THE LAST ONE

by Darren A. Madigan

Gravel popped under the Musketeer's tires as I wheeled it into the parking lot off Lois Avenue. Hudson grunted beside me, something about stones in the tire treads. He shifted the shotgun on his lap slightly. If you didn't know him, you might have thought he was nervous.

"They could have come from another planet," he said, continuing the same old argument that he always came back to whenever Subs were brought up. "I mean, they're not Human, but they were humanoid... close enough to interbreed with Humanity. Biologically engineered alien invaders, here to infiltrate... to weaken Humanity, and soften us up for the real invasion..."

I tuned it out. It was like the chicken and the egg. People had been arguing about it since the end of the War. Subs as alien invaders. Subs as nefarious denizens of a subterranean land below the surface of the Earth. Subs as a product of parallel evolution. Subs as devils. Subs as clay statues, animated by evil magic, possessed of demonic spirits. I'd never been much interested in theory. Subs as corpses was my preference.

He looked out the window. "Sure this is the right place?" he muttered, craning his neck under the car's low roof to stare up at the bleak stucco facade of the old apartment complex. "Wouldn't think one of the little fuckers would live here..."

I just gestured to the hardcopy accordion-folded on the dashboard. "Check the file if you think I've got shit for brains," I told him. He did think so, but he didn't reach for the file. Shit for brains or not, I had ten years seniority on the force and he knew better than to piss me off. Not to mention the fact that I was a Deacon Colonel and he was nothing but an Altar Sergeant in our Church Militia. It was a toss up which way I could make his life more miserable if I put my mind to it.

I parked and slid out my side, pulling the Sig .305 out of its clips on the door as I straightened up. Hudson levered himself out of his door. The police model Musketeer is big for a modern car, but Hudson was built for something from the middle of last century; half a mile of polished metal with big fins on the back. Standing erect he tops my average height by seven inches or so. There isn't an excess of brotherly love between us, but like his sawed off scattershot and my 30 round auto-pistol, we work together well.

We didn't have to use the override codes in our cop IDs to get in. The lock on the complex's front door was junk; any card with a magnetic strip would open it, and chances were, everyone in the neighborhood knew it. Just like everyone in the neighborhood had seen the Musketeer pull up out front.

Thirty years before it had probably been an expensive apartment complex. Now it was a three story rat hole. It bothered me, sometimes, that Humans lived in places like this. In my grandfathers day, before the War, Subs would have lived in a place as apparently squalid as this. They tricked Humans into building them nice places to live, then they trashed them to trick Humans into rebuilding them. Or maybe they were just incapable of keeping anything clean. I've heard both theories.

Hudson looked around as we started up the cracked concrete stairs. "Think anyone figures who we came for?"

I shook my head behind his broad back. "Every chink brewer on the block is dumping neutralizer in their vats right now and getting ready to tell us they just make homebrew when we knock." I paused, then went on, "Shit, it's been twelve years since the last sighting. Everyone thinks the Subs are gone by now. This one might not even know what it is."

Hudson stopped on the landing, turned and stared at me. "How the fuck could it not know?"

I went past him and started up the next flight. Hudson was 36 years old and just had no real memories of what things had used to be like. Subs had been everywhere. Too weak and stupid to build a civilization of their own, they had enough animal cunning to foster and exploit weakness in their betters. "A lot of them used to be able to pass for Human," I puffed to him quietly as we came out in the second floor hallway. "Some Sub cubs even got adopted into Human families, before the War... my grandfather said it was fashionable, for a while."

Hudson's generation sees the clips from the old news broadcasts of the street fighting and watches the historical funvids. They're used to Subs you can recognize immediately, Subs that don't look even slightly Human. Reality was more complicated. I'd read my grandfather's diaries, listened to him ramble on his sickbed. He'd been a Human Patriot in Sub-dominated culture, when the simple truth was called filthy names and barred from polite conversation. My grandpa and his fellow Founding Fathers had had to form secret groups, stockpile armaments, recruit covertly, and wait for the Day they knew would come... when the Subs, lazy, stupid, greedy, and shortsighted, would get tired of pulling the strings from behind the scenes and rise up in open arms against True Humanity.

In a way, it had been easier for my grandfather. Once the War started and the lines were drawn, clearly, out in the open for everyone, even the Sub-dupes, to see, things were pretty simple. The Subs had always been outnumbered, outgunned, and inferior to Humans. Their only real weapons were subterfuge, guile, and lies. When it finally came down to the sharp edge, they didn't stand a chance.

The problem was, once it was over, people wanted to relax. And why not? The War was a terrible time. Humanity had been through its worst ordeal and survived. All the Subs were dead. The Sub dupes were dead, too. We'd even survived a less obvious danger... the oh so plausible Sub-dupes, with their persuasive ideas for dominating the Subs, keeping some for breeding stock, using them as cheap labor. Fortunately, men like my grandfather recognized the dangers in that. They learned their lessons from history. A live slave can revolt; a dead body can't.

So, we'd won. But a lot of recognizably Sub cubs had been born over the next ten years, showing any fool that they were still out there... just... hiding. And those were the dangerous ones. The ones that looked Human.

But mandatory gene-mapping prior to any medical procedure smoked them out by the hundreds and thousands. I was a rookie patrolman for the last five or six years of the really active post-War period and I saw my share of the action. Those Subs could walk by you on the street without drawing a glance. Dangerous... and they were the only kind left alive. Humanity had subjected its worst enemy to a brutal process of selection.

We stopped outside Apartment 214. Hudson pointed his scattershot at the door, moved the barrel in a small circle, watching the heatscope clipped to the stock. "Warm bodies," he said. "Off to the side."

I nodded. A dump from the local patrol car camera-scans had shown two occupants of the apartment. One was our Sub, the other a woman who lived with him. We'd pulled her medicals just to check; she was Human. Probably had no idea what she was balling every night. She'd need a lot of therapy once she found out.

I took a breath. The New Constitution is built on the bedrock of two God given rights -- the absolute right to bear arms, and the absolute right to worship God in a proper, decent manner without interference or obstruction from any worldly government or false faith. Which meant every man in Fortress America was a member of a decent, God-fearing Church Militia... and the Sub could have an auto-cannon under his couch cushion.

Foolish to worry; when it was time, it was time. I breathed out. "Let's open it up," I replied, bringing up the Sig.

His first shell took the heavy metal door off its hinges, blowing it across the room and into the cinderblock wall twenty feet away. Hudson had aimed it that way, of course. Hurting a Human we had no warrant on would have automatically been grounds for a Review Board.

The Sub was on a couch against the right wall. Dark brown hair with just a slight curl, and pale skin, and good features; if it weren't for the gene-map, you'd never have known. The file had carried a good holo of him so we could pick him out if we caught him in a crowd. I knew how Hudson felt; it seemed wrong that he looked so normal. There should have at least been a distinctive smell.

The woman was on the couch next to him. She just sat there and screamed. Most do that when we come in. About one in four go for another exit, and maybe one in twelve come up with a weapon. It's crazy to shoot back at a cop, of course, but some people are. They never live through it, so you just have to hope they haven't passed those crazy genes on yet. And, of course, you never have to worry about a woman shooting at you; civilized womenfolk don't grow up that way.

The Sub had bounced up, and now he saw the badges and just stood there. Very still. Hoping we had the wrong apartment, or maybe we were looking for a chink brewery, or skin vids, or some other contraband. Good self control, but he'd survived this long, so you'd expect that.

He was only six feet from the woman, which made using the scattershot a problem. I smiled. "My kill," I said, lifting the Sig.

"Shit," Hudson swore. "You got four or five Subs... I never got one."

I shrugged, leveling the big pistol. "Life's a bitch," I said.

The Sub might have tried to move, I don't know. The bullet blew his heart and lungs in small bloody chunks out his back. "And then you die," I finished, feeling the smile warm like sunlight on my face. I can't explain it. I've had to shoot Humans in the line. Even a chink brewer or a skin dealer, it still makes me queasy. It's not right. We shouldn't have to kill each other. But killing a Sub is the best feeling I know.

Hudson stared at the mess in disgust. "That might have been the last one," he said. I could hear him because the woman had finally gone hoarse. She was still trying to scream, just not making any noise.

"Can't be a bad thing," I said, and I knew it was true. It made me sad to think there might not be any more to kill, though. I shook my head. "I'm going to have to go back down the hall and get that fire axe."

Afterward, Hudson kept looking over his shoulder at the head, in its transparent plastic bag on the back seat. The trophy was why I hadn't gone for a face shot.

Hudson shook his head. "He sure as hell looks Human to me," he said. "Hope we didn't frag the wrong fuckin' guy..."

I reached over with my right hand and flicked open the hard copy. Pointed to the holo; it was obviously a pic of my kill. Then pointed to the blood cell photos underneath. "See that cluster?"

He squinted. "Yeah? So what?"

I put my hand back on the wheel and turned onto West Kennedy. "It's unmistakeable. Only Subs carry it. I used to know what it was called..." I chewed my lower lip and fought traffic for a couple of minutes. West Kennedy is a nightmare between five and six o'clock.

It came to me. "Yeah, that's it. The sickle cell."