Hawk, sweating, returned the sizzling taser-like memory device to its slot in the tactical utility belt. His shirt and pants were ripped, and bruises and cuts covered his body. He was back in the white docking tunnel, and he approached the Firebird, still attached to the other end. He withdrew the keys from the utility belt and clicked the unlock button. The Firebird beeped back, and Hawk pulled open the door.
He looked at his watch. One minute remaining. He raised the watch to his lips as he sat inside. He shook his head in disbelief. Those last twenty-nine minutes would be a story for the ages.
“Mission, this is Hawk. Do you copy? Over.”
There was a pause. Hawk stepped into the Firebird and sat down.
“Hawk, this is Frank,” the watch buzzed back. “Are you at your objective? Over.”
Hawk was about to reply. He opened his mouth, intending to emit sound that he would shape into words.
But then, a voice interrupted him from the backseat.
“That’s all the proof I need,” the voice said. “I don’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it.”
Hawk turned around. Sitting in the backseat of the Pontiac Firebird was none other than Golf, the only Rhaokin he couldn’t find earlier.
“Golf, let me explain.”
Hawk’s watch buzzed again. “Hawk? Are you at the machine? You haven’t done anything to the machine yet, have you? Over.”
Hawk, still eye to eye with Golf, raised the watch to his mouth again. “That is what I’m calling about. The machine was already destroyed—or stolen—before I arrived. Over.”
Golf stared at Hawk furiously.
The watch buzzed back. “Hawk, we do not copy. Did you say you already destroyed the machine? That was not your objective. Your actual objective was to insert the hammer device into the machine. Inside the hammer is Rhaokin DNA. Your actual objective was to destroy the Rhaokin species. Do you copy? Over.”
Hawk, still looking at Golf, was surprised by how similar Rhaokin and human faces looked when enveloped in utter fury.
“I trusted you,” Golf said, his voice pitched down to a growl.
Hawk’s watch buzzed again. Hawk made to shut it off, but Golf stopped him. “Don’t.”
“Hawk,” the watch buzzed. “I understand you are probably upset that you were lied to about the nature of your mission. But if you do not do this, we will kill your girlfriend, and your family, and your dog. You have ten seconds. Over.”
Golf growled at Hawk, radio in hand. “I’ll speak in English so you can understand me.” He raised the radio to his lips. “This is Golf. I have positive confirmation. The humans killed our engineers. There is no need to delay. Use the Biomatter Displacer on the planet.”
“The what?” Hawk said.
Golf opened his door and stepped out of the car. He began to walk to the other end of the white tunnel. Hawk followed. “What are you doing?”
Golf shook his head and turned around. “I didn’t tell you everything, Hawk,” he said. “Sometimes we come across beautiful planets that are inhabited by an uncompromising threat to our species. In these cases, now such as this one now, we have another piece of technology. This one is much more powerful than the bug repellant equivalent that you killed twenty peaceful engineers to destroy. It is called The Biomatter Displacer, and it has the power to instantly teleport entire civilizations to another planet. In this case, the cold, barren, and desolate prison planet, Jericho Twelve.”
Hawk’s watch buzzed again. “I have a gun to Sharline’s head, Hawk. This is not a game, you will complete your mission or we pull the tri—” A strange buzzing interrupted the signal. There was silence for a few second. Then the watch buzzed again, but instead of Frank calling, it was Boris.
“Something is happening!” Boris said. “Hawk, the president just disappeared! Raven too! Sharline is gone!” Hawk heard a screaming in the background. “Hawk something is happening! Jordan and Casey just disappeared! People are disappearing all over the country! Hawk—”
The buzzing continued, but there was nothing but silence on the other end.
Hawk raised the watch to his mouth. “Boris? Boris!”
Golf shook his head. “They’re gone, Hawk. Every human is, by now, stranded on Jericho Twelve. That is—every human aside for you.” Golf looked upset. “Earth is ours. You brought this upon yourself. Your people brought this upon themselves.”
“Golf!” Hawk said. “Please put us back. I swear I had no idea that this was the mission, and more importantly, I swear that I didn’t kill those engineers! What I said was true—when I arrived there, your engineers were already dead, and the machine was already gone!”
“Why should I believe you?” Golf replied. “You’ve already lied to me.”
“How could I possibly know what the machine looked like? If I stole it, then where is it? Golf, I swear it wasn’t me, and I swear that you have an actual killer on your cruise! I am not a killer.”
“If not you, then another from your species did this,” Golf said. He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.” He paused. “How did you manage to get into the engineering room, kill the engineers, then get all the way back here, erase all those memories, and find your car, all without being seen, and in under thirty minutes anyway?”
“I didn’t kill those engineers,” Hawk said. “The rest was elementary to a man such as myself.” Hawk took a moment to think. His mind raced as he attempted to devise a way to save humanity, while simultaneously stalling Golf for as long as possible. “So I took the engineering key from one of the scientists we drank with last night. Then, I had to figure out how to get to the wall without being seen, which was a—”
Behind Golf, the round door at the end of the white tunnel opened. But no one was there. No one walked through the threshold. Hawk shrugged and kept talking.
“Which was a task in of itself. Long story short, I used the dumpsters and the dump trucks to—”
Golf interrupted him. “Vapor bin.”
Hawk grimaced. “Right. The vapor bin. Which I used to—”
This time, it was someone else that interrupted him.
Actually, not someone else. Something else.
Because at that moment, an eight-foot tall bipedal lizard monster with blond curly hair materialized out of thin air. It stood half a foot behind Golf. It wore what appeared to be leather armor. On both eyelids were strange black piercings. Its eyes were shrouded in black. At the end of each finger on both hands were what appeared to be three-inch long daggers. Its right arm was raised around Golf’s neck.
Hawk, startled, took a step back and shouted, “Golf look out!”
But it was too late. Golf hadn’t even time enough to turn his head before the lizard monster, with one swift swipe of its claw, slit his throat. Golf fell back, but remained upright from his neck trunk as blood poured from the wound.
The lizard monster shoved Golf aside. He fell, dead before he hit the ground.
Then, the lizard monster looked at Hawk but made no move forward. Instead, it spoke. It appeared to be mumbling, but Hawk heard it speak as clear as day in his head. “You are not the Master Infiltrator, Hawk Abrams,” it said. “That title belongs to me.”
There was a split second pause, with the creature and Hawk locked eye to eye. Then, in the blink of an eye, it vanished.
Hawk didn’t hesitate. He turned around and dove headfirst into the Pontiac Firebird, slammed the door shut, revved the engine, and hammered his foot onto the gas.
The engine roared to life and the car burst forward. Hawk was thrown back against his seat as he shot away from the Rhaokin cruise and the lizard monster.
Hawk glanced in his rear-view mirror. The doors of the docking tunnel were closing, but he could still see the monster. It stood on the platform and looked at him for a moment. Then, it turned around, opened the circular door, and returned to the cruise.
Hawk kept staring until the docking platform doors shut completely. He had no idea what to do now. That lizard monster had legitimately scared him. And how did it know his name? And how did it know that he considered himself a master infiltrator?
But then he looked down—and his eyes widened.
Because there, in the cup holder, was a beer glass with breasts on it.
He picked it up to examine it, confused, because he had smashed his last glass. He was sure of it.
While wondering how it was possible for the glass to be in his car, he absentmindedly rubbed over the plastic breasts with his thumb.
But then he felt something—something that enveloped him with dread. He stopped and looked down. There was no mistaking it. A cold sweat coated his skin like plastic. His breaths became heavy.
There had been one key difference between the beer glasses with breasts on Earth and the beer glasses with breasts on the Rhaokin cruise. One crucial difference that made Hawk feel more helpless and overpowered than he ever had. One cataclysmic difference that meant game over. One catastrophic difference that proved, without a doubt, that Hawk, and Earth, had been out-played.