Chapter 18: Bird's Eye View
We left our heroes back in the Destine system, at some date prior to the invasion, far out on the edges, where they can stealthily launch their home-made BBDV (Ballistic Bird Delivery Vehicle), for dropping robot birds into Destine to spy on the invasion.
The birds are set to three different tasks:
We launch and then time-travel forward to a date two days after the invasion. This gives us twenty-four hours until our earliest arrival on Destine so far, a period of grace in case we need to pick up Dafnord before our earlier selves arrive. (Dafnord is still with us at the moment, but one of our contingency plans is for him to time-travel back a year and infiltrate. Nothing like time travel to produce scheduling headaches.)
We arrive and send out the radio call for the control center (a computer built into the presentation case the birds came in, installed in a jerry-rigged gravity pallet). After some work, we raise a response and find the thing bobbing about in the woods, bumping into trees. Markel on his dragon and the cat in his egg amuse themselves by catching it. Its software appears to be somewhat fried.
We try to call the birds home and get similar problems. Going to Destine City, we round up a few of them, only one of which is still acting like a bird. Many are missing. Braeta looks over the birds and the control center and says they are both physically and logically damaged, probably by something like an electromagnetic pulse with other stuff added. She then gets to work pulling out what data she can. Since so many birds are missing, most of the data comes from the memory dumps the missing birds sent to the remote control center. The result is, in essence, a series of film clips.
One fragment, starting in the middle, shows the battle from the air. Manta-ships, often in formation, strafe the ground and are fired on by blocky air-cars that are badly outclassed and outnumbered. We see only two manta-ships damaged. A larger, thicker, much longer version of a manta-ship appears, lands, and disgorges lots of ground troops.
A sequence of views of fire dazzled the bird's optics. We then get a shot of a large park, where lots of the troop-transports are landing to discharge invaders. It may also be a command center. Behind this scene is a glow in the air. This gradually alters into a dark "glow," grows, and becomes a lens shape hovering over the ground. Then a circular area of glow appears above the lens, perpendicular to the ground. It develops into a bright ring around a misty greyness. Soon, the whole thing develops into what is clearly the mass-evacuation portal. The greyness is a view (such as it is) of a misty landscape on the other side of the portal.
Another birds gives us a view down a roadway. Six people run toward it. Two may be nephilim. Four are carrying weapons. Two manta-ships buzz after them, firing. One giant grabs two mortals and dives for a door, appearing to have Anticipated the attack. The other three were probably killed, as was that particular bird, since the record ends jaggedly there.
A record from later in the invasion shows the jolting view from a sparrow, hopping down a sidewalk. It comes to a doorway and hides in it. It sees the ankles and feet of lots of people. The locals come in many show-sizes, reflecting the mixed bloods of human, elf, and nephil. There are also uniformed legs, in green-black trousers and boots. These are the invaders. They are mostly on the sides of the procession, herding the Destinos along. The Destinos trudge, not like zombies, but like any broken-spirited refugees from far too many places in history. The invader soldiers look humanoid, as far as we can see through uniforms and helmets, but there are occasional feet that look reptilian. They either wear toed boots with armoring or they have armored feet.
We see a fight break out in the street, as some Destinos jump a soldier. Shortly thereafter, the record breaks off.
Next we have a view from a high-flying raptor. We see the whole city, late in the battle, with lots of damage and fires burning. Several groups in air and ground are criss-crossing the city, scouring it. We get glimpses of a sheet of light at the edge of the city, as if it were walled in aurora borealis. We remember the radiation.
Gannar and Robbie help sort for more shots of the aurora. It soon becomes clear that this is the source of the radiation and the way the invaders cleaned out the whole planet. Put a portal at the center of each city (there aren't many) and herd everyone through it by squeezing in on them with a ring-wall of radiation, made visible to be an effective threat.
The pattern search also gives us a few distance shots of the owners of those reptilian feet. They stood rather more upright than bipedal dinosaurs did, and had shorter tails, almost stumpy. The head looks somewhat lizardy and somewhat leonine. Either they are wearing multi-layered capes or they have folded wings. If those are wings, then they have some technical or magical assistance to fly, because they aren't big enough.
The way the records break off give us pause. Some stop for no clear reason, but we suspect other birds were shot. The invaders may have begun to realize some birds were ... odd.
We then come on an extended record. One songbird manages to track a teenage girl (or a pre-teen nephil girl) living out in the country. We start with her trying to tempt it closer to her bedroom window with crumbs. Then she goes to bed and all appears peaceful. A guy shows up in uniform, but he walks casually and may just be a local cop or a delivery man home from a late shift.
Shortly after midnight, lights come on in the house. There ar no loud noises, though. The girl is woken and given charge of a kid sister. The adults leave the house. The kids groggily get dressed and leave in another direction. The bird follows them to an imposing building that could be a school, church, or town hall -- the bird does happen to go by any signs that tell us. The kids enter and the bird has to be content to flutter from window to window, peeking in. There are lots of people gathering there, mostly kids and a few shepherding adults.
An hour later, there is an explosion. Our bird gets buffeted. It alternates between watching for the kid and looking for the noise source. It spots two squads of invaders, shooting into houses. The adults begin hustling the kids out the back of the community building. Our girl, though, seems to figure she has a better chance alone. She and her kid sister break away and vanish into the night and the shrubbery. There are more explosions and the girls run like hell.
There follows about 90 minutes of hide-and-seek through a darkened neighborhood, between the kids and the invader troops. But eventually the kids get caught. They are hustled into a truck-like vehicle. It has lots of windows, so the bird can still watch them. And vice versa. The girl, standing still but still full of adrenaline, spots the bird. We see her look at it, tap her sister on the shoulder, and point, then talk.
A guard notices. He looks at the bird. He waves an instrument pack in its general direction. He points his gun... The record ends.
So they are onto us. No wonder we got less than a quarter of our birds back.
We witness a couple of other sagas, none with happy endings, of course. The birds following invaders got blown away quickly, so we have little footage from them. We see the invaders sweep through a farm out in the countryside, and head into a small town. It's the last coherent record we find.
We wonder about bodies. Both sides had casualties. Did the invaders pick up ALL the dead? Because we didn't find any. But we're time-traveling and are now here earlier than ever before (if you know what I mean). So we take the Munch up over the city and look for bodies. We find some, both sides. And some stray animals, still alive. (They weren't there either, when we were here later.)
We tell Edvard to stun a stray dog from half a mile up. He does so, though he seems to feel this is rather beneath the dignity of a warship. ("The enemy has been subdued, sir," he stiffly announces, afterwards. Time to give that machine another sentiency check.) We then hover lower down and Tom goes out to fetch it in. He then pops it in the autodoc for examination.
It is suffering severe radiation burns. It has fleas. It has so many fleas, the autodoc issues a small flight of egg-shaped robots that schpritz Tom and the area the dog was brought through, decontaminating and snickering. Prognosis is very uncertain, should we decide to treat it. There's no sign of psi effects, though.
We decide that, given all this, Plan B -- going back a year and dropping off Dafnord and Markel -- is out, unless we try pulling them out of the midst of the invasion by transilience driver, then running like hell (since the driver is very obvious to use).
We look around for actual corpses. We find one. He looks a lot more than two days dead, though. The autodoc opines that the radiation may have acted to dehydrate the body and accelerate the disintegration process.
We look for invader dead, but don't find any. We do find a human body wearing an invader jacket. We take that to give us an additional dowsing token, besides the helmet and knife Braeta brought us.
The jacket is made of leather, so, after we have the autodoc euthanize and recycle the dog, we have it look at the jacket. The leather came from a third biosphere, neither Earth's nor Destine's (nor any other known to the autodoc). Also, the jacket, like the dog, bears an anomalous microbe, from yet a fourth biosphere.
It sends a remote out to take samples and finds more of the critter. It concludes that the microbe is probably artificial. It attacks dead tissue (supplying another reason, we guess, for the lack of bodies) and would set to work on living tissue if your immune system weakens, in all probability. And it thrives on the radiation out there. Furthermore, it attacks Terran tissue three times faster than it does native Destino organisms. It also attacks the leather in the jacket.
Tom begins to feel crawly, remembering that it was he who hauled the dog on board. Not to worry; we're all contaminated with this bug. And we probably were while we tramped around the ranch, and went to Faerie, and worked at Jumping Jacks, and stayed at the Philippian space station... Braeta "comforts" him by pointing out she undoubtedly started spreading the contamination before he did. It's not even very virulent without the radiation to egg it on. Well, it's another loose end to tie up.
What's our next move? Well, without going off to contaminate anywhere new, we decide the best thing is to fasten the cat's egg-ship to the Munch with a stout chain we've brought for the purpose, start it going, and lower it into the remains of the portal with no cat in it, but with Tom's interdimensional watch, in the hopes of getting some idea of the location of the other side of the portal.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.