By David L.
Mark Jacobs materialized in
the dark alley, stumbled hard, then had to twist 180
degrees to break his fall with his left buttock against
the side of an empty dumpster. It produced a low,
metallic booming sound and a throbbing pain in his left
"Damn it," he muttered under
his breath while rubbing his butt with his left hand, "I
really hate these rough landings."
Jacobs painfully regained
his footing, rose to his full six-foot-two-inch height
and paused, listening.
He heard only the usual
big-city night sounds – traffic noises, sirens, loud
neighbors and a rustling sound that might be a rat
sniffing around his worn trouser leg. He waited, but
nothing happened. In spite of his noisy entrance, he had
apparently arrived unnoticed.
Attempting to get
comfortable in the clinging heat, Jacobs shrugged his
broad shoulders inside his ill-fitting sports jacket and
pulled at the knit shirt, which was too tight in the
neck. He readjusted the canvas bag slung across his
body, the heavy object inside shifting with the motion.
Despite the arrival of
darkness some hours before, the semi-liquid garbage
overflowing several open drums had cooled only slightly,
making. the smell surrounding him not quite
overwhelming. In the low light from the street, rusty
fire escapes cast faint, skeleton-like shadows on the
cracked, overgrown pavement under his feet, becoming
more distinct as his eyes adjusted to the dark.
Jacobs was starting to
wonder what he was doing there when a breath of wind
caressed his face, cool in the stifling heat. Next a
greenish glow appeared from behind a jumble of crates,
as if someone had cracked a door. Jacobs was out of
direct line-of-sight, but a momentary blocking of the
light by a large shadow told him that someone or
something had slipped through the portal and into the
Then he heard a faint
rustling sound in front of him, like wind-blown leaves
on an autumn day. The hairs on the back of Jacobs’ neck
began to rise. He couldn’t smell it yet, but he knew
what it was, what had arrived.
No wonder they transported
me here, Jacobs thought to himself. This thing has to be
The Company calls
them fugitives, never mind their real name. They are
outlaw predators of the worst kind, alien and ruthless,
and we are the prey.
They want to pass for human,
these fugitives from… not ours but an alternate,
non-parallel space-time, but they can’t, not close up.
It's the smell. You've never smelled anything like it,
but if you ever do, you won’t like it. And if you are
ever so unlucky as to touch one, your hand comes away
Jacobs decided to get it
over with. Grabbing the strap with his right hand, he
moved the canvas bag to a more out-of-the-way position
over his right buttock and stepped from the shadows into
the center of the alley, becoming plainly visible in the
unnatural, green glow.
Jacobs could see it now,
silhouetted in the glare of the open portal. It was a
fugitive alright. It was as big as a large man, with
comparable reach and strength, but it massed less. The
fugitive stopped, startled. It hadn’t counted on being
discovered so soon. A low, guttural sound issued from
somewhere inside it, and the thing began to move toward
him. Scrawny hands like dried twigs compulsively reached
towards Jacobs’ face. Jacobs stood fast.
Sensing easy prey, the
fugitive lunged. At the last moment, Jacobs blocked the
grasping hands with his right arm, half turned to the
right, and stepped out of the way with a fluid
Aikido-like martial-arts move. As it brushed past,
Jacobs, still turning, grabbed a greasy handful of arm
with his right hand, extended his arm to take its
balance and karate chopped the fugitive in the back of
its head with his left. They were vulnerable there, like
humans. It spasmed once and collapsed in a heap at his
feet. It seemed to shrink into itself at first, then
started to liquefy, the smell turning to something like
day-old urine as decomposition continued.
Blends right in, thought
Jacobs, no one will notice a thing.
Jacobs wiped his greasy
right hand on his pants leg, paused, then straightened
up. He thought he had heard something. The fugitive he
had just killed hadn’t made that sound. It was busy
draining into the sewer. The new sound was… behind him.
It was the rustling again. It was a trap.
The voice from behind him
was a hoarse whisper, not recognizably human, but
clearly audible in the sudden silence. "Jacobs, you
whore spawn. I saw you dead!"
Jacobs whirled around.
Before he could get out of the way, the fugitive hit
Jacobs with stunning force, dropping him to his knees
and knocking the wind out of him. This one was
different. It was super strong and knew Jacobs by name.
Gasping for breath, Jacobs reached up, grabbing coarse,
cloth-like material on either side of the greasy torso.
He pulled with the right hand, pushed with the left
while pivoting to the right on his left knee, taking its
balance. It went crashing down to the pavement with a
flailing of appendages. Moving quickly, Jacobs half rose
and planted his right knee in the middle of the
fugitive’s chest. He felt more than heard the thing
crunch as it gave under his weight.
Jacobs straddled the body,
pinning the thing’s shoulders to the pavement with his
"You did see me dead," he
growled through the pain in his ribs. "They brought me
back… to finish off trash like you."
Jacobs sensed rather than
saw surprise in the thing’s face, then something else –
rage. It broke an arm free, shoved it against Jacobs’s
throat and pushed, making him gag. Jacobs was forced
back, then scraped against a rough brick wall that tore
at the clothes on his back.
"I’m… not… finished… yet."
Shifting his grip to Jacobs’ arms, the fugitive slammed
Jacobs against the wall again and again in time with his
words. During the struggle, Jacobs felt the canvas bag
brush his hand. What he needed to kill the fugitive was
in the bag – if only he could reach it. He pushed back
hard with both hands, broke his right hand free and
plunged it into the bag. He could feel the weapon:
smooth, but with bumps for gripping, cool and hard, and
perfectly balanced. Non-human technology? Most
certainly. Only appearing to be in this universe while
really existing in another? Probably. Grasping it,
Jacobs felt strength pour out of it into his body, as if
a power switch had been turned on.
Shoving hard, he wrestled
the fugitive to the ground, pinned it by its throat with
his left hand, drew his right hand out of the bag and
raised it over his head. Almost invisible in the green
glow of the portal, a blue aura appeared around Jacobs'
clinched hand, accompanied by a faint crackling sound.
He plunged the now-activated weapon into the thing’s
chest, encountering surprising little resistance. It
jerked once, then was still. Jacobs thought he heard a
faint gurgling sound as he withdrew his right hand,
still holding the weapon, and let go of the thing’s neck
with his left.
The fugitive deflated like a
punctured air cushion. Jacobs pushed himself to his feet
using his left hand. His right hand dripped putrid goo,
appearing black in the green light. Jacobs opened the
bag with his left hand, thrust the right hand in it and
tried to wipe off the mess. In the process, the weapon
slipped out of his hand and dropped to the bottom of the
bag. Jacobs staggered backwards as the superhuman
strength melted away, leaving him drained and limp.
Jacobs looked up as the
green glow dimmed, then went out, leaving a faint
afterimage that he tried to blink away. The portal had
closed. The alley was dark again; normalcy was restored,
at least for now.
Jacobs turned away from the
scene, trying to catch his breath. He took a step,
paused. He was a mess. His clothes were torn. His right
arm halfway to his elbow was covered with goo, and he
smelled like an incontinent homeless man who hadn't
showered in a month. He needed to clean up in the worst
The fact was he had no ID
and no money. This was Standard Operating Procedure for
a mission. His trouser packets were empty, and the knit
shirt had no pocket at all. Even the canvas bag was
empty with the exception of the now inert alien gizmo.
After a last look around,
Jacobs walked out of the alley toward the nearest
streetlight, stopping just outside the circle of light
to stand while he took stock. He didn't want to attract
attention. Fortunately, there wasn't much foot traffic
at this hour. At his back was a convenient doorway, dark
enough to keep him out of sight if someone started
taking too much of an interest. The good news was that
the garbage smell and the lingering heat were left
behind in the alley. Out in the open, he even felt a
Lacking a better idea, he
started walking. It was less conspicuous than standing
around. At least the shoes fit, unlike the shirt and
Wait a minute, he thought as
he continued walking down the street. He felt something
in the right side pocket of the sports jacket. He
reached his hand in and fingered it without removing it
from his pocket. The characteristic diamond shape of the
plastic tag and the key shape of the metal told him it
was a hotel room key. He stopped at the next streetlight
and pulled his hand out of his pocket. He peered down at
what he held in his hand. It was a key alright. He read
the hotel name and address in gold lettering on the
maroon tag. He looked up and saw a red neon sign down
the street. It had several letters burned out and
several others flickered, but he could make out the
name. It was the same. He had a key to a room in a hotel
less than two blocks away! At the corner, he swung the
canvas bag out of the way and looked down both sides of
the street. The street was deserted. He stepped off the
Jacobs hadn't gone half a
block when he passed another alley. A blue flash
reflected in a storefront widow caught his eye. A thump
and the sound of falling debris indicated something
large and clumsy was in there, probably a drunk. He kept
going. Then Jacobs heard a sound that made him stop in
his tracks – the distinctive Plop! sound of a
human body materializing and instantaneously displacing
an equal volume of air. No other sound was quite like
it. Curious, Jacobs quietly retraced his steps and took
a careful peek into the alley. What he saw astonished
him. Illuminated by a blue glow from the end of the
alley, a slim, above average height woman dressed in
military-style fatigues was confronting two wolf-like
creatures that stood on their hind legs like men. The
low, menacing growls indicated this was no friendly
encounter. Jacobs slowly crept into the alley to get a
better view. He moved as quietly as he could, but a
slight noise gave him away. Both creatures turned toward
the sound. The long-legged woman took advantage of the
momentary distraction and attacked the closer of the two
creatures. A stunning roundhouse kick to the left side
of the head dropped the one, but the other, sensing an
opening, attacked her with razor-sharp claws, raking the
woman diagonally, high across her back. She cried out in
surprise and pain. Turning her full attention to the
threat, she used a karate kick between the legs to take
him down, then delivered a blindingly fast one-two punch
to the midsection for good measure.
The first creature, shaking
its head to clear it, had already retreated behind a
large crate and disappeared into the blue glow. The
second followed him, limping badly. The blue glow
vanished as the portal closed behind the departing
The woman relaxed from her
defensive crouch and turned, looking for the source of
the distraction that had helped her turn the tables on
Jacobs stepped into a patch
of light from the street. He stood still, with his hands
open and relaxed at his side. He was silhouetted in the
light and hoped to appear non-threatening until her
adrenaline rush subsided. He really didn't want to fight
her. Breathing hard, she nailed him with a cold stare
that was clearly visible in the light from the street.
"Are you part of that?" she
said, low and threatening, motioning over her shoulder
with her head.
"No," Jacobs answered
softly. "I was just passing by, saw the blue flash and
heard you materialize."
"The hell you say." Jacobs
had no answer for that, but he could tell from her face
that she was surprised that he knew how she had arrived.
Jacobs had a bunch of
questions about what he had just seen, but he decided to
go for an obvious statement of fact instead. "You're
"I'm OK," she replied,
rather defensively he thought, but Jacobs wasn't
convinced. He had seen blood welling out of the wounds
on her back
"You’re bleeding, and if
those slashes across your back are infected with alien
bugs, then you aren't OK."
"You're right," she said,
"they probably are infected. In a few minutes, they are
going to hurt like a son of a bitch, but I have a salve
that will take care of the infection, and the pain. I
just need to clean the wounds and put the salve on."
"Well," observed Jacobs, not
without irony, "unless you're a contortionist in
addition to being a martial artist, you're not going to
be able to put that salve on yourself."
Who is this guy and how does
he know where I came from? she thought, but her face
"And you, kind person that
you are, would be willing to help me?" she said
suspiciously. In spite of himself, Jacobs started to
"Look, I have a room in that
hotel over there," he pointed toward the broken sign,
"I'll dress your wounds, and you're welcome to clean up
if you want."
Every instinct told her this
was a bad idea, but perhaps the shock from her wounds
and the alien infection were already affecting her
judgment. She resigned herself to letting him help her.
To Jacobs she seemed to sag into herself. Her reply was
quieter this time. "You're right. I can't take care of
this myself. I'll be lucky to make it to your hotel
"That settles it then. Let's
go." Jacobs turned to leave the alley. After a few
steps, he had to stop and wait for her to catch up. She
was already getting weaker.
"What were those things?" he
said, trying to engage her attention. "They looked like
wolves, but they stood on two legs like men."
"They're not wolves. They
don't belong here, but their ecological niche is under
pressure. They come here every chance they get, though
it is unusual for them to appear in urban areas. Most of
the portals they can use are located in the wilderness."
"But you stopped them."
"Those two were lucky.
Usually we kill them when they try to slip through."
"Alien Animal Control. Well,
alien lifeform control. Sometimes we don’t know what
"Don't people notice they
aren't from here?"
"They would if they
dissected one, but who bothers to dissect a dead wolf in
The claw wounds were
serious. Every step she took made her weaker. She was
visibly weaving as they walked. Jacobs put his arm
around her waist and swayed in unison with her. To
anyone who bothered to look, they appeared to be a drunk
couple trying to make it back to their hotel.
"Hang on, we're almost
there," he whispered, trying to be encouraging. He only
received a weak grunt in reply. He tried to hurry.
By the time they reached the
hotel, she was almost all in. Jacobs shifted his
position to take more of her weight. They entered the
dimly lit lobby and headed for the elevator opposite the
front door. The desk clerk didn't even look up from the
The elevator opened into a
corridor that smelled of stale cigarette smoke, cheap
wine and hopelessness. A long walk down the corridor and
they were facing the room door. Jacobs shifted her
weight against him, dug the room key out of his pocket
and slid it into the lock. He prayed that it would be
better inside and turned the key. The door opened into a
small room overlooking the street. A double bed, desk
and chair were crammed into a woefully small space,
leaving hardly enough room for two people to stand up.
The bathroom was visible through an open door to the
right. An ancient air conditioning unit sat in the
window, clicking and groaning to itself. The cool breeze
it produced felt good after the stuffy corridor. The
room was surprisingly clean. Jacobs eased her onto the
bed, resting a hand on her shoulder to keep her upright
while he leaned over to close the door. He let out a
sigh of relief.
This is better than I hoped,
he thought and turned toward her. "What’s your name?"
"Jo," she answered. Her
reply was almost inaudible.
"Jo," he said firmly, "take
off your shirt."
"What?" she said. "What do
you mean, take off my shirt." She managed to sound
indignant, even in her condition.
"Take off your shirt, and
give me that salve you were talking about. I need to
take care of those scratches."
On autopilot now, she
crossed her arms, grabbed her shirt at the waist with
both hands and painfully raised her arms over her head.
The ripped and bloody shirt slowly peeled off her body,
revealing muscular arms and shoulders and her black
sports bra, also torn. Other than her wounds, she was
obviously in very good physical condition. Jacobs knew
from what he saw her do in the alley that whatever other
training she had had, she was certainly proficient in
Karate. She handed him a tube she took from a pouch
attached to her belt.
With the shirt off, Jacobs
could see the damage clearly. Three angry gouges slanted
across her upper back. The infection was far advanced,
with red streaks radiating away from the wounds. Working
carefully, Jacobs washed out the wounds with soap and
water from the bathroom and then began to apply the
salve she had given him. Although it came in an
ordinary-looking tube, when he applied it to her skin,
it was anything but ordinary. In the dim light of the
room, the bead he squeezed from the tube began to glow
where it touched the infected wounds.
"Have you used this stuff
before?" he asked.
"What?" She turned slightly
"Don't move! You'll mess up
my aim. I wanted to know if you ever used this stuff
"Yeah, I have. It takes a
little getting used to...."
"I'll say," Jacob s muttered
to himself. As he watched, the glow slowly faded, and so
did the redness and swelling.
"Is the glow fading?" she
"It'll be fine now. Just put
a dressing on it. Here." She pulled a plastic packet out
of one of her military-style pants pockets and gave it
"I don't mean to be nosy,
but are you carrying anything else as spectacular as
She sighed – a very
endearing sigh, he thought.
"No, most of my other
equipment is pretty ordinary. Sometimes I'm on a mission
for days at a time, so I carry dehydrated food, a first
aid kit, compass, and fire-making materials – plus
whatever specialized tools or weapons I need to carry
out the mission."
"Do you ever wonder where
this stuff comes from?" he asked.
"Are you kidding me?" she
answered. "Do you think materializing a human body in an
alley in the middle of the night is something they teach
in college physics?"
She had him there. He looked
critically at the fresh dressing and pronounced it
"You’ll live," he said. She
managed a weak smile.
"Thanks," she said and then
wrinkled her nose. "What’s that smell?"
"That’s the reason we're
here. The whole idea of the hotel room was so I could
clean up before pick-up."
"Whoops. I guess I threw a
monkey wrench into those plans."
"Not really. You appear to
be stable now. It won’t take me a minute to clean up."
Jacobs squeezed past her
knees on the way to the bathroom. Five minutes later he
was out again and feeling a lot cleaner. Now he was
wearing only the knit shirt on top and carrying the
ragged sports jacket folded neatly across his arm.
Even after such a short
time, Jo was looking a lot perkier. This time he could
see her from the front. He noted in a detached,
unemotional way that her well-proportioned breasts were
adequately restrained by her sports bra, even though it
had been damaged by the attack. Her nipples made demure
little bumps against the stretched fabric. But as he
eased past her, his eyes were drawn to her cleavage. He
had no explanation other than reflex because the view
produced no reaction.
"You're looking a lot
better," he said, hoping she hadn't noticed where he was
"Yeah, thanks to you," she
said. Her voice was more relaxed, and he thought he
detected a fleeting smile as she spoke. Even with the
infection gone, she was still very tired.
"Have you given any thought
to your wardrobe?" Jacobs asked, "I don't think you're
going to be able to go out the way you are."
"I'll put the shirt back on.
At least from the front I'll look normal." She sounded
hopeful, but Jacobs wasn't buying it.
"I don't think that's going
to work, but I've got an idea. I'm not going to need the
sports jacket. It's too small for me, and I think it
might fit you well enough to pass muster in the dark."
She frowned. "I'm grateful,
but why won't you be needing it?"
"I'm not leaving this room.
They're going to retrieve me from here. You, on the
other hand, are out of your area. You aren't supposed to
be here at all."
"You're right, of course,"
she said, "I have to be in my pick-up zone before dawn.
I can't risk being seen during daylight. Thanks for the
Jacobs had taken the sports
jacket off while he was cleaning up in the bathroom. The
right sleeve near the cuff was soiled from the goo, and
the back was frayed and abraded from his encounter with
the brick wall. He couldn't do anything about the smell.
Maybe she would get used to it. He grabbed it under the
fold with his right hand and gave it to her. She took
it, stood up and tried it on. It hung loose on her, but
the shirt would help bulk her up some. She quickly took
it off and laid it on the bed.
"I want to thank you for
helping me," she said and reached out to touch his bare
arm. Too late Jacobs released what she was trying to do
and jerked his arm back. Unfortunately he wasn't fast
enough. When she touched his bare arm, her face
registered surprise, then all the color drained from her
face. She instantly pulled back her hand.
"What the hell?!" she
exclaimed. "What are you?" She had expected the warmth
of a human being. Instead, his skin was cool and
distinctly un-human feeling to the touch.
"Wait! I can explain."
Jacobs raised both hands in a stopping gesture. She, on
the other hand, panicking, leapt off the bed and stood
with her back to the wall. To increase the distance
between them, she slid sideways along the wall until the
only empty corner in the room stopped her. She assumed a
"Explain?" Her eyes were
wide with fear, and her voice increased in pitch.
"Explain why you don't feel human?"
"I used to be," Jacobs
pleaded. "You have to believe me. The people I work for
brought me back from the dead to complete my mission."
"Back from the dead? You
expect me to believe that? I may be wounded, but I'm not
She had him there.
"Well, I admit it does sound
is hardly the word I would use."
"Well, OK, but if you'll
listen for a minute, I'll try to explain."
Jo didn't say anything, but
she did seem to relax her stance a little. Jacobs took a
deep breath and began.
"I wasn't just passing by. I
materialized in an alley like you did. I killed two
fugitives that tried to ambush me. We call them that,
never mind what they're really called; they needed
killing. Anyway, afterward I was a mess. I found the
hotel key in my pocket, and I was on the way here to
clean up when I saw you fighting those wolf things."
"That all sounds plausible,
considering where I came from, but you left out the most
important point – why you aren't human."
"I'm one of a group of
mercenaries for a race of aliens that are fighting the
fugitives. We've been fighting the fugitives a long
time. We fight them when they come to Earth and other
places too. They aren't even from this universe, that's
how alien they are. Because we do all the fighting, the
aliens we work for can claim that they aren't involved.
Everyone knows what's really going on, of course. The
pay, cool toys and the alien technology that we use make
the job worthwhile."
"During a raid into the
Fugitive universe, my strike team was hit, and I was
killed. My bosses could not afford to lose me, so, using
their technology, they brought me back to life, sort of.
I don't know how they did it, but the fact that I am
here proves that they can. Now I'm stuck between life
and death, alive when they want me to go on a mission,
in stasis somewhere when they don't need me."
Jacobs expected disbelief,
but the look on her face was more like – sympathy.
Incredible as it sounded, she did believe his story, and
as much as it didn't affect him emotionally, it affected
Jo became quiet, trying to
put what Jacobs was telling her into context. Her career
in Alien Animal Control, the thing she had devoted her
whole life to, paled in comparison to what Jacobs had
described. Particularly troublesome was the fact that
his career hadn't ended with his death. Apparently, when
necessary, a dead agent could be brought back to life in
order to complete his mission.
Jo seldom thought of
retiring, never thought of being killed in the line of
duty, but being brought back from the dead seemed
particularly monstrous. Still, it fascinated her.
"So what's it like, being
dead?" The question was only partly facetious. She
dreaded what he might say, but knew she had to ask.
"I'm only conscious when I'm
on a mission. As a result, my sense of time is
completely disjointed. I have all my memories, but I'm
totally detached. I have no emotions at all, just the
drive to do what has to be done.
A thought occurred to her.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Maybe I thought I owed you
an explanation. It doesn't matter. Besides, who would
you tell? I don't think this is something you'll want to
discuss in your debriefing."
Jo shook her head. "No, it
Jacobs changed the subject.
"Come on now. Let's get you dressed. I'm going to be
gone in a few minutes, and you have to get to your
Jacobs helped her get
dressed – not having any emotions helped with that – by
carefully pulling her torn shirt down over the dressing
and then helping her on with the sports jacket.
He looked her over
"There," he announced, "good
as new." She forced a smile.
"Got the key?"
She put her hand in the
right-hand jacket pocket. The key was there. She nodded
"If this were a movie, I
would start to shimmer and then disappear, right on
Jo couldn't suppress a grin.
"I hate to disappoint you, but you still look solid to
Jacobs looked disappointed.
"So they're late. Wouldn't be the first time."
"According to you, when you
leave here, you cease to exist, so what's the hurry?"
"Have you looked out the
window lately?" Jo stole a glance at the unobstructed
part of the window above the air conditioner, frowned
"What time is it?"
"You know I' m the wrong
person to ask that question."
"It doesn't matter. You're
right; I have to go."
Something in her expression
made him ask, "Are you OK?"
"I'm sorry," she started, "I
didn't understand." Jacobs could see something like pity
in her eyes. She looked away, unable to face him. When
she looked back, she had tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said again
and shook her head. Jacobs looked at her and said
She tried again. "Look, take
care of yourself."
"I don't have a choice. You
be careful too…."
As he spoke, Jacobs began to
appear fuzzy around the edges. Jo reached out to touch
him, but in another instant he shimmered, faded and was
"I will," she said, but it
was too late.
There was no longer any
reason to stay. Jo took the hotel key out of her pocket,
laid it on the desk, walked to the door and opened it.
She turned and took a last look around the hotel room
before stepping into the hall and closing the door.
"Damn!" she whispered
quietly to herself.
What Jacobs told her about
himself shook her to her core. Some of the animals she
had taken down were at least as gross as what Jacobs had
killed, judging from the smell. That wasn't what shook
her. No, it was being brought back from the dead by an
alien to complete some mission. That was the scariest
thing of all. She swore to herself that would never
happen to her.
She looked down. Her hand
was still on the doorknob. She let go of the knob,
turned toward the elevator at the far end of the
corridor and started walking. But she wasn't going to
the pick-up zone. Not just yet. She had some heavy
thinking to do.