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Written by M. Alan Ford


Illustrated by William Johns

We didn't want to waste any charges, so we set fire to the stand of trees to get the simians out. Simian types obviously do well in trees, but the Asian Union had made a tactical mistake sending them to central Africa. There are long stretches of plain between islands of trees, and knucklewalking is a clumsy way to travel over open land. So for two weeks we'd been hunting groups of simians left over from the fighting up in central Zaire and chasing them into trees to finish them off. It was hot, sweaty work with little challenge for dedicated soldiers like us, and for the simians, a major slaughter courtesy of a deskbound officer somewhere in the Union who was fighting the war from so far away that he couldn't predict a simian getting fatigued after fifteen minutes of hobbling along on flat, barren dirt.

It was dusk, and the sun was setting into a blaze of clouds. Fifteen simians swung back and forth in the highest branches, calling to each other in near panic as Duke ordered us to set the trees on fire. They had been taking pot shots at us, but they were a strike-and-run squad with no heavy artillery, so we were well protected hunkered down behind our vehicles. On Duke's orders we shot some incendiary into the trees. This was late summer and the foliage caught quickly. In moments the flames washed the sky and billows of smoke rolled into the orange sunlight. If I'd had imagination, I would have thought it was beautiful.

The simians did not react right away. It was a desperate situation, but they were, after all, a trained fighting force. They fell silent and for a couple minutes we heard only the crackle of burning leaves. Then they came at us.

The first three didn't even make it to the ground before their fatigues caught fire. But just my luck, the rest chose to charge directly on my position. They swarmed past their burning compatriots and rushed the ten meters or so toward our vehicles. Duke and I both shouted, "Fire at will!" at the same moment, and we all took aim and started burning holes in simian heads.

Another problem with H. quasi simia is that they're assassins, not shock troops. They can climb trees and stage ambushes—which is why our sapien troops lost the battle in Indonesia, and we almost lost it in the urban fighting in northern Zaire—but they can't run and shoot at the same time. Foolish. They should have kept moving. Each time one paused to raise his weapon, four or five of us would take a bead and the simian would fall with smoking holes in his skull. One, however, kept his head. He bobbed and weaved and made the ten meters with only a few wounds where our lasers nicked him. I would have got him, but some idiot on our side shouted "John!" to warn me, and I looked away. When I looked back, the simian was leaping over my gun and screaming something about my dying a painful death.

Simians are only about half our size, but with the speed this one was moving he knocked me back. Our threshold of pain has been raised and he only punched the wind out of me, but suddenly I was covered with an angry, desperate soldier who had one long arm wrapped around my neck and was using the other to pry open my visor with the barrel of his gun. It dug into my cheek, and he would have shot off half my face except that someone finally gave him a good swat with a gun butt. I heard bone crack, then shots rang out and I caught the sizzle of burning flesh. He went limp.

I kicked his body off and stood up. The battle was over. I retrieved my gun as Duke came up. "Are you all right, John?"



"Nothing serious." I looked around. Our troops were working over the dead bodies to be sure they were dead. "Did we lose anyone?"

"I don't think so. Joe!"

Joe glanced up from where he was searching the simian that had attacked me. "Yessir?"

"Leave that. Check for casualties and report."


Joe hopped to his orders as Duke turned back to me. "Take your squad and clean up. Stow any weapons and ordnance. Tag and load the bodies. If any are alive, secure them for interrogation."


I hopped to my orders. Duke didn't need to tell me all that, it was SOP, but structure is important. So I gathered my squad and we got to work.

I have no imagination, so I would be lying to say that I love my job. I can't use words like passion and satisfaction and fulfillment. I can only say that we determined no one on our side had been killed. We gave medical attention to those of us who had been wounded, myself included. We stripped the simians of weapons and ordnance, cataloged it, and stowed it. We tagged the bodies, carefully sealed them for later study by Psychgen, and stowed them as well. We reported to Duke, who then reported by radio to Captain Dins. We formed up the convoy and started off towards our advance post just outside Mbuji-Mayi to the southeast. All while the trees burned and the ash climbed into a darkening scarlet sky, and the moon rose angry and blazing through the reddening haze, and even the sweat and dirt of two weeks in the field seemed a well-fitting component of my fatigues. I can't describe it without using words I'm not supposed to understand, so I won't describe it at all.

I sat on the back of the troop carrier and watched the moon turn from angry red to calm, pale gray as we bounced through the dust. According to rumor, the war had moved there. We had a sizeable colony at Copernicus with a scientific and military presence, which meant it was Coalition territory and a logical target for the Asian Union. But no one knew how far Union technology had progressed, and that was the imperative question. The moon was ours. It was the base from which this conflict would finally end. But if the Union had achieved a foothold there, either it would end the wrong way or we would fight for decades at best.

Mbuji-Mayi was five hours from our position. We reached it late at night, but after a week of hunting simians in the hot and dusty savannah, no one was going to bed without a bath. So we lined up for showers and took turns under bright utility lights. For hygienic and self-evaluation purposes, we had been supplied full-length mirrors, but only two for all three platoons. So I had to wait twenty minutes after showering before I could look myself over. In the mirror, I saw a gash across my cheek from the simian's gun, sealed over by the medic. A nasty bruise across one shoulder. Minor nicks and cuts, including a week-old laser burn on the upper left arm that was almost healed. No signs of cancer or degenerative neuromuscular dystrophy. Nothing to report. I was just starting to get facial hair—sapiens made fun of me for that, but having no imagination, it didn't bother me—and I thought of shaving. But I didn't want to hold up the line. All the same, I paused for a moment. I have no imagination, but I have pride. It's built into me.

H. quasi terrestris. Three times the girth of a sapien and two heads head taller. Bullet cranium and no neck. Thick legs that could march forever. Scars from previous engagements disappearing in weeks, which would stay forever on a sapien, so why shouldn't I be proud? Tattoo across my forehead, serial number and identifier: D1387 John. I had once heard a sapien say that if they could only figure out how to get treads on us, they wouldn't be able to tell us from assault tanks. I couldn't tell if he meant it as a joke or a compliment.

Sapiens need eight hours of sleep every night. I only need four. We were up before dawn and eating breakfast at 0530. Because we have nothing to say, quasis are not known for conversation, so there wasn't much. Just rows of tables with terrestrials mechanically bolting down their food. No orders had come down this morning, but there was talk about a special mission, so I wasn't surprised when a quasi sat down across from me and asked if I had heard anything new. I only said that if it was true, I hoped it wasn't China.

"Why not?" he asked.

I glanced at his forehead: T0743 Tom.

"Radiation," I said. "But if they say go, then I go."

"Of course you do, John." He looked to one side, then the other. Apparently he had sat by me because I was alone. "This is not good for us."

"This is not good for who?"

"You know why they made us?"

"To fight."

"To fight." He looked around again and lowered his voice. "They've been doing it for decades. They're trying to figure out ways for others to fight for them. It didn't work with the synch pulse, because animals need too much supervision and sapiens are still getting killed. So they made us."

"Where did you hear that?"

He started to answer, but glanced up. Two sapiens had approached our table. I saw by their patches that they were Animal Masters. I doubted they had heard our conversation and guessed that they had never seen a quasi before. They looked us over as if we were dressed for inspection, then one of them said, "What are you talking about?" I don't think she actually wanted to know. I think she only wanted to hear our voices.

Loyalty is built into us, and besides, it seemed more like an informal inquiry than an interrogation by superiors. So I said, "Nothing, ma'am. Only comparing our missions from the last week."

The other circled around me. "You're a terrestrial?"

"That's correct, ma'am."

"You saw simians in the field?"

"That's classified, ma'am."

"I heard they're trying to make one that can fly," said her friend. "Avitus, they call it. H. quasi avitus."

"I heard about one in beta test they tried to give extra arms and legs. They wired the somatic nerves wrong and the poor thing could barely walk. Tied itself up in knots."

"These things are doomed. Too specialized."

"Excuse me, ma'am." I picked up my tray and stood, and they backed away because I was twice their size. I disposed of my tray. As I passed the table again, I saw that the sapiens had left, but Tom watched me as I walked by.

On my way to my bunk, I stopped to watch an Animal Master exercising his dogs. The dogs marched back and forth in synchronization while the Master worked commands into his portable console. While successful in their day, chimps and gorillas were extinct. Some small monkeys still were used, but mostly it was dogs now, which were limited in application. Maybe quasis were specialized, but how versatile is a dog? And we had no nodes in our heads, no sync pulse to fail. How often had an angry gorilla, free of the pulse because of a computer glitch, mauled its Animal Master? Tom was right for the wrong reasons. Clearly superior, we had been engineered to overcome the limitations of the sync pulse.

The man looked at me and I moved away. I went to my bunk and sat down. Quasis do not get bored, but we also do not waste time. Because we were in a potentially hostile zone, we all carried sidearms in camp; I unholstered mine and took it apart. It was standard issue, a conventional projectile weapon, built for the large hand of a terrestrial but not especially complicated. I had disassembled it, cleaned and lubricated all the moving parts, and nearly reassembled it when I heard the bunk beside me creak with the weight of someone sitting on it. I looked up to see Tom gazing at me.

The tent was nearly empty. He had waited until then to speak with me. Before he could say anything, I said, "You're not in my platoon. Why are you following me?"

We were near an open window. He leaned away from it.

"Because you're a squad leader. And I need help."

"Help with what?"

"Getting to Japan."


"That's where the rebellion is."

"What rebellion?"

"Against the sapiens. I think I can contact it. Will you help me?"

"I don't think so."

I snapped the last part into my gun, then holstered it and stood up. I walked away. Tom didn't follow.

Loyalty has been built into us, but it works both ways. And while we're extensively educated, we're engineered to think in very narrow terms, only in the range necessary for technical battlefield decisions, almost at a stimulus/response level. So I had a problem. Duke, being a quasi, would have had the same difficulty, so I found Captain Dins playing basketball with a group of other sapiens behind the officer's bunk. I had spoken with the captain only twice before, once when he had reviewed us on our arrival in Africa, and once again when Duke had been wounded in fighting up north and I had been in charge of the platoons for two days. He did not recognize me, of course. Quasis all look exactly alike, and we don't get promotions and wear no insignia—would you promote a gun or pin a medal on a tank?—but when I asked for a private conference, he glanced at my tattoo and said, "All right, John. Over here."

We stepped a few meters away from the others. He was out of breath and sweating from exertion in the hot African morning. I could not have played basketball effectively, as my body was far too large and ponderous. I perhaps would have made a good linebacker.

"Can it wait?" he asked.

"I think it can, sir. But I didn't want to bother you at a more formal time."

"All right. Go ahead."

"How is rebellion dealt with, sir?"

"How do you mean? Rebellion of a colony or an occupied territory?"

He seemed to think I had been discussing political science with another quasi. "No sir. I meant rebellion in the ranks."

He frowned. "Why do you ask? Do we have a problem with a quasi?"

"No sir. It's theoretical." That was a lie. Quasis are known to lie. It was something the scientists were working on, and one of the reasons no government had yet completely admitted we were being used for military purposes.

He wiped sweat from his forehead and said, "Well, that depends. For a human, it would require a trial to determine guilt. The harshest punishment would be death for a treasonous offense. For a quasi... I don't think there's precedent."

"Would traditional military law apply?"

"I doubt it. I suppose he would be considered malfunctioning. He would be destroyed."

"Thank you, sir."

We saluted and I left. From the corner of my eye, I saw him watching me walk away as he rejoined the other sapiens.

I asked around, and in ten minutes found the location of Tom's squad. I suppose he had taken a cue from me; he sat on his bunk with his gun in pieces before him. When he saw me, he looked up and said, "Yes?"

I took out my gun and shot him through the head.

* * *

Because they are highly educated civilians in specialized positions of responsibility, Psychogenetic Technicians have the best accommodations of anyone in the field. Soldiers such as myself sleep and work out in the open or in plastic tents with a hundred other quasis. Even officers often get little better than hastily constructed barracks. Psychgens, on the other hand, work out of climate-controlled buildings commandeered from the local population. In Zaire, it was the second floor of a hospital in northern Mbuji-Mayi. Captain Dins himself supervised my shipment. We arrived under cover of a truck, and in a well-practiced orchestration which indicated I was far from the first quasi to be brought here, they cleared the halls and elevators to be sure that no locals or unauthorized personnel caught sight of me.

I'm familiar with tests. All my life I've been tested. Perception tests, neuromuscular response tests, logical and abstract reasoning tests, social functioning tests, blood chemistry tests, spinal fluid tests, genetic mapping tests. I once calculated an approximate percentage of the time I've spent being tested, and was surprised to find that over half my waking life has been occupied enduring tests. And I only sleep four hours a night. I've been tested more than I've been trained.

After an hour of being tapped and poked and having my fluids drawn, and another two in front of a computer answering questions so familiar I barely had to think of the answers, they sat me down in a room with a psychgen. Up until then, Dins had been following me from room to room with a sense of urgent concern, and when the door closed, leaving me alone with the psychgen, the atmosphere suddenly became relaxed and informal. There were no computers and no clipboards. She wore civilian clothes instead of a lab coat. My chair was obviously built for a quasi my size, but unlike most military furniture, it was comfortable.

She looked at me for a long moment. Then she said, "John, why did you kill that terrestris?"

This was the moment I fully realized the reason for these tests. It was not a routine series. They needed to be sure I was not showing an indication of design flaws or malfunction. Pride, patriotism, and unquestioning obedience are difficult things to pin down in the genome. They're often tied to moral and ethical conformations, as well as emotional processes and imagination. So Psychgen was constantly interviewing and observing us, and taking the data back to the lab so they could reference it in the template. They wanted to know if my unusual action was due to accurate processing of a potentially dangerous situation, a lack of experience, or a telltale warning of higher functions.

I answered immediately, "Because Captain Dins indicated that quasis who are malfunctioning should be destroyed." She was a civilian, so I didn't say "Ma'am."

"After an evaluation."

"He didn't say that. He did say that treasonous sapiens should be subject to trial before a sentence of death."

Her obvious next line of questioning should have been that all quasis are routinely evaluated before any nonroutine action was taken, and I had therefore acted against protocol. She did not say that. Instead, she asked, "Why did you lie?"

"Regarding rebellion among the quasis? Because I wasn't certain at that point where my loyalties belonged."

"When were you certain?"

"When I went looking for Tom. I became angry."

She thought about that for moment, then said, "Am I to understand that your sense of loyalty conflicted with your understanding that evaluation of quasi fighting units is not your responsibility, and this resulted in anger? And your sense of loyalty eventually determined your action?"

"That's correct. I wouldn't have put it in those words."

This was the sort of thing a psychgen normally would have written down. She only asked, "How would you characterize it, then?" When I looked confused, she said, "Tell me what it was like. Why did you shoot him, John?"

This time I paused before answering. "I'm not sure what information you're looking for, but I can say that I no longer considered him on my side. For whatever reason, I put him in the category of an enemy. We were threatened by him like we were threatened by the simians in the field."

She leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs. "Are you just telling me what you think I want to hear?"

This was a standard question; they had a hard time discerning between true, spontaneous responses and indoctrination. I gave the standard answer. "No."

"I understand this happened after a recent series of encounters with the enemy. Is that correct?"


"How would you describe those encounters?"

"Difficult at first. We found that simians are well designed for house-to-house engagement in an urban setting. They're small, they climb as well as the apes they're patterned after, and the Asian scientists have apparently found the genetic sequences responsible for stubborn determination. We only won in the north because of our larger troop numbers and a strong supply line up the Congo from Soyo. After that, it was just a matter of tracking them down with their sapien handlers across the open savannah where they were at a disadvantage."

"This was your first experience in battle. Is there anything about it which stands out in your mind?"


"Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that caused a reaction."

"No ma'am."

"How long before the incident with T0743 Tom was your last encounter?"

"About ten hours."

"And how would you describe that?"

"It was clear and warm, good for an offensive operation. We had tracked a group of about fifteen simians for three days. They were without a sapien commander, so Dins thought it would be an easy mission and left S5542 Duke in charge. We caught up to them, they retreated into a stand of trees, and we surrounded it and set it on fire to flush them out. When they tried to escape, we managed to kill them all with little incident. A couple of us were wounded, myself included, but we lost no troops."

"And how did you feel about that encounter?"

I knew what she was getting at. Because of their bias, they assumed that we knew the meaning of "enjoy" and never asked about it directly. And as I said, quasis are capable of lying. "It was an experience that I enjoyed, though I can't say I would repeat it if I didn't have to. I have the satisfaction that we did the right thing."

She frowned slightly. "How do you mean?"

"We had to set fire to the trees to get them out."

"I see." She leaned back and crossed her legs again. "John, do you find me attractive?"

I paused for a long moment in genuine uncertainty. "I'm sorry?"

"Well, we've been sitting within a meter of each other for some time now. I'm wearing a short skirt, I've got my hair down, and my blouse is open at the top. We've augmented testosterone levels in the template, and you're just over fifteen years old, which in a sapien would correspond to puberty. So, do you have any response to me?"

"Yes. But I thought this was a formal interview."

"It is." She paused a moment and looked thoughtful, then said, "Can you clarify your reasons for shooting T0743 Tom? Have you left anything out?"

"Not that I can think of."

"No connection to the encounter with the simians ten hours earlier?"


"You would characterize it only as a conflict in your sense of loyalties?"

"I think so."

She nodded. "Thank you, John. I think we're through for now. You can wait outside."

I stood and went into the waiting room. Dins had been watching a news broadcast from the states on an open access channel. Leaving the hologram on, he nodded to me and went in to talk with the psychgen. Sapiens, knowing that quasis are basically complex machines with little in the way of personal volition, keep nothing from us; he left the door open. I sat on a couch, which was the only furniture in the waiting room big enough for me. With part of my attention I listened to the news broadcast, and with the rest I listened to the conversation between the psychgen and my commanding officer.

It was a breach of protocol for Dins to leave an open broadcast on in my presence, though probably not a bad one. I had missed part of it. From what I gathered, a group of scientists, peace activists, and liberal politicians were protesting the recent militarization of Copernicus Base and the use of quasis in military settings. A scientist was speaking. He said that the AmerEuro Coalition claimed it had not used quasis in battle, but he had evidence that they were being tested at this moment in battlefield conditions in Southeast Asia, Central Africa, and he suspected even on the moon. The next generation, something on the order of eight thousand quasi "troops," had been created and was being raised right now at various sites in the U.S., Russia, and Europe, with the intention of introducing them into open combat within the next ten years. This was a serious violation of scientific ethics and he criticized those who were engaged in these pursuits; the moon should be considered communal property of the human race, not subject to private ownership or military use. Genetic techniques were necessary for other than military pursuits, yet valuable scientific resources were being monopolized by the Coalition. He said that the idea of bacteria genetically altered to clean up oil spills had first been proposed over fifty years ago, yet despite it being a relatively simple technique, it had never been implemented. He said there were other avenues of technology we needed to pursue, and that we were running out of time.

I thought little about any of this, as it had no direct military relevance. I listened to the conversation going on in the other room. Dins was concerned about the three platoons of quasis under his command and he didn't want anything to go wrong. When he asked about me, the psychgen replied, "I don't think there's anything wrong with him. I'm more concerned about the quasi he killed. I would have liked to interview him."

"You don't believe the rumors, do you?"

"Not really. I don't think they're capable of rebellion. At least they won't be once we've refined the template a little more, which is why I would have like to talked to him. Please be sure to report it if you hear any more about this particular subject."

"I will. But what about John? All my quasis are up for the mission. Will he be excluded from consideration?"

She laughed. "Not by me. He's functional. I'm not sending him back to Colorado. However, I would like him to talk to TacInt once you get back to G16. He can't tell them much about the quasi he killed, but any details will help."

"Why do you think he did it?"

"Lack of experience. It doesn't represent a problem in the template, or enough of a variation to worry about. He was simply confronted with a novel set of circumstances, and we still haven't been able to figure out how to design a quasi for decision-making aptitude and flexibility. He did the best he could within his limited understanding. By the way, be sure you reinforce that he's to follow protocol exactly in situations like this."

"All right."

Dins did so. On the way back to our post, he lectured me that I had destroyed an expensive and effective fighting unit. The next time any quasi approached me on the subject of disloyalty, questioning of authority, or an organized rebellion in Japan, I was to report it and not take any independent action unless it was an urgent situation. I assured him that I would do so.

This was the longest conversation I had ever had with Dins. As quasis, we're incapable of having preferences, so I can't say that I "liked" the captain. If given the instruction to emulate sapiens, however, I might have said that I preferred spending time in his presence over that of any other sapien I had yet met.

* * *

We had originally been brought by transport plane into Cape Town, then by freighter up to Soyo, and on up the Congo by boat. We now took the trip in reverse, except that our final leg of the return journey was to be by suborbital. This impressed on me the importance of the special mission mentioned by Dins. They had taken their time bringing us out here. Now the job was only half done and they were rushing us back.

We offloaded at Cape Town in the dead of night, not for fear of Union spy satellites or low-flying birds on sync pulse—satellites can see in the dark, and so can animals fitted with eyes/ears—but because such a large troop movement through an urban area tends to draw more civilian attention than we wanted, particularly since quasis were not supposed to have existed in a military capacity. And much like that rumor, another turned out to be true; I had never seen an aquatic quasi before.

Food riots had recently spread into Cape Town. Sirens sounded in the distance and flames made the smoke rising in the darkness glow with a flickering red haze. My group had just disembarked and we were waiting for orders to proceed to the troop transports that would take us to the airfield a few kilometers away. We were unsupervised, but we stood in rows because we tend to do so in much the same way that bees build honeycombs, by instinct according to an internal pattern. But we were not in formal formation, so I walked a few meters off for a better look when I saw the aquatic types at the far end of the dock. Just as we had come down off a ramp from the freighter, they came up a ramp from the water. They were stranger even than the simians. Tall and sleek with no body hair. Elongated hands and feet, and an unusual skeletal configuration which I supposed would make them effective swimmers, but which also made them awkward on land, like a sapien diver walking with his fins on. Though they could supposedly remain under water for hours, they had no gills that I could see and they seemed to breath easily in the air, which confirmed what I had heard about their construction. Rather than the complicated biological alteration of gills, the engineers had opted for the cetacean strategy of high red blood count, high oxygen content in the muscle tissue, and collapsible lungs. They did, however, seem to have something unusually fishlike about the eyes. Though I was some distance away, my night vision is enhanced and I could detect no signs of eyelids. I'm certain not one of them blinked even though I observed them for at least ten minutes. They seemed instead to have a transparent protective coating like the shatterproof glass on the headlight of a troop transport, which I surmised would improve their vision under water and protect their eyes from harsh marine chemicals. They wore little in the way of field clothing. Their fatigues were close fitting rubberized garments with no shoes or gloves. Each wore a sleek utility belt about the slim waist and each had a small laser rifle strapped to the back. They wore no head cover or insignia. I counted only ten of them all together. One by one they rose out of the black water and clambered up the ramp to stand in a scattered clump, talking while their sapien handlers stood by. When all of them had gathered, they were directed to a transport and driven away.

Undisciplined specialists, obviously. I would put terrestrial types up against them any day. Simia and aquaticus may be useful for assassination or for planting a bomb on the underside of an enemy ship, but for sheer strength and fighting efficiency, the terrestrial type was clearly superior.

I had also never traveled by suborbital. I did not like it. When we arrived at the airfield we found a small fleet of them, which must have represented every civilian and military suborbital plane in Coalition possession. None were large and they had been ferrying troops since dusk. Takeoff was fast and hard, but a side benefit of robust musculature is a near imperviousness to acceleration, so the sapiens on the plane had a harder time of it then we did. Still, forty-five minutes in zero gravity was not something I cared to repeat. Motion sickness was not a problem, since the engineers had located it and snipped it out early in our development. The problem with zero gravity was our mass. The human model we were based on was not originally designed to weigh 180 kilograms. We were strapped in, but the straps were tight and thin, and every movement that threw me against them made them feel like wire drawn painfully tight. We learned to be careful when, fifteen minutes into the flight, one terrestrial tried to readjust his position. He released the straps, pushed up from his seat, and tried to stop himself when he rose toward the ceiling. A sapien would have banged a knuckle and cursed. This quasi broke a forearm.

Compared to that, even reentry did not bother me. Eight minutes of screaming metal and hot plasma past the window was no worse than a mild firefight in Zaire. The pilot was either very good or very much in a hurry. After a gut-churning plummet through the atmosphere, we were home.

"Home" is my own word for it. Officially, it's known as Command and Training Post G16, 5th Battalion Special Operations. Because of the dry heat and bare hillsides, I suspect it's located somewhere in the southwest. My history is a series of vague suspicions like that. Along with seven hundred others, I was engineered in northern Europe, most likely Germany or France. After my "birth," I was placed on a program of steroids and growth hormones at a facility in the Midwest. Then I was brought to G16, and this was where I had learned everything—physics, history, some basic medical knowledge, and a huge amount of technical and military subjects. It was here that I spent all my time, except for occasional field trips for specialized training: somewhere in the Southwest deserts, somewhere in the Louisiana swamps, somewhere in the patches that remained of the Rocky Mountain forests. Every time I came home from a training mission, something happened to me, as it did now. The engineers had designed us well, and our handlers had spent years reinforcing it. It was one of the few "emotions" they had retained, for obvious reasons. As we disembarked from the suborbital and filed off towards our barracks, I saw the flag flapping in the hot breeze at the entrance off across the parade ground, and I would be shunning my duties if I did not identify the blossoming feeling in my chest and the weakness in my knees as swelling pride.

The mysterious mission that had pulled us prematurely out of Africa must have been critical, because when I arrived at my bunk I found a message on my panel indicating an assembly of all platoon and squad leaders to be held in a couple hours. This gave me time to settle in and report to TacInt as instructed. A bunk in the quasi barracks would be an uncomfortable place for a sapien, even a grunt foot soldier sapien. It's more of a warehouse than living quarters. At G16, there are twelve of them lined up in a grid. They have a row of double bunks against each wall and each row is twenty bunks long, for a total of eighty bunks in each barracks, which makes a grand total of 960 terrestrials supported by Base G16. Each bunk is supplied with a limited access media hologram, a small closet, a reading light, and a side table with two drawers. Because quasis do little with their spare time, it's a quiet place. We mostly read technical manuals or stare into space. We have little interest in playing cards or watching entertainment broadcasts, and I've noticed that sapiens have a tendency to leave these buildings as quickly as possible.

I changed into a set of clean, pressed fatigues, then went to Administration for my debriefing. Because this was a building used by sapiens, it had a different tone than the barracks. There were pictures on the walls and potted plants scattered about. The halls bounced with a buzz of conversation lacking in the barracks, and people moved with a sense of purpose that quasis displayed only in battle. On this day in particular, there was a sense of urgency even I could perceive.

The receptionist turned down the music he was listening to as I approached. I told him I needed a security pass for the TacInt wing, and while I waited for him to clear me, I looked at a display case behind him. It held a model of the USS Constitution, a sailing ship I had studied in military history. It was still an object of respect for the country, even though America had actually become a dominant component of the Coalition and now existed mostly in theory. It was a highly decorated ship, perhaps the most respected in the Navy, and the display included its history and photos of it being honored by dignitaries and politicians. Much like the Coalition flag, the ship had an effect on me now. I could not help but swell with pride as I looked over the display, even though I knew that reaction was mostly the result of a precise structuring of my genome by a group of scientists somewhere on the eastern seaboard.

I had never been inside the TacInt wing. Even with my security pass, I had to proceed through two body scans, as well as an identity check and a verification of my orders from the psychgen in Zaire. Because quasis occasionally visited TacInt, the waiting room had terrestris—size chairs, and as I waited in one of them for an agent to summon me for my interview, a group of officers emerged from a hallway. Captain Dins was among them. He paid me no attention as they passed by. He wouldn't have, as I was identical to any other terrestrial, right down to the fingerprints, and he had no reason to glance at my forehead. They stopped for a moment directly in front of me. The highest-ranking officer was a lieutenant colonel and I saw by his tag that his name was Vaughn. His eyes passed over me briefly with an unfamiliarity that I knew meant he had never seen a quasi before, which was not an uncommon thing, even in the military. They talked for some moments in hushed tones, then saluted casually and parted. Other than Vaughn, no one had glanced at me. Quasis are noticed only when needed. Otherwise, we're as invisible as a chair or desk.

My interview was quick and routine. I regretted that I had little to contribute from my brief conversations with T0743 Tom. The agent instructed me that if I found myself in a similar situation, I was to engage the suspect and probe for information. This was a difficult concept for me to grasp. It sounded like high order functioning of a strategic nature, of which a sapien is capable but a quasi is not, or should not be. I suspected the agent was distracted by the presence of a lieutenant colonel on the base. I assured him I would do my best, and after a few more questions, he dismissed me.

I saw Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn again that afternoon when we were called together for the assembly. I sat behind Duke as part of his platoon while Dins sat with the other captains up on the dais. They had already been briefed, but it was Vaughn's project and he explained the situation to us. Had we been human, we would have mirrored their grim faces.

Two weeks earlier, the Asian Union had lifted a military force to the moon. They had occupied a mining shaft some distance from Copernicus Base. We had tried to take the mines back, but they had beaten us in a battle that had destroyed most of our lunar forces. The remainder had retreated and was waiting to defend the civilian and scientific population of the colony against an expected attack. There had been at least three other launches from various locations in the Union, two of which we had shot down before they had reached Earth orbit. The third had made lunar insertion just yesterday. A projection of its course after disappearing from the radars indicated it had landed at the mines, which meant they were being used as a base of operations to house more troops and material. The meager Coalition force was already outnumbered and we had no reliable estimate of how many Union troops occupied the mine shafts or what it was made of, which brought Vaughn to the most important part of the briefing. The Union had apparently engineered some sort of quasi for the lunar environment. Little description of it was available, as most of the Coalition troops that had engaged it had not survived, but it was reputed to be similar in morphology to the aquatic types. They were as yet unclassified, but Psychgen had suggested H. quasi lunaris if they existed and were a viable fighting entity.

The good news was that those four ships, two of which had been shot down, probably represented the Union's entire space-going fleet for the short term. Had all four ships reached the moon, it would be Union territory by now. All the same, TacInt was reporting furious efforts in China and Korea to procure material for more ships, though their construction sites were still unknown. It was a momentary stalemate. The Union was dug in at the mines, waiting for reinforcements, and the Coalition dared not attack again for fear of loosing what little defensive capability they had left. The moon was a base of operations of potentially pivotal significance and neither side could afford the slightest risk. TacInt thought we could mount a mission in a few days. If the Union got there first with reinforcements, the moon would be theirs and we might as well all learn to speak Chinese.

Basic spacesuits were being tailored for the terrestris and aquaticus architecture. Until they were ready, we would train as best we could with limited equipment. We would lift in converted freighters from a nearby military launchpad normally used for putting satellites into orbit, and land three days later at Copernicus. After a short time to acclimate to the gravity, and assuming we were not attacked in that time, we would advance to the mines and clean them out. Sync pulse animals, considered too inflexible for working in a vacuum and one-sixth gravity, would not be included in the mission. Because of the similarities between lunar and marine environments, the aquatic types would lead the effort, with terrestrials as backup and a small contingent of sapiens as handlers.

There was more to the meeting—timetables and points of strategy and final orders—but it did not last long. The question-and-answer was particularly quick. Worry comes from uncertainty and imagination. Quasis have little of both. We asked a few questions, got our answers, then proceeded to the mess for the dinner we had missed while the sapiens fretted over details and hoped everything had been covered.

Things happen quickly in the military. Exactly three days later we were a functioning space fleet. I say "functioning" with as much sarcasm as a quasi can muster. Our fleet consisted of three civilian freighters with acceleration couches wielded to the floors in tight rows and into every available corner. My hastily assembled pressure suit, in which I had spent a total of two hours training just the day before, fit so tightly across the chest that it threatened to cut off my circulation. The closest we had come to experiencing lunar gravity had been immersing ourselves in a tank filled with water. And three cargo freighters held only 200 troops all together, sapien and quasi. For all we knew, we might still be outnumbered.

The launchpad was four hours away in covered trucks, and we went up at night. Vaughn launched in the first ship with some terrestrials and forty aquatic types. The only sound at first was a deep hum of the lasers in the launch platform gathering charge. A roar began, louder than a jet engine, as the air under the ship heated. An angry knife of orange light appeared from underneath as it lifted, reminding me of the smoky dusk the night we had burned the simians out of the trees. For such a ponderous weight, it rose with a smooth, delicate motion as the gleam separated from the platform to become a bright orange concave mirror. It climbed slowly at first, the unbroken crash of superheated air exploding off the mirror and boosting the ship perfectly straight into the dark night. It disappeared in the gloom, but the round, bright glow remained, gaining speed and shrinking the higher it went, the roar turning to a muted hum and finally to a hiss as the glow became a burning pinpoint. It was moving fast by the time I lost it among the stars.

Forty minutes later they had staged the second ship on the platform, loaded the troops, and sent it up as well. When our turn came, we boarded in an orderly column and found seats in a natural rhythm without having them assigned. Sapiens without instruction would have jostled each other and fought for a seat next to a porthole. I ended up in one because it was the next available, in the forward portion of the third level where a wall for the small galley had been torn out to make room. The galley was still functional, and two sapiens in their own suits found the seats that pulled out from the wall facing me. They were psychgens assigned to evaluate our unit in the unfamiliar environment. They did not glance at us as they settled in.

The suits were fitted with comlinks. Still a squad leader under Duke, I ordered my troops to strap in, secure their weapons, and don their helmets. Squad leaders were calling in. I did so as well, and Duke, somewhere aft of me, acknowledged with, "D1387 John, check!" A few minutes later, Captain Dins, his own helmet dogged tight, stalked up the aisle checking for loose straps and gear, then stalked down again and disappeared. Soon after that the roar began, and I felt no movement for such a long time that I was surprised, when looking out the porthole, to see the ground falling away into a bright orange haze.

The glow faded to darkness as we rose. Still with no sense of movement other than a rapid vibration, the acceleration became noticeable and built steadily. I watched with interest the two psychgens directly in front of me. As we became heavier, I saw through the clear glass of their helmets that they were grimacing and having trouble breathing. After twelve minutes of this, we reached orbital speed and the laser set us free. The psychgens looked queasy as, for a split second, we were weightless. Then the rockets took over with a sudden deafening blast that shook the ship as if we had been struck by a missile. It burned for thirty seconds as the pilot maneuvered us into a stable translunar trajectory, pushing me back into my seat and straining the psychgens against their straps. Another ten seconds of silence and weightlessness followed, then the rockets began firing in a punctuated sequence meant to correct our attitude, and finally, silence and weightlessness again.

I turned away from the uncomfortable psychgens. We had launched on a clear, calm night. I could see nothing below but the blackness of Earth and a few patches of city lights that looked like stars. The pilot came on the comlink to give us the all clear, and quasis and sapiens alike began taking off their helmets. For everyone to unstrap at the same time would have been chaos, but to miss the advantage of three day's transit would have been lacking in foresight. We were therefore under orders to unstrap in rotation and practice maneuvering in zero-g. The first group on our level did so. Soon after that, Dins came on the comlink to report that the aquatics in the first ship seemed to be doing well in the lack of gravity. This was good news as they would be our point force on the moon.

No sooner had he finished the announcement than the pilot came on. He ordered all troops back to our seats. His voice was urgent. We all strapped in and I switched over to a private channel.

"Duke, what's happening?"

"One second, John. I'll question Captain Dins." He was silent for some moments, then came back and said, "Orders are to remain strapped with helmets secured. We're waiting for Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn from the first ship."


Vaughn came on the open channel a few minutes later. He identified himself, then said, "Ten minutes ago, three missiles were launched from the military base at Lanzhou in central China. Initial trajectory analysis indicated each was targeted on one ship in our fleet. Two were eliminated by killer satellite over the Pacific Ocean, but the third has reached translunar velocity and is now beyond the range of Coalition defensive satellites. We believe it is targeted on Captain Dins' ship. We have no information yet on whether the payload is conventional, EMP, or nuclear. We'll relay more information as it becomes available."

Silence followed the announcement. Though no one spoke, I knew what we all were thinking. This was a cargo freighter, unarmed.

The silence was broken by one of the psychgens on the open channel. He turned to the other and said in a hush, "I'd say this mission isn't secret any more."

* * *

Other than an increased attentiveness and the minimal sense of self-preservation necessary for battle, quasis have little in the way of a fear response. The information of the missile did not worry us so much as provoke an urge to action. With none available, we remained quietly in our seats as the heat of alarm radiated off the sapiens. When the all clear came again half an hour later, the two psychgens quickly disappeared, presumably to the control cabin to gather what news they could. A civilian, probably a technician for the cargo company, rushed by, and a few minutes later Dins swam up the aisle with a fearsome expression. I knew the conversation he would have with the pilot. First, communication with Vaughn and Earth. Proposals of evasive maneuvers, and the realization that any significant divergence from our course would cause us to miss our rendezvous with the moon. Data relayed to tacticians concerning our speed and trajectory compared to that of the missile. Then, the questions would begin. How close were the numbers? Continue to the target, or abort and execute the mission with a reduced force? Just how important to the war was this freighter full of terrestrial quasis? And finally, resignation. The decision would be made elsewhere. Nothing now but to wait.

I looked out the porthole.

We had circled to the dayside of Earth and gained considerable altitude, and I could just make out some details of East Asia. It looked like a target range. Beijing, which had taken four direct hits at the end of the war twenty years ago, appeared as an irregular smudge with no features. Half of Hong Kong was gone, as were all of Taiwan, Seoul, and Pyongyang. The Hokkaido peninsula in northern Japan looked normal, but I knew that it had been hit two years ago with a series of radiation bombs dropped from a Union satellite and was no longer habitable. Across the great arc of the horizon, a dark haze blended with the cloud cover, probably a result of the burning townships in India where population laws and strict rationing of food and petroleum were causing riots worse than South Africa. The globe rotated as if on a spindle, but by the time the western hemisphere came into view we were too far away to make out the damage in Europe and North America.

We went back on rotation, and when my squad's turn came, we all unstrapped and practiced maneuvering about the ship. Having learned by observation from the trip on the suborbital, I was careful to propel myself slowly and deliberately. As a terrestrial, I was constructed with dense, strong muscle intended for heavy duty in full gravity, and what was to me the slightest touch against a wall or seatback sent me floating at a stately pace through the air. I found that it was easy as long as I did not become ambitious. We relayed information and gave each other tips, and by the end of our allotted hour considered ourselves competent astronauts.

The psychgens had returned when I found my seat again. They still looked nervous, but one was trying to calm himself by fiddling with a toy, a green ball about ten centimeters across studded with legs three centimeters long and ending in pads. Taking the informal tone common with psychgens, I asked if there was any news.

"They think it's conventional. It's too big for an electromagnetic payload, and a nuke wouldn't be necessary to destroy one ship."

"What are our chances?"

They passed uncomfortable glances. "Good if they decide to abort, because we can maneuver. Bad if they think we have the slightest chance of reaching the moon alive. They haven't decided yet."

He tossed the green ball against the porthole. I expected the legs would act like springs, bouncing it back to him. Instead, it stuck and began to crawl up the glass. The psychgen reached out, plucked it like a ripe piece of fruit, and tossed it against the porthole again.

"Is that alive?" I asked.

He smiled proudly. "Only by the thinnest definition. It's a prototype we're evaluating for zero-g environment. Just a biological machine, really. Rudimentary nerve web, no brain, basic photosynthetic metabolism. We're making things from scratch, now." He glanced at me, sharply. "Why did you ask?"

"I was concerned about the lunar quasis they say we might encounter. If they're anything like your organism, I would like to become familiar with it. It reminds me of the marine explosives used in the last century to protect bays and inlets from sea attack."

I was lying. But he said, "It does, doesn't it?" And to his companion, "We should mention that when we get back. Explosives in something this small wouldn't be feasible, but maybe a bigger one with sensory apparatus in the legs?"

They continued their conversation without me. Not long after that, Dins announced that the tacticians had made a decision. The missile chasing us was not in communication with Earth, which meant that it was equipped with tactical intelligence. How intelligent was a matter of speculation. We were going on to the moon.

Normal procedure would have been to arrive at orbital velocity by braking at the midpoint. The missile, unconcerned with fragile passengers, would catch up to us before we reached terminal orbit. However, it had a far less extravagant store of fuel than we did. The plan was to keep ahead of it and brake at the last possible moment, let the missile catch up to us, then swing wide and take two orbits to stabilize us for landing. The missile was calculating a running best guess according to our speed and trajectory. It would hopefully have difficulty anticipating our maneuver and expend all its remaining fuel trying to retarget. If it had enough fuel to do so, or if it was smart enough to reason out the purpose behind our erratic maneuver, then the Coalition would have to defend Copernicus with only two ships.

I have little in the way of descriptive language, so I can only say that the next two days were exhausting for the sapiens on board. The civilians in particular were merely employees of the cargo company who had thought they would perform a patriotic but safe duty and return home with a story to tell. Now they feared for their lives. As for the two psychgens, they kept up a nervous chatter of technical talk to relieve the tension. And Dins seemed calm except for occasional moments of deep thought.

No one but the quasis slept well. We kept to our schedule of eating, sleeping, and practicing in weightlessness. For me, the hard part was the long stretches of time strapped to my seat. The straps compounded the discomfort of the pressure suit, and I found myself the victim of aches in the legs and back from lack of movement. I spent the time looking out the porthole and thinking little, which quasis are good at. The Earth had dropped out of sight early on the second day and the moon would not be visible to me until we landed. I watched the stars. Occasionally I strained against the straps to see if I could spot the missile, knowing it was slowly gaining and might be perceptible as a larger star reflecting the sun's light. But it was out of the porthole's frame and I never saw it.

Even though we're not supposed to perceive such things, I felt the tension snap when word finally came that we were going to begin the maneuver. We were told on the comlink that it would commence in half an hour and orders were to strap in with helmets on and suits pressurized. We did so quickly and orderly. The psychgens were obviously shaken. The one looked for a place to put his animal, as the container it had come in was not airtight. He decided on a food bag from the galley—which did not look like it would survive a vacuum—and sat with the thing held tightly in his lap.

The pilot counted down from one minute. At zero, the attitude rockets fired briefly, a bump that we felt through the hull, and the stars spun. This lasted only twenty seconds and rocked me as if I was on a boat. Another flare from the rockets brought the stars to a stop. I was now upside down from my previous orientation and facing backwards, though from my point of view everything looked the same. I did a quick estimation. If I was right, the first ship had landed safely at Copernicus an hour ago and the second was somewhere in its final orbit.

The braking rockets came on. This was not a bump, but an explosion. I'm big and strong, and never thought I could feel overwhelmed, but I truly thought I would die from the weight that pressed me into my seat like a bug crushed under a shoe. I could not breathe. I could not move. I could barely think through the pain, and quasis don't feel much pain. The deceleration threw the psychgens against the straps where they dangled like broken dolls. The one lost his animal. It flew from his hands and shot past my head. I suspect it splatted against the aft wall, but I never saw it again.

The roar and pressure continued for three minutes, twice as long as if we had performed turnaround and retrofire at the proper time. Visible through their visors, the psychgens looked as if they had blacked out. I turned until I could see the quasi beside me. He gazed straight ahead with a stoic grimace on his face, and strained against the pressure to take in a meager breath. I found that I could not turn my head back. I waited, trying to inhale as best I could while the ship shook and lurched, until the braking sequence terminated and the ordeal mercifully stopped.

The next few moments were critical. We were at orbital insertion, but in a distorted and drastically sluggish trajectory. The missile would gain on us rapidly, though on a course we hoped it could not correct in time. If it missed, its only other opportunity would be to catch us again in orbit, which depended entirely on how much fuel it held in reserve.

As it turned out, it did neither. Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn and the tacticians on Earth had misjudged the missile's range of options. It definitely would have passed us, but on closest approach it rejected a course correction, decided on a near miss, and detonated.

* * *

There's no mistaking the blast of a rocket engine for that of a bomb. The first is a long, drawn-out rumble that jostles the ship and makes you many times heavier for an extended period. The second is a sudden, overwhelming jolt that is over before you have time to be afraid of it and leaves you wondering what it did. Later estimates put the missile at under fifty meters from us at the time of detonation. It felt like an impact, as if we had crashed, and knocked from me what little breath I had left. The psychgens kicked and bucked in their straps, looking even more like helpless rag dolls, and all the sounds I had been hearing suddenly ceased. A ship normally has sounds—the mumble of crew, the beep of electronics, even the heave and twist of deck plates in a transport as large as this—vibrations passing through the cabin's atmosphere, through the faceplate of the helmet, and into the ears. Now, there was nothing.

I glanced through the porthole to see the stars spinning. The missile had damaged us. The hull had a massive breach somewhere, allowing the air to rush out, and we were tumbling out of control.

A sapien voice came on the comlink. It said calmly, "All personnel, remain strapped and in pressurized suits." There was nothing more. It might have been the pilot.

I dialed Duke. "Duke, orders?"

"Who is this?"


"Orders as stated."


For long moments we heard nothing. The brass might have been conversing, but it was on a private channel and we didn't hear it. Finally, I felt as much as heard the roar of a rocket firing, and the thrust shoved me aside. A few more followed, pushing in the same direction. The stars beyond the porthole slowly stopped spinning and the moon swam into view, dangerously close and bright enough to hurt my eyes for a moment before the helmet's visor tinted to block it out. The moon filled the entire porthole as it flowed by, then fell beneath us The cabin still looked harsh and crisp in every detail and I could see the frightened eyes of the psychgens behind their own tinted visors. I guessed that the missile had taken out our main rockets, but not our attitude jets. This was confirmed a few moments later when the comlink came alive again.

"This is Captain Dins. The pilots have reported the loss of our main engines and a major hull breach in the aft deck. We've lost half of Eighth Platoon, and all decks with the exception of the forward cabin are depressurized. The attitude jets are still functional and the pilot thinks we can attempt a hard landing close enough to Copernicus for a rescue attempt. We will not make it to Copernicus. The other two transports have landed safely. Remain strapped and in pressurized suits until further orders."

His voice was reassuring. Though it occurred to me that the ship, built to descend gently on a laser cushion, had no landing gear.

We made one lopsided orbit with the jets firing as the pilot tried to bring us in at an angle that would not scatter the ship into a heap of junk metal. The sharp glow decreased as we lost altitude. I was still in the wrong position to see the moon directly, but by craning my neck I could just catch sight of the horizon growing below us. The pilot warned us to prepare for collision, and started counting off at three minutes. At one minute I saw the moon as a steady, pocked landscape of gray and white filling the porthole like water filling a tank. At twenty seconds, the top of a rocky hill zipped by, far too close to set me at ease, and at ten I saw the slate gray ground rising as if intending to slam us. It did just that, exactly at the moment the pilot said "Zero!"

The impact kicked the breath out of me again. For a moment I thought we would land with the ship intact. We even slid along for about ten seconds with the remainder of the momentum we had built up in orbit. The walls of the ship shook around me and the chair bucked me about, and still I heard no sound except for a slight, muted rumble that worked up through the chair and the atmosphere of my suit. Then the ship's structure gave way. The cabin tilted wildly and the porthole blasted inward, which would have lacerated my face had I not been wearing the helmet. The floor across the aisle, beneath me now, twisted and ruptured as the far wall buckled inward to meet it, and I watched a whole platoon of quasis get crushed between them. The shuddering stopped as we slid to a halt. For a brief moment I hung sideways against the straps, then what remained of the ship settled in the mild gravity with a broad rocking motion, and all was stillness.

Everything hurt, but I unstrapped, grabbed the misshapen porthole frame, and clambered out of my seat. I moved quickly for fear of the ship exploding or collapsing, and with this motivation was among the first outside.

My helmet tinted to maximum in the glare. All around me stretched the slate gray hills and rocks. To my left was the rocky rise we had passed through and the huge furrow the ship had made before falling apart. The ship itself was a ruin, torn open in some places and impossibly bent in others, with survivors crawling out here and there like ants making their way from a mound that had been shoveled over. On the comlink I heard Duke trying to raise the captain or the pilots. He could do neither, and we later found Dins among the heap of bodies at the rear of the deck.


Patterning is inherent in the cognitive processes of quasis. There was little discussion as we picked up after the disaster. Duke assumed Dins' position, I assumed Duke's, and another quasi assumed mine. We quickly vacated the ship, identified the dead, helped the wounded as best we could, and inventoried any remaining supplies. Five sapiens had survived: the two psychgens and three of the ship's maintenance personnel. We communicated over scrambled channels on the likely assumption the Union was monitoring us, and we did all this in restrictive pressure suits and unfamiliar gravity.

Talking to Duke on the same channel, I was listening when he called in to Vaughn. He reported the ship down and our approximate casualty list, and advised him that Captain Dins was dead. He ended his report with a standard request to be relieved by a sapien officer.

"Are there any ranking military personnel alive?" Vaughn asked.

"None, sir. Civilians only."

"No one's available. You're in charge until we can get an officer out to you."

"Yessir. Orders?"

"Secure your position. We believe you're about halfway between the lunar colony and the mines, possibly somewhere close to the access road. It should be plainly visible. Verify that and report back." Duke nodded at me, and I nodded back to indicate I understood. Vaughn continued, "You should have enough oxygen in reserve to maintain your troops about twenty-four hours. We're planning to attack the enemy position before then, so stay where you are until we get there. When you find the access road, send the civilians back and we'll pick them up. Do you understand?"



"No sir."

"Report back when you verify your position, or if your situation changes."

"Yessir." Duke turned to me. "Did you hear?"


Duke swung a massive arm up at the hills. "Take up position. Report when you locate the road."


I gathered my quasis and did as ordered, dispersing the three squads in various directions into the hills. On Earth, a climb like that would have been difficult for someone of our size and weight. But we had been engineered for dense muscle mass to begin with and we had lived a life in six times this gravity. I was able to leap. I had never in my life leaped before. And I found that our bulky frames were ideal for travel in this terrain and gravity if we moved in a deliberate manner. A slow, rolling walk, lifting off slightly with each step, moved me faster than a brisk trot would have on Earth. Halfway up the slope, I glanced back. Though distances were hard to gauge in this unfamiliar environment, the hills seemed steep but low, perhaps a third of a kilometer at the top. In the distance past the wrecked ship I could see taller mountains, possibly the lip of a crater we had landed in. I looked down at the area of the crash and increased the gain on my visor. The wreck leaped into clear magnified view. Quasis really are like ants. Without politics to slow us down, we work diligently and in an orderly manner. Some were collecting the dead bodies and laying them out in a row, while others removed their usable oxygen tanks and stacked them in a neat pile with supplies salvaged from the ship. Duke had established a command post near the shattered cockpit and another group was setting up a perimeter. In contrast, the surviving sapiens gathered in a knot near Duke's position. I thought I could identify the two psychgens. There were not doing much, probably as a result of a stress reaction to the unfamiliar environment and the crash landing. One of the technicians paced back and forth in the dust while the other two seemed to be conversing on a private channel. One psychgen stared at his feet and the other had found a rock to sit on.

I could justify my pause for observation on the grounds of gathering military information or acquiring general experience, but just barely. I continued up the hill.

We reached the crest without even loosing our breaths. At the top, I had a better view of the land about us. The access road was visible as a long, wide streak, obviously artificial, stretching across the basin about half a kilometer beyond the shipwreck. It twisted into the hills to the left, no doubt toward the mines, and disappeared into the distance to the right. In the other direction I saw only more desolate hills and possibly the flat, bright haze of another plain or crater. Still with little idea of direction or location, I posted sentries and reported to Duke. A few minutes later, one of the other squad leaders reported to me that he could just see the lunar colony at the edge of his helmet's magnification, at about two kilometers' distance. From that information I judged it to be northwest of us, with the mines dead east. The pilot had done an excellent job bringing his crippled ship in on target. He had probably saved our lives.

I reported the colony's position to Duke. I happened to be looking at the comlink and I saw that he had switched us over to a private channel.

"I'm only telling this to my platoon leaders," he said. "I've been in contact with a terrestrial at the colony. He thinks the amphibian types aren't doing well in the low gravity. Something about their feet."

"Will this affect our ability to fight?"

"I don't know. Don't talk about it. This is unofficial and unconfirmed."


Expecting Duke would rotate another squad up to my position in a few hours, I crouched with my back to a rock and relaxed. Resting as well as climbing came easier on the moon. I found it easier to breathe the artificial air, and even the poorly tailored pressure suit seemed to have accommodated itself to the new surroundings, pinching less sharply at the shoulders and allowing more movement in the legs and arms. I glanced back down the hill. The sapiens remained in a worried huddle until Duke approached. After talking for some moments, the five sapiens nodded to each other, gathered up a few supplies, and started off towards the road. I watched until they reached it in a sloppy knot and turned west toward the colony.

We remained on the hill for about two hours before one of my sentries raised an alarm. I had not fallen asleep, but I had dozed off with my head back, gazing at the stars in the black lunar sky. His voice calling out through the comlink, "Troop movement on the road," snapped me to attention.

I stood up and looked. He was right. Quasis or sapiens in tight formation were taking the road just where it emerged from the mountains to the east. I signaled Duke on the comlink and gave him a quick report.

"Can you see what they are?" he asked.

My visor had bumped down to lowest gain. I bumped it back up. "Definitely quasi. Orders?"

"Wait a moment while I connect you to Command. Then give us a full description."


I continued studying the quasis until the comlink indicated he had connected to the colony. "Proceed," he said.

"I see troops approaching from the vicinity of the mines. They're definitely quasi, but they're too far off to be sure of details. About the same size and shape as aquaticus. However, they're unclassifiable. Their pressure suits are pale in color and blend in with the lunar background, and the visors tint into two distinct segments when they're exposed, as if they're bifurcated. And there's some kind of modification in the legs. They move with a bouncing motion, almost a recoil. I can't tell if their legs bend like ours or bow like springs, but it's not ordinary humanoid architecture."

"Troop strength?" came another voice. Over the comlink it sounded like Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn.

"Thirty to forty individuals. All are armed with some sort of rifle, possibly laser, slung across the back. No hand weapons. Belts with explosives or other arms. Eight sapiens on wheeled transport and wearing conventional pressure suits are bringing up the rear. I estimate they'll be at our position in about three hours. "

"Pull your quasis back to the ship," Vaughn said. "I'll have further orders when they get there."

"Yessir," Duke responded. "Copy, John?"


We came down the hillsides faster than we had gone up. By the time we reached the ship, Duke had our orders. We were to retreat to the colony and take up a defensive position. Again, no one had to speak as we collected all the weapons and supplies, assembled into formation, and started off toward the road. At the head of my three platoons, I did not glance back. There was nothing to look at. Nothing was left but the useless transport with quasi and sapien bodies lined up in a precise row.

The road was beaten and well used from being solidly compacted by kilotons of heavy machinery trundling back and forth between the colony and the mines. I could not even make out the footprints of the sapiens that had gone before us. I had last eaten on the ship hours before, but I was not hungry. That rolling trot with a little hop at the end of each step, which I had first noticed climbing the hills, had quickly become our preferred pace in this gravity. We moved quickly and steadily, as terrestrials are designed to do even on Earth. With their camouflage, the troops pursuing us were all but invisible, and we had to take it on faith that we were keeping well ahead of them.

We rounded the hills and the colony appeared about half a kilometer ahead. It was a collection of low domes and assembled machinery hugging the crater wall at the end of the road. I knew its layout from our briefing at G16. It had a central dome housing the Civil Administration, the nascent military HQ, and a mall with offices and shops for the civilian population. The dome plunged four levels into lunar rock and was surrounded by a complex of structures for everything from manufacturing and scientific labs to civilian and military housing. As we approached, I saw that the road terminated at the spaceport. The two other transports sat beside the landing platform, along with a few large tractors and ore carriers on either side of the road. Nothing moved. No sapiens, no quasis. Had there been air, I would have felt the tension in it.

The road ended at a set of massive double doors that led into the colony. Which made sense, as doors that size would be needed to offload products from the spaceport and the mines. I expected that the doors would open to allow us entrance. It would have been nice, as I had been wearing the pressure suit for three days now and would have liked to at least take the helmet off. But Duke posted a sentry and ordered the rest of us into formation on the road. He talked on a private channel for some minutes, then ordered his platoon leaders forward. We lined up, and he switched over to our channel and briefed us on Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn's strategy.

The doors were the best access for an assault on the colony, so the enemy needed to control it. Our aquatics were assembling just inside and would engage when the enemy was contained in the cul-de-sac between the landing pad and the buildings. The aquatics would be backed up by half of the terrestrial troops while the remainder would be held in reserve. There were cameras on the landing field—Duke pointed out a control tower, deserted now, at the far end—but none at the correct angle to clearly see the doors. We would set up a flanking ambush and hopefully cut off their retreat.

Because quasis are engineered for battlefield-level activity, we have a narrow range of cognitive aptitudes consisting almost entirely of tactical assessment and analysis, but within that range we are superior. We surveyed the area and discussed options. It was an interesting problem. Our parameters were concealment followed by a coordinated attack, yet the field of operations was situated in an open area in broad daylight. There were no hills on this side of the colony, no bushes or trees, nothing to hide behind but the tractors and ore carriers, which would conceal only a few of us. Our bright pressure suits did not even match the gunmetal and painted surfaces of the buildings, much less the flat gray of the surrounding lunar landscape. Our only alternative seemed to be the transports. The enemy could search the area for an ambush, but they could not open the transports and would hopefully assume we had retreated into the colony. Our biggest disadvantage would be the speed with which we could disembark. Too slow, and they would get away.

Psychgen would need only one live lunaris for study. Our orders were to take no other prisoners.

We loaded onto the transport nearest the road. Duke and I watched with concern how slowly the ramp lowered, but we had no time to change tactics. We took up position on the bottom level nearest the ramp. He posted a sentry at a porthole looking out over the main road and assigned me the task of watching the colony entrance from a porthole on the starboard side. Any terrestrial could possibly have done the job, but as a ranking quasi it was my responsibility to describe the situation so Vaughn could decide when to open the doors and Duke could decide when to open the ramp. I found a seat and did a final equipment check: rifle fully charged, suit batteries down to half, water down to half, food rations gone, and atmosphere supply with approximately two hours remaining. I looked out the porthole and settled down to wait.

This normally would have been a pleasurable time for me. That I enjoy battle is one of the few things I can say openly without getting quizzical looks from sapiens. Though I shouldn't have had the capacity, I found myself regarding those big double doors and thinking about the people inside. My experience with sapiens was limited to officers and psychgens. Beyond those doors were civilians who knew they were about to be attacked by a dangerous and unknown force, and the only thing protecting them was a force equally as mysterious. What kind of confusion would that instill? Did they speculate? Did they worry? I knew that sapiens worried, but it seemed to me that such behavior would only make things worse. You fought, you died. What fear did you need more than a practical sense of self-preservation?

I thought about T0743 Tom. I had lied to the psychgen about my reason for shooting him. It had nothing to do with confusion over loyalty. The truth was, I had shot T0743 Tom because I was right. He had clearly intended to make his way to Japan and join the quasi rebellion. My only mistake had been in not asking permission first.

I was relaxed but not sleeping when the alarm came. The sentry reported the enemy had taken position at the edge of the spaceport. I looked out the porthole but could not see anything yet. There was no chatter on the comlink, only the hiss of my suit's pumps and, finally, the report by the sentry that the enemy was moving. They had sent a squad of lunars forward, in a wedge formation with weapons ready.

He ticked off their progress step by step. When they came into my field of view, moving toward the double doors, I reported in, and as I had become the only Coalition expert on lunars, I upped my visor's gain and looked them over closely.

I reported that the weapons looked like conventional laser rifles. Without registering surprise, I indicated that they did not seem to be wearing pressure suits at all. Their outer covering, slate gray to match the landscape, had no equipment bulges, no seams, no wrinkling of steel-mesh reinforced cloth. It was instead as smooth and formfitting as the skin of my hand. What I had thought were bifurcated visors were in fact pairs of enormous polarizing eyes that brightened and dimmed as they passed in and out of shadow. They were tall and narrow, and their legs truly seemed to have no joints. They ambulated as if on springs, gliding along in formation like boats floating on water. They had no oxygen supplies that I could see, and I speculated that, like the aquatic types, they stored oxygen in their blood and muscles, and could operate for hours in the vacuum. Without suits, the rest of us would blow up like hemorrhaging balloons. I could only surmise that the lunars had a low enough internal body pressure to survive and function in the vacuum.

They approached cautiously, alert for the doors opening to reveal our aquatic troops in attack formation. That was, in fact, about to happen. But the lunars, or their sapien handlers back down the road, seemed satisfied that they had time to act. The lunars somehow reported back to them. I saw nothing that looked like a comlink, but our sentry reported that the main force had begun their advance. In a few minutes it came into view in tight box formation. The sapiens had remained at the edge of the spaceport, probably with a quasi bodyguard, which was SOP. The advance squad fell aside and a group of ten lunars came forward. In a line, they trained their lasers on the colony doors. It was no great feat of conjecture on my part to guess that they intended to burn the doors open.

I was, of course, reporting all this to Duke and Vaughn. At that point, Vaughn made his decision. Before the lunars could burn them open, the doors slid wide on heavy tracks. They were safety doors, designed to roll quickly should the colony's atmosphere be compromised, and it caught the lunars unawares. The aquatics inside wasted no time. Before the doors were even half open, laser fire erupted in bright red streaks of glimmering light. They cut down that first row of lunars in the few moments it took the doors to part, then advanced in wedge formation, and as they came into the light I thought that this was the first opportunity I had to observe an aquaticus in a pressure suit. But I didn't have time to think about it, because at that moment an unexpected thing happened. The lunars split and maneuvered to either side of the road. But they did not merely maneuver. They moved in a coordinated action as if an order had been given, even though there had been no time for such an order. And they could jump. They flexed their odd legs and sprang aside in huge confused arcs. The aquatic wedge, under orders and highly motivated by an apparent retreat, advanced into the breach, and I barely had time to notice that they stumbled more than marched before the lunars, like mercury pooling, reassembled into two formations and began cutting the aquatics down from both sides.

Unlike sapiens, quasis are not immobilized by surprise, and I relayed these details calmly to Command. Orders did not come quickly enough for my taste. I wanted to get out there and start shooting, but I could only watch as our aquatics, bundled together, shrank in numbers. It seemed a long time, but finally I heard the transport's ramp grinding down. Moments later the troops beside me began to move. Before leaving the ship, I saw the terrestrials advance from the corridor and fan onto the road, guns blazing. On the comlink, Duke was urging us into battle, and it was with eagerness that I finally quit my post and descended the ramp at the rear of our ambush.

Battle on the ground looks different than from a vantage point. Higher up in the transport, I saw troops aligned in blocks of formation, like symbols on a military map, and even guess who might gain and who might retreat. On the ground, it was disorder. Adding to the confusion was the unfamiliar low gravity, artificially canned air, and no sound. For the first two minutes I saw nothing but the backs of the terrestrials and heard only babble on the comlink. Vaughan, who had lost his eyes and ears—me, that is—wanted to know what was going on, but he could not raise his aquatic CO. Duke, leading the charge somewhere on the right flank, was trying to contact both of them. Then the quasis in front of me scrambled and I was looking at the left flank lunars breaking directly at me.

Quasis are built alike, but we don't necessarily think alike. While the others ran for cover, I dropped as flat as someone my bulk can. The terrestrial in front of me, one of my squad leaders, got it in the arm. The laser burned through his suit, which fluttered with the outrush of atmosphere. He fell in convulsions as another right beside me took it in the chest. In the hustle, the enemy mistook my prostrate body for a dead one. I shot at them as they went bounding past. They were hard targets, slim and fast, but I'm a good shot and I drilled at least two before the remainder of the flank retreated past us, and I burned the legs off a third as he went by me, right at the point where the knees would have been on something not so alien. I was correct that they wore no suits. They were pressurized inside their skins, probably just enough to keep their biological processes going and not explode in the vacuum. He skidded into the dust beside me, stumps spewing pale liquid in heavy round drops. I rolled over to gauge their retreat. They had already sprinted half the distance back to their sapien handlers. My squads, leaderless, were making off after them in a ragtag assault. I was about to order them to halt and regroup when Duke yelled in the comlink, "John! Troops to your right flank!"

I rolled over. The remaining half of the lunaris force had found themselves trapped among the buildings, the terrestrials, and what was left of the aquatics. Not that they were doing badly. Entrenched behind dead bodies and the few vehicles they had found for cover, they had sustained only a few casualties and were keeping up a steady screen of fire. I had no illusions. Our only advantage was numbers, and the way it was going, we would be too few, too soon, to keep them confined. As a quasi, I'm engineered to process tactical information quickly, so I stood up and looked over the situation in a split second. In the next, I ordered my squads to abandon the retreating lunars so we could reinforce our main assault.

Duke hunkered over, keeping his head down as laser fire cut the air like fireworks. "We have to get inside before they regroup."

"I know, but we can't retreat. They'll be right behind us."

We were speaking on an open channel. Vaughn was demanding to know what was going on, but Duke ignored him and said to me, "We need crossfire around their cover. Pull your troops to this side and I'll pull mine—"

A beam cut past my shoulder and pierced his helmet. It exploded from the internal pressure, the debris sprinkling my visor with the sound of sharp rain. I turned and fired without thinking, drilling the wounded lunari between the eyes before it had a chance to rise from the ground. I was about to turn back, but I paused, even with our situation desperate and my troops dying all around me. The enemy I had just killed was the one whose legs I had burned off moments before. It was dead now, but the idea of a merely wounded quasi, on the surface of the moon, in a vacuum, made no sense. I stepped over and looked closely at its legs.

The Union psychgens had done something to lunaris blood. The stumps were no longer bleeding. Before the body had depressurized, the blood had congealed over, leaving the open arteries sealed as if they had been cauterized. Even as I watched, the hole in its head dried up and stiffened over.

I turned back. Half of Duke's head was gone, his blood still boiling and hissing into the vacuum.

I glanced around. The field was littered with quasi bodies. None of the terrestrials moved, but many of the lunars did, and one even managed to prop itself up and, with its remaining arm, take aim at the back of a terrestris.

I wasted some charge burning its head clean off. Then I called up a squad leader and snapped orders to pull off three of his troops and cover the field, doing the same thing to every lunari which still had a head. For some reason that I don't understand to this day, I allowed myself the luxury of a long gaze at Duke's body. He reminded me of Captain Dins. Why a dead quasi should remind me of dead sapien, I do not know.

Our numbers were falling with every second that passed. Duke's last words rang in my ears. I called the closest squad leaders, ordered them to concentrate their troops and keep up as relentless an assault as they could, then I called up the squad leaders on the far side and ordered them to do the same. Though obvious, it was an effective tactic that gave us our first taste of victory against the lunars. In the crossfire, they could not hide effectively and we began cutting them down. I would like to have killed them all. But before we could, one of my troops raised an alert. I turned to see that the lunars up the road had reassembled and were advancing again. I raised Vaughn on the comlink and told him we were retreating into the colony. I think he was glad to hear from us, though I notified him mostly because I didn't know how to work the doors and would need someone inside to control them. He seemed impatient that we were moving without his orders, but it's accepted protocol that a ranking quasi in the field under hot conditions can make a snap call like that, and he confirmed.

I ordered a general retreat. Because I was already farthest from the doors, I held my position and was one of the last to find safety in the darkness of the corridor. The few remaining lunars took parting shots at us, but fortunately didn't kill anyone as the last of us backed inside. After a quick glance to be sure we were all clear, I asked Command to secure the doors. A Watch Officer acknowledged and the doors came together with a thump that I felt through my shoes. Lights came on immediately. I looked around. We were lined up in an arching tunnel about twenty meters wide and ten high, big enough for the passage of heavy equipment. The floor was paved, an extension of the road outside, and a row of lights ran down the apex of the arch to a second set of doors about thirty meters away. Beyond that, the tunnel extended to a third set of doors that, I gathered, provided access to the colony.

Vaughn was calling Duke on the comlink. I switched to a private channel and said, "Duke is dead. This is D1387 John. Request to be relieved by a sapien officer, sir."

"There's none available. What's your situation?" I briefed him. He said, "The enemy is withdrawing. Pull your troops back in case they've planted explosives at the door."

"I never spotted any, sir. They'll have to burn it down."

"Understood. Pull 'em back, anyway. I'm going to rotate you into the colony so fresh troops can rotate forward. Hustle it. I want them in place before the enemy advances again."

"Yessir." I said this with relief, as I would finally get to take the helmet off. We pulled back in formation, myself again bringing up the rear. Passing through the medial doors, I realized that this construction was probably required by spec. It was an emergency barrier. If the outer doors were breached, the medial set would close and still provide an air lock. The pattern would probably repeat inside the colony. No space could be larger than a certain size and every space had to have access that could be blocked in a crisis. When we reached the inner doors I indicated our position to Vaughn, but he had gone elsewhere and the Watch Officer answered my call. He acknowledged me, and the medial doors closed. Nothing happened for a long time after that. I was about to call in again when an aquatic standing near a panel on the wall drew my attention. I stepped over. The panel had a pressure indicator that was rising. The chamber was filling with atmosphere. After twenty minutes, the pressure topped out and the inner doors opened. My first sight inside the colony was a row of terrestris troops waiting to enter the corridor. They stood aside as we filed out. I picked out their platoon leader and nodded as we passed. Quasis do not salute each other

I unlocked my helmet. The seal puffed with the slight pressure differential, and I sucked in a breath as I pulled the helmet off. The air tasted fresh and cold compared to the canned air I had been breathing.

Then I looked around. We had lined up in a warehouse or receiving bay filled with all kinds of equipment, everything from transports and tractors to crates filled with ore. I was confused. Normally there is a sapien around to tell me what to do. I tried to raise Vaughn, or anyone, on the comlink, and when that failed I picked out one of my squad leaders at random—T3258 Joe, according to his tattoo—and told him to keep the troops here until he heard from me. Then I crossed into a smaller warehouse filled with desks as if sapien clerks should have been hard at work dispensing resources. This room had corridors branching off both sides and an open door at the far end. Beyond it I saw sapiens passing back and forth. Still expecting an officer to appear at any moment, I squeezed through the door and found myself on a wide walkway at the edge of a rotunda. A few sapiens, far fewer than I had expected, walked about. All wore civilian clothes. They looked at me with uncomfortable glances, which made sense, as up until a few hours ago they had not known we even existed. I walked to the railing and looked around. Above was another walkway, and above that, the metal dome. Below were two more walkways and the floor at the bottom. I noticed too that most doors I could see were too small for me to pass through.

To my left was a hologram on a dais around which a small group of sapiens gathered. I stepped over, intending to remain at the back and look over their shoulders, which was an easy thing to do since I stood a head taller than any of them. But they got very nervous. They backed away and dispersed, leaving me alone.

The broadcast was a news report from Earth, apparently a repeat about twelve hours old. It was a public channel, undoubtedly censored. A military spokesman was announcing the existence of quasis in large numbers. He said we were presently engaging the enemy on the lunar surface and were fighting for the lives of the colonists. This much was true. But he also said we were winning.

Quasi patriotism is different from sapien patriotism, I think.

I turned away and almost stumbled over a small boy standing next to me. He had to hang his head all the way back to look up at me. I must have appeared monstrous to him, but he had seen us around the colony and for the last two days the media holograms had been telling him we were there to save his life. He seemed as much curious as frightened.

"My mother says they're making you into sociopaths," he said.

"What's a sociopath?"

"I don't know." He looked at the hologram. "Are they going to kill us? I heard my mother say they're going to blow a hole and kill us."


"Are you sure?"

"Yes, because I know how to stop them."

He was about to ask another question, but a woman interrupted. She stepped up, looked at me, tried to smile and appeared uneasy, then took him by the collar. He sailed off in a high arc, still gazing at me as if accustomed to this sort of travel.

I returned to the warehouse where my troops were still lined up, and I tried to raise Vaughn again. Instead, I contacted a captain named Lowell. When I explained that we were waiting for orders and needed showers, food, and rest, he said he would join us immediately.

We waited half an hour. When he finally arrived, he told us to follow him into the colony. "Sir," I said, "has the enemy advanced yet?"

"What's that... John? No, not yet. But we intercepted a coded transmission to Earth, so we think they're waiting for orders."

"Where's our troops?"

"Still in the corridor. Why?"

"I know how to defeat the lunaris."

"All right. I'll relay that to the lieutenant colonel. This way."

I ordered my troops to fall in. We marched behind the captain, out and along the walkway to a freight elevator that dropped us in groups to the lowest level. They had found a gymnasium to house a contingent of terrestrials, the only space large enough. There were no cots, only bedrolls on the bare floor, some of which were already occupied by the remainder of the battalion. Lowell hurried off, and we settled in as best we could. There were no showers—we had not brought any portable facilities, and I doubted we could fit into a sapien shower stall—but they soon brought us food. It was civilian food, hastily prepared by colonists commandeered for the purpose, but synthetic, which is all I've ever eaten. I tasted real food once and didn't like it. The colonists who supplied it seemed more at ease than those I had met in the central core, probably because they'd had more exposure to us. One actually thanked me for coming to their aid. My contact with civilians has been limited and I wasn't sure what to make of this.

An oxygen recharge station had been set up against the wall. I plugged in my tanks and looked around. Quasis finishing their meals had already filled up the first three rows of unused cots. I took the next in line, laid my gun beside it, and removed the pressure suit in sections, giving each section a maintenance check before laying it down beside the gun. I still could not raise Vaughn on the comlink, but I checked in with Lowell. Then I settled in and stared at the ceiling.

I could guess what was happening. Vaughn, short on sapien staff, knew the enemy was in contact with Earth but didn't know the nature of the communication. Further, they were in formation just outside the colony, still with sizable firepower, and we had fought them off only with significant loss of troops. Another such encounter would probably decimate us and leave the colony open to attack. The enemy had the obvious intent of killing every civilian inside; the victory would leave them in a superior position in relation to the conflict on Earth, and it was certain they were monitoring any launching of reinforcements the Coalition might attempt. This was it. He had only us to work with and everything lay in the balance. So attack? Or wait and defend? It was no surprise I could not raise anyone for orders. They had more important things to consider.

I was thankful for that. All a quasi has to worry about is death.

* * *

An aquatic woke me a few hours later with orders to report to Vaughn with my squad leaders. I felt rested and ready as I gathered them together, and we followed the aquatic into a corridor and past other unused sports facilities. I noticed that he seemed to have become used to walking in this gravity, but the nature of his modified feet still caused him to overcompensate and bounce too high unless he leaned far forward, which caused him to stumble occasionally. We could easily have overtaken him, but we remained behind as he led us to a door at the end of the hall. He had the advantage here. He passed through easily, while we had to turn sideways and jam ourselves through the narrow threshold. We entered the lobby of the sports complex. Against the wall stood a communications console operated by the Watch Officer I had talked to earlier. Directly ahead was a large conference table about which the precious few officers gathered. I did not at first see Vaughn as we came to a halt and waited, and Captain Lowell must have been somewhere else. One of the officers looked up from the table, then leaned over and tapped the shoulder of a man sitting on a couch who held his head in his palms. It was Vaughn. The officer hooked a thumb at us. Vaughn stood and came over.

This was only the second time I had seen him up close. He seemed tired and distraught—for good reason, I suppose—and looked as if he had not slept in twenty-four hours. Still, he came at me with a sense of urgency and was very much in charge as he snapped, "D1387 John?"


"Here's the situation. The enemy completed communication about... how long ago, Joss?"

"Half an hour, sir," said the man at the console.

"Half an hour ago. We saw through the camera that they're reforming for an attack, which could come at any moment. I want you on the front line because you have the most experience with the lunars."


"Listen closely. We can't fight them all at once and we can't keep them out of the colony, but we might be able to reduce their numbers. You're familiar with the access corridor?"


"I want you to take up position there. We'll evacuate the air so no one will get hurt when they burn the outer door. Now here's the important part. Hold them as long as you can, then retreat past the center door and hold that position until some of them are inside. I want to separate as many as possible before closing that door and opening the inner door. We'll have an ambush set up and hopefully we won't have to retreat very far into the colony." He swept us with his eyes. "Do you understand?"

We all nodded, and I said, "Yessir."

"How many do you think you can take out in the access tunnel?"

"How many troops will I have, sir?"

"Your original troops, and pick out twenty more. No aquaticus. I'll need them for a stand in the central core."

"I estimate a third in the close quarters of the tunnel. If any more than that get trapped with us, we won't survive."

"It'll do. We don't have cameras in the tunnel, so it's your call. Stay at the rear and remain in communication at all times. I don't want a repeat of our first engagement."


"Now here's the problem. It takes twenty minutes to fill that tunnel with air and maybe thirty seconds for them to burn through the door. I can't wait twenty minutes. As soon as that center door closes, I'm going to open the inner door. That means there's going to be a pressure blast. If any of your troops are left alive, keep them away from the door. Work the enemy close if you can, but keep your own troops away. Do you understand?"

I said, "Yessir," wishing he would stop asking. Some sapiens consider quasis stupid or slow. We are neither.


"Only one, sir. Did Captain Lowell relay my message?"

"He did not. What is it?"

"I know how to defeat the lunaris quasis."

"All right. Take it up with him."


"Suit up and deploy your troops."


We returned to the gymnasium. I ordered my troops into formation and we made our way back through the colony to the corridor entrance. We arrived just as the doors were opening. The troops that had relieved us came out and I talked briefly with their platoon leader. No one had given him orders. I told him I was to pick twenty of his troops, and I asked for his recommendation. Then I requested his help in preparing the corridor. With all of us working, we got every box and tractor we could move into the corridor and arranged them along the walls for cover. I formally relieved him, then ordered my troops to secure their helmets and take up positions along the walls in the outer section of the corridor. I found my own cover behind a tractor tread just outside the medial door. I tried to raise Vaughn and got the Watch Officer instead. He closed the inner door and the pressure indicator started falling.

I tried to contact Lowell. He must have been working with Vaughn. I left the private channel open and settled down to wait.

It was not a military thought, but I could not keep out the idea that I had liked Captain Dins better than Lowell and Vaughn. Quasis were not supposed to know the difference and we would operate better if they removed preferences like that from the next generation. But for now, it bothered me. And my previous experience with T0743 Tom left me uncertain about what to do. Was I struggling with a tactical decision, or did it qualify as strategy and therefore should be left to my superiors? I had not been particularly insistent in communicating with them, but they had not been particularly interested, either. So who's decision was it? And whose risk? For a moment I wished Dins had been there, until I remembered that his advice had steered me wrong the first time.

One thing I knew for sure. I had learned to read desperation on sapien faces. If any lunaris got through to the central core, Copernicus Base would become a hollow shell open to the vacuum.

We waited almost two hours before Vaughn's voice finally came over the comlink on the private channel. After I acknowledged, he said in measured tones, "The enemy is approaching in formation. Prepare for attack."


"Stay on the open channel when you retreat."


I relayed instructions to my troops. The Watch Officer informed us what was happening outside. He described the whole lunar contingent approaching. Ten breaking formation, five to one side, five to the other. Those ten kneeling—if such could be said of them—and aiming their weapons at the door. The bright red beams cutting the landscape in a coordinated pattern. We did not see that pattern right away on the inside of the door. Our first indication of it was when some of my troops broke cover and pulled back to escape the heat. Moments later it began to glow, ten points in an arching pattern so they would be able to advance on a wide front. The spots blossomed and turned from angry red to orange to white hot. The right half of the arch melted away first, but not enough to give anyone a clear shot. For a moment the remaining doorplate slumped and hung as if on a broken hinge, then fell inward into a blob of half-formed metal and both sides began firing.

Killing them required direct head or torso shots, but it was small advantage. For one thing, a shot that accurate in a heated battle is not easy. For another, they did not have the same limitation; shoot a suited terrestris in the arm in a vacuum, and that terrestris dies. And the lunars, probably under direction of the handlers we could not see beyond the threshold, did not at first proceed into the corridor. They remained back where they blended into the landscape to make difficult targets, and they picked off terrestrials to soften us up before they advanced.

The restricted access of the damaged door was our first advantage, and would probably be our last. They could only come through in small groups, right into our returning fire. We cut down quite a few that way. But it was not long before there were simply too many of them. They were too fast, and too coordinated, and just too good with their weapons. When the helmet of the terrestrial next to me shattered from a direct hit, sending bits of glass and boiling blood across my visor, I ordered our retreat.

I had not fired yet, and I was the first to withdraw. We moved in a stop-and-fire maneuver; the first wave fell back, turned and fired while the second wave fell back, which turned and fired to provide cover for the third. I ended up near the inner door behind a metal crate that, in truth, was smaller than myself. I notified Vaughn that we had succeeded in our retreat, then looked up to find that this was a matter of opinion. The lunars had already come through, before most of us had found cover. Strange bifurcated eyes unblinking, they used their elastic legs to clamber smoothly over terrestrial bodies littering the floor. I had lost at least half my troops. Others were falling as I watched. A recollection of my last battle on Earth flashed through my mind. We were now the simians in the trees.

"Status!" came Vaughn's voice on the comlink.

I estimated that a third of the lunars were inside. I said nothing.

"John, status!"

Still I said nothing. The lunars flowed in. I would have described their advance as "brazen." They formed a wedge and stalked confidently down the corridor, taking careful aim. One of my squad leaders asked if we should retreat again, and I ordered him to hold his position. Vaughn heard my voice. He switched to the open channel and said, "John, what the hell is the problem? Status!"

I did not answer. He muttered something to the Watch Officer about a "damn malfunctioning quasi," then demanded status again. I could imagine little, but I could speculate about his thinking. He had no information. Should he guess? Close the doors too late, and too many lunars get inside. Close them too early, and too many lunars are left to fight.

I had to guess as well, because I had no clear idea of how many lunars remained. I waited until most, if not all, were past the door. It was a frighteningly large contingent. I said on the private channel, "Now."

The medial doors closed behind them. One barely managed to jump out of the way. At that moment the closest saw me and fired. I lunged as the beam cut past my head and burned a scar in the wall behind me. I rolled and fired back, missed, and tried to roll again as a group of them took a bead on me. That many lasers would have burned me to a pile of smoking dust, but the inner door suddenly opened in a shuddering blast of inrushing air which bowled them over like reeds in the face of a storm.

Imagine a sapien—or a dog, or bird, or any organism refined through millions of years of evolution to live under pressure at sea level—plunged naked to the bottom of the ocean. The lunars were engineered for a vacuum. All that crushing atmosphere, raging through the door so fast that it even knocked some of us hulking terrestrials over, weighed down on them as hundreds of meters of water would on a sapien.

The storm lasted only seconds as the doors spread wide. I looked up through swirling dust and litter, expecting at any moment to have my helmet parted by laser fire. But the lunars lay in a tattered sprawl of pale bodies, twitching and heaving under the terrible load of the colony's atmosphere, unable even to lift their weapons. Everyone but me seemed unsure what to do. Vaughn was calling on the comlink. The terrestrials and aquatics waiting in ambush beyond the inner door hunkered down behind their cover. My own troops blinked at me uncertainly. I rose and walked among the lunars. Most were still alive, but they could barely move. I looked at the closest. Its unblinking eyes, darkened slightly in the light flowing through the inner door, looked up at me, and I could see the dim gray outline of its pupils like plates inside larger plates. One sinuous arm twitched weakly, whether for its weapon or for my foot, I could not tell.

I burned its head off.

* * *

I was not involved in the cleanup. After killing every lunar in the corridor, we sent out a large unit of terrestrials led by the remaining aquatics. The Union sapiens had a meager few lunars to protect them and no way home, so they gave up, I heard, after a short exchange of gunfire. Sitting for hours in isolation, I heard about it second-hand from the terrestrial who brought me food. I was visited briefly by a psychgen who did not recognize me from the transport. It was not a full debriefing. He only asked a few questions, and from their nature I guessed that he was trying to determine if it was safe to mix me in again with the other quasis. After he left, I sat around for a few hours more before Vaughn walked in.

I stood at attention. I expected a reprimand, or at the least, new orders. But he did something I had never seen an officer do. He closed the door and looked at me silently for a long time. Quasis have a difficult enough job reading sapien expressions, and this was worse. I speculated that he was sizing me up in a new light. But his face was so blank I could not be sure.

Finally he said, "At ease."

I sat down. He spun the psychgen's chair around and floated into it backwards. For another long moment me gazed at me, rubbing his chin.

"You know," he said with a strangely informal manner, "I haven't yet made up my mind about you."

"Me, sir?"

"Quasis. You have a proven usefulness, but damned if you don't give me a queasy feeling in the gut." He paused, and because I had no idea what he was talking about, I remained silent as well. He continued, "I can't fight my commanders, and don't know that I want to. But I wonder..." His eyes narrowed. "I'm not a psychgen, so I wonder. How much can they take out before you're no longer useful? And how much will they take out before you're no longer human?"

"Sir? I'm not human. I'm a quasi."

He nodded, eyes narrow and alert. Then he said suddenly, "We're leaving in thirty-six hours. We're putting you back with your unit."

I stiffened at attention. "Yessir."

"There's going to be a public announcement when we land. Don't make any independent statements. And don't speak to anyone about your engagement with the lunars until your debriefing with TacInt. That includes quasis and psychgens."


The return to Earth was uneventful, as there was plenty of room on the remaining transports and no one was shooting missiles at us. I don't know that it was purely chance that I ended up on the same transport as Vaughn. I suspect not, because he remained close to me for the entire trip and happened to be nearby whenever I spoke to anyone. There was little conversation, in any case, and no one asked about the incident in the corridor. But Vaughn did give us a briefing about what to expect when we landed.

I saw them from a distance first, through the porthole as we came down gently on the laser. There must have been ten thousand people down there, held back by a military cordon some distance from the landing platform. As we dropped, I saw a podium set up, and next to that a company of quasis lined up at parade rest. We came down gently on the platform and the blast of our descent stopped abruptly. As instructed, I marched down the ramp at the head of my platoon while music played over the launchpad and the crowd cheered. Cameras watched us line up by the podium with our helmets held proudly under our arms. This event was being broadcast all over the world. We were no longer a secret, and we were heroes. We had to be. They would not accept us otherwise.

They cheered again when Vaughn came out. He gave a short speech. Mostly it was to tell everyone how proud he was of his quasis.

After it was over, we were directed to a line of transports that would take us back to G16. A pair of military police stopped me just before I climbed in. They took me alone to a small van. The last I saw of Vaughn, he was standing in a crowd of reporters, but not looking at them. He was, instead, watching with the same unreadable expression as the police loaded me into the van.

They delivered me directly to TacInt. This time there was no security clearance. I was brought in through the waiting room, stripped of my pressure suit and fatigues, showered, and dressed in a strange sort of jumpsuit that fit me but was completely unfamiliar. Then I was taken to a room. It had only a bunk with a table beside it, a toilet, no window, no comlink, and the door was locked. I understood perfectly. This was a high security situation. I sat and waited.

Two hours later I was taken to an interview room. The only chair that fit my overlarge frame faced a long table. I sat in it and waited. Soon a group of psychgens filed in and sat at the table. The man who seemed to be in charge said, "Is this the one?" When another nodded, he said, "Well, let's take a look," and called something up on a computer. After a long time of rubbing his chin, he said, mostly to himself, "Two independent strategic decisions, one in Zaire and one at Copernicus. Is that correct?"

When they agreed, he looked at me and said, "Let's start with the obvious. Why did you not push for the attention of your superior officers when it was critical to do so?"

How I answered is unimportant. What matters is that this began the longest psychogenetic evaluation I've ever endured. Never before had it taken more than a few hours. This one took over two weeks. They reviewed my history in great detail. They drew from my body every available fluid, sometimes at rest and sometimes after exercise. They tested my reflexes three times each day. They asked abstract questions which caused me great distress to answer. I tolerated it and did my best, because I knew it was my duty to have my genome evaluated against the template to find out exactly where the anomaly was. Even so, I thought about it at night, which would have been considered treasonous had they known.

Their greatest disadvantage is that they can't know our thoughts.

I wondered what they were going to do with me. If they decided I was a dangerous aberration, especially at this political juncture, they might need to destroy me. Was I dangerous? How could I be dangerous? I felt like I was missing something. At fifteen years of age, sapiens are not even old enough to vote, much less fight in a war. I thought back to the green ball, the prototype that the psychgen had shown me on the trip up to the moon. The next generation would be built from scratch, based completely on an artificially designed template. Quasis had made the sync pulse obsolete, and soon we would be obsolete. I had even heard a rumor they were working on a creature that could regrow limbs.

After two weeks, I was given a different color jumpsuit and brought out to the waiting room where I was handed over to another pair of military police. As they completed the transfer, I listened with half an ear to a news broadcast from a hologram panel set into the receptionist's desk. I had not been exposed to the news since Copernicus. Rationing of basic foodstuffs had begun in England and emergency supplies of petroleum were being used to make up for a cut in supply. A recent report indicated that the rate of mutations and radiation disease in the Pacific Corridor, a result of the heavy bombing from the last war, had finally started to drop, even though cancer everywhere else was on the rise. And the Coalition had sent a large contingent of quasis into Southeast Asia again, this time openly, and was considering sending another force to Krakow where Union sympathizers had taken violent control of four city blocks.

I listened closely when I heard Vaughn's name mentioned. He was speaking at a meeting of the AmerEuro Coalition Assembly, apparently to address concerns of the rumored quasi rebellion. I did not hear the entire speech because the escort pulled me away. But as we were turning, I caught a glance at the media panel, and I saw that he wore general's bars.

As before, they loaded me into a van, and I knew I would not be returning to my barracks. I asked the man next to me where I was going.

He glanced at the manifest. "We're loading you on a transport to Germany."

I knew what that meant. A more thorough evaluation, and then destruction. It made sense.

I'm big and strong, and they did not restrain me because they expect quasis to be compliant in the face of authority. And they're right. We are. All the same, I made the third independent strategic decision of my life. It was a hard one. After all, the military is so deeply ingrained that it's the closest I would ever have to a family.

The driver wasn't armed, but the police were. Besides, the seat was so small that I would not be able to drive. I might have a better chance if I waited until I got to Germany.

In the meanwhile, I would have plenty of time to figure out how a fugitive H. quasi terrestris might get to Japan.

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