Hi! Me again.
You may remember from my last post that I mentioned how I’ve recently been working on a few different ideas in parallel, unable to commit firmly to any one. Last time I posted the piece of flash fiction that originally spawned one of these ideas (that post is here) and this time I have an excerpt from one of the other pieces for you.
I’m thinking of putting the first three chapters of each, with a short synopsis, up on my site and/or here at Guild of Dreams and letting readers choose for me which one to pursue. I’d welcome any feedback that might help to sway my decision, because currently I have no clue.
Anyway, the below is an excerpt from an action-heavy space opera with the working title Corp Wars. Hopefully, even out of context, it speaks for itself. Enjoy!
We huddled underground, popping our limited supplies of rad pills and checking our weapons. The wind howled above us like a mad thing. The upper level of the bunker, where it extended above the ground, was whipped with sand that hissed like white noise against the metal-clad concrete. The view-slits were closed, but we still had video from the cameras of our autoguns. So we saw the enemy when they arrived.
They came in radproof ReverCorp power armour and ReverCorp APCs, but both were emblazoned with the Unionists’ fist motif. They materialised through the reddish haze like ghosts. The autoguns set to work and the vid feed flickered from left to right as they probed for targets, faster than the eye could follow. Men were mown down like wheat, their armour shattering, their bodies disappearing into the storm. Then, one by one, the autoguns went offline. The last we saw from them was an image of black-suited fighters crossing our makeshift barricades and moving into the town. The image was shredded by static and then the holo went black. I looked to my captain. His jaw was clenched tight. He had no guidance to give.
‘Let’s go!’ screamed one man, a man whose name I forget yet whose bravado I remember. ‘Sir!’ he was shaking Captain Jones, screaming into his face. ‘Let’s go!’
‘Yes . . .’ said Captain Jones, seemingly coming to. The atmosphere was heavy, tense, ripe with the musk of fear. Jones straightened his back and looked around at us – twenty frightened Civil Defence men and women, most of us never tested in combat. We were more equipped to deal with drunken fistfights than invasion forces. It seemed unreal. Impossible. ‘Let’s get up there and give ’em Hell!’ Jones suddenly screamed. I thought perhaps he’d lost his mind, not that it mattered even then. ‘COME ON!!!’ he roared, unslinging his laser rifle. A vein was pulsing in his forehead.
We moved quickly, out of the bunker and into the sand-blasted streets of Millicent. My gun felt cold and alien in my hands. I’d learned to shoot it on the range, but I’d never aimed it at a human being. I felt disconnected from my body, afloat in a twisted world of noise and confusion. The lights were off in the houses and the crackle of small-arms fire was in the air. Screaming. Yelling. The wailing nuclear wind. My family were somewhere in that poisonous miasma, huddled in our home. I saw black-clad figures running from cover to cover down a line of bright pods. Their power armour made them look insectoid, like plates of chitin.
I dropped to one knee and my gun was in the firing position before I knew it, speaking in its hushed whisper, exhaling bright beams of purest white. Others from my unit were beside me. Somebody cried out to my left and staggered away through the sand storm, hands to their helmet and gun forgotten on the ground. I ran, crouched, towards the cover of the pods and flattened myself against one. Somebody was moving along the line towards me, rising occasionally to fire over the pods into the town with a kinetic assault rifle.
I drew a bead, unnoticed by the enemy, and shot him in the chest. I kept the laser on him as he convulsed and fell with his rifle chattering into the air. I kept it on him ’til he lit up like a flare and lay still. I’d hurt people in martial arts training – once, I’d accidentally broken a man’s elbow with a jiu-jitsu arm-bar – but I’d certainly never killed anyone before. I felt sick and elated and terrified and godlike all at once. I couldn’t believe what I had done, how easy it had been. I could hear my heart above the noise of battle, beating like a war drum. I thought of my daughters, the frightened clutching of their little arms, the trip-hammering of their tiny hearts. I wondered how many sieverts of radiation they had been subjected to by now. I think perhaps I was crying. Or maybe I just feel like crying now.
I moved and fired, moved and fired. Once, I think I shot someone from our side, maybe from another squad that had come from further inside the town, but I didn’t dwell on it. I moved and fired, moved and fired, a mechanism of vengeance, devoid of care and conscience. Somebody was yelling to evacuate the civilians from the town and have them fall back to the dome, but I knew they’d never all fit inside it. I moved and fired, moved and fired, burning faceless men and women who loomed like demons in the haze. I think that I was yelling, enraged, maybe even screaming. Something exploded, off towards the sewage plant. I heard chunks of shrapnel buzzing past me like enraged hornets. Gunfire pattered like gentle rain across the pod behind me and tore the leaves of a nearby olive tree to shreds of green confetti. The world was a collage of noise and gunflash-monochrome. Somebody from my side slid past me on their back along the road, suit smouldering, missing a leg, leaving a snail-trail of blood behind them. I moved and fired, yelling, screaming. The gun was hot in my quaking hands, painfully hot. I don’t know how accurate my fire was – it happened of its own volition, some higher unconscious function of my terrified brain.
Neither do I know how long we fought them through the streets of Millicent, half-blinded by the rad storm. Sometimes there were others from the Civil Defence beside me or behind me as I ran through front gardens and ducked behind gravpods. Sometimes I looked around and found myself alone, isolated in a cocoon of flying sand, caught in the eye of my own personal storm. Once, I chased an enemy fighter down the street that led eventually to my own house, impaling them in the centre of the back with a laser beam, making them stumble and twist on it like an insect on a pin.
What if there were more of them on this street? What if they had reached as far as my own house, where my frightened family huddled and hid, listening to the sounds of battle and the howling of the wind? Gripped by fear, trembling all over, I stood before the body of the person I had shot. They had landed on their back and I could see from the shape of the suit – the hips and bust – that it was a woman. One of her fingers still twitched, right at the tip, as if trying to squeeze the trigger of the gun that she had dropped. I considered shooting her again, just to make sure, but I didn’t do it. I don’t know why not – it certainly wasn’t any sense of mercy. I felt nothing except that fear for my own loved ones. I was about to bolt back to my house when I was distracted by a voice from behind me, back towards the broken perimeter of the town.
‘Civil Defence! To me! Rally to me!’ I felt a frown crease my face as I stood there alone and exposed in the middle of the road. I was sure that it was Captain Jones, alive. Somehow still alive. It came again: ‘To me! They’re falling back! Rally to me!’
‘It could be a trap,’ I whispered, head cocked, trying to filter that voice from the noise of the wind.
My head was pulsing and aching as if something was trying to break out of it like a chick emerging from an egg. I wondered how much radiation I’d taken and how long I’d live if I survived this day. I looked from the direction of my house to the direction of the voice, which was still calling, and my legs apparently decided for me. I headed towards the voice of my captain. Something screamed overhead, probably an aircraft – ours or theirs, I didn’t know – and away towards the low hills that ringed the Sissine Plains. I stared into the dust but saw nothing. I made my way towards the voice, crouched low with my senses straining.
I found Captain Jones in the forecourt of a fast food restaurant, surrounded by fifteen or twenty Civil Defence personnel in various states of physical injury. Captain Jones himself was entirely unscathed. As I approached I called out to them, fearing that they would shoot me in the dust storm. Jones called back, ‘Haley! Get over here!’ I’d thought the man was losing his mind back in the bunker, but now he looked tall and strong and sure of himself. The glasspex front of the restaurant behind him was crazed by gunshots and a fire burned inside. I ran over and ducked down behind the low wall that ringed the forecourt.
Jones slapped me on the back and grinned right into my face.
‘They’re falling back, Haley! We’ve seen them off!’
There were general shouts of bravado from some of the Defence Corps. Others of them just slumped against the wall, dead-eyed and bleeding.
‘Really?’ I heard my voice ask. It had all happened so fast. So much confusion. I held up my laser rifle and stared at it as if seeing it for the first time. How many people had I killed? I didn’t know.
‘Yeah, they’re pulling out. Unit South have been on the radio to me – they’ve pursued them to the edge of town then manned the barricades. They can’t really see shit, of course, but they say the enemy headed back out into the plains.’ His face cracked in a smile, and I could see that he maybe hadn’t retained all of his sanity after all. One of his teeth was missing, too.
‘Shouldn’t Unit South come down and get into cover?’ I asked.
‘Yeah,’ agreed Jones. ‘Us too. We’re gonna hit the bunkers again and find more rad pills. Unit West are gonna go door to door, checking on the civvies.’
‘Right,’ I said. The civvies. The radiation.
‘Cheer up, man!’ yelled Jones, a little too loudly. I saw some of the others exchange worried looks. ‘We’ve won!’
‘Sure,’ I heard myself say. The wind howled through the forecourt. Radioactive dust devils twirled around us like dancers.
The mortar bombardment started before we ever reached the bunker.