and futilely tried to reopen the door.
“Goodbye, Major,” said a voice.
‘Goodbye, Voice.’ And the sound reverberated in his skull as he was propelled out of the ship, his blood boiling in his veins and his body grotesquely swelling in zero pressure space.
And the others - the many others - soon.
For three sleep periods, the ship hummed as the bloodbath continued. Ganz put out orders and had the guns taken away and the airlocks sealed. They discovered other ways after that. Crewman leaped into the engine converters, slit their wrists and necks, or smashed their heads against the bulkheads.
For three sleep periods.
Colonel Ganz almost shrieked every time he heard the guard’s heels. In his mind’s eye, he was seeing the Gamilon High Command. Deputy Leader Krypt and the others were shouting accusatory oaths at him, while the death penalty papers were being prepared.
“Your ship,” Krypt said.
“My ship,” he agreed.
“Your second-in-command, half of your crew dead! Why - how did they die?”
“Suicide.” He shook under his sheets.
“This never happens, Colonel!”
“I told them.”
“But you are the commanding officer! The commanding officer is responsible!”
“Yes... Major Bane said that it was the Earthling prisoners.”
The High Command laughed as one. Krypt rose from his chair. “It is the judgment of this court...”
Ganz pulled the blanket tighter over his head. He lay that way for awhile, trying to drown out the voices in an ocean of his own making. And then, once again, he could hear the familiar hum of the ship. He sat up.
An old man - the one identified on the records as Abraham Avatar, one of the prisoners - lounged on one of the chairs by the Colonel’s desk.
“Hello,” Avatar said.
“Guards!” Ganz screamed.
No one responded. Only the ship hummed on, answering quietly in its uninterested way.
“Guards!” Ganz screamed again.
“They can’t hear you,” Avatar replied.
Ganz somehow knew that it was true. “*You* did it!” He struggled to jump from his cot at the old man. He couldn’t move. His blue skin grew pale as he fought the invisible bounds.
Avatar smiled at him from the chair. Some of his fellow prisoners were filing into the room now, gaunt and cadaverous. They whispered amongst themselves, drawing close to Ganz, who could only half-suppress a shriek.
“What are you?” he choked out.
“Something you’ve disciplined out of your people. Even if we told you, you wouldn’t understand, because you don’t believe that there ever was anything like us.” The old man smiled. “We’re your new High Command.”
The others smiled hideously in agreement, revealing their long canine teeth.
“It was a brilliant campaign, Colonel,” Avatar said softly. His companions nodded. “Nothing human could have survived - nothing did. While humanity retreated far underground until the end, some of us were also underground where they’d buried us long ago - the stakes through our hearts - they knew how to deal with us. But your bombs burned the stakes away.”
He swept a hand at his comrades. They bore down of the Colonel.
Ganz started to scream.
Then, there was only the automatic hum of the ship.
The Gamilon battleship roared on through space.
- END -
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