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Dei Britannici by D.J. Butler - Baen Books


A Fire on the Hill
Brendan DuBois


Belinda Craft of Gloversville, New York, was up before dawn, checking the eggs from their brood, happy to see that the new fence she and Grandpa had repaired was still holding fast. Foxes, fisher cats, wild dogs, coyotes . . . whatever had raided them last week were at least being blocked out now. There were a dozen chickens pecking and cackling at her, and she was pleased to find five warm eggs, which she carefully deposited in a basket lined with hay.

“See you later, gals,” she said, as she went out of the coop and started walking back to their farmhouse. There was the smell of farm animals, wet hay, feed, and . . .

A slight scent of cinnamon?

Something flickered in the distance.

She turned and with basket still in hand, looked off to the west, near the soft peaks of Peck Hill State Forest.

“Oh, no,” she whispered.

Rising up above the wooded hills was the highest peak, the one with the fire tower, and there was a battle going on. She had seen plenty of battles over the years, usually at a distance, quick sharp things that didn’t take long, but as she stood there, she had a feeling this one had been going on for a while. There were the flickering flashes of laser beams from the alien Creepers, and the long tongues of flame, lancing out as well, and the faint sounds of human firearms being fired back.

A military unit, then, up on top of the hill.

Trapped.

And the fire tower wasn’t there either.

She turned and went up to the farmhouse.


On the porch was a locked refrigerator, and she undid the combination lock and opened the door. The light inside the refrigerator had burned out years ago but no mind. Belinda was able to put the eggs where they belonged by feel. Later this week a salesman from the nearby Price Chopper supermarket would pick them up, and she and Grandpa would have enough to live on for another couple of weeks.

Belinda went into the kitchen and saw Grandpa hunched over the stove, watching a kettle steam to life. She had been alone with Grandpa for nearly a year, after Mom and Dad got jobs out in Detroit, which was still rebuilding after the war began and was now making new steam-powered vehicles for the Army and the Marines.

Grandpa turned and said, “How many this morning, Bel?”

She liked Grandpa’s nickname for her. “Five, Grandpa.”

“Good, that’s very good.”

He said, “I thought I heard some noises outside. What’s going on?”

She went to the sink, washed her hands. “There’s a fight going on, over at the fire tower on Peck Hill.”

“How many Creepers?”

“Can’t tell.”

“Hunh. Let’s go take a look.”

Grandpa had on just a dark blue bathrobe and slippers. He slipped past her, taking a pair of binoculars hanging from the wall in his wrinkled hands. Belinda didn’t know much about Grandpa, and unlike other old folks, he didn’t spend a lot of time bitching and moaning about how much better everything was ten years back, before the Creepers invaded. She had asked lots of times over the years what things were like Before, and he would just shrug and say, “People were still the same. It was the shiny toys that was all different. The Creepers came and took our toys away. I got over it. Lots of others didn’t. Still, if it did something, it made us all realize that we had to work together to make things right. Our duty. Damn shame, though, millions had to die to get us there.”

Grandpa put on a long, worn coat over his bathrobe, held to the side of the wall as he slipped his big feet into boots, and he said, “Make two knapsacks, will you? Food, water, some bandages and such. That old tube of burn cream.”

Bel said, “Mom and Dad won’t like that.”

“Mom and Dad aren’t here,” he said, “I am. Meet you outside. Make sure to lock the doors and take the kettle off the stove.”

She had one more question. “Grandpa, why are we doing this?”

He looked surprised at her question. “It’s our duty, girl. Now, hurry along.”


It took longer than she expected, but Grandpa seemed patient. He stood near the porch, holding up binoculars, watching the battle up on Peck Hill. It was still dark and there were long lines of burning light overhead, as the cloud of orbital debris continued to reenter the atmosphere and burn up. The war had started when Belinda was only two, and since then, she only knew the night sky from the constant burning up of space debris, from that first day when the Creepers destroyed every man-made satellite in orbit, and then from a few weeks ago, when the Air Force finally managed to destroy the Creepers’ orbital base.

Once she had asked Grandpa how long it would take for all the wreckage up there to finally burn out so folks could see a clear night sky, and he had said, “Maybe when you’re my age, Bel. Maybe.”

She walked over to Grandpa, carrying the two knapsacks. He had binoculars up to his eyes and whispered, “Oh my, somebody’s getting burned hard up there.”

“Can you tell how many Creepers?” she asked.

“Too many,” he said. “Come along, hon. Let’s go to the small shed.”

There were four outbuildings for their farm, and the shed was the smallest. Grandpa unlocked the door with a key on a long chain that hung around his neck, and in the morning light, went in and came out with two bicycles.

“Here,” he said. “Beats walking, for a while, at least.”

She took the smaller bicycle and he went inside and came back out, this time, with a shotgun slung over his back. There were a number firearms secured in the main house and out buildings, and Belinda had learned to use them all. This was a very old Remington 12-gauge, single shot, but as Father would say, “It was better than nothing.”

“Let’s go,” he said.

“Where are we going, Grandpa?”

“Don’t you know,” he asked, smiling. “We’re riding to the sound of the guns.”


She followed him on a cracked and bumpy road, thinking, well, you really couldn’t hear the guns that well. When the wind shifted, there was the faint pow-pow-pow of automatic weapons, and a heavier thump that came from firing the Colt M-10, the only true weapon that could kill a Creeper, since it used some sort of chemical gas to kill the bugs.

The knapsack was firm but heavy on her back. Grandfather biked slow but steady, with his own knapsack on his back and the shotgun slung over as well. Belinda tried not to let the impatience get to her, though she didn’t know where Grandpa was taking them. He obviously knew where he was going, and as they rode along, she smiled.

If this went on for a while, no school today.


The sky was light enough now so she could make out the road better, and the setback farmhouses, most with gray smoke easing up into the sky. She knew this part of the countryside pretty well, including a wide rift in the forest to the left, where trees were struggling to grow back and there were gashes in the earth that were just starting to grow over. Years ago she had been told this was a haunted wood, that when the Creepers invaded when she was just a child, one of those jumbo jets that could carry hundreds of people crashed there when the nukes dropped by the Creepers fried all the electrical stuff and caused all the airplanes to fall out of the sky.

Twice—on a dare—she had snuck into the woods and found little bits of burnt metal, some old wiring, chunks of plastic, and a bone. She wasn’t sure if the bone had been human or animal, but she never went back after that.

Grandfather followed the curve of the road and up ahead was an intersection, and a roadblock.

It was made of sawhorses and planks, and a very old rusted pickup truck with white letters carefully painted on the side: FULTON COUNTY MILITIA.

Belinda followed Grandfather as he stopped the bicycle, got off with a sigh, and leaned the bike against a fallen telephone pole. Three men and a woman with fatigues, blue jeans, and carrying rifles or shotguns stood by the pickup truck, and they watched as she and Grandpa approached.

One of the men looked to be a reserve Army soldier, because he was wearing a full set of fatigues. He said, “Sorry, folks, this place is restricted. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a hell of a fight going on up at the fire tower.”

“We know,” Grandpa said. “We want to bring supplies up to the soldiers.”

“You won’t make it,” the man said.

“We’re going to try.”

The woman said, “This ain’t no place for an old man and young girl. Tell you what, you give us the supplies, we’ll pass ’em along to any regular Army unit that comes by.”

Grandpa said, “Ma’am, that’s one fair offer, but I’ve been on this Earth a long time. You and I both know what would happen to these supplies if a regular Army unit doesn’t come by.”

“You don’t trust us?” she asked.

“No, we just don’t know you,” Grandpa said.

The lead man said, “Old man, look, this is restricted area, we’re trying to keep it clear from civilians like you.”

Grandpa stepped forward. “But I’m not a civilian. Look.” Grandpa took out his wallet, fumbled through some cards and such, and pulled out a slim piece of plastic, which he passed over. “Look,” he said. “My Armed Forces identification card.”

The three men and woman huddled around as the lead guy held the card up to the light. They looked at Grandpa and the card once, and then twice. The woman said, “Sure is an old card.”

“I’m an old man.”

The lead guy said, “The expiration date . . . it’s been scratched off.”

Grandpa said, “The only expiration nowadays is the real one. Now. My granddaughter and I, we’re going to pass through. All right?”

The card was handed back. “Hell of a thing. Okay, you can go. But why bring the girl into it?”

Grandpa said, “She’s already into it.”


The lead guy got friendlier and gave them directions, and Grandpa and Belinda rode their bicycles for another fifteen minutes or so. They stopped where there was a rough trail visible off to the left, leading up the side of the hill that held the fire tower, and they hid their bicycles and started walking. By now it was dawn and the air was getting warmer, but Belinda shivered.

“Grandpa?”

“Yes, hon?”

“I don’t hear any birds,” she said. “Do you?”

“No, but that’s a good sign, trust me,” he said. “It means we’re close to the Creepers, and that means we’re close to the soldiers we’ve come here to help. Let’s go.”

Belinda was pretty sure that wasn’t a good sign at all, not hearing birds, but she followed her grandfather into the wide trail, into the woods.

At first the trail was easy, going up at a slight slope, and Grandpa set the pace. After some minutes passed Belinda stopped short, hearing a snap/sizzle sound, knowing it came from a Creeper firing a laser. She was going to say something to Grandpa, but he either didn’t hear it or ignored it, for he kept on pacing.

The brush and tree branches closed in tight on the trail, and then Grandpa had to pause for a break, and after a while, there was another pause, and then . . . a longer one.

“Well, well,” Grandpa said, sitting on a boulder, leaning his back and the knapsack against a tree trunk. Belinda didn’t like what she saw. His face was pale gray, lips had a shade of light blue, and his eyes were flickering. “Well, well,” he said again.

“How much longer do we have, Grandpa?”

“Mmm,” he said, and he glanced up and down the trail. “Not much longer. That nice fella back there . . . he said this trail meets up with the access road. From the road, it leads right up to the top . . . but . . . but. . . .”

Grandpa closed his eyes, his chest lifting up and down, and his breathing slowed, started rattling.

Belinda waited.

She reached over, touched his thin shoulder. Grandpa’s eyes opened. “Yes, child, what is it?”

“You said we should get to the road soon, but there was something else.”

“Ah, yes,” he said. “Sorry. Closed my eyes there for a moment. Just resting. Yes, the road. Clear path to the top. Which means the Creepers will know that, too. So you need to be careful.”

Belinda nodded, readjusted the straps on her knapsack. “Wait,” she said. “What do you mean I have to be careful. Aren’t you coming with me?”

Grandpa looked sad. “I can’t Bel. I wish I could. But I can’t. I’m all tuckered out. Here . . . ” He leaned forward, took off the knapsack, let it fall to the ground. “Go in there and rearrange stuff, as much as you can carry. And don’t forget the burn cream.”

She felt scared and warm as she went to work. Going up to the battle site, by herself . . . tears started trickling down her cheeks. She looked up. Grandpa was looking far, far away.

“Grandpa, I don’t want to go,” she said. “I’m scared . . . and I don’t want to leave you here.”

He didn’t say anything. Just kept on looking out to the woods.

Grandpa sighed. “We were all so scared, back then. . . . How could you not be? You trained and trained for all kinds of scenarios, all kind of engagements. . . . But nothing like this . . . Nothing like an invasion from the Creepers. . . . We eventually learned a lot, but, by God, what a steep learning curve, paid with blood, burns and cities . . . we were so very, very scared those first few weeks . . . ”

His words dribbled off and then he snapped around, looked at her. “Sorry,” he said, voice weak. “I must have dozed off . . . ”

Grandpa rubbed his hands together, picked up the single-shot Remington shotgun. “Here, take this. And this.” His hand went back into the coat, came out with two twelve-gauge shells.

She bit her lower lip, nodded, picked up the shotgun. Grandpa’s voice strengthened. “You go up there, child, all right? You help those soldiers. And you make sure you give your knapsack to a soldier, all right? In full uniform. No militiaman, no one pretending to be a militiaman.”

“Okay, Grandpa.”

“And be careful for the Creepers, but watch out for Coasties or any other sorts out there, like goddamn vampires, heading into a battlefield. You got those gangs that strip the dead, steal supplies, steal anything they can get their hands on, they hang around battle sites . . . and you know what to do if you have to use that shotgun.”

The shotgun was so heavy in her hands. “Yes, Grandpa. Don’t aim unless you aim to shoot, shoot to kill, and aim small, miss small.”

Grandpa nodded. “That’s right. With the shotgun, if you’re close up, you shouldn’t miss. But for God’s sake, you know what to do if you run into a Creeper.”

She said, “Yes. Freeze.”

“Good girl. Now. Get moving, okay?”

Gosh, his face was so white, she thought. Belinda turned and then went back, kissed her Grandpa on the cheek. His face was cold and bristly.

“Go,” he said. “I’ll be right here. Don’t fret.”

She started up the trail, and within a minute, could no longer see Grandpa.


The way got steeper and rougher, and she was breathing harder and harder with each step. She had to rest at least three times and she was hoping she was getting close to the road. The branches were hitting at her face, the knapsack—which was getting heavier with each step—was getting snagged on the brush and saplings as she pushed through.

She rested again.

Damn aliens, she thought. If they had attacked later, she would have missed this and she’d be in school today.

School.

Warm and safe, working on numbers and grammar, not out in the woods like this, carrying this big pack.

It wasn’t fair.

Belinda wiped at her eyes and kept on walking.

And another five or so minutes went by, and she could tell she was getting close. The light was clearer and the brush was thinner, and that meant the access road was pretty near.

Okay, she thought. At least on the road, it’ll be easier, much easier.

There.

There was the road.

She smiled.

And two men emerged from the brush, and stepped in front of her.


Belinda stepped back, nearly tripped over an exposed root. They were filthy, long dark beards, dirty faces, wearing faded baseball caps, worn canvas coats, old patched jeans and boots repaired by tape and string. The one on the left looked older than the other, but not by much.

“Hey, little girl,” he said. “Where you going?”

Belinda thought the man’s accent was off, was different, and she instantly knew he was a Coastie. When the Creepers invaded ten years back, they dropped asteroids into the oceans and big lakes around the globe, setting off tidal waves that drowned millions. Those who escaped into the inland, and who refused to stay in refugee camps, were called Coasties.

“Speak up!” the second said. “Where you going?”

Belinda said, “None of your business. Now, please, get out of the way. I want to get to the road.”

The one on the left shook his head. “To the road? Damn dangerous there, sweetie. Me and Skip, we saw a bug skitter up there not more than five minutes ago.” He took two more steps forward, and his voice got quiet. “What you got there in that satchel?”

Belinda stepped back. “None of your business.”

The one called Skip licked his lips. “Food. You got food in that there satchel?”

“Stay away!”

The other one said, in a crooning voice, “You a courier? You bringing that bag up to the soldiers? Ain’t that right nice of you. Very nice.” He stepped forward again. Belinda nearly stumbled again.

“C’mon, girly,” he went on. “Give the bag over. Give the bag over and we’ll bring it right up to those brave soldiers. Me and Skip . . . we just joined up the other day. Haven’t gotten our haircuts and uniforms yet, but we can take that satchel up, so’s you don’t have to worry.”

Skip said, “Ah, for Christ’s sake, Johnny, stop haggling, will ya? I’m gonna take that satchel . . . and whatever else I want.”

Belinda nearly yelled, “You stay away!”

Skip laughed, started toward her. “What, you gonna plug me with that shotgun?”

“Yes,” she said, and she pulled the trigger.


Even though she had fired all of the firearms back home during target practice, the flash of light, the boom, the hard recoil, all surprised Belinda so much that she nearly dropped the shotgun. Both men yelped and since Skip was closer, he caught most of the pellets and collapsed, rolling over, moaning, both hands across his gut. Johnny fell back as well, holding his right upper leg, and then Belinda started running, got past Skip and—

Fell.

Johnny’s hand on her ankle.

“You . . . you little bitch!”

Belinda scrambled away, got up, started fumbling in her pockets, wondering where she had put the two spare shells. She got up and Skip wasn’t moving any more, and Johnny was cursing at her, one hand on his bleeding leg, the other one going under his jacket, looking for something, maybe a revolver or a knife or something.

Belinda started crying. She dropped the shotgun, picked it up by the barrel, went forward and swung the shotgun like the softball bat she used at school, and slammed the wooden stock into the side of Johnny’s head. He fell back and his baseball cap flew off, and she started running again.

Belinda broke out onto the road.

She went left, started running up the road, still crying.


Now the smell of cinnamon was strong, the scent that Creepers were nearby. The gunfire from the troops up there had dribbled off, and now she was close enough so she could hear the firing of the lasers and the flame weapons from the Creepers. Belinda stayed close to the side of the road, walking slowly, taking her time.

She was also trying very, very hard not to think of the two Coasties back there.

And Grandpa’s voice came to her: “One of the few victories of this war,” he once said near the fireplace, “is how we’re still keeping civilization going. We still have farms, we still have factories, still have doctors and a government, weak as it is. Keep those things alive, Bel, and don’t worry about those who die trying to tear it down.”

She wiped at her nose and eyes again, and resumed walking, and then she stopped.

Somewhere to the right, across the road, a branch snapped.

And another.

“Hello? Is there somebody there?”

Then she remembered—dope!—that she hadn’t reloaded the shotgun since shooting those two Coasties back there.

Belinda started going through her pockets again, when the strong stench of cinnamon washed over here, a Creeper crashed through the woods and skidded to a halt next to her on the dirt road.

Click-click came from the Creeper.

Click-click.

She froze.

She dared not move.

She didn’t even want to blink her eyes, or turn away, as much as seeing the Creeper in front of her terrified her so.

Her heart was hammering so hard she thought she might faint.

No, she thought. Freeze. Remember what Grandpa said.

Freeze.

The Creeper looked like a Battle Creeper, not the Research or Transport version. At school they had to memorize flash cards that showed the three different kinds of Creepers, and this one was for sure a Battle version. It was about the size of the larger shed back at home, with eight legs and a segmented body in the center. The head was where the Creeper—a scary-looking insectlike creature sat—and it swerved and moved, and Belinda was so scared that it was staring right at her.

God, she wanted to close her eyes, but no, freeze.

Always freeze.

It had two larger legs—or arms—that also moved around, and those had weapons, either lasers or flames, and other versions of the Creeper, one of the arms had pincers, so it could pick up things and examine it.

The cinnamon scent was so thick it nearly made her choke.

Freeze.

Don’t move.

Just over two years ago, she was out picking apples in the far orchard, when she saw a Creeper attack the farmhouse of their neighbors, the Colemans, for no apparent reason. It skittered across a field, came up to the house, burned it with a flame weapon, and when the mom and dad and Billy, Tom and Jenny ran out, the flick-flick of its laser weapon killed them all, slicing off their heads.

She was so close to this Creeper she could hear the whirring and clicking of the machinery from inside. There was a spot in the center where it “breathed,” taking in Earth air and somehow converting it to its own atmosphere, and that was the only real vulnerable spot on the damn thing. The Army and Marines had the Colt M-10 one-shot weapon that fired a gas shell that if it exploded nearby, could kill a Creeper, and that—except for a nuke—was the only thing that could stop it.

Her shotgun was useless.

Freeze.

The sound inside whirred louder, and Belinda couldn’t help it, she closed her eyes, and she hoped it wouldn’t hurt that much, and—

A clattering noise.

She opened her eyes.

The Creeper was gone.

And she realized that she had peed herself.


Belinda waited, cried some, and then started up the road again, sticking to the side, and the sound of the fighting seemed to ease off, and she thought she was getting closer, just when a man hidden in the woods said, “Hold it right there.”

She froze again.

A slight rustle and a soldier came out, tired-looking, with helmet and dirty fatigues and heavy boots, carrying an M-4, and he said, “Mike, come look at this, will you.”

A second soldier limped out, carrying a heavy-looking weapon with a big tube at the end, and Belinda recognized it as the Colt M-10, and Mike said, “Crap on a cracker, girl, what the hell are you doing here?”

She pointed her thumb at her knapsack.

“I’m here to help.”


The two soldiers led her into the woods that were being used to conceal a foxhole. It was wide and deep enough for the three of them, and the first soldier—Brian—said, “You mean you came up all the way up here by yourself?”

“No,” Belinda said. “My Grandpa helped. But he got tired and he’s waiting for me down the hill.”

Mike said, “What’s in the knapsack?”

“Food, water, some first aid stuff. Burn cream.”

Mike wiped at his face. Belinda said, “Where are you soldiers from?”

Brian said, “K Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Army Regiment. ‘Kara’s Killers.’ And right now, we’re trapped and getting our butts scorched.”

Being in the foxhole with these two soldiers made her feel safe for the first time in a long time, and she said, “Can I leave the knapsack with you?”

The two soldiers exchanged looks and Mike said, “Hon, that’d be great, but the guys up at the top of the hill . . . they should get it. We could bring it up but we can’t leave our posts.”

Belinda said, “Please?”

Brian said, “Sorry, we can’t leave our posts. It’s not that far. Honest.”

Belinda bit her lip. “It’s just that I’m . . . I’m so scared.”

Mike said, “We all are, hon. We all are.”


Belinda then crept out of the foxhole, got back on the road, and started running. She couldn’t remember running so fast, even with the knapsack bouncing on her back and the heavy shotgun threatening to slip out of her hands.

The road widened and now she was at the top of the hill, which was shrouded with smoke. She had been up here at least twice with Mom, Dad, and Grandpa, for picnics on top of the fire tower, but the tower was down, a crumpled heap of metal and wood. There was a small wooden cabin near the fire tower, and a tarp was strung over by its side, and she felt queasy and a bit sick, seeing at least five lifeless shapes on the ground, wrapped in canvas.

Dead soldiers.

There were other foxholes and soldiers trotting back and forth, hunched over, and there was a dog barking, with a young soldier who seemed to be in charge of some of the foxholes. A girl about her age stopped and said, “What the hell are you doing up here?”

She gratefully shrugged off the knapsack and dropped it the ground.

“Here. Some food. Water. Medical supplies.”

The young soldier picked up the bag and smiled. Her face was smeared with soot and there was a sharp scratch on her left cheek. The helmet she wore seemed huge.

“Thanks,” she said. “We sure as hell need it.”

Belinda took a moment to look around. The cabin seemed to be the center of what was going on, and to the left and to the right, there were other foxholes and soldiers inside, staring down at the slopes of the hills. On one of the slopes were two dead Creepers.

The solider said, “Unless you plan on sticking around and enlisting, you better get a move on.” She picked up the knapsack and in a tone that was a mix of a laugh and a cry, “Because before the day is out, we’re all gonna be charcoal.”


Belinda ran down back the road, quicker since she didn’t have the weight of the pack on her, and then there was a shout out from the woods, “Hey, girl, can you come back over here?”

She didn’t want to do anything but keep on running down this hill, but she went over, and the soldier named Brian stepped out of the woods and said, “Wow. You made it.”

The other soldier came out and dug into his shirt, pulled out a creased and dirty folded over piece of paper. “Here, this is a letter to my folks. Will you see it gets delivered?”

Belinda said, “Sure,” and Brian did the same, and with the two warm letters in her hand, she resumed her race away from the hilltop battle.


A few minutes later she found the trail opening, and started down that, and remembering the two Coasties, she broke through some of the bramble and brush, and managed to pick up the trail below where the ambush had taken place.

She was feeling pretty good, excited and happy to be coming down the hill, and then she saw Grandpa sitting there, waiting for her, and she yelled out, “Grandpa! I made it! We did it! I got the supplies up there!”

Belinda skidded to a halt, smiling, breathing hard.

“Grandpa?”

His eyes were closed.

He wasn’t moving.

His face had grayed out.

“Oh, Grandpa,” she said.


It was near dusk when two other soldiers appeared, coming up the path. They were older than the ones at the top of the hill, and both were carrying knapsacks. She had moved Grandpa off from where he had been sitting and took a washcloth and put it over his face.

The soldiers paused and the shorter of the two said, “What happened here?”

Belinda sat on the ground, legs up, hugging her knees. She had stopped crying a few hours back.

She said, “Grandpa and me, we were going up to where the fight is, to bring them some supplies. He got tired and stayed behind. I went up by myself, and when I came back . . . he was gone.”

“Oh, you poor dear,” the soldier said. “Do you have any place to go?”

“We have a farmhouse a couple of miles back,” she said dully. “My parents have jobs in Detroit.”

The other soldier went over to Grandpa and knelt down, took the washcloth off his face, and then respectfully put it back down, and then came over.

“Miss . . . ” he said. “Is your Grandpa’s name, is it David Craft?”

“Unh-hunh.”

“Jesus . . . your Grandpa, he was General David Craft?”

“I guess so,” she said.

The squat soldier said, “Who was General Craft?”

The other one shook his head. “Man, don’t you know your history? He was a retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Top soldier in the country at the time. When the Creepers invaded . . . Christ, he must have been at least eighty years old, he came back and helped organize the first defenses in the Northeast. Without him . . . shit, who knows.”

Belinda sat still. Tears streaming down her face. Why oh why didn’t the damn bugs attack later or earlier. Grandpa would still be alive.

The two soldiers were staring at her. The one on the left said, “Girl . . . what the hell was he doing up here?”

Belinda looked at them both, surprised.

“His duty,” she said.


Copyright © 2017 Brendan DuBois


Brendan DuBois is the award-winning author of twenty-one novels and more than 120 short stories. This story is set within his Dark Victory Earth-invasion science fiction series, with first entry Dark Victory and sequel Red Vengeance. His short stories have twice won him the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and have also earned him three Edgar Award nominations. He has recently collaborated with New York Times best-selling author James Patterson on several novellas for Patterson's Bookshots. Brendan lives in New Hampshire. A former Jeopardy! champion, he also appeared on—and won—the game show The Chase.


© 2017 Baen Publishing Enterprises