Filed under: HFY, BEM
Grothmorgu stared around the battlefield after the indigenes had withdrawn. The remains of his Mass heaved themselves out of the heaps of gore and corpses, staggering to their pods. Few of the green-skinned savages lay among the Holy People. The ugly things had sent their wounded back, and soaked up an unreasonable number of casualties retrieving their dead before withdrawing completely. There were a few limbs, here and there. Mostly, they left broken equipment, or even bits of their own, loosely attached skin where their own medics tore it off to treat more serious wounds. The Higher’s own skin rippled in distaste at the notion, though he respected their will. The sensation was discomfiting.
The Person called the Butcher of Tethmurg, or just as often simply the Scourge, lifted his gripping pad from his lower limb. Immediately, dark blue-green blood welled out of the long gouge one of the indigenes slug-throwers had left. The pain was surprising, considering the individual fragility of the creatures, and the primitive nature of their technology.
A medico limped up and applied a nanpac to the wound with a hastily signed, “Greatness.”
Grothmorgu ignored the underbeing. Perhaps if it survived this conflict, it would accrue enough glory to be granted the right to advance to higher rank and be allowed to breed. The Scourge blew the arid atmosphere of this third planet out of his breathing slits, his skin drawing away from his grinding plates in an expression of disgust and frustration as thick mucus spattered baked ground and kicked up the dust of this strange deathworld.
“Number Two, how many effectives left?” Grothmorgu had cultivated his second from a nonverbal grunt who had somehow managed to rally its sub-sentient crechelings during the abysmal defeat at the indigene’s nascent spaceport on the peninsula of the planet’s sparsely populated secondary landmass. He still didn’t understand why they’d fought so furiously for such a primitive facility. Vurth, the name his second had earned that day, still preferred to be called Number Two, despite the personal glory and right of sexual expression (and therefore ability to breed) he’d achieved.
“Vruth! Report!” The pain of his wound and the discomfort of this forsaken mudball were getting to the Scourge.
A scarred underbeing limped up, bearing a bloodstained battle harness Grothmorgu recognized at a glance. Each of the People carved his harness into shapes pleasing to him alone. Vruth had always gone for spirals reminiscent of creche hatching pools. Wearily, the unsexed veteran dropped it in front of Grothmorgu and signed in the only language the unexpressed could.
“Great Scourge,” it gestured, using the extreme ends of its gripper limbs, keeping it as far away from Grothmorgu as physically possible, “Higher Vruth fell in the last wave, when the indigenes retrieved the carcasses of their dead. The ones with the reflective bits of metal on their skins and cephalo-carapaces.”
“WHAT?” The unfortunate underbeing before the enraged Sourge flinched back to the ends of its limbs, its gestures taking on a frenzied urgency.
“Higher Vruth led the attack on a group of lightly armored indigenes who bore strange cutting weapons,” the underbeing’s grippers fairly flickered in the sickly, yellow light of the system primary, demonstrating an unusual eloquence. A part of Grothmorgu’s mind, distant from the blue storm of his rage, suggested this would be an excellent candidate for advancement. Most of his will was dedicated to not tearing its limbs from their sockets. “The indigenes attacked the very ground of their own planet, Greatness. They ignored the Higher Vruth’s attack while he and his killed them. Only a few fought back until they received some signal of their own, and then those that remained turned on the People, and stood until they fell.”
“Wait, they what?” The veteran underbeing’s communication dragged him back from the brink of berserking. Something about the behavior set his ocular frills to writhing, a sure sign that the indigenes were doing something he didn’t understand. And when they did things like he didn’t understand, the People died.
The underbeing turned, glad to have an order to fulfill, and led the Scourge toward a loose pile of the planet’s soil, stained dark by the indigene’s unnatural ichor. The remains of his pod gathered around, awaiting orders from their Greatness.
“Here, Great Scourge.” The scarred underbeing gestured toward the odd patch the indigenes had died to protect.
“Clear it. Find me the reason for their behavior.” The menace in Grothmorgu’s voice set his People to scrambling, though they knew it was directed at their hated enemies. “Not you,” he told the veteran, who slowly turned back to the Scourge, reluctance in every line of its form. “What happened after Vruth killed them? You signed they counterattacked.”
“Yes, Greatness,” the underbeing relaxed, a claw-width. “A small group of them engaged Higher Vruth from a distance, and then, when he turned to face them, their whistling bombs fell. They killed many of the People, and then the indigenes we could see advanced by groups. One group fired while the other moved.”
It was definitely time to advance this underbeing to higher. It had an uncommon grasp of observation that would serve the People well, were it given a tongue and a sex. Hopefully, it would become male.
“They did something to the surface before dragging their fallen away,” the veteran concluded, its gripper limbs coming to rest in the approved gesture of dutiful obedience.
Grothmorgu looked around, his ocular frills pulled back to capture the full amount of the primary’s weak light. The Grip of the Highest had commanded that they take this spacecraft construction site in the middle of this arid nowhere. His arguments had been ignored: the People destroyed indigenous ability to lift to orbit, trapping the indigenes, and then crushed them. This was the way of the People, and they would follow the way.
Clouds of particulates rose higher into the atmosphere, suggesting others of the People were still fighting. The sounds floating on the dry breeze confirmed it. The only People he could see in this unpleasant, uneven place were clustered around the indigenes’ bizarre objective. Why would they care for a featureless patch of dirt?
Light overwhelmed Grothmorgu as the featureless patch of dirt erupted in incandescent energy. The first row of his underbeings dissolved into shreds of flesh and shattered gear, the shrapnel of their passing scything through the next rank and into the third. The Scourge only realized this much later, floating suspended in a medtank. In the present, all he knew was writhing agony, and the inability to hear his own screams as the concussion picked him up bodily and dashed him against the hard stones of this alien planet. The member of the People named for the slaughter at the city they called Tethmurg shrieked his pain to the uncaring sky of the planet his species had invaded.
Not too far away, one of the indigenes turned to another, lowering the radio detonator in his hand.
“Time to didimau, Major,” he said. The older of the two, dirt and less pleasant substances begrimed the little skin visible, mostly on his face. His superior, a younger man with a face the color of the soil under their boots, glared one last time in the direction of the engagement site, and then turned on his heel and strode away. The noncom followed, glancing over his shoulder for a pursuit that didn’t come.
“You do come up with such peculiar slang, Top.”
“Yes, sir,” his subordinate responded in the age old non-answer of the NCO corps. After a moment, he continued. “Was it worth it, sir? We’re down to barely two thirds of a company, and Lt. Kunz isn’t going to see Houston, again.”
“He begged for the opportunity, and somebody had to lead that attack.” Major Ng hesitated. “He wouldn’t have recognized it if he’d seen it, anyway, Top. Houston was razed two days ago. Apparently in retaliation for the defense at the old Mission Control.”
“Then why attack Van Horn?” The two men had both grown up in the area, and until the attack, had both worked at the same demolition firm. Except for one weekend a month, and two weeks every year. MSgt. Garcia was something of a wizard with ordnance, not that his Guard jacket reflected that. A vision deficiency kept Uncle Sam from trusting his with explosives, despite that being his well-paying civilian job.
“Seems to be their pattern, Top: attack the space industry, then military targets, then infrastructure. Then civilians. They did it to China, first. And Pyongyang, though God alone knows why. Then they hit Russia. Then they came for us. Far as I know, nobody has clue one what their ultimate goal is.”
They walked across the baked west Texas sere for a few minutes before Garcia broke the silence. When he spoke, his voice held a note Major Ng hadn’t heard very often. Nobody who messes with explosives on a regular basis is an idiot. Not and survives, at least. But while Jaime Garcia didn’t habitually spend a lot of time in introspection, he had a habit of drawing conclusions that had changed the course of their business. And their service. Like the booby trap they’d just sprung.
“Maybe they want to break our spirit, Mike,” Garcia said, in a rare use of his friend and superior’s first name. “Crush humanity’s drive before we can get to space in a big way.”
They walked around a hillock to find the survivors of their company of Texas Guard, dug in and waiting on them. Orders flew, and runners brought up vehicles, a mishmash of POVs, what they’d managed to pull out of the motor pool, and vehicles they’d commandeered on the way.
“Well, Top, I guess it’s up to us to convince them that’s a truly bad idea.”