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“They sure made a mess of things,” Ward said. “Watch your step, Ellie.”

What else did he expect an old woman to do? He was about twenty feet ahead of me, working his way through the rubble the saucer had left in its wake as it tore through Carlsbad’s main entrance and into the Bat Cave. No one is allowed in here anymore, not since we discovered the only known colony of bloodsucking Desmodus siccus roosting in here five years ago. At least we finally had an answer for all the livestock that were being left drained dry. No one wants to be around those bats, especially me. I hoped my repulsor’s charge would last – I wouldn’t want to be arrested for killing an endangered species in self-defense.

Millennia of geologic growth destroyed in an instant, but no matter – I was still glad Albuquerque brought the damn saucer down. The Hellions knew how to EMP our guidance electronics to death, but it looked like the devils didn’t have any of the exotic shielding the sci-fi nerds predicted; our boys took it out with a museum-grade anti-aircraft piece out of the National Guard armory.

The rocks underfoot got wobbly; I slipped and had to use my rifle to keep from falling. I checked for scrapes, and counted myself lucky not to have any – one pinprick of blood on me and the repulsor would be useless against those bats. I did my best to keep up with Ward, but he was as nimble as a Barbary sheep compared to me. We were only park rangers, but someone needed to get out there and make sure the Hellions couldn’t get their damn saucer airborne again.

“Keep up, Ellie!” Ward shouted over his shoulder.

“Easy for you to say.”

When our moon base went silent, we assumed the Russians had finally gotten past our defenses, so we nuked their colony. Monitoring satellites were exchanged next, so that when Kiev went up, there was no sure way of telling where the warheads had come from. It gave the Russians pause – they hadn’t believed that we would do such a thing, especially to a city they had invaded – America hadn’t engaged in collateral warfare in quite some time. In the end, the Russians opted for caution. And Chicago. This was followed by a flurry of mutual retaliation, and any peace-threatening lull was ended abruptly by a surprise (well, not so much) annihilation of another population center.

Jeff over at Homeland says that by the time the alien Hellions showed themselves they had us so pre-occupied with fighting each other, we didn’t pay their half-dozen saucers much attention. Six flying objects don’t get your attention when you’ve been dealing with thousands.

Then their leader broadcast his ridiculous “I am Mephisto!” video, looking every bit like an old movie-style Satan and promising us fire and brimstone. They could have finished us off from orbit, but chose to complete our extermination up close and personal, and that was where they miscalculated. Not only did their blatant trespass trigger our territorial nature and give humanity something to rally against, but they also put themselves in range of our inferior but effective weapons.

“There it is,” Ward called out.

He had his flashlight trained on the back wall, and the chrome saucer reflected the beam around what was left of the cave, scattering it in the dust that still hung in the air. The ship was smaller than I’d expected – probably could have hidden it behind two Greyhound busses.

Ward was fifty feet ahead of me by then and still moving forward, making a beeline for a break in the saucer’s surface.

“Hold up, kid!” I called out. “You don’t need to go in there.”

Hell, they were wedged in pretty good, and I doubted they could take off. We should have just watched and reported back in, but Ward was in too much of a hurry to pay attention. He reached the gap and disappeared inside. I don’t care how old they get – kids never listen.

I couldn’t let him go in there by himself, now, could I? I eased my way way to the crack in the saucer.

“Ward?” I whispered. “Can you hear me?” But there was no sound other than the sound of tumbling rock as things continued to settle around the saucer.

“Dang fool,” I muttered. I put my walkie up to my mouth and pushed talk. “You there, Ward?”

He wasn’t answering, but then where else could he be? I pulled myself up into the breach.

The saucer had hit at a twenty-or-so degree angle, and I was at the high end, so once I was inside the going down would have been somewhat compulsory if not for the nautilus shell maze of internal walls. Ward had left some muddy tracks on the otherwise pristine silver metal leading off to the right, so that’s where I went, too. Of course, I wished I hadn’t when I found Ward’s head just outside the central chamber. I probably needn’t have gone further in, but there was a part of me that didn’t feel right about leaving any part of Ward behind. And there was also that voice.

“Let’s you and I have a talk,” it said, in rich, smooth, basso profondo tones.

I knew that voice, and so did the rest of the planet. Mephisto – the self-proclaimed leader of the Hellions. I held my rifle at the ready and stepped in, and there he was, all nine foot of him, standing only thirty feet upslope from me. Somehow, the ram-horned look didn’t seem so ridiculous this close up. He hadn’t looked as red in the videos, but judging from the bloody puddle around Wade’s crumpled, headless body beside me, I had a pretty good idea where some of Mephisto’s extra color had come from.

“That was not my fault,” Mephisto shrugged. “Your friend wasn’t willing to talk.”

“Don’t see what there was to talk about.”

“Come now, are we not all civilized here?” Mephisto smiled. “Allow me to introduce my companion, Diablo.”

It’s crazy to think I could miss that there was another monstrosity in the room, but there was, albeit sitting back against a bulkhead, his chest shaking with shallow, ragged breaths around a spar protruding through it.

“Fitting name,” I observed. “He doesn’t look to be doing too well.”

“This was not the outcome I predicted,” Mephisto sighed. “We have studied you for ages – mapped out all your weaknesses.”

“It looks like you should have paid more attention to our strengths.”

“Even your ants could take us down if there were enough…,” Mephisto paused in his proclamation as though listening to something I couldn’t hear. “Well, it would seem that we have further underestimated you insects; you have destroyed the remainder of our fleet. Only Diablo and I remain.”

“Insects? I’d be careful who you’re…,” I began.

With unexpected speed, Mephisto retrieved a glaive that had been hidden alongside the bulkhead. Even before I could force my rifle up to take a desperate aim at his chest, he swung the blade around and in one clean motion sliced through Diablo’s neck, then released the weapon to clatter to the floor. His comrade’s head bounced downhill, until it rested against the wall with what was left of Ward.

“And then there was only one,” Mephisto said.

I kept my rifle aimed at him as his voice reverberated through the ship.

“I know your prohibitions against genocide,” Mephisto said with a smile. “Now you cannot kill me. I am the last of my kind.”

He would have been worth some study by our biologists, but they weren’t going to be happy with me; I found the amount of Ward’s blood Mephisto was wearing a deal-breaker. And I could hear a sound like a swirling wind circulating behind me in the outer chambers. I double-checked my repulsor to make sure it was still powered, and stepped as far away from the opening and Ward’s body as I could, just in time for the lead bats to fly into the chamber.

Some settled on Ward – but there was nothing I could do about them. Many more Desmodus siccus smelled the larger target in the room and swarmed to Mephisto.

“Get them off me!” Mephisto screamed, trying to squeeze himself into a corner to avoid the onslaught of teeth and claws.. “Kill the vermin!”

“You’re on your own,” I shouted over the shrieking hiss of a thousand wings.

I backed into my own corner and watched as he was smothered in a hideous, furry blanket of bats, his bellows muffled as he crumpled under their feeding frenzy and finally became still.

“They’re on my endangered list,” I said. “You’re not.”


You can connect with William Mangieri, see the full list of his works, his writing blog, and links to his current promotions on his WordPress writing page at https://williammangieri.wordpress.com/    

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