A Vyrian Incursion Story
by Lance Schonberg
Taran stayed asleep and I got the expected dirty looks as I walked in, but also a few of the isn’t-he-cute variety while I learned that there really is a magazine for everything. I tried to look like I might be interested in at least half of them while my mind churned with the tremendous lack of possibilities available to me.
No backup and no potential for it. No resources beyond what I carried, and that wasn’t much: a few toys, the gravchute and mesh, the goggles. I could fall safely another twenty or thirty stories, more with Taran’s chute, resist half a dozen simultaneous shots from stun guns, as long as none of them were to the head, see in the dark, shatter glass, cook an electronic lock or pick a manual one, confuse short range sensors for a few seconds, and maybe glue someone’s feet to the ground if my aim was good and they were close enough. How all of that translated into escape from a dozen pursuers, all bigger and faster and probably well trained, I couldn’t quite see, and the clock ran down fast to closing time.
Too fast. An announcement over the internal address system by some very young girl informed us all politely that the store would be closing in fifteen minutes and could we please bring any final purchases down to the registers, thank you. Translation: get out of the damn store, we want to go home. I’d love to, believe me.
After a tiny flurry of activity, the registers stopped and the few murmured voices in the racks around me dropped off, most of them in mid-sentence. A single set of footsteps echoed through the suddenly silent entrance level, heavy and long. I kept leafing through the magazine I’d just picked up, learning nothing about the intricacies of woodworking on a lathe. It didn’t surprise me at all when the footsteps came down my aisle. I sighed and shut the magazine, turning to face, well to look up to, the Vyrian delegated to negotiate. Taller than either of the two I’d met in the museum, and built like he could bench press half a ton for reps, a black body suit covered his frame neck to toe. While I couldn’t see any weapons, that didn’t mean he didn’t have any, but it didn’t seem likely he’d want the final showdown to happen inside the store.
He stopped far enough away that I didn’t have to crane my neck to make eye contact. A nice courtesy, but it didn’t help me relax at all. Neither of us spoke for what felt like a long time, long enough that my stress level actually started to drop. A deep breath, and I managed a smile. “The museum was a mistake.”
He shook his head. “No, I think it was an excellent strategy. We had no idea where you might have gone when you didn’t arrive at any of the anticipated backup locations after our initial… contact. Hiding in the open seems to work well in crowded human society. It was pure chance encountering two of my people in the museum, but truly unfortunate one of them recognized the child’s features.”
Recognized the child’s features. Innocuous words to confirm my subconscious conclusion. Somewhere, four or so years ago, someone had picked up a little bit of Vyrian DNA, or whatever they used for it, probably from shed skin cells, and you didn’t really need a big sample for a complete genetic coding. A whole lot of computer analysis and a bit of genetic tinkering later, the modified embryonic cell that would eventually become Taran went into a host mother or test tube or whatever they used for cloning. Taran was a Vyrian with a human skin tone, and probably a couple of other just-in-case modifications.
Which changed absolutely nothing. My job was still my job, and Taran was still under my protection. “I’ve had good luck hiding in plain sight in the past and keeping him cooped up wouldn’t make him very happy.” And I realized that wouldn’t have made me very happy.
He nodded, seeming to consider the words, but let them pass by. “You have been an unexpected opponent.”
“I think I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“It is how I meant the words.” He nodded, but I couldn’t get anything out of his expression. “As a courtesy, I felt it time to offer the advice that I think you are out of options at this time.”
Translation: the building exits are all covered and when the store closes I have nowhere to go. I more or less knew that already, but at least he was being honest and up front. I might even say honourable. He didn’t have the look of someone who’d come to gloat, if Vyrians gloated, so I had to wonder what kind of out he planned to offer me. The obvious would be that he took Taran and I walked away. Reversing the roles, it was probably the first offer I’d make, but it was also one I had no intention of taking. He must have guessed that, but I didn’t know remotely enough about Vyrian psychology to guess what he might be thinking, or anything, really, and assigning human motivations to his actions might be dangerous. “So where do we go from here?”
“That decision is yours in large part. We are outside, waiting. In a simple world, when the store closes, you could come out and meet us. The child departs with us. You remain.”
Sometimes I wondered if I read minds, or maybe the offer would be completely obvious to anyone. “Even in a simple world, that wouldn’t be my first choice.” It didn’t even make the top ten, a reference that wouldn’t make any sense to him, so I didn’t bother saying so.
He nodded. “I understand, but the child is Vyrian. He comes with me.”
I shook my head. “Sorry. He’s under my protection. He stays with me.”
“I sympathize with your desire to protect him, more than you may realize, but you must understand the futility of your position. Based on all available data and resources, this can only have one resolution.” His upper body tipped forward—a bow I supposed—then he turned for the front doors without looking back. “We will be waiting.” He had to hunch to squeeze through the revolving door, and when he stepped beyond the light, he fade into the darkness with an ease I had to admire, professionally at least.
The whispered conversations began immediately, and I wondered how or why so many people stayed in a bookstore so late. The staff probably had to kick people out every single night, but I felt like it was more crowded than it needed to be, at least on the first floor. The Tuesday late-night movie crowd stopping in on their way home, maybe, not that I cared. I needed some space and a little quiet. That was all that mattered at the moment.
I dropped the magazine back into its slot and went for the escalator, pushing past anyone who looked like they might want to say something without making eye contact. I’d waste far too much time flipped through magazines without anything to show for the delay. Now I had a couple of minutes to make things work, and no idea what to do.