“OK, they’re Quantum Locked, Scanner’s running.” She raised the telescopic lenses back onto the top of her field helmet, and rubbed at the smooth patches either side of her nose where her reading glasses usually sat.
“What are they doing?” the young soldier looked up at her, expectantly.
“They’re not doing any…” she sighed, and rolled her eyes, “Boy? Do you even know what 'Quantum Locked' means? Did they not cover that in training? This is level 1 stuff. My Grandkids know what it means. You’re gonna get us all killed.”
“Can I see them? I don’t know even know what they look like yet.” He reached up for the lenses that were attached to the tracks on her helmet by strong magnets, she batted his hand away.
“That depends, would you like me to have you shipped back to the cleansing post or should I just shoot you now to be safe?” she reached down to her waist, without breaking eye contact, and unclipped her Jackhammer pistol. The soldier shook his head. “Sergeant Trace, tell the boy why we don’t show people what they look like before they see one for themselves.”
Trace, who was a veteran of more than three engagements, put down his rocket-launcher and sat back on his haunches. “The Lonely Assassins have a couple of very interesting forms of procreation. Mostly they can just ‘Animate’ locally built statues – Touch them, kiss them, Something like that and there you go, another assassin. But the other way, the worse way, is that they can reproduce through images of themselves.”
The soldier frowned, “What, so if I drew a picture of one, one would appear?”
“No, not unless you’re bloody Michaelangelo, but a photograph or a scanner image would eventually turn into one. And more worryingly, like we found out during the last offensive, if you think about one for too long… Keep the image in your head. Same thing.”
“I’d turn into one?” He looked back at her, and she noticed he was starting to look a little pale.
“If you were lucky.” She looked across at Trace and grinned, “Or it’d claw its way out of the top of your head and try to kill your entire unit. That would be what happened if you were to be unlucky. So, we don’t show you what they actually look like in case you have recurring nightmares.”
“You’re messing with me, that can’t happen.”
“Did they tell you about the attack on New Horizon Base?” The soldier frowned and nodded, “I bet they gave you all the details about it being a sneak attack in the early hours of the morning. Single Assassin, took out three whole barracks of sleeping draftees before some grizzled old Sergeant-Major bitch-fragged it? Well, the part they usually leave out was that the damn thing had pupated out of a trooper that had been having nightmares. They found him during the cleanup, curled up tight in a toilet stall, split open from his chest to the top of his head… Damn thing had crawled straight out of him.”
”What’s to stop that happening once you’ve seen what they look like?”
“Well, mostly, once you’ve seen one, you never want to see one again. Your brain doesn’t tend to let you dream about them. But if you start to, tell someone. It’s a crime not to, punishable by enforced re-education.”
Trace snorted through his nose, “And I wouldn’t wish that on you kid. You get to go back to the cleansing post, wear the shiny helmet with all the wires coming out of it for a few minutes, there’s a bright flash, and for the rest of your life, you’re wearing soft shoes that fasten with Velcro, and drinking through a straw. But at least you don’t dream anymore, not about anything, never again.”
“And if I do tell someone about it?”
“Well, in honesty, pretty much the same thing, only the handcuffs tend to be not tight enough to cut off your circulation. The service really cares about all us little special snowflakes.”
She took one, last look into the valley through the magnifying lenses, the small group of Lonely Assassins, clustered in their strange outward facing hexagonal formations so that they didn't accidentally look at each other, were still frozen by the overwatch scanner. She checked the ammo indicator on her Jackhammer and signaled for a couple more magazines. She looked at Trace and his team, “Ready?” the half-dozen soldiers picked up their launchers and pointed them down the ridge. “No hesitation, if we lose the upper hand with these things, you turn that valley into a lava-pit, understand? Don’t wait for us.” The entire team nodded as she turned to the young soldier. “OK, make sure your skin’s all covered, they touch your skin, you’re dead.”
“I thought they just…”
“Let me rephrase that, if I see one touch your skin, and you don’t immediately disappear into the past… I’ll shoot you. It’s for the best, trust me.”
“I don’t understand…”
“What’s the date today?”
He looked at the chronometer built into the wrist of his armour. “Friday 11th. November.”
She laughed, “I start on active duty for the first time tomorrow.” She looked as the confused expression slowly washed across the soldier’s face, “I'll get touched by an Assassin on my first raid, my chest was mostly uncovered, like the girl in the recruiting posters – Won’t make that mistake again, trying to be flash – showing off… The damn thing sent me back 20 years into my own past and once I figured out what had happened, I just up and enlisted all over again. Guess they figured that 20 years was all the time I had left that they could feed on.” She pulled back on the slide of her pistol to chamber a large-caliber stone-piercing round. “And I also guess that this attack, 20 years later is my last rodeo. And it’s my birthday too.”
She slowly turned to him, “No… Not really.”