“I thought you said the place looked abandoned,” said George.

“It did.”

“You didn’t notice the hundred-yard floating alien orb?!”

“Keep your voice down!” Hannah whispered. “I’m more worried about the sentry.”

They peeked through the wind-blasted branches of some kind of desert shrub from the lip of the valley. Ahead was a cracked and radiation-baked road cutting a straight line through flat, ravaged desert with nothing in the way of cover for miles and miles until the foothills barely visible through the haze. Rusted scaffolding was all that remained of the government facility that once stood here, bombed into rubble in the early days of the Disruption.

But the bunker beneath the brash was supposedly still there. Various counterforces were allegedly inside, coordinating with other survivors scattered throughout the wastelands.

The sickly yellow orb hovered silently above the wreckage, its exterior slowly swirling with browns and flecks of gold like a planetwide thunderstorm seen from space. Confusingly, a human sentry was posted in the road beside an old gate arm that was surely seized shut. They wore hazmat combat armor with an air filtering helmet that looked brand new, the four red sensors of the multi-spectrum optics glowing like animal eyes around a campfire. A pulse rifle was held at the ready.

“Well, looks like we’re too late,” said George. “Probably for the better. If there’s anyone alive down there, they won’t stay that way very long.”

“What about the guard?”

“Turncoat, I guess.”

“No way. No one would ever take their side.”

“There’s all sorts of people in this world.”

“Not anymore there’s not. And there’s not a soul alive that would team up with them. I’m gonna go ask,” said Hannah.

“You’re gonna what?” George reached out, but Hannah was already up and walking toward the orb.

The sentry stepped back and raised their rifle, moving unsteadily, as if drunk. Hannah held up her hands but continued walking.

“Shit!” George said through his teeth, and before he could reconsider he was following Hannah.

They got within 10 feet of the sentry before they spoke.

“Stop there,” said the synthetic voice through the helmet’s speaker.

“What’s going on here?” asked Hannah. “What are you doing with that?” She pointed at the orb.

The sentry looked back over their shoulder at the alien, then back at Hannah and George. “Need help.”

“What do you mean? What kind of help? Why hasn’t it killed you yet?”

The sentry lowed the weapon. They pointed at their chest. “Dead flesh,” they said. They pointed to the orb. “I.” Then pointed to their chest again. “I.”

“I don’t like this,” said George.

The sentry reached up, slowly, and lifted their helmet. Dead flesh, as promised.

George retched. Hannah covered her mouth, but a terrible moan escaped anyhow.

The helmet clicked back into place. “You help I. I help you.” The possessed human shell pointed to the bunker. “I help you,” it said again. “You help I.”

“Oh my God,” said Hannah. “I think you were right about a turncoat. You were just wrong about which side.”

Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Yuri Hill, used with permission.

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