Desert. Dry, scorching heat, featureless red silica, except for half a dozen oases like islands of vegetation and alien life peppering the landscape, each topped by its own multi-peaked mountain, riddled with caves. God, I hate this place. Zero clouds, no birds, not even vultures to reap the reward from continual war. No, not war, that’s too organized, too civilized. This is utter madness. Derek Fagan detected the faint hint of ammonia and tapped his comm device to connect with the other miner on guard duty. “Burt, you smell that?” “Not on this end. Current’s moving east to west. Means the little bastard must be between us.” Derek picked up his bolter rifle. “You’re right. Odor’s strong as hell now. Has to be a small one not to set off the sensor.” There you are. Like a periscope snorkeling across the surface, a single appendage the size of a gooseneck protruded eighteen inches above the sand on a path pointed directly at the camp. Must have caught the scent of our dinner. The trifoil spider continued its beeline toward the evening meal being roasted over the fire. Twenty yards out, the V-shaped wake slowed to a crawl. Derek placed his goggles over both eyes then reached for the shield fashioned from strips of bark interwoven into a tight chevron pattern to mimic the prime food source for most life forms on the planet, the red shelled cane beetle. Derek waited motionless for the inevitable, his eyes peering just over the crest of the hand-fashioned buckler. The giant insect stopped at the demarcation line formed where the desert and vegetation converge around their ten-acre hideaway from the nasty beasties of Josuwa, third satellite of Aquarii B, second of the quad star system in the constellation Aquarius. The arthropod’s antenna pulsed back and forth while it sampled the air molecules carrying a whiff of its favorite meal. Come on, you know you want it. As if on command, the singular protrusion extending above the surface of the sand was joined by two smaller tubes, an instant before a triangular globule the size of a man’s torso suspended above three tri-folded legs. The red bead atop the larger antenna noted movement as Derek repositioned his shield and a dart-shaped spike fired from the left tube penetrating two inches into the barrier strapped to his arm. The creature tried to recover its snack by retrieving the silk-like thread secured to the projectile but its prey was too strong. “Not this go round, you bastard.” Derek shook the shield again to emulate an escaping insect and the spider shot out its final volley, again impelling the fake beetle shell. Derek dropped the shield, raised the electric bolter rifle and pulled the trigger. “Suck on this.” A crimson-colored arc jumped from the barrel followed by the sound of a whip cracking through the air. The two-thousand volt discharge entered the silver-toned body of the insect at the center of its gaped mouth. The hungry spider quivered for a moment before erupting in all directions like an ostrich sized water balloon. “Did you get him this time?” A hint of sarcasm flavored Burt’s inquiry. Derek tapped his comm badge and answered, “Toasted the ugly shit,” then rubbed his right pectoral muscle as if revisiting an old wound. Once was enough. Beep, beep. The seismic detector activated the surveillance screen. “What now?” Nine miniature dashes crawled across the green monitor. Small nest moving two miles out. Too far to be a threat. Derek verified the direction of their travel through the amplifier lens set. Even at this distance, the blood serpents squirming a few feet underground created undulating ripples advancing across the surface, as if some invisible nine-legged beast dragged its limbs through the sand. Queen must be a monster, at least twenty feet long. Virtually all life forms on Josuwa were sub-terrestrial. Only damn way to survive this blistering heat. Except, of course, for the keystone species, the dominant predator on the planet that routinely performed airborne assaults against the humans invading their realm. Beep…Beep. The scanner warned of a new presence. He searched the sky. Got ya. Feeding time. The combined vibration of the female snake-like creature with her eight male pursuers had rung the dinner bell for a small flock of Josuwa dragon hawks, or what the surviving members of the last earth Canamere harvesting expedition nicknamed, ‘Dawks’. The original settlement must have named them before the first up close encounter. The saw-tooth wings and forked tail mimicked the archaic attributes of the medieval flying beasts, but the face was an exact replicate of ancient gargoyles. What a strange dichotomy. Reptilian scales, taunt leathery skin for their twelve-foot collapsible wings, and a raptor shaped snout with serrated teeth, all the makings of a classic horror novel. Yet, to Derek, the aliens possessed an anomalous beauty to their muscular form, their proud statue and dogmatic principles of honor, clan, family. The only sentient species on this God-forsaken planet and we had to piss ‘em off. Derek chuckled at his own words. God. How could he exist and be responsible for…this.
Copyright 2010 by Michael W. Davis
Earthcom is gone. The distant colonies ruled by the Space Federation are on their own, including the miners on Josuwa, hellhole of Aquarii B, second sun in a quad star system. The perpetual conflict with the indigenous keystone species has depleted their resources, and most of their men. The settlement is on the edge of annihilation. They’re left with one choice, a desperate plan to end the war, no matter what the cost. The radical solution is supported by all in the compound, except for one man, Derek, the only survivor capable of lighting the fuse to end the war once and for all.