Joined: 10 Nov 2008
Location: New Zealand
|Posted: Tue May 17, 2011 2:22 pm Post subject: Ute'wehi - The story so far
|By Pete McKenna
“Those whom we encounter sometimes ask who we are, why we do the things we do.
We are the Master Race.
We simply Are.
Lesser cultures who would pose a threat to us must be destroyed. So it has always been; so shall it always be. Those who are of no use to us must submit, or be destroyed. There are no alternatives.
We had dealt with the fat ones before. On a dozen worlds they fought us. They lost each in turn. For centuries we could not find their nest, the source of their contagion overtaking the surrounding stars. Then one of their own sold us a star chart, and we had them. A thousand ships fell upon the homeworld of the fat ones. We slaughtered them without remorse. All but one spaceship, a large freighter, laden with refugees. We pursued them here, to the New World, but the rest of our armada did not follow, and we could not reach out to them. We were stranded here, as were the fat ones.
We will use the creatures of this place against them.
We will render the fat ones harmless. Or extinct.
We will escape this dry, hostile world.
We will because it is our will to do so.
We are the Master Race.”
The lightning storm was as terrifyingly intense as it was brief. No longer than fifteen minutes, but by the time it was done, every tree in the glade had been shattered by multiple strikes and the air stunk of ozone.
Worse, though, the Mindless were gone. Every one, even their erstwhile squad leader. A Handler, a Grade One, even of the Mindless, should know better.
The Par’wet was understandably livid. She stalked the smoking perimeter of the glade, staring out into the darkness, as if her sheer force of will could bring them all back. Eight drones, fully armed, their Handler with a Key, lost in the woods in the dark of night. It was not an auspicious beginning to their patrol.
They had been dispatched to ascertain the veracity of a Drahouin claim that "the Fat Ones in the forest castle" were sick and dying. The natives had many names for the other aliens - Fat One, Greybeak, Puluu-face, “puluu” apparently being a local word for 'turtle' - but their fear and hatred of the aliens was universal. The Race had always strived to work with the indigenous people, as they had done on countless planets before. Not so the Fat Ones. The to'ok murdered the males, enslaved their children, burned their villages. It was all part of the ancient Decision to eradicate them. Their actions here only proved the right-mindedness of the Race in reaching that conclusion so long ago.
The patrol had left the Secure Zone and crossed the river at dawn. The drones – the Mindless – had enjoyed the heavy mist laying over the Asykki, even going so far as removing their helmets to let the moisture bead up on their skin. They soon had to replace their helmets, though – the air was too dry to breathe comfortably. Prolonged exposure without a mister would kill a member of the Race as surely as a fat one’s blaster. It really was a miserable planet.
9942A6 and the Par’wet, 9921S15, had accompanied the patrol to verify the Drahouin claim with absolute certainty. A matter as important as this could not be trusted to a Handler, not of any Grade. This, apparently, was why. A single night in the forest and already the drones were missing, scattered by an atmospheric light show. 9942A6 had spent some time out-of-doors, serving her Par’wet along the border of the Secure Zone. Lightning did not frighten her. She knew their Companion would attract and absorb any nearby strikes. Likewise, the Companion in the unit of drones would have done the same, had they but listened to the Par’wet and stayed put. The Conditioning made them quite compliant, in most cases, but when the Mindless felt their absolute survival was at stake, sometimes the Conditioning broke down. As it had last night.
Try as she might, 9942A6 could not raise the Handler on the radio. The atmosphere here lacked the proper characteristics to transmit and receive radio waves reliably, and without a satellite array in place, they had to take their chances with the old technology. This morning it wasn’t working.
Their Drahouin guide told them the ground was too wet and the rain had fallen too hard, there were no tracks to follow. The native creature was too timid to speak to the Par’wet; it would only address 9942A6, when she didn’t have her head down checking the map or expenditure figures on her data tablet. 9942A6 did not relish passing that particular information on to the Par’wet.
Par’wet 9921S15 had had her fill of the Mindless. This latest transgression was unforgivable. If word of it reached the Supervisor’s Union back in the colony she would likely be stripped of her grade and lose her next Serving. That, more than anything, terrified her. Not the To’oks and their outlandishly powerful weapons. Not the Spring Fever. Not even learning the Race might be trapped on this dry, unpleasant planet forever. The possibility of losing her next Serving eclipsed them all. Being stripped of her full cognitive powers, her full identity; it made her shudder.
She heard the short alien telling 9942A6 that there was no way to track the Mindless. The lightning had stampeded them, had probably separated and strung them across miles of forest as well. If their Companion was still with them they could track it, but only when the radio worked. Her aide said the radio was malfunctioning, however. The Race did not believe in luck, or chance, but 9921S15 certainly felt everything was against her this morning. Even so, the Colony did not grant her extended life and her own autonomy without price. Personal hardship, discomfort, even pain and death, those were all reasonable expectations in the service of the Race.
9921S15 stopped pacing. She tore her gaze off the muddy hem of her lapis robes, her grime-streaked armor. Close examination of the underbrush showed a barely discernible pattern of breaks in the vegetation. They led away, deeper into the forest.
“Aide! Companion! This way, now!”
The particular Companion escorting Par’wet 9921S15 was a communications model, officially designated 989C42, built to help units better coordinate in the field. It carried a sophisticated and unique selection of instruments and tools to help it perform its duties. Powerful long range transmitters, short wave radio receivers, microwave arrays, tightbeam relays – there were literally a dozen different ways for the Companion to send or receive messages.
Unfortunately, not a single one worked reliably on this wretched planet. It baffled the Engineering group of the Administrator’s Union back in the Colony, but even 997 years Since Arrival, they hadn’t been able to work around it. Simply nothing seemed to work.
The Companion didn’t care either way. Its programming was to follow the Semi-Autonomous it was assigned to until too heavily damaged to comply or ordered otherwise. Walking on the trails had been difficult enough, but now, as the Par’wet plunged on into the woods, her Aide close behind, the Comm42 had a harder time keeping up. Thick roots and slippery moss tripped it at every turn. The mostly gentle grade of the trails became steep climbs uphill and treacherous descents. Its feet were not designed for this kind of work.
Signs of the Mindless came more frequently now. Bits of dropped or discarded equipment littered the ground. An entire helmet – mister still hooked inside – was stuck in the crooked bole of an elm tree. That drone would be in trouble when the sun fully crested the sky. The guide trudged on behind the machine, looking sullenly off into the trees.
In her own way, the Handler knew she had behaved badly. Now she was trying to atone.
By noon she had found six of her charges, each alone and scared out of their wits by what had happened. 9965W3 was frightened too, but her sense of duty, no matter how rudimentary, had risen to the fore sometime after dawn. By then the eight Mindless were scattered halfway across the landscape. Seven of them, anyway. ‘4W1 was dead, her helmet lost somewhere, her lungs dried out and her skin wan and flaky. ‘5W3 had taken her weapon and grenades and marked the body for Resumption, as she had been taught. Everything she did was as she had been taught.
Conditioning taught her “When a unit breaks and seeks cover, check dark places, small places.” ‘5W3 had found them cowering; one beneath a fallen tree, another inside a cleft in the granite cliffs, and so on. Only 99521W16 was still missing. She had done a good job of selecting her hiding spot. The Handler paid no attention to search patterns or doubling back on her tracks. She simply looked everywhere that she herself would try to hide in. Their Companion, Comm115, followed gamely along. All its channels were open but no signals from the Par’wet came through.
‘5W3 had spent the night after the lightning storm in a half-submerged hollow log. Water was still dripping from inside her armor. At first she had listened to the Par’wet and had stayed within the protective circle of the Companions. Their metal skin spit and crawled with electricity, but the others were safe. Then the trees had started exploding, showering them with sawdust. She had started to panic, and when the Drahouin pointed into the woods, she broke. The others first followed, then scattered. Now she had to find them, and the Par’wet.
The Mindless marched along behind her, as they had on a dozen patrols before, their confidence restored by the light of day. She still had her weapon and, more importantly, her Key. ‘5W3 was so absorbed in the search she failed to notice the trees thinning out. Her mind was so atrophied by the Calmative it was likely she would not have been concerned by it in any event. That was what the Par’wet was for. Without her, ‘5W3 and the squad walked right into the shadow of the palisade.
‘21W16 laid there in a pool of blood. ‘5W3 finally looked up and recognized the high wooden walls as a to’ok structure. ‘21W16 had not been blasted, however. Her throat was slit. The Handler stood there for a full minute, trying to figure out what had happened. No one challenged them from the walls. The Mindless milled about, 9974W4 poking at a shiny rock with the barrel of her rifle. They stood there still, ‘5W3 examining the body and staring up at the walls, when the Par’wet emerged from the trees an hour later.
The scout saw them standing there and slipped back into the woods.
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