Standard Fanfic Disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters. I'm just borrowing them for, um, er, uh, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. All characters will be returned to their owners/copyright holders unarmed, or at least, suitably bandaged. No profit has been made off this story, nor is any likely to be. Originally published in CrosSignals #2 in 1989, reprinted in End of the Rainbow #2 in 2012.
The Master/War of the Worlds/Cover Up
Susan M. M.
John Peter McAllister: the only occidental American ever to achieve the martial arts discipline of a ninja. Once part of a secret sect, he wanted to leave, but was marked for death by his fellow ninjas. He's searching for a daughter he didn't know he had. Pursued by Okasa, once the Master's student, now sworn to kill him. That Master found a new student. That's me, Max Keller. But we knew Okasa would be behind us, in the shadows, ready to strike again.
In 1953, Earth experienced a war of the worlds. Common bacteria stopped the aliens, but it didn't kill them. Instead, the aliens lapsed into a state of deep hibernation. Now the aliens have been resurrected, more terrifying than ever before. In 1953, aliens started taking over the world. Today, they're taking over our bodies.
"Do you think we'll find your daughter here?" Max Keller asked. His brown eyes scanned the campus of San Diego State University. He still looked young enough to pass for a student.
"It's worth a shot. The modeling agency said Teri had been offered the job, but she hadn't given them an answer yet," John Peter McAllister replied. If Max looked like a student, his companion could easily have been mistaken for a retired professor. Tall, white-haired, and balding, he moved with a graceful ease that belied his sixty-odd years.
Privately, Max worried about what would happen if and when they found Teri McAllister. She was a will-of-the-wisp, her trail jumping from city to city without any apparent pattern. And when they did find more than echoes and shadows, well, it didn't look good. Why was Teri on the run? What sort of trouble was she in? Max had a nasty suspicion that she was wanted by the law. Why else would she refuse to give her address and phone number to any modeling agency, always insisting on her contacting them? He didn't want the Master to get hurt; he was fonder of the old man than he was willing to admit.
"Even if she isn't here, maybe one of the other models knows her. They might be able to tell us something." Max reflected that all they knew about Teri was that she was an airplane pilot, an occasional model, and she travelled a lot.
"Something tells me the prospect of interrogating a bevy of beautiful women -- " McAllister stopped in mid-sentence. He threw his arm in front of Max's chest to stop him.
"Back," the Master ordered in a whisper. "And be quiet."
The apprentice ninja didn't argue -- he knew his sensei too well for that -- but instead of obeying instantly, he looked around to see what the problem was. Suppressing an exasperated sigh, McAllister grabbed the young man and pulled him off the path.
"Don't you ever listen?" the old man scolded him once they were safely hidden behind the hibiscus bushes.
"What is it? What's up?" Max demanded. He wondered why he was whispering.
"Those three over there," the Master replied tersely.
Max looked over where McAllister was pointing. Two women and a man, all in their mid-thirties and conservatively dressed, stood clustered around a yellow rosebush. Max was surprised to see they were picking and eating the flowers. "Them?"
"You'll never meet anyth- anyone more dangerous in your life," McAllister told him. "They're a thousand times deadlier than Okasa."
It was all Max could do to keep from laughing. "Them? Why? The only thing they're doing is eating roses."
"That's enough," the ninja muttered.
Max glanced up, startled. The old man didn't get bothered easily, and anything that disturbed him, should, by rights, terrify Max Keller. "It's probably just some fraternity prank. Hazing or something," but his voice was not as certain as it had been a minute ago.
"They look a little old for frat brats," McAllister pointed out.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Ironhorse lowered his binoculars. "Damn! I thought we had the area cleared. Herrera, Coleman, go get those two civilians out of there." As they ran off, Ironhorse turned to face the rest of Omega Squad. "Remember, Dr. McCullough wants them alive if possible."
Corporal Miguel Herrera and Sergeant Peggy Coleman moved rapidly across the campus. As they were about to sneak up on the 'innocent civilians,' the older of the pair shushed the younger, then turned, unsurprised, to face them.
"Hold it." His voice was calm and quiet.
The younger man whirled, startled by the soldiers.
"You should not be here," the old ninja said.
"Gentlemen, we have to ask you to leave," Sgt. Coleman requested.
"It isn't safe here," McAllister and Herrera said, interrupting her simultaneously.
Max reluctantly tore his eyes of Peggy Coleman, and looked from his teacher to Herrera.
Coleman looked the two men over very carefully. The younger one wore faded blue jeans and a red plaid shirt. His curly brown hair looked in need of a brush and a comb. He was cute -- no Tom Selleck, but if she hadn't been on duty he definitely would have been worth a second look, possibly a third. The senior of the pair was dressed casually but comfortably: black slacks, light blue shirt, camel sports jacket. His eyes were the bluest she'd ever seen, and the most alive. A white pendent bearing the emblem of a caged butterfly hung from his neck. Coleman, with a soldier's eye for detail and a woman's sense of aesthetics, couldn't help noticing how beautiful it was. As a member of the Sierra Club, she immediately recognized it as ivory, and hoped it hadn't been poached from African elephants. He looked old enough to be her grandfather. Silvery-white hair encircled his head like a snowy halo. He was bald on top, and his neatly trimmed mustache had more gray than white. Yet he held her attention more than his companion did. Sgt. Coleman suddenly realized he reminded her of the colonel: the same aura of power, the same animal magnetism and charisma.
"Sir, I must insist," she began.
"Coleman, what's taking so long?" Ironhorse snapped at her as he and Dr. Harrison Blackwood approached. "I told you to get them out of the way. The others are already deployed."
Max Keller stared at the colonel in shock and recognition. "Chief Ironhorse?!"
Paul Ironhorse's jaw tightened. His copper cheeks darkened. Harrison tried (unsuccessfully) to smother a grin. Coleman and Herrera maintained their self-control -- but only just. The Cherokee officer glared at his soldiers, daring them to say something.
"Um, Lieutenant, I mean --" Max began.
"That's Colonel Ironhorse to you," he corrected coldly. He peered into the apprentice ninja's face. "You were in my platoon in 'Nam. Keller, Kellogg?"
"Max Keller, sir."
McAllister was impressed, both by Ironhorse's memory and the way Max treated him. Max didn't give his respect easily or lightly.
Ironhorse loosened a fraction of an inch. "As I recollect, you were thrown out of the window of every bar in Saigon."
"I see some things never change. Look, I hate to interrupt Old Home Week, but we can't stay here. It's too dangerous," McAllister told the soldiers.
"That's why we're here," Ironhorse replied in what was probably intended to be a reassuring tone.
"No offense, Colonel, but I think this is more than your people can handle," the Master said.
"We are trained for this sort of thing, sir. This isn't a healthy place to be, Mr. -- "
"McAllister," the WWII veteran supplied. "John Peter McAllister. This isn't the sort of situation West Point prepares you for, Colonel."
Ironhorse started at that.
The Master continued, "I'm sure your people are good under normal circumstances, but trust me, this is just too dangerous."
"I don't get it," Max complained. "The two bravest guys I know, and you're both getting freaked out by three people eating roses."
Harrison and Ironhorse exchanged glances. "Just like Grover's Mill," the astrophysicist muttered. He did a double-take and looked up at McAllister. "You -- you understand what that means?"
"How old were you in 1953?" the ninja countered.
Harrison, Ironhorse, and McAllister studied each other, then nodded slowly, almost in unison.
"We understand each other," the Cherokee declared softly. His face lit up as he smiled. "Although we appreciate your trying to protect us."
"My mistake. We'll stay out of your way," McAllister promised.
"Will someone tell me what's going on?" Max demanded.
"Trust me, you don't want to know," the Master muttered.
Ironhorse raised a walkie-talkie to his lips. One by one, Omega Squad checked in. He turned to Harrison and the two ninjas. "How'd you know I went to West Point?"
"It shows. An air about you. You could tell a GRU operative from a KGB agent, couldn't you?"
"How?" McAllister asked.
"Well --" The colonel stopped. It wasn't that hard to tell GRU, Soviet military intelligence, from KGB, the Russian equivalent of the CIA, if you looked, but there wasn't any one thing that divided them. It was a thousand tiny details, noticed and analyzed subconsciously. "I see what you mean."
"How do you know about ... this?" Harrison asked.
"I was in Tokyo in 1953." McAllister shook his head, as if to chase away a bad memory. "After everything was over, the damage was blamed on an unusually severe earthquake. Most people were willing to believe that."
"We've hypothesized that either the trauma was so great most people have blocked the memory, or that the ali- " Harrison caught Ironhorse's disapproving look, and remembered just in time that Max wasn't in on the secret. "That they exude a chemical that causes partial and selective amnesia."
"Something along the lines of a pheromone?" McAllister asked.
Max wondered what was going on. It sounded like the Master and Chief Ironhorse's friend were talking about chemical-biological warfare. Was the army fighting terrorists on a California university campus? Must be pretty old terrorists, if they'd started in 1953.
"Omega Squad, go," Lt. Col. Ironhorse ordered.
The elite commando squad sprang into action. Ironhorse watched carefully, coordinating their movements and wishing he didn't have to play nanny to three defenseless civilians.
"Aren't you a little young to have served in Vietnam?" Harrison asked Max.
Without turning around, the colonel said, "He was. When they found out his real age at the court-martial, they dismissed the charges and shipped him back to his family."
"Court-martial?" McAllister queried softly.
Max blushed. "I'll tell you later."
"You certainly will."
"It was nothing, honest. No big deal."
"That's not what the major thought," Ironhorse contradicted.
Max picked that moment to look up and see a third arm shoot out of the blonde woman's chest. He stared, horrified, as she tried to grab one of the soldiers with it.
John Peter McAllister looked down at his pupil sympathetically, remembering what a shock it had been to him, thirty-some years ago. He'd been one of the few then to see the aliens outside their ships. It had taken the discipline and meditation of ninjitsu to control the nightmares, and years to banish them.
Suddenly, another trio appeared behind and to the left of the battle. Three young men in T-shirts and blue jeans approached. The sores on their faces were all too familiar to Harrison and Ironhorse.
"Zimmerman, Herrera, behind you," Ironhorse called into the walkie-talkie. Caught up in the battle, they didn't hear the warning, and Zimmerman went down. Swearing, the Cherokee turned to his companions, ordered curtly, "Stay here," and ran off into the fray.
Max watched, wide-eyed, as Lt. Col. Ironhorse's M-16 roared, and his opponent ... melted into a pile of ooze. "Wh-what?"
"Don't ask," Harrison told the young ninja.
Max nodded numbly, trying to control his stomach. He looked away. Harrison and McAllister watched avidly. The astrophysicist was horrified by the violence, but could not turn away, drawn like a rabbit by a snake by the creatures that had killed his parents. He was fascinated, too, by watching Omega Squad in action -- a bloodthirsty ballet. McAllister, a warrior and trainer of warriors his entire adult life, observed with an analytical eye.
"They're very good," he observed quietly.
"They're the best," Harrison agreed regretfully.
"You don't approve," the old man realized.
"Killing and warfare disgust me. But what they're -- we're -- doing is necessary."
"I know. I remember '53." He saw the way Harrison was looking at Ironhorse. "It's not easy liking a man you don't respect, is it?"
"I respect him. I just --" Harrison stopped. It was impossible to explain. He was a pacifist. And Paul -- he was reminded of a British TV show Charlene had hated, of something one of the characters had said once. A soldier isn't what he is, it's who he is, the scientist thought.
"Uh-oh." McAllister turned to Harrison. "Do you have a way of contacting him, short of yelling?"
"No, he took the walkie-talkie with him."
"I'll handle it, then." He turned to his pupil. "You stay here. That's an order."
"What are you doing?" Harrison asked.
McAllister didn't answer. He jumped up, grabbed a branch, and pulled himself into the tree above. Scurrying along a limb that should have been too light to support his weight, he moved closer to the battle and leaped. Turning a somersault in midair, he landed on his feet, did a double-cartwheel, coming up in a leap-and-kick against the radiation burned Hell's Angel sneaking up on Coleman.
"Oh, my God. Three more," Harrison gasped. "I didn't even see them."
McAllister knocked the alien down. Coleman whirled and shot it. The host body dissolved.
"Thanks," she acknowledged curtly, before turning on the dead alien's two companions.
"He needs help," Max decided.
Harrison grabbed the younger man's arm. "He said stay here, remember?"
Max grinned. "I got a bad memory."
"You'll get killed," Harrison persisted.
Max watched as his Master brought another alien down with a nunchaku and pretty Peggy Coleman shot it, too. Another of Omega Squad went down, spurting rivers of blood from what had once been his arm. Again, Max struggled to keep his lunch down.
"Maybe you're right," he agreed weakly. "What are those things?"
"I don't think 'Chief' Ironhorse would like it if I told you," Harrison parried. "Security breach. Did you really call him that in Vietnam?"
"Not to his face. He hated it."
The astrophysicist didn't reply. He was too busy watching McAllister. "Just who is your friend?"
Max couldn't help grinning, despite the grim situation. "You have your secrets, we have ours."
"Oh, my God. Paul," Harrison whispered in a stunned tone.
Max looked up and saw Ironhorse grappling with one alien, as another extended its third arm out of its chest toward the colonel's unsuspecting back. The rest of Omega Squad was too busy to see, let alone help. Max reached into his pocket and took out a small leather case. Before Harrison had a chance to say or do anything, Max removed a metallic object from the case, pulled back his arm, and let fly.
"Check out, Jack," he murmured triumphantly as the eight-pointed throwing star landed in the alien's back.
"What was that?" Harrison asked, seeing the alien fall. Ironhorse killed the one he was grappling with, then turned and shot the one Max had wounded.
"Shuriken," the would-be ninja informed him.
A moment later, the battle was over. Eight blobs of extraterrestrial goo lay on the ground. The remaining Mortaxian survivor turned its head, looking over Omega Squad, and defiantly uttered, "To dao nakatoe." Then it plunged its arm into its own chest, and nine piles of goo lay on the ground.
"Casualties?" Ironhorse demanded.
"Zimmerman and Baker are bad," Sgt. Macdonald reported. "I've just called an ambulance. Baker may not make it. They tore his arm off."
"Do what you can to keep him from bleeding to death. Anyone else?"
"Bumps and bruises only, sir," Macdonald replied.
"Could've been worse. Washington, organize a clean-up crew. Collect samples for the doctors and police the area before the civilian authorities get here." The Cherokee glanced down. Buried in the remains of the dead alien by his feet, something metallic reflected the sunlight. He pulled a pair of surgical gloves out of his pocket and put them on before reaching down to pick up the object. "A shuriken."
Ironhorse turned to look at McAllister, who stood nearby talking to Coleman. Not only was the old man unharmed, he wasn't even winded.
The Master shook his head ruefully. "I took an oath never to kill again."
"You just knocked them down. We did the actual killing," Coleman pointed out.
"If I eat a steak, I'm just as responsible for the slaughter of the steer as the farmer and the butcher are. However ... you wouldn't have even been born yet in 1953, sergeant." He looked to see if she recognized the significance of the year, and saw by her face that she did. "Stopping them is more important than a broken promise."
Lt. Col. Paul Ironhorse walked over to them, the shuriken still in his hand. "Who are you?"
John Peter McAllister smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. "Just a friend of a friend." He took the throwing star from the colonel, wiped it off on his handkerchief, and put it carefully in his pocket. "Hope you don't mind. They're kind of expensive.
Ten minutes later, Max and McAllister were at the botanical gardens on the other side of the SDSU campus. The photo shoot was already underway.
"Teri McAllister? She called in sick," fashion photographer Dani Reynolds explained. "Jack, more this way. Now smile."
"Sick? Is it serious?" the Master demanded, all thoughts and worries about fighting aliens banished by the more serious thought of his daughter being ill.
"Did she leave a number or an address where we could reach her?" Max added.
"No, Teri's almost phobic about her privacy. No number, no address." Dani shook her head. "If she weren't the hottest thing to come along in a while ...."
"It wasn't her that was sick," Rick, Dani's African-American assistant explained. "It was her son."
"Her son?" McAllister repeated, stunned. "Did you hear that, Max? I'm a grandpa."
"Where did they go?" Ironhorse demanded.
"Just a minute, Norton." Harrison put down the car phone. "Keller and the old man? I thought they were with you."
"McAllister said he was coming over here to wait with you." The soldier swore. "The chance to debrief a veteran of the '53 invasion .... Is that Norton? Give me the phone. Mr. Drake, run a computer check. Find out everything you can on a man named John Peter McAllister."