. .

Alien Space Nazis Must Die!

by Chuck McKenzie

 

He blinked, and stood swaying in the shuttle cockpit. A wave of nausea rushed over him. His guts heaved, but–

I don’t even have a stomach.

And suddenly the weight of reality hit him. He fell to the deck, convulsing. Dimly, he heard Kroll say: “So sorry. But better this way…”

#

Hidden inside the ventilation duct, Lars Janssen peered cautiously through the grille at the shuttle-bay beyond; or, more accurately, at the back of the Schütze’s head currently blocking his view of the shuttle-bay. The Schütze, he noticed, had dandruff. Greasy white flakes spilled out from beneath the Nazi’s helmet, speckling the collar of his uniform. Lars shook his head reprovingly, then glanced at his watch. Ten minutes left. If he wasn’t off this KillMoon by then… He pushed gently against the bottom of the grille, which swung silently outwards from the wall. Lars slowly extended his hands towards the back of the Schütze’s neck, paused, then grabbed firmly and twisted.

Snap!

Lars jumped from his hiding-spot and caught the body as it fell, lowering it gently to the floor. The creature looked no more pleasant in death than in life; grey skin, vulpine jaw, yellow eyes. Galactic Master-Race? Ha! Not if the Alien Space Nazi Resistance Agency had anything to do with it! Lars picked up the guard’s fallen pulse-rifle and glanced cautiously around the bay. Darkness and silence. Aside from a couple of shuttles parked nearby, dimly visible in the gloom, the area seemed deserted. Lars moved towards the nearest craft.

He’d taken barely three steps when he heard a sound that stopped him in his tracks.

Click!

It was the sound of a pulse-rifle being primed to fire.

Lars swallowed. This was bad. Still, if he could work out where the other guy was standing–

Click!

Click!

Click! Click! Click! Click! Clickety-click! Click! Clickety-clack! Click-clack! Clickety-clack! Click! Clickety-clickety-click! Click! Click! Click! Clack! Click!

Apparently the other guy was standing all around him.

Abruptly, the lights flicked on to reveal a squad of Nazi troopers surrounding Lars, each aiming his rifle unwaveringly at the agent’s head. A Nazi officer stepped forward and removed the weapon from Lars’ grasp. Lars hesitated, then beamed disarmingly. “Somebody order a candygram?”

“Flippant as ever, Janssen.” The mob parted, and a depressingly familiar figure walked forward through the resulting gap.

“Well, well!” Lars nodded. “Reichsführer Hottschtepper. Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again. Last time we met, you wound up on the receiving end of a napalm enema. You must be using a very effective brand of haemorrhoid cream!”

Hottschtepper smiled horribly. “Did you really think you could infiltrate zis KillMoon undetected?”

“Frankly, yes. Mind if I put my hands down?”

Hottschtepper regarded him coolly. “Ja. But keep zem vere I can see zem.”

Lars lowered his arms. “So, what happens now?”

Hottschtepper smirked. “Now, you die! Squad! Prepare to carry out execution!” He sighed. “Oh, and zose of you standing behind ze prisoner? – vill you please come around to ze front in case he ducks? Zat’s how he got avay last time.” He stepped quickly out of the line of fire as the troopers repositioned themselves. “Squad ready? Aim-!”

“Um!” Lars raised his hand. “Mind if I blow my nose first?”

Hottschtepper regarded him incredulously. “Ve are about to shoot you! Does it matter zat you die viz a nose full of bogies?”

“Sorry,” apologised Lars, “it’s just that … oh, I’m going sneeze! Ah! Ahh-!” he cupped a hand over his nose, “– choooo!” The MiniFlash grenade hidden up his right nostril slid out into his palm. “Okay, go ahead!”

Hottschtepper rolled his eyes. “Squad ready? Aim-!”

“Say cheese!” Lars threw the grenade to the floor, clapping a hand over his eyes. There was a sudden blaze of light and the assembled troopers staggered back, flashblinded. Lars grabbed a rifle from the nearest Schütze, thumbed the weapon to ‘auto’, and strafed the squad with laser-fire. Within moments all lay dead – except for a lone figure stumbling blindly towards the exit. “Oh no you don’t!” Lars leapt forward, and dealt Hottschtepper a cracking blow to the jaw. “That’s for all the agents who’ve died at your hands!” snarled Lars. “And this-” a second blow laid the Nazi out cold, “-is for me!”

Pausing to catch his breath, Lars glanced at his watch. Barely a minute left! He sprinted towards the nearest shuttle, charged up the ramp, ran to the cockpit, and threw himself into the pilot’s chair, hands flying across the flight console. Closing ramp. Priming drive. Ignition! With a piercing whine the craft shot forwards, punctured the containment field, and flew out into space. Grinning, Lars leaned forward and activated the comm. “Hello, KillMoon switchboard? Priority call for Reichsführer Hottschtepper.”

There was a pause. Then: “Ja?”

“Hottschtepper?”

Janssen! Zere is no escape! In moments ze DeathWaffen vill be on your trail!”

“’Fraid not, Hottschtepper. You see, I’ve left a little gift for you under your KillMoon’s primary reactor.” Lars regarded his watch. “And you’ve got… ten seconds to thank me!”

“Vhat?!”

Lars’ expression hardened. “Goodbye, Reichsführer.”

“See you in hell, Janssen!”

A silent flash briefly lit up the endless night of space.

Lars sighed. Mission accomplished. Back to HQ, debrief, prepare for the next mission. An agent’s job was never done; there would always be another operation awaiting his attention. Sometimes it seemed as if he’d been doing this job forever…

“Hello?”

Lars blinked, and regarded the comm with a frown. “Hello? Who’s that?”

“Contact establish, Commander,” said the voice, apparently not addressing Lars.

There was a pause, then a second voice spoke. “Am Commander Kroll, of Arthrod Empire. To whom I speak?”

“This is Lars Janssen of the ASNRA. State your business, Commander.”

“Program include memory-suppressant, Commander,” said the first voice.

“Can deactivate?” asked Kroll.

“May induce psychosis, Commander,” said the first voice, dubiously. “Best if convince to leave voluntarily.”

“If want your opinion, I ask,” growled Kroll. “Don’t hold breath!”

“You know,” interrupted Lars, “I can still hear you.”

There was a distinctly embarrassed pause.

“Not turn off communicator?” asked Kroll, dangerously.

“Er -”

Shrakha! Remove suppressant!” Kroll addressed Lars again. “Believe yourself to be Lars Janssen of ASNRA? Fight Alien Space Nazis?”

“Yeah..?”

“Apologies, no easy way to tell, but… you not Lars Janssen.”

“I’m not?”

“No.”

Lars smiled thinly. “Okaaaaaaay – so, who am I?”

“Not know. But not Lars Janssen. Nor agent of ASNRA. Not even sit in shuttle.”

Riiiiiiiiight. So, where am I exactly?”

“Body connect to ‘Ultra-Immersion Entertainment System’. Game running ‘Alien Space Nazis Must Die!’ You play Lars Janssen.”

Lars nodded gravely. “Uh-huh. Yeah. Okay. Listen, I don’t know what your game is, but-”

“Not think life too convenient?” Kroll interrupted. “Prison always have hidden exit, guard never shoot straight. Is believable? No! Is fantasy world! Not real!”

“Go away, Kroll,” snapped Lars. “Stop wasting my time!”

“Memory-suppressant isolated, Commander,” Kroll’s subordinate interrupted.

“Deactivate!”

“Oh, for Chrissake!” Lars leaned forward to switch off the comm, and-

Light exploded around him. Above, a grossly swollen sun filled the sky. Below, the soil was ash. Deep underground, the sterile remnants of humanity lay in cryostasis, while artificial intelligences sought a means to repopulate the Earth. When a solution became available, the AIs would waken their precious wards. Meanwhile, in order to avoid psychosis due to sensory deprivation, the sleepers were wired into state-of-the-art gaming modules, which – in order to heighten the experience – temporarily blanked the player’s memory, substituting that of the character they played. Thus, gamers could fight at the OK Coral or Gallipolli, and actually believe they were there. They could take Neil Armstrong’s infamous step, or pilot the Enola Gay over Hiroshima. Not to mention the vast range of fictional characters one could play…

He peered through the dome of his artificial womb as the gamelink punctured his skull. Oxygenated gel rose to cover his face, flowing into his mouth, filling his lungs. Darkness. Then a red neon sign flashed before him:

RealPlay Games Presents – Alien Space Nazis Must Die!

(A Lars Janssen Adventure – Press Play To Start)

He reached out towards the ‘Play’ icon, and-

He blinked, and stood swaying in the shuttle cockpit. A wave of nausea rushed over him. His guts heaved, but –

I don’t even have a stomach.

And suddenly the weight of reality hit him. He fell to the deck, convulsing. Dimly, he heard Kroll say: “So sorry. But better this way…”

#

Later, glancing around the cockpit, he wondered how he could have thought all this was real. The surfaces were too angular, the colours too monotonous, the buttons and displays obviously mere pixelated representations. But of course, the software had altered his perceptions sufficiently for him to accept it all without question.

“Questions?” asked Kroll, over the comm.

Reg Prescott rubbed his forehead, still feeling groggy. Random recollections of his pre-game life kept popping into his head like scum floating to the top of a septic tank, a wholly disorienting and unpleasant experience. And there was something odd about his hands; something he couldn’t quite put his finger on… “Dunno. Some of it’s coming back. Although…” he glanced at the comm, “are you guys actually, y’know… aliens? Or is that something the game made up?”

“Aliens, yes. Last of Arthrod race.”

“Last?”

Kroll sighed. “Millennia ago, fight war. Bioweapons induce genetic decay and sterility. Survivors flee in Generation Ark, seek new home. Scientists think Earth habitable, hope humanity sufficiently advanced to reverse our sterility. But solar flare hit before we arrive. Qandho make joke at our expense, yes?”

Qandho?”

“Our faith. Qandho dictate sanctity of life above all else. For us, essential to both spiritual and physical survival. Arthrod once warrior race, governed by instincts not appropriate in enclosed environment of Ark. So sublimate aggression by focus upon Qandho. Will teach you dictates of Qandho, once recovered.”

Great, thought Reg. Missionaries from outer space. “Um … actually, I’m an atheist.”

“?”

“Not religious. Don’t believe in God. Qandho.”

“Blasphemy!” muttered Kroll.

“Look, I didn’t mean to offend-”

“No, no, am sorry,” apologised Kroll, still sounding pissed. “Spend life in company of faithful, is shock to meet infidel.”

“Er, yeah…” A change of topic was obviously in order. “Listen, perhaps we can solve your sterility problem. After all, if the AIs can sort out our situation…” He frowned. “Although, I guess they’re still looking for a solution, or they’d have woken us. Don’t s’pose it’ll take much longer – the boffins said five years at the most…”

Kroll remained silent.

“What?” asked Reg, apprehensively.

“No easy way to say,” said Kroll, slowly. “After you enter wombs, AIs decide only option to enshrine humanity is create androids into which human race-memory download. But AIs realise preservation of memory alone not appeal to humanity, so decide to leave you in stasis, and leave Earth to establish own civilisation elsewhere.” He paused. “You play game now for ninety-three years. Lucky we arrive. Otherwise…”

Reg’s head swam. “It’s not true – it can’t be!” He swallowed heavily. Kroll had to be lying. Except – He looked at his hands again. They looked old; wrinkled and liver-spotted. Cryostasis didn’t halt the aging process, but did slow it considerably. Reg must have been under for a very long time for his skin to have aged so dramatically.

And if Kroll was telling the truth about that, then–

The AIs had failed.

Reg took a deep breath and pushed his head between his knees. He felt numb. “How many left?” he asked, eventually. “Most of the other sleepers were older than me. How many survived?”

“Still check,” said Kroll, hesitantly. “Initial report – maybe six hundred.”

Six hundred! Out of how many thousands?

“Well,” said Reg, far too calmly, “it’s not the end of the world. We’ve still got time to look at new avenues of research. Some of the surviving sleepers would have gone in as children, infants. Minimal genetic damage. Maybe-”

“So sorry,” muttered Kroll.

“Oh, for Chrissake, what?”

“Flare activity increasing, not subsiding. Earth uninhabitable soon, even below ground.”

Reg nodded slowly. So. He was going to die. Everyone was going to die. For some reason, the thought left him feeling oddly detached. Too much to take in. “So. What happens now?”

“Leave game,” said Kroll. “Come with us.”

Reg frowned. “But why? You can’t help us. You were hoping we could solve your problems.”

“Of course.” Kroll sounded nonplussed. “Cannot save humanity. But extend remaining life by removing from Earth.”

Leave Earth. Leave the game.

An icy finger suddenly seemed to penetrate the numbness. The game was familiar, comforting; a place where Reg – as Lars – could live a worthwhile life, make a difference, fight the forces of evil. Reality was a half-remembered nightmare, now offering only a bleak, short, ultimately futile existence.

And if death was inevitable, why take the hard way out?

“Listen,” said Reg, slowly, “I appreciate all you’ve done. But … I think I’ll just stay here.”

There was a shocked silence.

What?” demanded Kroll, eventually. “Cannot be serious! Life most valuable gift Qandho give! To stay in game, deny reality and life, is… blasphemous!”

Reg shrugged apologetically. “Well, that’s my decision.”

“But – be living a fantasy!” squawked Kroll.

“Well, sure. But with the memory-suppressant on, I won’t know it’s a fantasy.” Reg paused. “Look, there’s nothing for me out in the real world. Any family or friends I had must be dead or dying. No hope of saving humanity. So please, just blank my memory and go.”

“But is not real!

“Real enough for me,” said Reg, softly. “Game Reset!”

The cockpit vanished.

#

“… and deliver from primal urges. Thank Qandho.”

“Thank Qandho.”

Kroll glanced around the table at his subordinates. “General reports. Security?”

“Growing unrest amongst crew, Commander. Cases of assault increase.” The Security Officer glanced sideways at the Geneticist. “Suggest frustration over failure of fertility treatments.”

The Geneticist lunged at the Security Officer, hissing furiously, pincers raised.

“Control!” snapped Kroll.

The Geneticist bristled momentarily, then grudgingly bowed his head. “Apologies, Commander.”

“Not bad enough we die slowly from genetic collapse?” Kroll growled. “Try speed extinction by indulge primal urges? Shrakha!” Stupid, squabbling hatchlings! he thought. Without his admittedly stern leadership, these fools would have wiped themselves out long ago. He glared around the table. His subordinates glared back, fighting the urge to physically defend their honour. Kroll nodded, satisfied that protocol had triumphed over instinct. “Now – human subject Reg Prescott. Remain in game and die rather than face reality. Completely irrational. Suggestions?”

“Forcibly disconnect?” suggested the Geneticist.

The Psychologist shook his head. “Premature shutdown may damage player, so game have encrypted back-up system.”

The Security Officer raised a pincer. “Playing solo in multiplayer game may indicate abnormal desire to distance self from others. Maybe other humans not so resistant to retrieval. Revive another subject?”

Kroll shrugged. “Psychologist?”

“Perhaps, Commander. But all survivors play solo. May waste time assessing further subjects. Suggest treat current subject as ‘acid test’ to refine retrieval.”

Kroll nodded grudgingly. “How we proceed?”

“Counselling? Explain how foolish to deny reality, waste life. Game may also lose attraction if memory-suppressant left disconnected. Speed extraction, so can leave Earth quickly.”

“Flares not reach danger levels for months yet.” Kroll eyed the Psychologist suspiciously. “Why so keen to leave?”

The Psychologist glanced around at his comrades, who all suddenly developed a deep fascination with the table-top. He coughed nervously. “Commander, is always difficult to suppress primal urges, but mission to Earth provide alternate focus. In addition to Qandho,” he added hurriedly. “But mission over. Sooner retrieve human, sooner you announce new mission, sooner get new focus.”

Kroll smiled pleasantly. “Who Commander here?”

“You, Commander.”

“Correct. Me!” snarled Kroll. “Also Most Holy Mouthpiece of Qandho! Qandho dictate duty to preserve life, which retrieval achieve! Question project is to blaspheme! We go when I say!” The Psychologist glared resentfully at his superior, and Kroll felt a pang of regret. The two of them had been good friends once. But the responsibilities of leadership outweighed the comforts of personal relationships. “So – try counselling.”

“Yes, Commander.” The Psychologist paused. “Additional suggestion…”

“Yes?”

“Direct communication. Use gamelink, generate virtual persona for human to relate to. Make contact more personal. More relaxing…”

#

Hiding behind the lavatory door, Lars was just about to leap out and bushwhack the Schütze who was answering the call of nature, when something hideous materialised in front of him. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!” he screamed, then paused, looking the monstrosity up and down. „AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!”

Three metres tall, mantled by a spiny black exoskeleton, the creature stood upon two powerful legs, while four massive arms terminating in crab-like pincers extended from the shoulders. The head was vaguely bug-like, an unsettling number of oversized boiled-fish eyes peering at Reg from above a gaping, fang-filled mouth.

“Not think you react so badly to physical appearance,” it said, mildly.

Reg swallowed heavily. “Kroll?” He cleared his throat. “You, er… took me by surprise, that’s all. What are you doing here? I thought we’d said our goodbyes – oh, crap!”

The Schütze, momentarily stunned by the unexpected violation of his privacy, had finally recovered his wits sufficiently to draw his sidearm and start shooting. Kroll bellowed as a barrage of laser-fire tore into his body.

“Reset Scene!” snapped Reg, pushing his way out from behind the door. The room flickered. The Schütze vanished.

Kroll glanced down as his wounds healed. “Can do anytime during game?”

“Only if you happen to remember you’re playing a game! Look at that!” growled Reg, gesturing around the room. “Look at the crappy definition! It’s like watching Community TV! And this-!” He held up his aged hands. “I look like I’ve been in the bloody bath too long! I know I’m old, but why is the game making me look old? It never did before you arrived!”

“Safety feature. Never look old before because not realise you play so long, so game pick up and generate self-image of younger you. When memory-suppressant shut off, recall program automatically fill in blanks, including true age, so not suffer shock when leave game.”

Reg scowled. “Yeah, well, I’m not leaving, am I? So why haven’t you re-installed the memory-suppressant?”

“Because,” growled Kroll, “none of this real!”

“Christ! Why does that bug you so much?” snapped Reg. “I know it’s fake, but I don’t care! It’s none of your concern anyway, so just re-install the memory-suppressant and go away!”

“Against dictates of Qandho! Allow to stay, you die!”

“I’m going to die anyway, you idiot!”

“But if return to reality, live real life! Qandho dictate must preserve life, no matter how short! To waste remaining life in game is blasphemous!”

“Get out!” screamed Reg, taking a swing at Kroll. “Get out, you self-righteous prick!”

Kroll jumped back, instinctively assuming a defensive stance. “I go,” he snarled, fighting down the urge to attack, “but talk again soon! Player Disengage!”

#

“Go well, Commander?” asked the Psychologist, looking up from the game display.

Kroll sat up on the couch, unplugging the gamelink from his skull. “You watch same game I play? Shrakha! Not go well! Subject not listen to reason!”

The Psychologist growled resentfully. “Deal with alien psychology, Commander. Suggest different approach…” He paused, regarding the display as Lars Janssen dispatched a squad of Nazis with an Agency-issue pen-knife.

Kroll growled meaningfully.

The Psychologist started. “Apologies, Commander. Game very interesting. From psychological point-of-view.”

Kroll eyed the Psychologist suspiciously. Increasingly, there were times when his subordinates’ focus seemed to be slipping, and Kroll already had too much on his plate to worry about such things. Only that morning there had been two deaths amongst the crew due to ‘natural causes’, an increasingly-used euphemism for genetic collapse. “What your suggestion?”

“Well, Commander, instead of reason with subject, try compound frustration by intrude upon game.”

An evil grin slowly spread across Kroll’s face.

#

“By ze time ve haf finished viz you,” gloated the Torturer, “you vill beg to die! But first, you vill tell us everything!”

Tied to a chair, Lars squirmed in apparent discomfort, surreptitiously sliding the MiniLance from under a callus on his palm. “Had an extra bowl of Sadistic Bastard Flakes this morning, did we?” he croaked, furtively cutting through his bonds. “Well, you’ll get nothing from me, Nazi scum!”

The Torturer leaned over him, grinning. “Vant to bet?” he hissed, and was extremely surprised when Lars jammed the MiniLance up under his throat, cutting it from ear to ear.

The sentry by the door snapped into action as the Torturer fell, swinging his rifle around to cover Lars. Lars froze, knowing he had no chance to move before the sentry pulled the trigger –

K-chunk!

Lars smiled pleasantly. “Hi. Rifle jammed?”

“Oh, Scheisse,” muttered the Schütze, resignedly.

Biff! Crack! Snap!

Lars dusted his hands off. “Sorry to beat and run, fellas, but-”

“Boo!” said a voice in his ear. Reg shrieked. Kroll grinned maliciously. “How you derive pleasure from game? No challenge! Guard’s rifle jam at crucial moment? Kill entire squad with pen-knife?”

“They were… really bad shots. Look,” Reg snapped, “I’m not leaving, so bugger off – you’re interrupting my game!”

“No fun when reminded not real? Hardly worth staying…”

Reg folded his arms across his chest and glared at Kroll. “We both know you can’t just shut down the game, which is why you’re trying to get me to leave voluntarily. What you obviously fail to understand, however, is that I have absolutely no intention of leaving, and that I positively look forward to dying in here!”

Kroll’s smirk vanished. “Shrakha!” he screamed, practically foaming at the mouth. “Make mockery of Qandho! Remove you no matter how long it take, or what crew say-!” he paused, noting Reg’s expression. “What?”

“Your crew…” said Reg, slowly. “Patience obviously isn’t a virtue amongst the Arthrod, if your temper’s anything to go by. Warrior race, short fuse, stands to reason.” His eyes narrowed. “Qandho isn’t the real problem, is it? I’m going to die whatever I do, and I don’t think you’re such a religious zealot that you really believe it makes a difference whether I die in here or out there. No, I think what’s really got you stressed is that your crew is beginning to get aggressive about the effort you’re putting into retrieving me!”

Kroll’s pincers began to burn. “Not stand here, listen to such shrakha!” he snapped. “Player Disengage!”

Reg leaned back against the wall, pressing his fingers against the cool, smooth tiles. Not real.

Am I wrong? Is it wrong to stay here? To piss away my remaining existence in a computer-generated fantasy? I could be out there, doing something that impacts upon the real world. Something worthwhile. Hell, maybe there’s still a chance to reverse our sterility. Am I denying humanity that chance by staying here?

No. No hope. Even the AIs couldn’t help us.

Nonetheless, a real life. Do I need any justification to return to a real life? Wouldn’t a real life be its own reward?

But with the memory-suppressant on…

Reg smiled sadly.

#

“What go on here?” snarled Kroll, unplugging his gamelink.

“Commander?” The Psychologist’s expression was one of hatchling-like innocence, as the Functionary standing at his shoulder tried to sidle away unnoticed.

“Not play dumb! This restricted area!” Kroll glared at the Functionary. “See you here again, I tear to shreds! Get out!” The Functionary scuttled away.

The Psychologist assumed a defensive stance. “Apologies, Commander! Functionary ask to see game-”

Shrakha! Restricted access specifically to prevent exposure of crew to aggressive displays, prevent further violence! Think I make such decisions to amuse myself?” Kroll’s communicator bleeped. “Yes?”

“Security. Three more deaths, Commander. Due to injury.”

Kroll sensed trouble. “Accident?”

“No, Commander. Combat.”

“Report in to discuss!” Kroll eyed the Psychologist murderously. “This why we restrict access!”

The Psychologist shuffled nervously. “Permission to speak frankly, Commander…”

“Well?”

“Crew not stupid, Commander. Recognise danger of primal urges, capable of modifying behaviour accordingly. But with added stress caused by your rigid discipline and refusal to leave Earth…” the Psychologist trailed off. “Maybe best to… ease off?”

Kroll felt a cold rage bubbling up inside him. His claws burned. Kill! “Get out!” he gurgled, between bared fangs.

Growling nervously, the Psychologist backed out of the room.

Cannot even control own urges! The faces of long-dead friends and family flitted before Kroll’s eyes. Genetic diseases. Violence. Not me! Not my people! Will beat these things!

Cannot give up hope…

Trembling with fear and anger, Kroll turned, his attention wandering to the game display. Lars Janssen was trapped aboard a burning aircraft, plummeting towards a Nazi base as he struggled to put on his HovaChute. Three seconds to impact! Two! One-!

“Reporting, Commander.”

Kroll started as the Security Officer strode into the room. “Yes!” he snapped. ”What you do to prevent further violence?”

The Security Officer hesitated. “Awaiting orders, Commander.”

“So! You do nothing! Use initiative! Too busy to be bothered with such issues!”

“Yes, Commander.” The Security Officer glanced meaningfully at the game display.

Kroll’s claws itched. “Dismiss!” He turned to regard the display.

There was a pause.

Kroll turned back. “Yes?” he asked, coldly.

“Asked to pass message, Commander. Crew request immediate departure from Earth. Feel your indulgence of human subject wastes time.”

“Insolence!”

The Security Officer assumed a defensive stance. “Apologies, Commander, but such frustrations make harder to repress aggression. We pray, but…” he hesitated, “some say Qandho not enough.”

“Blasphemy!” screamed Kroll. “Qandho dictate we retrieve, so not leave until done!”

The two angry crustaceans eyeballed each other – an activity for which both were amply equipped. Eventually, the Security Officer bowed his head. “Understand, Commander.”

“Get out!”

Kroll’s claws continued to quiver long after the Security Officer had departed.

#

The creature standing on the far side of the Nazi combat pit was big, ugly, and had more sets of claws, teeth and spines than the entire menagerie of a masochists’ petting zoo. Lars had never seen one before, but there was a vivid description of this particular beastie in the ASNRA Handbook under ‘Things To Avoid’:

A Venusian Shanghorn.

“And me without a perigosto stick,” muttered Lars. He tensed, ready to move. Shanghorns were fast, powerful, aggressive, and – worst of all – smart enough to recognise their position at the top of the food-chain-

Without warning, the Shanghorn pounced. Lars took off around the perimeter of the pit with the beast in hot pursuit. His mind raced. According to the Handbook, Shanghorns had only one weakness; a major nerve centre located between the eyes, a blow to which – ideally using a three-metre-long perigosto stick – would induce instant paralysis. But Lars didn’t have a perigosto stick. He didn’t even have a pea-shooter. He glanced around desperately. Was there anything in the pit he could use as a weapon?

Nothing but hot sand, burning under his feet-

Hot sand? Heat? Perspiration? Lars glanced down at his sweat-soaked pants, and an idea came to him. Grabbing his waistband with both hands, he gave a mighty tug, tearing his trousers off. Gripping one of the leg cuffs, Lars rotated his wrist in a lassoing gesture, twisting the sodden pants into a heavy, rope-like length. He glanced back. The Shanghorn was almost upon him. Giving the trouser-rope one last twist, Lars stopped and spun around to face his pursuer. As the beast flew at him, Lars drew his hand back, then snapped it upwards, flicking the end of the rope directly between the Shanghorn’s eyes.

Thwack!

There was a pause. Then, with a moan, the Shanghorn toppled over and crashed to the ground.

The universe flickered.

“Leave game!” roared Kroll. “Not ask again! Not let you die! Not fail in my duty!”

Reg rubbed his brow wearily. “Look, for the last time, I am not leaving, so piss off!”

“Cannot do!” screamed Kroll. “Qandho not allow!”

“Qandho, Qandho, Qandho!” sneered Reg. “Stop hiding behind your faith, Kroll! The only thing stopping you from leaving me here is you! Can’t get the Earthling to crack, but too proud to let your subordinates see you fail, even though they don’t actually care if you succeed! In the end, the only thing that matters to you is that you’re the boss! Qandho is just a means of justifying your actions!”

Kroll hissed furiously. “Blasphemy! Tear you apart!”

“Go on, then!”

Kroll trembled, torn between instinct and religious directive. “Qandho not permit!”

“Yeah? Acquire Razor-Tipped Staff!” Reg lashed out with the weapon he suddenly held.

Kroll screamed as a pincer-tip fell to the sand, jetting black goo. Hormones surged. Reason gave way to primal rage. Shrieking maniacally, he attacked.

Standing his ground, Reg thrust the tip of his weapon forward, driving the blade deep into Kroll’s guts. Kroll bellowed and slammed a pincer down on the staff. Reg staggered back against the wall of the pit clutching a handful of woodchips, while Kroll tore the blade from his bleeding stomach. Tossing it aside, he drove a pincer into the wall either side of Reg, caging him. Reg sprang up into the air, executed a perfect summersault, and landed squarely on Kroll’s back. Kroll reared up, turning towards the centre of the pit, and bucked forwards. Before Reg could react, the buck became a roll, and Kroll tumbled head-first across the sand.

Crack!

Kroll sprang to his feet, spun around, and slammed his pincers down repeatedly upon the broken form lying on the ground, crushing bones, bursting organs. Eventually, the blood-lust faded. Panting, Kroll stepped back as his muscles relaxed. His mind began to clear…

What have I done?

“Why you force me to do this?” he asked, dully. “Belief we could suppress urges the only thing keep us going. If suppress instincts, perhaps can suppress genetic decay. But now…” Kroll sighed. “Word get around what I do, dictates of Qandho worthless. Without faith, aggression increase…”

Reg sat up, ruptured flesh knitting back together. “Felt good, though, didn’t it? The thrill of combat. Can’t be healthy, fighting those primal urges. You’re an angry species, Kroll. The instinct to fight is probably nature’s way of helping you let off steam so you don’t go completely psychotic.”

Kroll bowed his head. “And now nature condemn us. Sterility inevitably kill us, but aggression speed extinction…”

Reg shrugged regretfully. “Everybody dies, Kroll. You. Me. Humanity. Arthrod. You don’t get a choice there. But you can choose how you go out. Loosen up and enjoy whatever time you have left, or keep going through all the pointless little motions trying to halt the inevitable.” He gave Kroll an appraising look. “You know what I’m going to suggest, don’t you?”

Kroll nodded slowly. “Of course. But-”

“But? Give me one really good reason why not, Kroll.”

They sat in silence for a long time, while Kroll tried to think of one really good reason…

#

Lars sighed, and regarded his surroundings; the inside of the vast bunker, the legion of Nazi troopers aiming their rifles at his head, and the bizarre mechanical object standing in front of him. The thing was roughly the size and shape of a cantaloupe, four spider-like legs projecting from the lower hemisphere. The upper half was a clear, fluid-filled dome, in which floated a grisly lump of crenulated flesh.

“What’s this?” asked Lars. “Day-release for offal?”

“Insolence!” A buzzing voice emanated from the mechanism. “Ve must remove zat tongue of yours before you die!”

Lars raised an eyebrow. “Don’t recognise the voice, but the overacting’s familiar. Hottschtepper?”

“Yessss!” hissed the mechanism. “You haf destroyed my body, but my brain now controls zis MindenValker!”

“Glad to see you didn’t lose your looks.”

“Laugh vhile you may, Janssen! Zis time, zere is no escape!”

Lars shrugged. “If you say so…” He paused. “Oh, by the way, two things I should mention before you choke on your own smugness. Firstly, you really should get the optics on your MindenValker checked, because you obviously haven’t noticed that I’m holding a primed SunFlare.” He slowly held the object aloft. “I drop this, you can kiss your metal ass goodbye.”

Muttering, the troopers drew back. Hottschtepper fumed incoherently for a moment, then snapped: “And ze second thing?”

Lars smiled, as hundreds of massive, crablike things began to tear their way into the bunker, ripping effortlessly through the reinforced walls, squatting around the perimeter of the room. Waiting. The troopers covering Lars glanced over their shoulders and immediately lost interest in the agent, pointing their weapons in all directions, unsure of where to aim.

“Assume defensive positions!” screamed Hottschtepper.

The mob parted as one of the creatures strode towards Lars, regarding the agent amusedly. “Need hand?”

Lars grinned. “Hottschtepper, may I present Commodore Krotek, of the Arachnoid Empire?”

“Destroy zem!” screamed Hottschtepper. “Destroy zem all!”

Lars sighed. “You talk too much.” He touched a button on the base of the SunFlare, and the device morphed into something resembling a gun, and for the best possible reason. “Part of our new TransMuter range,” he explained, taking aim. “This one turns into a Sonic Disrupter.”

The Disrupter burped softly. Hottschtepper let out a single outraged squawk. Then his brain imploded.

A collective moan went up from the assembled Nazi forces.

“Hey!” yelled Lars. A thousand rifles swung around to cover him. The Arachnoids tensed. “I’ve got just one thing to say – LET’S KICK SOME NAZI ASS!

With a roar, the Arachnoids swept forward. Rifles blazed. Bloodied pincers rose and fell. Lars and Krotek stood surveying the chaos for a moment. Then a laser-blast parted the air between them.

“An agent’s job is never done!” Lars shouted above the din.

Krotek gestured invitingly. “Join party?”

“Why not?” Gripping his Disrupter tightly, Lars took a deep breath. “ALIEN SPACE NAZIS MUST DIE!” he yelled joyously, and he and Krotek leapt once more into the fray.

 

First published in Elsewhere,
GSFG Publishing, October 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Chuck McKenzie

Chuck McKenzie was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1970. After a graphic design course at Brighton Technical college he worked in numerous jobs, before he signed up for a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and literature at Deakin University, which he completed in 1993. He published the novel Worlds Apart, the collection Confessions of a Pod Person, short fiction and articles in various magazines and edited an anthology of Australian sf, fantasy and horror tales.

 

 

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