The interior of Saint Andrew’s was that special kind of dark that happened on overcast days when the sun was near the horizon. Lieutenant Leach often surmised it was darker than night, if that were even possible. The bite in the crisp air reminded him of the minutes before a storm, even though he was positive there was no chance of rain. His party’s stark artificial lights flashed back and forth as the team worked in a two by two formation to clear the facility.
“What have you got, able crewman?”
“Life signs in the vicinity, sir. Can’t lock their location,” Tooley replied.
“Probably some level of lead in the stone used to build this place,” Able Crewman Robinett replied. “Could be responsible for the interference.”
“What about structure?” Leach replied, playing his handheld torch across the ceiling. The rotted straw and wood framing looked worn. There was nothing remarkable about the larger rooms. The furniture was gone, which the lieutenant thought was odd. Otherwise, the place looked and felt abandoned.
“There’s a basement roughly half the square footage of the main level. Living quarters are located on the second floor bearing one one six.”
The team moved slowly up a narrow passage towards an open window. The curtains looked as if they had been dipped in mud.
“Life reading,” Tooley said quietly. “Clean signal. Bearing three two five. Fifteen yards.”
Leach raised his blaster and pointed the torch with his off-hand. The squad moved as one up the hall to an open doorway leading to a side chamber. The lieutenant leaned forward. The girl was maybe fourteen years of age. Harmless, except for the fact she was pointing a Sarn disruptor pistol at Leach.
Tooley moved to the edge of the doorway behind the lieutenant and ran a fast biometric analysis on the girl. Leach held his hands up and stepped into the room.
“We’re not going to hurt you. I promise.”
The girl’s hand trembled. “You stay back! I’ve seen flintlocks! I know what they can do!” Her hair and clothing made it look like she had been roaming the village for days. Leach wasn’t a doctor, but he guessed she was malnourished. She had definitely been wearing the same clothes for a while.
“You’re right. It would do a lot of damage. But you don’t need to worry, because we’re here to protect you. Now why don’t you hand me that pistol and let’s find you some water and something to eat.” Leach did his best to keep his voice steady and reassuring. The girls’ eyes told the story. The recent days of her life had likely been nothing short of catastrophic. It was something the lieutenant and all the other officers leading landing parties had been expecting. Nobody knew for sure what the Denominator had done or said to these people, and it was a foregone conclusion none of them were prepared for the technology he had brought with him. Hell, the Skywatch crews pursuing him weren’t prepared.
There were so many unanswered questions. It was Leach’s job, however, to make sure the answer to this question didn’t result in dead crew members or civilians. He held his hand out. Moments earlier, he had done a magnificent job of slipping his own weapon under his tunic without anyone noticing. He smiled.
“Come on. We’re here to help.”
The girl’s eyes darted back and forth between the lieutenant and the three crewmen behind him in the doorway. It seemed like Leach’s words had an effect, because the tenseness in the girl’s shoulders subsided. The weight of the gun she was holding rapidly overcame her strength. The weapon dangled in her grasp for an instant before Leach slid his fingers around it and expertly set the safeties. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it had been set on maximum power. One shot would have turned the southwest corner of the church into a two million degree cloud of protoplasm and debris.
While two of Leach’s squad members broke out some water and food for the girl, the lieutenant and ACFC Tooley performed an analysis of the room. It was the only room so far they had found furnished, which was enough to raise the antennas of the landing party by itself. The presence of a disruptor pistol and more importantly, a Sarn disruptor pistol, was more than enough to set Leach on high alert.
“It’s not a mock-up, sir. That weapon is charged and active.”
“Where did she get it? Did Hunter’s fugitive run through here passing out alien weaponry?”
“Unknown, but if the population of this village has access to our level of technology, we better be prepared for something other than wooden furniture and metal plates.”
“Agreed. Run a standard sweep on this thing. If there’s anything unusual about it, and especially if there is anything that tells me where it came from, I want to know about it. Robinett, I want a medical scan of the girl. Make sure she’s healthy enough to travel and find her some shoes. We’re scheduled to check-in with the Sai Kee in a few minutes.”
“Aye, lieutenant,” Robinett replied.
“Anything between here and the exit I should know about?”
“Negative, sir. No contacts within three hundred yards.”
“When you’ve completed your analysis report to me in the main hall.” Leach leaned out into the narrow corridor to make sure there wasn’t a squad of Sarn blood guards marching towards him, then he slipped out and started towards what he surmised was the church’s dining room. He was drawing on his admittedly rusty knowledge of history to guide his curiosity. They still hadn’t found the sanctuary or any of the other areas recognizable as “church” to a layman, but there was something about the large room they had just left that just didn’t sit right with the lieutenant.
Whatever it was, he wanted to make sure it was part of his report to Commander Hunter.
Destroy All Starships is the companion series to Inversion Factor Zero!