Author : Q. B. Fox

The members of Juliet Patrol, 29 Group, Royal Engineers hunkered down in a squat two-story, stone building balanced on the hillside. Lt. Harry Banford watched through the unglazed window as a UN superiority denial aircraft painted a con-trail far, far overhead.

At the sound of a distance whine, Banford dropped back into cover, barely ahead of the muffled, distant whump that shook plaster from the ceiling and blew in dirt through the empty casements.

After a moment’s silence, and not for the first time that day, the soldiers of Juliet Patrol relaxed their braced shoulders, then blinked and coughed in the bright, moted sunbeams.

Private Darren Hastey, first time in theatre and green as a cabbage, uncurled on the floor and cringed under head-shaking gaze of his fellows. “I wish they wouldn’t do that,” he grumbled.

“Don’t be an idiot, Hastey,” spat Sgt. “Handy Andy” Andrews. “If our planes stop knocking out their bomber drones then this whole hillside will be flatter than your girlfriend’s chest and faster than it takes you to disappoint her. Am I clear, private?”

“Yes, sir,” Hastey sang back, as brightly as he could muster, then immediately winced at his mistake.

“And don’t call me ‘sir’, you idiot,” Andrews growled, “I work for a living.” He paused and then, turning to Banford, he apologised “No offense, sir,”

“None taken, Sergeant,” the Lieutenant smiled.

Then everything was quiet, except for occasional distant small arms fire and the clicks of Lt. Banford’s keypad as he rechecked the mission details.

“Why here, do you suppose, sir?” Sgt. Andrews asked unexpectedly.

“Erm, well,” Banford, considering the details on the screen in front of him, “this hillside obviously faces the target, and these buildings provide…”

“No, sir,” Andrews interrupted, “why do they all come to fight over Jerusalem.”

“Ah, yes, I see what you mean.” his officer reconsidered. “The Jews and the Romans, the Romans and the Persians, the Crusades, the Ottomans, the British, the Israelis and Palestinians….”

“And now the aliens,” Andrews concluded grimly. “Even they think it’s special to their religion.”

“And now the xenomorphs,” Banford corrected. “I don’t know why.”

And then after he’d thought for a moment, “There’s a syndrome named after this place; it’s one of only three geographically located syndromes; Jerusalem, Florence and Paris.”

“What about Stockholm syndrome, sir?” Hastey interrupted.

“Be quiet, you idiot,” his sergeant snapped, “An educated man is talking.”

“Yes, si.. Sergeant,” Hastey responded meekly.

“But Jerusalem syndrome is unique even among these unusual conditions,” the young officer continued as if he’d not been interrupted, “Some people who come here just become obsessed, become unhinged; believers and unbelievers alike get a glimpse of God.”

“I heard that reality is thinner here,” Hastey said nervously into the pause, “that we really are closer to…”

But before he could finish, or Andrews could rebuke him, Private Collins, pushing his headset further into his ear with two fingers, spoke clearly and precisely over the top of them. “Sir, we are go; repeat: we are go.”

Juliet Patrol sprang to their feet and raced down the stairs. With practiced professionalism they deployed the array, and after a moment to check the alignment, Banford squeezed the firing trigger. A hoop of air shimmered, as molecules rammed into each other, delivering a near invisible punch to the target; on the ridgeline across the valley the xenomorph transmitter disintegrated.

Like all snipers, they should have redeployed after firing, but nobody moved. They just stared. Very slowly, like wallpaper peeling off damp plaster, the sky, just where their target had been, was tearing open.

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