Because only a freak would dream sexy dreams of their invaders.Madison woke moaning and clenching her thighs together, reaching for a nameless muscled green alien that haunted her dreams with savage lovemaking. She sat up and wiped her sweaty brow. “Dammit, this is not happening. I’m not a freak.”
“Total freak,” Madison muttered. She pushed off the blankets and got up. Even the air around her smelled heavily of sex, how freaky was that? “Obviously, I take after that great, great, great voodoo priestess ancestor of mine.”
She stumbled out of bed and went to the tiny downright ugly bathroom to take a quick shower, praying there’d be water. The bathroom might be ugly, but it was a luxury to have her own. When there was water.
She almost cried in relief when the water poured out of the spout and didn’t even mind that it was cold. After dreaming of sex with a green alien, that looked suspiciously like their invaders, she needed to cool off.
“If this continue, I’m going to end up a crazy recluse living in the swamps, just like my voodoo priestess ancestor.”
She could understand dreaming of aliens after that humongous hologram of a muscled scary-looking green alien appeared all over the country and told them the earth had been conquered by them. And then a few months later that horrific parade of alien soldiers marching through Washington. Thousands upon thousands of aliens. What she couldn’t understand was having sex dreams about an alien instead of nightmares.
She scrubbed her neck where the dream alien had tried to bite her with abnormally long teeth. And she’d begged for it like some sex-crazy idiot. Quickly finishing in the shower she dressed in the white slacks and white short-sleeved jacket all the doctors wore and went out, carefully locking the safety padlocks her brother Joshua had installed on the door to her small flat. She then locked the security gate in front of the door and ran down the steps.
Clutching the length of iron Rory had made her promise she’d keep with her when she was out on the street, she rushed to the hospital entrance in Helena, Montana, where she worked as an intern. Walking alone on the streets was never her favorite pastime, but her friend Rachel, who also had a flat in her building was on night duty last night. Otherwise they’d have walked together for safety.
A group message had gone out on the TC last night, instructing all staff to report to the hospital at six this morning. She kicked at the rubble on the pavement. Who called a meeting at six in the morning? As far as Madison was concerned, the day started at ten. After several cups of coffee.
Rachel, her friend and fellow intern, waited for her in front of the entrance. The doors were supposed to open and close automatically, but they had broken down months ago and now stood open day and night. If the hospital had air conditioning, it would’ve been a serious problem. Now the perpetually open doors served to provide some relief from the stuffy humidity inside the hospital.
“Thanks for waiting for me,” Madison said.
Rachel smiled. “I was going to go in, but I saw your hair when you were three blocks away. It looked like moving flames.”
Madison pulled a face. She’d been teased and bullied about her red hair and freckles her whole life. She didn’t have auburn hair, or rich dark red hair, or anything nice like that—no she was blessed with ginger red hair that acted like a beacon if she stood in the sun.
“Do you know why we’ve been summoned? The message only said we should be in the hospital foyer at six. It’s a miracle I woke when the TC beeped.”
Something called the internet was used once to keep data on. When it crashed, their civilization almost collapsed. The Touch Cell Communication Device, TC Comm or TC for short, was invented by Soft Cell a century ago, and it allowed the user to make calls. It also functioned as a holograph device for watching movies and news programs and a storage device for documents. In the hospital they used TCs to keep track of patients and their treatments and medication.
Rachel shrugged. “No one knows.”
“Do you think it could be the aliens?” Madison asked.
She balled her fists. If they killed Rory, the resistance would be the least of their problems. She’d hunt each and every alien down and kill it. And her brothers would come all the way from Alabama to help. If they hadn’t gone hunting them already.
Since that huge hologram had appeared a few months ago, and the parade of soldiers months later, Madison hadn’t seen any aliens. They didn’t walk in the streets, didn’t come to the hospital. In fact, no one she talked to had ever seen an alien. The films about their savagery and reports on the battle at No Name Town where humans had tried to defeat the aliens were the only proof that there actually were aliens around.
When no aliens were seen, people had assumed it was a hoax or that the aliens didn’t have enough man power to police everyone, despite that parade.
Riots had raged for nearly three months. Sadly, Madison thought it was people’s general dissatisfaction with their lives, more than the arrival of Aliens that got people rioting. Most people were still in shock at the idea of being ruled by beings from outer space. Madison remembered her first reaction had been that she lived in a country ruled by beings who didn’t have her well-being at heart. Their invaders had dealt with the riots swiftly and without mercy.
“I got a message last night,” she told Rachel quietly.
Madison knew she was paranoid about the aliens monitoring them, but how did they know they didn’t have cameras and listening devices everywhere? If that hologram was any indication, they were centuries ahead of earth technologically.
“Me too,” Rachel said, barely above a whisper.
“I’m a doctor, I want to save lives, not plant bombs,” Madison said quietly. She’d promised Ana that she would learn how to save injured and sick people. Joining the resistance would teach her to kill and she wanted to heal. She needed to heal. To redeem herself.
“Any word from Rory?” Rachel asked.
“Nothing.” Her brother had disappeared more than two years ago. Madison and her family never gave up hope that he’d appear one day in their house in the swamps, smiling his cocky smile.
“Don’t give up hope,” Rachel stopped and stared. “Good heavens the whole hospital staff is crammed in here. How do they breathe?”
Madison nearly walked into her. The normal sounds of garbled intercoms, rubber-soled feet, and the squeak of trolley wheels were replaced by the din of a great number of people crammed into a small space. The smell of sweat hanging unpleasantly in the air made her want to gag.
All the doctors, nurses, office and cleaning staff were crammed in what was normally a large foyer and wide hall leading to the different wards. There were lifts on either side of the hall, but no one ever used it since it broke down all the time and people had been known to be stuck in there for days. An air of expectancy hung in the room along with the oppressing humidity. Sweat broke out on her face. She probably looked like a greased pig. She envied Rachel whose light brown skin glowed attractively when she was hot and sweaty.
“Too many bodies breathing in here,” Madison muttered and inched back a little. She’d never get used to how many people are crowded into the cities. In her home town, everyone knew each other. Getting more than fifty people together was a challenge, as most people had left for the cities.
Everyone looked worried and Madison didn’t blame them. There’d been severe budget cuts lately. The broken and cracked tiles, the walls that hadn’t seen paint in decades, the lack of staff, all indicated a worrying lack of money. The only reason they had cleaning staff was because so many people were desperate for work that labor was cheap. Madison lived in fear that the hospital would be closed down, like so many others these last few decades.
Her worry was reflected on the faces around her. They all knew it was just a matter of time before they were shut down. All the hospitals in her home state of Alabama had closed when she was still in high school. Many big hospitals in cities all over the country had closed their doors in the last few years.
This was the only hospital left in several states to service most of the surrounding cities. They frequently had to turn people away who couldn’t pay, or when they didn’t have space or doctors to tend to them. The doctors were understaffed, but they had fourteen security people whose only job it was to get rid of the people the hospital couldn’t help. Madison hated those guards who stood at the entrance and made crude remarks to all the women entering the hospital.
“If it’s not the aliens, old Jacobson will probably get rid of some of us,” Madison muttered.
Jacobson was the administrator of the hospital, and he’d hated Madison ever since her brother threatened to beat him to a pulp if he didn’t accept Madison as one of the interns. She couldn’t really blame Jacobson for hating her. Rory could be scary when he was in protective mode. He loved making announcements and appearing important. If Jacobson had any sensitivity, he’d quietly call in those members of staff he planned to get rid of and do it in the privacy of his office.
Madison swallowed, her mouth suddenly drier than cotton off the stem. Jacobson hated her. He’d relish the opportunity to fire her in front of everyone.
“Shhh, he could be behind us and you know he’s got it in for you,” Rachel whispered.
Something cold slithered down Madison’s back. She checked behind and then around them and blew out a relieved breath. It would be just her luck if Jacobson lurked right behind them. Still, for a moment there, she’d felt something powerful breathing down her neck. A presence not quite human. She shrugged, her imagination had always been overactive.
A short distance from her and Rachel, two interns, Sandra and Viktor, stood talking. Of course, they didn’t look worried.
“It’s just not fair.”
“What?” Rachel asked.
“Everyone coming from families living in high cotton will get to stay.” Madison liked Viktor and had nothing against him, but a person should be able to keep their job based on the kind of work they did. Not on the amount of money your family donated to the hospital.
She’d applied six times before she was accepted into medical school. She’d learned later that Rory had bribed someone on the panel that chose the entrants. She hated that the only way anyone got in was by paying a bribe. Things shouldn’t work like that.
It had taken her two years of backbreaking work to finish her studies. After all her hard work, the only hospital hiring had been the one in Helena. An outbreak of drug resistant pox had decimated the numbers of their doctors.
“Not necessarily. You work twice as hard as any of us,” Rachel said.
“That’s not going to help me. Steto hates me and Rory isn’t here to force him to keep me.”
The hospital had received many more applications from interns than there were posts. The positions were offered to doctors from prominent families who could offer incentives. Her younger brother Rory, had promised her she would be accepted. He’d paid the administrator, Jacobson, a visit and assured him if Madison wasn’t offered a position, all seven of her brothers would return. Apparently, there had been some bloodshed before Rory got Jacobson to appoint Madison. Rory hadn’t been as surprised as Madison at how the system worked. He simply did what had to be done to help her reach her goal.
“Maybe Joshua will come,” Rachel said with real hope.
“No, it would just make more trouble.” Madison sighed and adjusted her collar. “Just ignore me. I’m being selfish, worrying about my own job.” She had to find a way to tell Rachel that Joshua would never be interested in her, but it would devastate her friend.
Rachel smiled mischievously. “Rory did say all seven of your brothers would be back if he messed with you.”
Jacobson had wisely decided he didn’t want to eat his food through a straw for the rest of his life and had appointed her. But he made no secret of how much he hated her.
Madison had been appalled at what her brother had done, but she’d also grabbed the chance to train in a city hospital. He might have caved and appointed her, but Jacobson had found ways to get even. Ways that normally left her without a salary for months on end, which meant no coffee. A vicious cycle as far as Madison was concerned.
“He’s still trying to get you for speaking out against the aliens,” Rachel said. As usual when she talked about the creatures that had invaded and conquered earth, there was something in her voice, something Madison couldn’t quite identify, but that she thought might be hatred. Intense personal hatred. As if they’d wronged her somehow. Rachel refused to talk about it and Madison respected her privacy.
Madison had made no secret of her own hatred of the aliens. The fear that Rory had been slaughtered at the Battle of No Name Town haunted her. A few years ago the government had released a statement and shown the world a purple alien. They’d been told that more aliens were living near No Name Town. Raiders and opportunists had swarmed to the small town, only to encounter a kind of force field that kept them away from the aliens—until the freaks, that turned out to be green, came out and slaughtered every man in that camp. Madison suspected Rachel also had family in that camp, because she shut down whenever the battle was mentioned.
“They caught me by surprise,” Madison mumbled.
It hadn’t been her best moment. She’d seen the film the resistance had released, showing the aliens viciously killing humans. When that reporter had asked her about her opinion, all her hatred had spilled out. The film had played on her fears about Rory who’d been missing almost two years at that stage. She should’ve kept quiet. She’d half expected a TC message, that told her she was fired for opening her big mouth against the aliens that took over their planet.
“There he is, pompous ass,” Rachel muttered.
She couldn’t stand Jacobson, but was better at concealing it than Madison. Madison envied Rachel her ability to keep calm in situations that had Madison spewing venom.
Jacobson’s tall thin frame brimmed with excitement. He touched the old fashioned stethoscope he always wore around his neck in a nervous habit and then dropped it.
“Old steto is bursting with news,” Rachel whispered.
He’d earned the nick name because as an administrator he had no reason to wear a stethoscope, but was never without it.
“And he’s scared.” Madison could see his Adams apple work as he kept swallowing and adjusting his stethoscope.
Jacobson cleared his throat. “Good morning, colleagues. As you are aware, you were all called—”
A very tall, muscled green alien in a silver uniform stepped forward. He appeared as if from nowhere and a gasp went up in the warm stifled room. Madison had the most peculiar feeling, a deep instinctive knowing that the imposing alien, with the soulless black eyes, would have a profound impact on her life. Her heart stopped beating for one endless moment, when it felt like gravity fell away. He wore a white coat over his uniform and she knew that face with its sharp cheekbones and cold black eyes. It was the alien from her dream. Or nightmare. If he stood among a thousand aliens, she’d be able to pick him out of the crowd. Yet she knew she’d never seen him before. How was it possible to have sex dreams of someone you’ve never even seen before?
He pushed Jacobson aside. The poor man stuttered and stopped speaking, swallowed and slinked back. A murmur went through the crowd. Some of the people gathered there inched towards the exit.
The alien looked at them with those soulless black eyes that made you feel it looked deep into your soul and found you wanting. His gaze rested briefly on her and a small shock went through her system, as if that gaze was a live wire. Dead silence had fallen over the room and, to Madison, it felt as if the heat had intensified.
He was tall and muscled, much taller than human men, with green and copper striations on his skin that made her think unpleasantly of a reptile, but it also gave him a tough armored look. What would his skin feel like if she touched it? In her dreams it had been warm, rippling with muscles. Madison forced her mind back from those dangerous speculations.
He regarded the humans with black soulless eyes above sharp cheekbones and a jaw so square and exaggerated, he reminded her of a classic batman illustration. A ridge bisected his bald head and stopped just above his nose. His white doctor’s coat appeared incongruous over his silver uniform.
How was it that he looked exactly like the alien in the holograph, and yet she knew she’d be able to tell them apart?
“Ugly bloody bastard,” Madison muttered between clenched teeth and his eyes flicked to her. And again that electrified feeling zapped through her system.
When his gaze left her, it felt as if it left a physical touch on her body. She’d been hot before, now she burned.
She exchanged an uneasy glance with Rachel. How sharp were those recessed ears? Rumor had it they had super human strength. That bullets bounced of them.
“What the hell does he want with us?” she mumbled very, very softly.
His gaze flicked to her again, so brief, if she haven’t been looking at him, she would’ve missed it.
“This hospital is under Zyrgin control.” His fang like incisors flashed white in the artificial lights provided by the bare light bulbs that hung from frayed wires from the ceiling.
His voice sent goose bumps over her whole body. Cold and clipped with an undertone, as if ice cubes were grating against each other. It stroked her nerve ends in a roughened caress and she shivered. She was losing her mind. No way could one of those hated aliens make her feel like this with only his voice. She blamed those dreams that played havoc with her body and made it think it should react with pleasure to the alien’s presence and voice.
“You will address me as Viglar. I rule this hovel you call a hospital. Until further notice, you are taken off medical duty.” He looked around the room, managed to convey his disdain of each and every human present. Madison was sure he looked at her specifically for a few tense seconds.
Loud protests from the crowd.
“Quiet, humans.” He didn’t raise his voice, but silence fell in one chill swoop.
His lip curled back from those wicked incisors. “You will assist with building and painting the new hospital. You will no longer be able to be lazy.”
“Lazy,” Madison exclaimed and his gaze flicked to her very briefly, but still she felt it like a whip mark on her skin.
“And who’s supposed to do any doctoring,” someone in the middle of the crowd called out.
“A limited amount of doctors will be allowed to continue tending to the patients. Your training and knowledge are pitiful. New doctors will be trained to have adequate skills and to replace you.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Madison muttered, so angry she barely heard the noise of her colleagues protesting. Who did this alien think he was, to come in here and try and take away her career. She’d worked so hard to get here. To be able to keep her promise to Ana. ‘Help me, Maddie, make the pain go away.’
She looked around, still so angry she was dizzy. Everyone talked at once, shouting at the alien, while he stood with his booted feet planted wide apart and his arms crossed over his chest, looking at the humans as if they were slaves beneath his notice.
“Quiet, humans,” the alien said. He didn’t raise his voice, didn’t move or shout, but again quiet descended.
All the humans who’d been shouting at him inched back a little.
His lip curled up a little on the right side of his thin lips, sneering at them? “Medical units will be installed. These units are too advanced for your primitive human brains to understand, but will deal with minor health problems.”
Murmuring broke out again and he silenced it with a look. “All you need to know is that it functions at a higher level than you do and can assist patients faster with more efficiency and knowledge than you are able to do.”
“We demand to continue as doctors. We’ve got contracts.”
The alien seemed to think about it. “I doubt you are capable of acquiring the knowledge needed to function at an acceptable level. Your contracts does not interest me.”
An angry murmur went through the humans, gaining momentum. Madison wanted to storm up to that alien and grab him by the throat and, no doubt, the others felt the same. How dare he belittle their skills like that? Brush off their accomplishments as if all the studying and hard work and sacrifice was nothing?
The alien merely looked at them with that expressionless face.
“What the hell?” Dr. Paulsen, their seasoned doctor muttered.
“We’ve got rights,” a few people shouted.
“Who are you to come in here and tell us what we can and can’t do?”
“Quiet,” the alien repeated in his firm, gravelly voice. Again, he didn’t have to raise his voice. The humans all stilled. Madison had the same reaction, her body freezing in place. It was an involuntary fright reaction. As if her brain recognized being confronted by an animal higher up on the food chain. She’d never hated anyone as much as she hated this alien. She glared at him, not caring if he saw her.
“From now until a new hospital is built, all humans will be required to work longer hours. Laziness will not be tolerated,” he said in a grating firm voice.
“Like we’re just sitting around doing nothing,” Rachel murmured.
“Lazier than cut strings, that’s us,” Madison said. “I’m fixin to wash his mouth out with soap.”
“Shhh,” Rachel whispered without moving her lips.
“Your shameful habit of taking long breaks will not be tolerated,” he said it as if taking a break is akin to murder.
“I thought we’re not good enough to be doctors. Why would we stick around and do your building for you?” Clarkson shouted from somewhere in the front.
“Yeah, as if we actually have time for breaks now.” Even while she quietly whispered to Rachel, Madison worried.
That green alien looked pretty determined to her, and she was afraid he was going to destroy her lifelong ambition to become a doctor. She could return to Alabama and set up a practice in the small town close to her parents and brother’s house. Doctors were scarce. But she had so much more to learn. She needed to know everything, to make sure she could help all the patients coming to her.
He stopped speaking for a long tense moment, his eyes on Madison. How sensitive are those recessed alien ears of his? she wondered again.
Another murmur went through the humans. The alien continued to speak. “You will complete a ten hour shift on building duty and then do a further four hour shift when necessary.” His glance seared Madison. “Your weak human females will have painting duties.”
At the front, Clarkson elbowed his way toward the alien. Although unions had disbanded ten years ago, he liked to call himself the union representative. Madison thought he’d earned the title, going toe to toe with Jacobson almost every day.
“Now he’s done it,” Rachel murmured.
“Yeah, world war four is upon us,” Madison agreed. She didn’t appreciate being called a weak female, but Clarkson was about to go through the roof.
One of the new interns, Clarkson had started protesting working hours and working conditions the moment he walked into the hospital. While the alien talked, Madison had noticed Clarkson getting redder in the face.
Rachel and Madison both refused to take part in the sit ins he organized to protest their sixty-hour work week. Madison, who routinely put in eighty-hour work weeks, couldn’t justify leaving her patients unattended. She also knew there was no money in the budget to appoint more doctors. Rachel always kept a low profile and managed to avoid angering Jacobson or Clarkson. Madison and Clarkson frequently had trouble with their paychecks because they never backed down when dealing with Jacobson. Problems Rachel never experienced.
Madison might not do sit ins and demand shorter work weeks, but her mouth frequently got her into trouble with Jacobson.
“I won’t be used for slave labor,” Clarkson said. He took a step forward. “We have rights, and you cannot come in here and lay down arbitrary rules without consulting with us first.”
Everyone gasped and a hush fell over the room. A few people inched toward the exit, but froze in place when a chill alien gaze pinned them.
“You have to admire his moxy,” Madison murmured. She wasn’t going to allow this alien to dictate to her, but she didn’t have the guts to face him down in front of everybody.
Rachel nodded her agreement.
Madison cringed when that empty looking gaze went to Clarkson. That was what his eyes reminded her of. A huge black hole that sucked in everything that came too close. A place where nothing survived, not even stars.
The alien moved so fast he was a blur. One moment he stood against the wall and the next, he grabbed Clarkson by the throat, lifting him off his feet. “You will work when I tell you to, human. I will not tolerate laziness or disrespect.”
His calm gravelly voice again sent shivers to places Madison didn’t want affected by that alien. Especially not while he held Clarkson like a rag doll.
Clarkson was red and turning purple. “I have rights,” he gurgled through the pressure on his throat.
Madison had to give him points for courage, or stupidity. She balled her fists. Everyone was scared, including her, but she couldn’t stand by and allow that cold-blooded reptile to kill Clarkson. She wasn’t a fan of Clarkson, but he didn’t deserve that for speaking out.
Holding Clarkson up with one hand, the alien turned him from side to side, inspecting him like a specimen under a microscope. The scary part was the fact that Clarkson’s feet were a few inches off the ground. The alien moved him easily, as if he weighed no more than a doll.
Madison was about to rush forward when the alien dropped Clarkson, who fell on the floor with a sickening thud, where he writhed, coughing and wheezing.
The green freak returned to his previous spot against the wall. With that attitude, it was a wise precaution. He was sure to get stabbed if he allowed anyone at his back. She’d like to storm up there and stab him in his putrid green heart with a scalpel. Did he help slaughter humans at the Battle of No Name Town, or did he only heal the wounded murdering alien scum? Every time she saw those clips showing their savagery, Madison thought of Rory maybe dying at their hands. Alone, without his family.
The alien continued as if Clarkson wasn’t wheezing for breath at his feet. “Jacobson will allocate new duties.” He turned his head, making eye contact with everyone. “Laziness will be dealt with. You are dismissed.” He moved back a step and then disappeared.
Everyone gasped and deadly silence descended on the room for a few minutes. Then Clarkson dragged himself up, and, as if that broke the spell, everyone started talking and shouting together, demanding to know what was going on.
Madison and Rachel cued with the others in a long line in front of Jacobson, who managed to stand on something that made him stand head and shoulders above the crowd.
“Vain bugger,” Rachel muttered.
“Bet you he gives me the worst tasks,” Madison mumbled. Her mind still on the fact that the aliens planned to train new doctors and get rid of her and her colleagues. “Though he’s a picnic compared to that alien horror we have to put up with.”
She didn’t know if she was angry or afraid, but her insides trembled and every now and then she’d feel dizzy with the need to go and grab that alien by the throat.
They stood in silence for a while, but Madison couldn’t keep her resentment in. She’d never have Rachel’s ability to hide her feelings.
“He basically told us we’re too stupid to be doctors.” How dare he judge them without even knowing them? She worked eighty hour weeks most times and he had the gall to tell them laziness will not be tolerated.
“Who, Jacobson?” Rachel said with a frown.
“No, that blasted alien.”
Whispers went through the queue in front of them, and they stood on their toes trying to see what was happening. Three interns who joined the hospital recently were informed that they would be kept on medical duty. Madison was livid. “I worked the longest hours. I’m the one that should be kept on medical duty.”
A long time later, they reached the front of the queue and stood before Jacobson who barely looked at Madison. Sandra, an intern stood next to him with a TC held against her ample chest, helping him. It was rumored that she and Jacobson had an affair, though Madison couldn’t imagine having a relationship with him. To each his own. Sandra’s nasty little remarks to Madison had intensified these last few weeks and that did bother her.
Madison was assigned to emptying store rooms in preparation for the changes to be made to the building. Afterward, she had to join the painting crews to paint the areas that would not be rebuilt.
That was the start of a grueling six hours being worked like a slave. Madison was so tired that night when she got home, she fell into bed without eating. Every bone in her body ached, and she cursed that alien freak. She’d studied medicine because she wanted to save lives. She didn’t mind carrying bricks and emptying the storeroom. But what if the building took years? She needed to qualify, to learn. She was so close to keeping her promise to Ana. That alien wouldn’t stop her.
Two weeks later, they were all called to assemble outside at the back of the hospital. She and Rachel, still in their paint spattered over coats, trudged in the wake of the others.
“Now what did that alien come up with to torture us,” Madison muttered.
“Shhh, he might hear you, he can turn invisible. For all we know he could be standing right next to us,” Rachel said softly.
“I hope he’s close to us, he needs to hear a few things about himself that might improve his attitude.”
They entered into the bright spring morning air to find three men and a woman with their hands tied behind their backs. They stood with their chins raised, their eyes blazing. The first day Madison started at the hospital one of the other interns had told her never to mess with any of the three, who had some nasty connections.
“Now what does that alien think he’s doing?” Rachel muttered.
“They’re the three running the drugs out of the hospital. Daniel is a nasty piece of work. I try to stay out of his way,” Madison said.
The few times she’d had to go to him to get drugs for a patient, the way he’d looked at her had made her want to take a bath.
“If it’s the alien that tied them up, I wouldn’t be so defiant,” Rachel said.
They’d all developed a healthy respect for the alien. He didn’t hesitate to physically enforce his commands. And that was what they were, commands. He didn’t ask or instruct, and Madison didn’t have to guess who tied the hands of the two men and one woman in front of her. Everyone knew they belonged to the medical Mafia and ran drugs out of the hospital and they were all too scared to take them on. Only one being wouldn’t hesitate.
“Yeah, I doubt the aliens are scared of any human mafia.” Madison despised those three, but was careful never to show it. They had killed and maimed family members of doctors who tried to take get them kicked out of the hospital.
Viglar appeared in that way they hadn’t been able to figure out. One moment he wasn’t there and the next he was. He paced in front of the three drug smugglers and addressed the crowd. “Humans have no honor. Stealing from the sick and injured is the act of a woumber and a coward. Stealing drugs in this hospital will not be tolerated.”
“What’s a woumb—what the hell?”
A sword appeared in his hand as if by magic.
Madison slapped her hand over her parted lips. Surely, he wouldn’t? A strange expectant silence fell over the crowd. Horror clawed at Madison’s throat. This was modern times, things like this just didn’t happen.
“Maybe the sword is just for show,” Rachel said.
A few women sobbed. Daniel, the most vicious of the three, who Madison avoided at all costs, glared at Viglar. “Do you know who you’re messing with, alien scum? My people will kill you and your family and everyone you ever—”
His head rolled to the floor. Blood sprayed as the head made dull thudding sounds and kept rolling. The gathered crowd screamed hysterically and, before Madison could blink, he’d beheaded all three of them, his movements smooth—the action of muscle and sword almost obscenely beautiful. The smell of blood hung in the air, Madison had treated injuries and seen a lot of blood, without any problem.
This was different—the metallic smell of the blood different, violent. With her hand clutched over her mouth, Madison staggered away and threw up. Several of the others did the same.
Viglar ignored all the screaming and vomiting and managed to make himself heard, again without raising his voice. “This is what I do to thieves who come into my hospital and steal from the sick and injured.”
Silence settled over the crowd, only the sound of retching could be heard. Viglar looked at them, his face appearing crueler than usual, the red streaks on his white coat a grim reminder of what he’d just done. Madison had the macabre compulsion to look at the severed heads that had rolled in different directions, to match them up with the fallen bodies.
“Several doctors here managed to be accepted with false documents and bribes.” He looked at Jacobson, who was pale, trembling, and clutching his neck protectively. Viglar continued. “Be someplace else.”
Several of the doctors ran—a few that Madison would never have guessed weren’t real doctors.
Viglar turned and left—no, it was more like he disappeared. One moment he was there and the next he was gone.
“How does he do that?” she asked Rachel, who leaned against a wall, also pale and shaking. Madison sank down on her knees, but then she remembered the decapitated corpses lying so close. She got to her feet, still trembling and went into the hospital. “I can’t believe he did that,” she said.
“I can,” Rachel said.
“I have to admit, I always wished we could find a way to get rid of those thugs, but I never thought about beheading them.” Madison shuddered. It would be a long time before she forgot Daniel speaking one moment and then having his decapitated head flying through the air and thudding on the ground. “I wonder if Viglar realizes they’ll just send someone else.”
“If they send someone else, he’ll behead them too,” Rachel said. “I wonder if they’ll try and kill him.” There was a hopeful note in her voice.
The arrogant alien with his know-it-all attitude had managed to make himself thoroughly disliked.
They returned to their duties in stunned silence. Madison looked around to make sure Viglar wasn’t watching and then turned to Rachel. “I’m fixin to speak to that alien.”
“Madison no. Don’t get noticed,” Rachel begged.
Madison shrugged. She’d been painting walls for two weeks now and working up her courage for when she got to see the alien. Every day she asked Jacobson to see him and every day she was turned away. They’d not get rid of her that easily. She had an oath to keep. She’d be a doctor and she wouldn’t be cheated out of that. Not even a chopping-off-heads alien was going to stop her.
The next day, like she did every day for the last two weeks, she went to Jacobson’s office. It was large with an apartment attached to it. All the offices had shoddy furniture that was at least thirty years old. Madison looked around at the gleaming leather chairs and executive desk.
He sat back with a self-satisfied smirk she wanted to slap off his thin face. “I’m afraid I haven’t received an answer to my query about your salary.”
They both knew he was the reason she only got paid every second or third month. Today she couldn’t be bothered with that. “I want to speak to that alien,” she told him.
He sat a bit straighter. “I’m sure that could be arranged,” he said with a smarmy smile. He’d flatly told her the alien wouldn’t see her the previous times. What had changed?
He’d never been this helpful before, probably hoping that alien would cut off her head. If he thought she’d get what she wanted from the alien, he’d move heaven and earth to prevent her seeing him. He smirked at her, and it took all her strength to appear unconcerned and not slap it off his face.
“As it happens, I have an appointment with him in half an hour,” he said. “It’s nothing serious, so I will allow you to see him instead.”
She doubted Viglar discussed anything with him and Jacobson was probably just too glad to pawn off the time to her. “Where is his office?”
“He took the empty office down the hall.” There was something in his voice she couldn’t fathom. Some resentment.
Madison walked down the hall and stopped in front of the only door that was silver. She wiped her sweating palms on her jacket and then wanted to curse. She didn’t want to face that alien with a dirty white jacket. She needed all the courage she could muster as it was. She touched the strange looking door, and it felt like metal, but like nothing she’d ever seen before. Could it be from the alien’s home world? It was a strange thought, that she might be touching something that traveled through space from who knows how far to be installed in a hospital in Helena, Montana. And she was procrastinating.
Taking a deep breath for courage, hoping she got to leave with her head intact, she knocked.
The door slid open and seemed to disappear into the wall. She stared at it for a moment before she quickly moved past it. Her legs shook so much, Madison feared the alien would hear her knees knocking together. He’d cut off three people’s heads. What was wrong with her to come and brave him in his own office? What stopped him from cutting off her head too? She tightened every muscle she had, to try and hide her trembling, and forced her legs forward. This was something she had to do. If he refused, she’d be back tomorrow and the day after and the day after that.
He stood with his arms over his chest, his booted feet spread apart. His uniform fascinated her, made her hands itch. She’d love to touch it, to see if it felt like metal.
“Why are you demanding to speak to me, human?” His tone implied she’d better explain herself to his satisfaction or else. His arrogant tone always set her teeth on edge and now it helped lessen the fear and stabilized her knocking knees.
“I’m a doctor, I want to return to medical duties.”
Madison took a step forward, remembered the way he liked to cut off people’s head, and stopped where she was. She would’ve liked to take a step back, but wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. “You can’t just decide it like that.” She snapped her fingers and for a weird moment she thought he would step back from her. “I’ve worked hard to get this job and I won’t let you take it away from me.”
“You will return to your painting.” The lack of emotion, of any kind of reaction drove her crazy, made her want to pummel him until he realized how important this was.
“I will keep coming until you agree to let us continue to work as doctors.” She scowled at him. “It’s not your decision, anyway. This is our planet and you’ve no right to come here and make us work like slaves and tell us we can’t be doctors.”
He stepped closer to her and it took all her courage to stand her ground. “You do not have any rights, human.” He leaned down, spoke right in her face in a way that scared her so much, she almost peed her pants. “Return to work.”
Trying to hide how much she wanted to run for her life when he looked this intimidating, she mimicked his arrogant stance. “Not until you agree to let us function as doctors. I haven’t studied all those years just so some green alien can come and take it away from me.” Damn, she didn’t mean to call him a green alien. She kept a wary eye on his sword hand.
“I do not change my mind. What you studied do not qualify you to be a doctor. You are barely qualified to fill what you call a nursing post.”
Everything turned red around her and her ears rang. When at last she could see normal again without the red haze covering everything, her fists ached from clenching them so tight, she feared her teeth would crack, she gnashed them so hard. “How dare you, you unnatural green pest. I’ve worked hard to get where I am.” She didn’t mean to call him a green pest either. Madison tried to move back a bit, without looking as if she was trying to get out of sword distance.
“Humans used to study five years, then work two years as interns to become a doctor.”
“How do you know this? And anyway, the process was streamlined.” With the advent of online studying the actual time spent on campus had been cut down considerably.
He didn’t move from his wide spread stance with his arms crossed over his chest. His conquering alien pose, is what she and Rachel called it. “No, it was cut to save money.”
Madison resisted the urge to stamp her foot like a toddler about to throw a tantrum. “You can’t do this.” If only her brothers could fix this with their fists. She feared if she told them what was happening, they’d come here and try to sort out this freak of nature and get themselves killed. And thank the heavens she didn’t call him a freak of nature out loud.
He went to the desk and sat down, an action that didn’t make her feel any safer from that sword arm of his. “I can. Leave, human, you are wasting my time.”
Madison stormed to the door and then turned. “This isn’t over. I’ll be back.” She didn’t care that she screamed like a fishwife. She’d keep coming back until he listened to her.
He didn’t look up from the silver gadget in his hand. “I do not doubt this.”
Madison returned to that blasted wall and slapped paint on it in smoldering silence. She’d show that arrogant sanctimonious alien who he messed with. Muttering to herself, she dipped the brush into the paint and almost flung it on the wall. Just let that alien try and complain about the way she painted. The others wisely left her alone.
Her routine consisted of emptying store rooms and kitchens and painting. Endless painting. Her body protested the unaccustomed physical exertion and at night she fell into bed and slept like the dead.
Each day she went to Jacobson’s office to demand to see Viglar again. She wouldn’t be denied the opportunity to fulfill her promise.
Five days after she’d seen Viglar in his office, Madison finished her shift and trudged to Jacobson’s new office, trying not to enjoy the fact that he now had to function in a small office that haven’t even been painted yet. Yesterday the alien had told her she was using the visits to Jacobson’s office to demand to see Viglar as an excuse not to work. She’d been livid. So today she’d waited until she finished both her shifts.
Madison was amazed at the amount of work that alien got done on the hospital. He’d enlarged the hospital and changed the outside appearance and now it had several large domes. It looked like an alien structure. She’d thought with the domes it would be Russian looking or Far Eastern, but the domes didn’t remind her of Eastern architecture. The hospital was so big now, she might need a map to find her way around once it was finished. If it was really meant for humans and not aliens, she’d have a hard time holding onto her anger against them. Especially if she got that alien to agree to let her return to medical duties.
Jacobson sneered at her. “He said to go to his office. What do you do for him that he’s willing to see you and not m—not anyone else?”
Madison curled her lip and left his office. She wasn’t about to get into a mudslinging match with Jacobson. Again.
Viglar stood in his office, his feet braced apart, arms crossed over his chest in his normal conquerors pose and it irritated her enough that she blurted out without thinking, “You can relax every now and then you know, you don’t always have to stand around like the lord surveying all he conquered.
“I am looking at what I conquered.” He looked her up and down in blatant provocation.
“Don’t kid yourself. You haven’t conquered anything. You’ll learn the hard way that humans aren’t that easy to conquer.”
Before she saw him move, he grabbed her and held her close against him, so close she felt every one of his hard muscles move against her when he lifted her. “You are conquered, accept it.”
“Put me down.”
“How will you make me put you down?”
She pulled back her leg to knee him in his alien jewels and hopefully send him whimpering back to where he came from.
He put her down so fast she staggered. “Do not, you will break your bones,” he said.
Before she could blink, he’d moved away from her. Madison didn’t wait around to see what he’d do to her next. She ran through the silver door that thankfully opened for her and kept running until she stood shivering at her spot against the wall. What was wrong with her? Mouthing off to a being who cut off people’s heads?
She didn’t talk to the others and, after her long shift ended, she went home and lay in bed, obsessing about the meeting with the alien. Remembering how it felt to be held so close to him. Trying to work up the courage to go and see him tomorrow.
The next day she trudged to Jacobson’s office and he didn’t make his usual snide remarks, just put some books in a box and told her to go straight through to the alien’s office.
Dragging her feet, she walked up to that silver door. He wouldn’t grab her again, and, if he did, she’d just cock her knee again and he’d drop her. The problem with that was, she’d thought about it the whole night and the only conclusion she could come to was that he dropped her because he was scared she’d hurt herself if she kneed him.
Before she could knock, the door slid open.
“Come in, human, you need not fear your conqueror.”
Madison stormed inside. “That is not funny.”
He cocked his head. “I did not say that to be funny. I merely tell the truth.”
So help her, if she didn’t kill him with his own sword, it’d be a miracle. “You know what I want, don’t think I’ll stop coming to bug you about it. No matter what you do to me I’ll come back.” He had no idea how stubborn she could be.
He didn’t move and she was relieved to see he didn’t go for his sword. “I have decided to allow you to work as a doctor.”
Elation surged through her blood until she felt punch drunk. “Really, you won’t be sorry. I’ll—”
He held up a hand. “I have conditions.”
Her shoulders slumped. “Of course you have conditions.” Why would he simply allow her to continue with her duties, when he could make her miserable with all kinds of impossible conditions? “So what are these conditions?”
“You will work as a doctor, but you will also do your painting work. If you work less than eight hours a day as doctor, I will take away the privilege.”
She glared at him. She worked between ten and fourteen hours on painting and moving the smaller equipment from offices to be changed or painted. Another eight on top of that would mean she barely got to sleep. “You think I can’t do it. Well, I’ll show you. I’m an Alabama girl, no miserable alien will stop me from doing my life’s work.”
Oops, she didn’t mean to call him a miserable alien. Better get out of reach of those quick arms of his.
He didn’t react to her insult. “Leave, human.”
She stormed out and went back to painting, too angry to talk to anyone. He was setting her up to fail. She knew that was what he was doing, but she’d show him. She could work much harder than he could ever dream of.
Madison thought she’d worked hard before and since the alien came, but now she learned the meaning of hard work. Because she’d always put in long hours, she was sure that she would easily show that miserable alien how hard a human could work. Within weeks she was chronically tired from too much work, not eating enough, and barely getting any sleep. She grimly forced herself to keep going, to get up every morning and go to work and show him that she wouldn’t break down and ask to work less hours.
A month later, she woke feeling sluggish. It felt as if she’d just closed her eyes and now she had to get up already. She was lucky to get four hours of sleep a night. She’d forgotten what it felt like to eat regular meals.
Madison stared at the cream curtains her mother had made her. She’d forgotten to pull them closed and she blinked at the harsh sunshine hurting her eyes. She couldn’t process what her bleary mind told her. The TC was flickering and she groaned. There must have been a power cut during the night, and her alarm never went off. You’d think the solar would kick in at least. Because they were on the same electricity grid as the hospital, their apartment building should be safe from load shedding, but the reality was it happened all the time. Only now a monster alien, that grabbed people by the throat if they didn’t stick to his rules, was in charge of the hospital.
“I need to get more than two or three hours sleep a night,” she muttered and staggered out of bed as fast as her sore muscles allowed. For the first time she was thankful for the small space she lived in. She couldn’t have staggered more than a few steps to the bathroom.
She said a quick prayer the hospital’s generator kicked in this time. They’d lost patients during power cuts before. She was late, that reptile was going to grab her by the throat and choke her. She shuddered while she stuck her toothbrush in her mouth. Or cut off her head, the way he’d executed those three people last month. She’d been spared any dealings with him lately, but many of the other doctors had tales to tell.
Madison put a protective hand over her throat, rushed to the kitchen and then almost cried. She’d worked too late to buy food. With a sigh she locked her door and rushed outside. Normally she would be afraid to walk to the hospital alone this early, but lately the men who had made their lives difficult on the streets had disappeared. She tried to hurry, but she was so tired it was hard to run.
The hospital was thankfully just a few blocks from her flat.
Madison ran into the hospital, out of breath and more than an hour late. She rushed to the office where she was supposed to sign to take over from the night staff, all the while praying that green creature didn’t cross her path. Paint fumes permeated the halls, replacing the smell of disinfectant that usually hung in the air. The sounds were different as well. All the intercoms had been disconnected, and they’d heard a better system was being installed. She had to admit it would be a huge improvement. The previous intercom system only worked intermittently and only in certain areas of the hospital.
“Madison,” Rachel cried. Dressed in jeans and work boots and waving a paint covered brush, she rushed up to Madison, the golden highlights in her brown hair shining under the newly installed ceiling lights. Madison envied her friend her light brown skin with her whole heart. Rachel never had to worry about being in the sun too long. “Did you oversleep? You’d better hurry and get your painting gear before that alien sees you coming late.”
“Yeah, why couldn’t he act like a good monster scientist like Dr Frankenstein. Reanimating corpses and leaving us alone.”
Rachel waved her brush and Madison jumped back to avoid being spattered with white paint.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t understand your fascination with ancient writing,” Rachel complained.
“I’ll tell you later, gotta run.”
Rachel walked backward to the wall she’d been painting. “Right, see you in the cafeteria if our break times overlap.” They were allowed to break to eat and regain their puny human strength as the alien put it. Though he deemed ten minutes enough to eat. If she wasn’t so scared he’d cut off her head, she’d tell him a thing or two.
Madison rushed to the office with the painting supplies and nearly groaned when she saw Sandra waiting to hand over. For some reason Madison couldn’t fathom, the woman hated her. The only thing she could think off was that she really did have an affair with Jacobson and hated Madison because she always bumped heads with him.
“Late again, Madison,” Sandra said.
Madison drew a deep breath. She ignored her comments and signed in. She accepted the brush and rollers and huge tin of paint another intern handed her. Where did they get it? Paint supplies were scarce and expensive. “You have to admit these aliens are efficient,” she muttered.
The intern nodded.
Everyone was outfitted with protective coats, paints, and brushes with an efficiency Madison had never experienced before. Having a building enlarged and renovated in such a short time was something none of them ever thought to experience.
She hurried to the spot Rachel had kept for her. “I’m sorry, I should’ve made sure you were awake,” Rachel said.
They had flats in the same building.
Taking a deep breath, Madison applied the brush to the wall. She shrugged and then groaned when her muscles protested. “Not your fault.” She scowled at the hallway they were painting. Who knew a hospital could have so many walls. And every day that alien added more. “I’m a doctor, not a painter,” she muttered and dipped the brush into the paint again.
“At least you get to be a doctor,” Rachel said.
Madison didn’t like the bitterness in Rachel’s voice, but she could understand it. No one, except Madison and the three doctors who never talked to anyone, got to work at their profession. There was something strange about those three, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Everyone else slogged away like slaves building and painting. Though Madison was beginning to feel the pressure of painting the whole day and doctoring practically the whole night.
She squared her shoulders. She was fixing to see that alien again. That was the start of another busy day only broken by a hurried lunch with Rachel.
“I’m fixing to find Jacobson.”
“Oh, Madison, not again. Viglar agreed to let you go back to being a doctor. Don’t make him mad enough to cut off your head.”
“I’ll be careful, but I have to speak to him.” She didn’t want Rachel to get her hopes up. If he allowed them all to go back to being doctors, maybe they could change his mind about replacing all of them.
Eight hours later, Rachel and Madison still had an hour left of painting. “My get up and go done got up and went,” Madison told her friend.
This time Jacobson had refused her request to see the alien and she’d reluctantly returned to painting. Every bone in her body ached, and she still had the night shift to do in the women’s ward. Showing that alien turned out to be extremely tiring.
“If that means you’re dead tired, me too,” Rachel said.
“I wonder what’s behind this sudden willingness of the aliens to build a hospital.”
They’d dealt with the riots with ruthless efficiency and, shortly after that, they’d showed a hologram of their soldiers marching through Washington. Row after row of deadly looking soldiers, so many they’d marched for almost a day. Before that day there’d been doubts about how many aliens actually landed, but that display of manpower had put a stop to speculation. Madison had expected concentration camps and executions. Not for them to build hospitals. Though they’d gotten the executions too.
Rachel rolled her eyes and brandished her brush. “It’s obvious, they want to spread goodwill, look like our saviors so that we go willingly into slavery.”
Madison glowered in the direction of the hallway leading to the office the alien had claimed as his. The only good thing about his presence was the way he kicked Jacobson out of his office and took it over. “They’ve got a big surprise coming. We’re not that easy to enslave.”
Rachel lifted a brow and continued painting.
“We won’t let them enslave us, right?” Madison insisted.
She held no cotton with the thought of bending her knees to alien overlords. Still Rachel’s attitude scared her, as if they had no hope of winning against the invaders.
Rachel shrugged. “Go and tell the alien you refuse to paint anymore, since you’ve worked more than twelve hours already.” She smirked. “Let me know how that works out for you.” There was something more than sarcasm in her friend’s voice. Almost pain.
Rachel smiled at her. “Never mind. We’ve each got a wall as long as the one they used to have in China to paint. Less chatting, more work.”
They painted in silence for a while.
“They could be planning to experiment on humans, or they’re building the hospital for more aliens they plan to relocate to earth,” Rachel said.
“Don’t wanna hear it.” There was a lot of theories going around and they all scared her. “I’d prefer to find out when I’m sitting in a lab tube in their spaceship, not before, thank you very much.”
Madison applied the roller to the wall, watching with satisfaction as the drab surface transformed into a pristine white wall. She was doing this because she had pride in their hospital and wanted to help transform it. That was all. She wasn’t some indoctrinated idiot willingly going into slavery. She still hated painting.
If they tried to enslave them, experiment on humans, or use the hospital for aliens only, she’d learn to build a bomb and blow up the building. She hoped it didn’t come to that. When they’ve kicked the aliens off their planet, they could use this place. Maybe by that time, the aliens might have built a few other hospitals they could use as well.
“That alien helped us build eighteen hours every day. You should see the speed at which he worked,” Viktor said. He’d been injured while building and put on painting duty.
Madison could well believe that alien would jump in and help build. Viglar was the industrious type.
“You sound as if you admire him,” Rachel sniped.
“All I’m saying is, he’s getting massive amounts of work done,” Viktor said defensively.
They painted in silence for a while.
Two hours later, Madison put down her brush and, groaning, stretched to relieve the pain in her muscles.
“Did you hear the alien kicked Jacobson out of his office,” Viktor said. He was from a farm in New York. His parents ran one of the few farms in the country that still produced apples and cantaloupe.
Clarkson came over to join them. “That’s old news.”
Rachel winced. “Ouch, he was so proud of his office as well.”
“I knew he’d been kicked out, but where’s he squatting now?” Madison asked, stretching, still trying to relieve the ache in her body. She had another hour to go of painting endless stretches of walls.
Clarkson shrugged “Don’t know, don’t care. We need to get to talk to that alien about his plans to replace us.” He’d bounced back from being strangled and now used his experience as an example of the totalitarian attitude of new management. He went to see Viglar almost as many times as Madison. There were bets going on how long he’ll still have his head attached to his body.
“I have to take a bathroom break,” Rachel said.
“Careful,” Viktor said from where he painted the opposite wall. “He monitors the bathroom breaks and let you have it if you’re trying to use unnecessary bodily functions as an excuse not to work.” He mimicked Viglar’s clipped way of speaking with hilarious accuracy. Several of the others laughed, but looked around carefully first. Viglar had the habit of appearing out of thin air at the worst possible moments.
“Frankenstein’s the right name for him,” Madison muttered.
“Who’s this Frankenstein,” Viktor asked.
“It’s one of Madison’s obscure references to ancient writing,” Rachel said on her way to the bathroom.
Viktor shrugged and then looked around. “Where’s Sandra gone to?” She’d been painting a little bit down from them, but was nowhere to be seen now.
The air electrified and everyone who’d been tired and working sluggishly suddenly appeared energized.
Madison’s voodoo senses vibrated. Even before she turned to see what was going on she knew the alien was there. Her eyes clashed with that evil black-hole gaze. Those shameful shivers ran all over her body again.
Viglar stood in the door of one of the supply rooms leading to the corridor they painted and he looked directly at her. As if only the two of them existed in that long hallway.
The world exploded.
© 2017 by Marie Dry