Monday, April 07, 2014

Problem

I have a bit of writer's block. Actually two cases of writer's block. I was working alternately on two science fiction novels. One is set in a FTL universe and the other in a STL mode.

Here's the first chapter from the STL novel:


One thing I had certainly learned in my original incarnation on Earth was that in order to see a task performed correctly I had to do it myself. Today I led a raid on a native nest. This was usually called a pest control operation. Given the very hostile history between the human colonists and the stone age natives of the planet this euphemism was putting it mildly.

The natives, originally classified scientifically as Reptantis Sapiens Eden, and now generally known as shrieks, were bipedal and bilateral egg laying carnivores with scales and feathers instead of skin and hair. Shrieks would eat anything that moved. They would even eat other members of their species, both from their own nest and other nests.

They also ate the remains of the first wave of human colonists that were killed when the Plymouth Colony was overrun and destroyed.

Two local days ago a patrol drone spotted a hunting party of shrieks taking down a thagosaurus. The saurian herbivore had wandered into a patch of wild tobacco and was gorging itself and getting high on the leaves of the imported plants. It was too wasted on the nicotine of the imported plants to notice the native hunting party bearing down on it.

I sat with a full Ranger company of the Guard as we watched the video of the shrieks surrounding the thagosaur and engaging it. There were cheers from the rangers as the thagosaur struck one of the shrieks with it’s tail spikes, mortally wounding it. But the poor and high creature was doomed. The largest of the shrieks carried a human made axe and struck the prey square on the head with it.

The natives had stolen the axe and other artifacts when they overran Plymouth, the first human settlement on the planet. They hunted down and slaughtered all the human colonists who could not escape.

The video ended. It wasn’t necessary to watch the hunting party strip the useful meat from their prey and the dead member of their party.

This morning Alpha Company of the Ranger Battalion of the Guard would drop in on the shriek nest.

The next stage after the briefing was suiting up. The details of the process are essentially boring. The Ranger Combat Suit is an armored exoskeleton with sensors, strength enhancement, full isolation from the external environment, jump thrusters, and full life support. A ranger could fight in space with it if necessary. The process on donning the suit requires assistance from the ground crew and a full test of the onboard combat sensors. The onboard computer even has a program for translating the speech of shrieks and displaying it as written language on the heads-up display. Not every ranger runs the translation program, but I do.

Once the company was suited up they assembled at the landing field. The system primary, Alpha Centauri A, was still below the eastern horizon. The other star of the system, Alpha Centauri B, was in the overhead position and was the brightest star in the sky. Even with the lights of the landing field glowing at full power the light of the star had the effect of the full moon back on Earth. From where I was standing I could see virtually all the buildings of Camp Heinlein and the ruins of the Plymouth Colony.

The four landing craft, with their lift fans open and idling, were ready to carry out the mission. The rear hatch and ramps were open. We loaded one platoon on each landing craft and took off.

By our custom the landing craft flew over the ruins of the Plymouth Colony.

The shriek nest, designated Sierra Mike, was roughly a thousand kilometers from Camp Heinlein. It was the furthest nest out from the ruins of the Plymouth Colony that was identified as a site holding human artifacts. Roughly five generations had been hatched since Plymouth was overrun and destroyed. And even though no shriek living today would remember the massacre there was our own standing policy to enforce.

Once the second wave of human colonists arrived in the system it was our policy to recover all human artifacts and remains from the shrieks. No shriek was allowed to hold a human made artifact. Nor were they to possess human remains. The penalty these acts would be the complete annihilation of their nest.

Over the years since the second wave arrived in the system the shrieks fled away from the new human base at Camp Heinlein.

But no distance, not even a thousand kilometers, was far enough from human vengeance.

The local sun was beginning to rise as the landing craft approached the nest.

The nest was located in a dense forest. It was theorized that this practice began as a way to protect the nest from large predators. It also had provided some protection from human reprisal actions. It took time us for us to develop tools and tactics to negate this practice.

The landing craft came in at treetop level at the four points of the compass with respect to the position of the nest. The craft I was riding was on the north corner of the square. With the rear ramp open I was the first to step out. The jump thrusters fired to slow my descent as I dropped to the forest floor. The landing craft I jumped from continued to float to southwest as each ranger stepped out and descended to the ground. The rangers now formed up in a tactical square surrounding the nest and on my command marched inwards.

Very shortly we came in contact with the shrieks.

Someone spoke on the company channel.

“Alpha-three-oh-three! Have contact!” There was a pause and then he spoke again. “Recovered flash drive from necklace!”

“Very good!" I replied. “Continue inward!”

The first kill was scored by Ranger A-303, Sergeant Les Keller. He was one of the first rangers who stopped counting the number of shrieks that he killed.

Every ranger carried a small bag for recovered artifacts. The shrieks apparently believed that human artifacts were magical or conferred protective powers on them.

I then encountered a shriek. It was a very large male with a flint headed spear. It leveled the spear and charged at me while screaming.

The translation program was active. A line of text appeared at the bottom of my heads-up display. It said, “DIE MOTHER MATER!”

I should have shot it.

Instead I let go of my mag rifle. The sling snapped it back to the carry position on the suit. I grabbed the fore end of the spear and ripped it from the hands of the shriek. I then proceeded to beat the shriek to death with the blunt end of the spear.

I searched the body. There were no human artifacts on the shriek.

One could argue that I was showing off by killing the shriek with it’s own spear. Go ahead. I don’t mind the criticism at all.

The fact of the matter is that all of our ammunition is still made on Zion, the other and now primary inhabited planet of the system. And it’s dammed difficult and expensive to haul it across interplanetary space in the Alpha Centauri system. Even with fusion drive spacecraft.

And if there one thing that I have learned it’s that one can never have enough ammunition.

The rangers continued inwards toward the nest. I quietly, with only the supersonic crack of the magnetically propelled bullets, killed four more shrieks in the forest with my rifle.

We then came to outer edge of the nest. It was a cluster of primitive shelters surrounding a central large hut. The rangers went through the nest, shelter by shelter, killing every shriek they found without regard to apparent age or gender. Even the recent hatchlings were killed. No exception could be made. No exception would EVER be made.

We then came to the central hut.

I stepped in first with my rifle at the ready position.

The sensors indicated the air inside the hut was warmer than the ambient air outside. The hut was where all their eggs were laid and buried for protection from other animals and the elements.

But not from us.

There was a path through the raised soil that covered the eggs. At the end of the path was a shrine. Before the shrine was the priestess.

She was the oldest of the female shrieks. It’s feathers were white and withered. And she wore a stainless steel fingernail clipper on her sacred necklace. She turned around and began to speak. If the translation program was functioning properly it was addressing me as a deity and begging me not to kill the remaining eggs.

I looked past the priestess to the shrine. At the center of the shrine was skull of a human infant. To me it was a clear indication that this clutch of shrieks was involved in the Plymouth Massacre.

I placed a single round in the head of the priestess.

I stepped forward to the shrine. I gently lifted the skull of the child from the shrine and placed it in my recovery bag.

I then spoke.

“Aright. Let’s finish this.”

Rangers stepped into the hut and positioned themselves on the pathway.

“Infrared on!” I ordered.

At the voice command the infrared vision display lit up in my visor. The eggs below the loose soil were now fully visible to me and the rangers in the hut.

“Ready!” I ordered. “Fire!”

Every one of the eggs was penetrated by multiple rifle rounds. Not one egg remained intact. The last of the shrieks in the nest were dead.

As I stepped outside the hut I spoke on the company channel.

“Did anyone find that damned axe?”

“Alpha-three-oh-three! I did!” Replied Sergeant Keller.

Of course he would find it. He was effective that way.

As the rangers departed from the nest there was one final act of destruction. Several white phosphorus grenades were tossed into the remains of the nest, setting it on fire.

The rangers proceeded to the nearest large clearing and boarded the landing craft. As usual I was the last to board.

Upon our return to Camp Heinlein the rangers separated into two groups. Those who did not retrieve any artifacts immediately returned to the barracks. Those who retrieved a human made object lined up for the march to the memorial.

I called out to one of those rangers.

“Sergeant Keller!”

“Yes, sir!”

He quickly ran over to my position. I could feel the mass of his ranger suit shaking the ground with each step he made.

I spoke to him.

“Sergeant, could you do me a favor?”

“Yes, sir.”

I handed him the nail clipper I recovered from the priestess.

“Sir?” He said.

“I also recovered the skull of a child.” I said.

“I understand.” He nodded and replied. “Yes, sir.”

I stood in my ranger suit with the helmet open in the forensic lab of the base as one of the doctors performed the identification tests. The doctor’s name was Cheryl Adams. She was a granddaughter of a little girl who was orphaned as a result of the attack on the Plymouth Colony. The girl’s mother had loaded her aboard one of three functional landing craft without boarding herself. All of the landers had docked with the starship Mayflower which still in orbit above the colony. The landers would never return to colony. It was too late to rescue any more colonists.

Doctor Adams had completed the tests.

“I’m finished.”

She brought up a video file on the workstation monitor. The sound and image was of a happy and smiling newborn girl with blue eyes.

I stepped forward.

“Her name was Elizabeth Mary Cook.” Said Doctor Adams. “She was my great aunt.”

The girl was also the granddaughter of Andrew Cook, one of the owners of the Mayflower, and whom I met in my first life on Earth.

I continued to watch the video file.

There are some people back on Zion ask me how I could live with what I do to the shrieks.

The fact is that I do not have a problem at all.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thagosaurus is the one with the big spiky thagomizer at the end of the tail, right? It is named for the late Thag, if memory serves.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Leslie Bates said...

Yes.

11:38 AM  

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