|Here, there be . . . stories!|
Writing in a genre or a format that is outside your comfort zone can really expand your skill set as an author—at least that’s the hope. The following was submitted for a contest which encompassed both, and added the restriction of using an image to guide the story. This piece wasn’t selected as a finalist, but I’m pleased with the attempt and the results.
Clear and Hold
I loved search and destroy operations.
That’s the standing order for the Voll. Their blood carries diseases and impurities. They kidnap children to infect them. They seduce pure men to get pregnant and coerce or rape pure women. Command says they must be destroyed.
The Voll’s burrow was an old bunker—civilian, abandoned, and in ruins. Dark and dank—the kind of thing they like. Drones were useless in the confined space, so it was limited sat-comm with heat signatures on IR for the op. The LT sent four of us.
We went in by the numbers.
I curled my fingers around the hard composite of my MTAR-33 assault rifle and found the biometric studs. ARES chirped phys-chem recognition and overlays leapt into view. A targeting reticle—gray to indicate no active target—floated while ARES scanned the bunker. A 3D map bounced in front of me. ARES estimated two hostiles.
We were ninety meters in when all hell broke loose. Heat sign went off the scale around us. They had a boiler working and flooded steam through the piping. Smokers went off and IR became useless. ARES switched to full VR of the bunker.
A light blue wireframe overlayed the flowing white smoke and outlined the corridor, doorways, rooms and service access. Two glowing semi-circles gave me estimated distance and time to contact from my current position. I peered past the blue VR lines through the smoke and strained to make out the enemy.
ARES was wrong. Four or five Volls came out of the walls, and they came fast. They used some kind of heat shields—insulation or something. Private Stinson got it first—goddamn axe handle to the back of the head.
Barry crumpled to the ground without a sound. It wasn’t how a soldier should go down.
Bell and Greengar managed to open fire, but in the smoke and heat and confusion—the Voll had the advantage.
ARES finally caught up to the action. The system painted the four hostiles with red chevrons to mark their position and yellow targeting reticles.
They came at me, screeching and clicking, chittering like bugs.
I lined up my MTAR with the first targeting reticle. The crosshair circle changed from yellow to green and I squeezed the trigger five times. My rifle thumped softly against my shoulder while ARES muted the gunfire sounds to small pops. Two Voll dropped to the ground.
I swung to the next reticle.
There was too many.
ARES pulsed a red proximity alert over everything to warn me. The second Voll swung a club at me. I dropped the Voll at point blank range with two hasty shots, but the club bounced against my helmet and cheek with a dull thud. I was momentarily blinded as pain blossomed through my face and eye.
The next Voll swung a broken pipe that tore my MTAR from my grip. The weapon clattered across the floor. I drew my sidearm and ARES switched the targeting reticles and ranges. The Voll swung again. I jumped back and fired. The first two shots pinged off the concrete floor. The third caught the Voll in the abdomen. ARES confirmed the kill.
ARES pulsed the red proximity warning faster. I got off a hasty shot at the last Voll with the axe handle. The Voll screamed, smashed the thick wood into my hands twice and knocked the sidearm free. I drew my KA-BAR. ARES painted pink splashes to adapt to the tactical knife.
The Voll swung the axe handle at my head. I stepped into the creature and used my left arm to catch the strike near the Voll’s hands. It stung, but the block did what was needed. I stabbed toward the pink splash target, but wasn’t fast enough. The Voll punched me in the face. ARES registered the hit, and flowed quick calculations for damage, fatigue and chance of recovery.
I caught the next two punches with quick blocks. I ducked down, spun and kicked the Voll’s legs out from under him. The Voll fell backward and I lunged with my knife. The blade slid into his left shoulder. He screamed and hissed, grabbed my hand and trapped it against the knife handle. ARES streamed information about the Voll’s wound—debilitating but not fatal.
The axe handle careened off my helmet in a series of wild blows. My cheek broke under the barrage as I fought to free my hand from the knife. The Voll dropped the handle and punched me. Inky black flared in front of me from each blow. ARES fritzed—the words and numbers froze, vibrated and hissed with static. The red pulse of the proximity warning missed a beat, and then another. It picked up again on my right side, but not the left. I had a split-world view. On the right, ARES functioned normally, but my left was stripped of the overlays.
The Voll chittered and hissed—underneath a voice spoke.
“Jesus Christ! Please don’t kill me! Jesuschristplease!”
I looked down and froze. On the right, I saw the Voll as they’d always been—a hideous, hairless creature with a deformed head, melted features and dark, mottled skin. My left eye showed a human. A man. He was emaciated by hunger and streaked with dirt from living in a bunker, but he was a man. His clothes might have fit him a year ago, but now they hung off his frame. The man’s face was contorted in fear and pain. Tears streamed down his face and drew tracks across his cheeks. It was a brutal contrast to the alien anger and rage my right eye showed me.
I scrambled back from the man. ARES helpfully pointed out where my rifle and sidearm were, easy to reach. I ignored the information. The downed Volls were identified by ARES as dead.
To my left eye, all of them were human, bleeding red blood, looks of horror and pain carved on their faces.