Weyland trailed after the security officers, keeping as close to them as he could without drawing attention to himself. It wasn’t an easy task, especially when they left the service corridors. This portion of the station was almost completely empty. The hallways were too wide and open to find good cover, and every door he passed was locked.
Only one store had lights on inside. When the guards ran in, Weyland heard a crash, raised voices, and a solid-sounding thump. He got to the door just in time to see Jianyu falling backward. His head hit the ground with a solid-sounding smack.
The Falacerian officer was standing over him, holding a stun baton. The hairy officer was helping a human up off the floor. She clung to the alien’s triple-jointed arm, looking dazed. The Centaurian officer was standing above Jianyu, her forelimbs spread in an aggressive posture.
“Excuse me,” Weyland said, stepping inside before anyone thought to close the door on him. “What’s happening here?”
Everyone in the room stared at him, except for Jianyu, who was lying face-up on the floor with his eyes closed. “Go away,” said the hairy officer, in English only slightly slurred by the presence of two fangs overhanging their lower lip. “This is a security issue.”
Weyland rolled his shoulders to loosen them. “What happened?” he asked again. Sometimes, if you asked the same question enough times, someone would answer.
“Didn’t you see the news?” the girl asked.
“No,” Weyland told her.
She tugged on the officer’s arm. “You have to show him. Your com screen’s not locked down. He’s got a right to know.”
“It’s not proper protocol,” the officer said, but he was already pulling out his screen. He set it to a news station, and Weyland watched the video with growing confusion. There was no sound, no captions, just a lot of shots of debris.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s Earth,” the girl whispered. “The Eridani attacked Earth.”
And something in Weyland’s brain went click.
It was a memory buried so deep that he never thought about it until, suddenly, he couldn’t think about anything else. He was surprised, sometimes, that he knew how to perform surgery without recalling how he’d learned to do it. But before medicine, before the movies, before anything else, he’d learned other ways of taking a person apart.
The quickest way to kill an Eridani is a direct shot to the head, he found himself thinking, and the knowledge sat in his consciousness like a stone, heavy and cold and terribly familiar. Preferably from a distance with a plasma rifle. In close quarters, they have superior strength and reach, but inferior speed.
And you had to fight them, because–because humans were weak, in a galaxy full of aliens that were strong and sly and greedy. If you didn’t fight, sooner or later some other sentient species in the galaxy would take advantage. That had always been the flaw at the heart of the Coalition, the crack that had widened until the whole artifice shattered. Humanity would never be safe in a universe full of monsters. To survive, they needed to fight back, to strike first, to be a show of force so overwhelming no one would even think of trying to take them on.
The knowledge flowed through him, a dark tide of information with a deep, pulsing undercurrent of emotion. And then he came back to himself, was aware again of the cramped store and the topped shelves and the officers staring at him with concern, except for the Falacerian, who’d drawn back with a look of horror on his perfect features. “What are you?” he asked, pressed up against the far wall.
It was a good question. Weyland took a long time to answer. “I’m a doctor,” he said, and then all seemed to relax just a bit. People always seemed to trust a doctor, even when they really shouldn’t.
Because–yes, he was a doctor. That was who he was, that was what he’d spent his life doing, not breaking people but putting them back together. He had always had this other part of him, had grown around it like healing muscle closes around shrapnel, but it didn’t have to be who he was. It was always a choice, and it was his to make.
And Jianyu was his friend. Weyland walked over to him, knelt by his side, and picked up one of his hands to feel for a pulse at his wrist. His hand was completely limp, dead weight, but his pulse was steady. There was a smear of dark liquid on the floor beside his head: blood, already coagulating on the cold tile.
Weyland lifted each of Jianyu’s eyelids in turn with the pad of his thumb. His pupils were blown wide, not contracting in the light. “I need a dolly, something big enough to transport him,” he said, and miraculously, the officers sprung into action as if he had any right to be giving them orders. They were scared, and he looked like he knew what he was doing. They came back with a low cart with a flat bottom, and the Centaurian and the many-jointed alien even helped him load Jianyu onto it. The Falacerian stayed well away from him; Weyland wasn’t sure how much the psychic alien had understood of what was going on inside his head, but he suspected it hadn’t been pleasant.