The Endless War
by Tony Noland
Even though the General knew the guy's real name, the name he had been born with, he didn't use it. That would have been disrespectful for one of the galaxy's top undercover agents. Nor did he refer to him by any of the multitude of code names the agent went by. Those changed daily, even hourly, depending on circumstances and according to a pattern that the General himself was not privy to. This was going to be a hard enough sell; the General did not want to risk losing any authority by using a compromised or outdated name.
"I've got a job for you, son. It's vital."
The agent didn't move, the fixed expression of boredom on his pale face betrayed by a slight flicker of his bright green eyes. He was interested.
Carefully, thought the General, carefully.
"The reports from the front aren't good. You've seen the scan imagery, gotten the briefing from Dr. Goldman. We're going to lose this war unless..." He let the thought hang, the hook baited. A pause, then green eyes swiveled to look directly into his own.
The General didn't answer right away, but drummed his fingers on the table for dramatic effect. The agent was good, very good, but he wasn't the first of his kind the General had had to manage.
"We've been fighting the Bugs for thousands of years. We establish ourselves somewhere and as sure as night follows day, they try to move in. For almost all of our history, they have been attacking, and we've been essentially powerless against them."
"And if we were just to accept them? To leave them alone?"
"Don't get cute. It doesn't work that way, you know that. We can't reason with them, or negotiate a truce. They're mindless predators. They don't think, they just attack us, feed on us. It's in their nature. For us to live, they have to die."
"You mean wipe them out? Kill every Bug everywhere in the universe?"
The General sighed, packing a thousand generations of weariness into one long, drawn out sigh. Melodrama, he thought, they're always such suckers for melodrama.
"That's not possible," said the General. "The Bugs outnumber us ten million to one. In many ways, this is their universe and we're just a small part of it. We can't go out and eradicate them, but we can defend ourselves when they attack. It means constant vigilance, but we've come up with a couple of things that can hold them at bay. They just might turn the tide for us."
He slid a printout across the table.
The agent scanned across the page, lingering over the schematic diagrams and long chemical names. "I'm not a scientist, you know. What is this?"
"That is part of the strategy our top experts have developed. Right now, the best armor we have for our personnel is form of polymerized crystal, molded to fit and laced with molecular bonding to make it resist almost all forms of attack. It will even hold off the Bugs for a while, until the acid that they secrete allows them to penetrate it. After that, they feed on the flesh within."
The General saw the agent wince. Was that too much, too bloody a truth to lay out so flatly for him? No, the General thought, better keep up the pressure. I can't afford to have him refuse.
"However," he continued, "things are going to be different from now on. There's an advanced form of atomic deposition that will alter the molecular structure of the crystal. The procedure results in a hyper-dense armor that's worlds better than anything we've ever had."
"Let me guess - it blocks the Bugs completely, right?"
The General shook his head. "You've got a lot to learn about Bugs. The new armor is good, but it's not that good. It doesn't stop the Bugs; nothing can stop the Bugs. However, it slows them down considerably, long enough to deploy the kinetic weapons."
"They attack in waves. If the Bugs can't establish a firm toehold, we can knock down an entire assault force, assuming we have someone who knows what he's doing wielding the multi-filament weaponry. That buys us enough time to repair the armor and get ready for the next attack. Between the advanced defensive ability of the hyper-dense armor and the offensive capability of kinetics, we can live quite happily, right in the middle of their universe."
The agent was silent for a long time. Finally, he slid the printout back across the table. "So what is it you want me to do?"
"I want you to get trained on these tools, deploy them and show the Bugs what human technology is capable of."
"And if I refuse?"
"Then the Bugs win."
The General waited. The agent was good, had a decent poker face, but the General saw that he'd carried the day. There was enthusiasm for the job in those green eyes.
The woman in blue silk pajamas asked, "Well? How did it go? Is he going to do it?"
"Of course. He's even eager to get started."
She smiled and came to him. He circled his arms around her as she pressed herself to him. She ran her fingernails up along his scalp, and kissed him, just the way he liked.
"You," she said, "are one devious, manipulative guy. I love that about you, did you know that?"
"Ha. Don't try to fool me, sweetheart. You love me for my body, first, last and always."
"That too. What did you say? How did you convince him? He's so much more stubborn and difficult than any of the others were. I used every trick in the book with this one and I couldn't get through to him."
He looked down into her pale face, her bright green eyes gleaming up at him. He linked his hands at the small of her back and kissed her.
"It's all in how you present it, babe. I just explained to him how cavities develop, how fluoride works and helped him to understand the importance of regular brushing. The next time he goes to see Dr. Goldman, I think his teeth are going to be very, very clean."
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