Monday, 26 May 2008

Closing in- page 3

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He is a source of useful information. He explains to me that they don't know where the Slashers are, that they have stopped sensing them.

‘It's not like we can sense everything,’ he says. ‘Only strong emotions, or when someone is really close by. The Slashers are alien and horrible. I hope we never sense them again.’

He also tells me that the rest of the Intuitives are hiding in the infirmary, past the quarantine control doors, in a secret area they commissioned to have built without the knowledge of central command. He shrugs apologetically as he says this. He takes us there, and announces our presence. The doors open for him straight away.

‘We are here to protect you, and escort you to safety,’ I tell the dozen or so skinny people inside. They are all dressed in loose robes, all barefoot and they stare at me and they move their lips silently in a disconcerting way as I speak.

They seem to accept what I say. Or what I feel. They also seem happy to talk to Jensen. But when the rest of my men arrive, I notice they refuse to talk to Gale and a few of the other soldiers. I order my men to treat them with courtesy and to help in any way they can.

‘We need to wait until night comes again before we leave the station,’ I say to the room in a loud voice. The Intuitives watch and listen closely; they all turn to face me, and they start moving their lips again. I find it eerie, but I put it out of my mind.

‘Let’s prepare this room for a defensive situation.’

My men get to work straight away; they make a perimeter with tables, chairs, backpacks, and everything else they can find. They re-check their weapons, and two of them stand guard by the door, which is excellent: solid and tight like the quarantine doors outside. The Intuitives huddle together in a corner on the other side of the room.

I establish two-hour shifts and take the first one together with two privates. As we wait, soldiers and civilians fall asleep and silence descends on the room. I sit with my back to a wall, gun ready, completely alert. Now that most are asleep, I appraise our situation honestly. I am not optimistic. It’s not like the Slashers to get so close to an inhabited planet and then leave. But for now we should be safe. There is no way they could land on the surface during the heat of the day. Not unless they’re a completely different life-form.

‘Excuse me,’ says an older Intuitive. He is black. His eyes are soft and gentle; his voice is husky. ‘Nobody is saying anything, but it’s clear to us that your men are very afraid.’

I wonder if he thinks the same of me.

‘We are an elite unit, and I believe we can deal with the threat,’ I tell him in a calm voice. He doesn’t say anything. He looks at his hands, and they are trembling.

‘I also think we are doomed,’ he tells me as if he hadn’t heard what I just said. ‘But I can’t feel the Slashers anymore. It’s very odd. They’re nowhere near, but at the same time it feels like they’re waiting somewhere just out of reach, that they will still come. And when they do, well…’ He looks at me and then down at his hands. ‘When they come, we’re dead.’

I don’t say anything, and after a while he sits next to me, a thin man in light clothes next to a hardened man dressed like an armoured tank

‘My name is Luke,’ he says as if it were an afterthought.

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