And now another selection by Eric S. Brown who has this to say:
Author of over 80 accepted tales, 20 articles and reviews, and co-author of the book BAD MOJO being released by Undaunted Press in April. I am also book reviewer for the Haunted and a member of the HWA.
“Nobody ever told me it was going to be like this,” Greg said as he steered the tank into the remnants of the village.
“What did you expect, Kid?” Harrison laughed over the tank’s internal Com. system. Harrison was the tank’s gunner and a long time veteran of missions such as this one. “We sweep through and clean out the natives so that the colonization fleet doesn’t have any problems when it arrives. It’s a good job, not much of a chance of getting your ass shot off on a world like this.”
Greg drove the tank through a hut of mud and wood, its treads grinding the bodies of the dead into the soil.
“It just doesn’t seem right,” Greg said. “These people don’t have any way of even trying to fight back.”
“The day I start feeling sorry for a bunch of blue skinned primitives, kid, is the day I’ll resign my commission. Remember we’re doing this for Earth and the Alliance. Just like Rome, the Alliance will die if it ever stops expanding. Worlds like this are easy to take and we need them.” Something moved among the burnt out rubble of the village to the tank’s left.
Greg started to shout a warning but Harrison was already bringing the tank’s anti-personnel guns to bear on the position.
A blue skinned native hopped up from his hiding place. Long silver hair spilled over his naked shoulders. He wore only loose animal hides about his lower body and raised a spear against the hulking metal monster he faced. Harrison fired a quick, single burst nearly vaporizing the man’s torso. Greg imagined the smile on the veteran’s face as Harrison shouted, “See! Easy, kid. Easy.”
Greg looked out his viewport, taking in the destruction surrounding them. “I don’t know,” Greg said, “I think I’d rather be facing someone who could at least shoot back.”
In the gunner’s compartment, Harrison frowned while scanning the village for more targets.
Amrin watched the monster from the cover of the trees. Sweat glistened on his skin which was tinted a light shade of green as the hot blood of anger boiled inside his veins. Amelian stood behind him and placed a hand onto his shoulder. “Now is not the time,” she said quietly.
Amrin whirled around, slapping her hand away. “When will the time come, priestess?” he spat. He glanced around at his warriors. They stood tall and proud, unafraid of the monster which now sat motionless in the center of the village. “We are ready to die if need be. Tell us how to stop that thing and it shall not kill again.”
Amelian felt her heart crumble inside her chest as he continued to rage. “You are the voice of God, priestess! Surely, he has told you how to slay the beast. It can not be his will we all perish as the pink skins and their monsters take our world from us. Tell us priestess and let us carry out God’s will.”
Amelian looked away from the war chief, turning her eyes downward towards the ground. “There is a way,” she said in no more than a whisper, “but it is not permitted.”
Amrin snarled grabbing the front of the black robes she wore and pulled her to him. He jerked her face up towards his own. “We are dying, Amelian. All of us.”
He released her so quickly, she staggered a step backwards. “If there is a way, you must tell us before it is too late.”
Everyone gathered in the forest waited for her to speak. The huddled masses of women and children scattered among the ranks of Amrin’s men watched her with expectant faces. Tears formed in Amelian’s eyes, running down her cheeks. “We are not ready for the way,” she said finally.
Amrin struck her, a sharp backhanded blow which knocked her from her feet. He squatted beside her sprawling form, drawing his knife. The blade was speckled with the dried red flakes of pink skin blood. He leaned over her, pressing the blade’s point against her throat. “I am sorry, Amelian, but I don’t have time to become enlightened enough for your liking. I need to know now. I will not stand by and watch our race fade into the eternal night.
“The stones!” Amelian cried. “The stones are our only hope!”
Amrin withdrew the knife, a look of confusion and shock upon his face. “What?”
Amelian rubbed at her throat. “Yes, the stones.”
Amrin rocked with laughter, a deep madness in his eyes. “The stones bring the rains and keep the desert from our valley. Do you plan to drown the beasts?”
“No,” Amelian answered getting to her feet. “The stones are much more. They were left behind when God departed from this world. They were the tools he used during the shaping.” She waved her arm around, gesturing towards the trees. “They created all that we have, but they can be used for unmaking things as well. They hold the power of the stars inside them.”
Amrin grinned, “Then lead me to them. priestess.” Amelian loosened her robes and let them drop from her body. Embedded in her skin between the mounds of her breasts was a gem of deep purple hues which seemed to pulsate with a dim glow in time with the beating of her heart.
“Each of the eighteen members of my order carry one, one for each of our villages. When we pass on, it is cut from our flesh and given to our chosen successor to become one with them as it was with us. It is a part of the Almighty and alive inside our bodies.” Amelian’s fingers stroked its surface. Energy from within the gem leapt to meet her fingertips, crackling in its intensity. “You have but to slay me, Amrin, and it will be yours.”
“Forgive me,” Amrin whispered as slide his blade into her belly. Warm, green blood rushed out over his hand. “I do.” Amelian said as he twisted the knife, cutting upwards towards her heart and the gem.
The forest was silent as Amrin hacked away the flesh surrounding the gem. Harrison slammed his fist into the gunnery controls, frustrated and disgusted by the lack of targets. The sensors had swept the village a dozen times to reveal nothing more.
“Sarge, it looks like our job here is done,” Greg said, “And Alpha platoon is requesting support for their raid on the village to the north. Are you ready to move out?”
“I know somebody’s still here.” Harrison grunted. “I can feel it, but the sensor sweeps keep coming up clean.”
Suddenly, Harrison’s screen surged with an energy reading so powerful it overloaded the array and the screen went dead. “Damn it!” Harrison yelled already trying to switch to the back up circuits.
“What the hell was that?” Greg’s voice shouted over the intercom.
“Don’t know,” Harrison mumbled as the sensors began to come on-line again. The screen was full of life signatures, over three dozen spilling out of the distant treeline and closing on the tank’s position.
Blue skinned warriors ran across the open field between the forest and the village, waving weapons made of bone and wood. The lead warrior didn’t read as a normal blip on the screen. Instead the tank’s limited AI recognized him as a tank depicting an energy readout greater than the vehicle’s own fusion drive.
Harrison maneuvered the turret to towards the new targets as Greg revved the tank into motion and sped towards the warriors. Harrison smirked as brought the main gun into action. The tank shook as it fired. The field exploded into a blaze of fire and light. Greg could hear the screams of the dying natives over the roar of the tank’s engine.
Before the initial blast had faded, Harrison started sweeping the area with the anti-personnel guns. They chattered spitting death into the sea of flame and smoke. A lone man, bleeding and battered, still stood surrounded by the twisted and smoking forms of his companions.
“Oh, God,” Greg muttered, feeling pity for the man.
Harrison sighted the anti-personnel guns onto their remaining target. “That bastard’s going down this time!”
The man wobbled and nearly fell but somehow, despite his gaping wounds, remained on his feet. He outstretched a hand towards the tank. Harrison hesitated, his finger on the trigger, “What is that F-er doing?”
A bolt of purple energy shot from the man’s fingertips, slicing through the air. It struck the tank’s armor and melted through it as if it were nothing, striking the tank’s fuel cell. The entire village lit up as the tank exploded.
The man fell to his knees. Women, children, and the few remaining warriors left within the trees emerged from their place of hiding and ran towards him. Their triumphant cries rang in the air. When they reached Amrin, they saw that he was dead, his body an empty and withered shell. One of the warriors pushed Amrin’s corpse to the ground and began sawing at the flesh surrounding the gem imbedded in Amrin’s flesh.
The warrior tore his prize free and held it high into the sun’s rays. “Now, we have a way to fight!” he screamed, shaking the gem at the heavens. Applause and cheers sounded all around him.
First Published in Demensions e-zine.
Copyright © 2002 by Eric S. Brown.