This story was sent to us by long-time SciFi Ideas acolyte Vincente Tellez. It was inspired by (and begins with) an original ‘story starting point’ written by Johnathan Richardson, which we shared back in January.
The Starting Point
by Johnathan Richardson
The small colony of Grettsburg on Durok VII had been awaiting the arrival of the Terra Pac colony ship ‘Lincoln’ for quite some time. The scheduled date of arrival had come and gone, and with each passing day the population of the town grew more restless; they needed able-bodied men to work the mines, and they were all eager to hear news from Earth.
On a cold Saturday morning, the familiar sound of a sonic boom echoed throughout the sky. The citizens ran outside to greet the new arrivals but, to their horror, saw the orange coloured markings on the descending spacecraft.
They had arrived.
by Vincente Tellez
The ship landed in the large clearing just west of the town. Painted on the side of the ship, clearly visible to the townfolk, was an unmistakable logo: a white circle bordered by two white crescents on either side, with the words “Bader Corp” printed just below. It wasn’t the Terra Pac ship the citizens had sorely needed. Instead, it appeared to be a ship of the widely feared Bader Corporation, escorted by para-military fighters in a display of power. It had most likely arrived to announce the very thing the citizens had feared most since they arrived on Durok VII.
Upon recognizing the infamous logo, most of the citizens returned to their homes, nervous and not wanting to face the arriving ship. But a few brave souls stepped forward and began walking towards the ship. As they did, the bay doors opened and three men stepped down from the ramp. The two groups met in the imposing shadow of the large ship, the fighters running holding patterns overhead.
“Welcome to Grettsburg,” said one of the citizens. “My name is Rodak Patel, Grettsburg’s Minister of the Oracle. Please forgive the small welcoming party. Your arrival was unexpected. Terra Pac was supposed to have sent us some aid several days ago, but it hasn’t yet arrived. When we heard your ship, we thought it was them. You wouldn’t happen to have heard what might have happened?” He glanced nervously up towards the sky, where the fighters still circled like vultures.
One of the crew members spoke up. He wore a silver eagle on his chest, indicating he was the ship’s captain. “In fact,” he said, “that’s partly why we’re here. My crew and I have been sent to inform you that Terra Pac no longer views this colony as a viable venture and has sold it, and all associated property, to Bader Corp. Hence, all shipments from Terra Pac have ceased. We hailed their last ship ourselves and sent it back. There was a gasp from the citizens at the news, but the captain continued, either unaware or indifferent to their dismay. “Bader Corp., on the other hand, feels that with a little reorganization,” he put a slight emphasis on the word, “we can bring the profits of this colony’s titanium mines up 120%. We are here to put in place the new system which will achieve this. Klaus,” he turned towards the crew member to his left, “ready the cargo for deployment. I don’t want any delays in getting to work.”
The young crew member stiffened at the mention of his name and sharply responded “yes, sir,” before about facing and running off towards the orange ship.
The captain turned back towards the citizens. “Your cooperation throughout this change of ownership will be most appreciated. You’ll find that some the new equipment which we brought you will be most helpful in mining operations, even if they are only second rate. Of course, in order to put it to good use, we’re going to have to man the mines 35/7. I see most of the town is here on rest. We’ll need to change that. I trust we won’t have any problems?”
“This is outrageous!” exclaimed one of the citizens. Rodak, who was clearly the one in charge, made no attempt to stop him. “We’re struggling just to survive on this backwater planet, and now you expect to use us as slave labour in the mines!? We have families here to take care of! We can’t afford to send everyone into that mine, it’s too dangerous!”
As he was speaking, Klaus had been unloading stacks of mining equipment from the ship. But now he was guiding something else out, something that appeared to be a large robot on two legs, about as tall as an automobile was long. The captain ignored the citizen’s outburst and instead said, “Ah! Gentlemen, ladies, this is my own personal mech unit, SD-49. He’ll be in charge of security for the duration of our stay.” As if to make a point, SD-49 stopped and began a diagnostic, spinning up the barrel of the mini-gun attached on the side. “Statement: Diagnostic 5: Pass. Primary armament online.” Klaus, who was busily attending the mech, made several notes on his data pad.
The citizens were stunned into silence. Not knowing whether continuing the argument would even be safe, the man who had spoken up turned and began walking back towards the town. Rodak spoke. “We had better inform the rest of the town of the situation. Come on, let’s go.” He turned back and the rest of the citizens followed. When they were out of earshot, he spoke again. “River!” A woman who carried a small hunting blade perked up at the sound of her name. She was well known in the town for her hunting ability, so Rodak thought she would be perfect for the job he had in mind. “Take inventory of every weapon we have in the town, and find some men who know how to use them. Then work on setting up some camouflaged positions and hide the cache there. We’re going to need them later.”
River looked back at Rodak with an enquiring stare. “You don’t seriously intend to oppose them, do you? When they have that mech? It could tear this whole town to shreds if it wanted to!”
“And you intend to serve them dutifully?” he replied, keeping his demeanour. “The way I see it, those are the only two options we have, and I’m not about to stand by and let them enslave us. That said, I’m also not an idiot. We’re going to have to go about this carefully.” With that, River quickened her pace towards the town, and Rodak turned his attention towards another in the crowd.
“Braxton, I need you to scrap together some canisters, magnesium strips, aluminum, and whatever rusted hunks of iron we have lying around. You know what to do with them. Once they’re assembled, bring them to River and have her store them in the cache.” Braxton, a short and stout man compared to the others around him, nodded his head in acknowledgement.
By the time the group arrived, a small assemblage had already gathered in the town square. Rodak stepped atop a small stone platform to address them. “Citizens of Grettsburg! I come bearing bad news. We have been hard pressed fighting for our survival out here. We used to operate the mine in exchange for supplies from Terra Pac, but geologic activity has made it unsafe. We were forced to turn our efforts towards simple survival, but we required more hands to do so. We expected those from Terra Pac. But instead, we have been abandoned, left to ourselves. Now Bader Corp has claimed our small town for itself and intends to work us in the mines without regard for our safety, for our lives. We do not have the means to oppose them openly, so I urge you, for now, do what is necessary to remain alive. Now go home and comfort your families. Trust in the Oracle to guide us through these troubled times.” The crowd disassembled with a murmur of fright and discontent. They were scared, but what could they do? They had seen the fighters flying overhead and realized they didn’t have the means to resist.
Rodak stepped down from the platform as the crowd dispersed, most heading home to be with their loved ones or even hide their valuables. However, a few townsfolk remained behind and approached the man.
“Rodak! We can’t just let them push us around like this!” One of the approaching citizens said. “Can’t we do something?”
“Not yet, Kaitee,” Rodak hushed as he came closer to the group, not wanting to be overheard. “Open opposition would mean certain death. I intend to resist them, but we have to do it covertly. I’ve already sent several others to make preparations. Now go home. We face many challenges ahead. May the Oracle guide you all.”
The captain watched as the simple townsfolks turned back and began their walk back into the pitiful town. After they had travelled some distance, the captain turned to his first officer beside him. “This shouldn’t be too difficult. You saw the way they shut up after seeing SD-49. There’s nothing quite like a big gun to get people in line. I’ll have them working that mine and maybe even doubling projected profits. Soon enough I’ll be moving up the ranks and I won’t have to deal with these lowlifes anymore.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure, Captain.” The first officer gazed after the departing enclave. “That Rodak fellow seems like he might have some potential to stir up some trouble, and the rest of ‘em didn’t seem too happy to see us either.”
“You worry too much. They don’t have the means to put up a fight against the kind of firepower we can bring to the table. If they tried, they’d be obliterated.”
“Whatever you say, Captain.”
“Order the fighters to land. We’ll bring what we need into town as soon as it’s ready to be moved. Once there, I want you to organize a team of colonists to start construction of the base camp. Klaus?”
The boy poked his head out from behind SD-49 where he had been making some adjustments. “Yes sir?”
“Set SD-49 to mode 2A. There aren’t many colonists, so we’d like to avoid casualties if it can be helped. I’m sure we’ll lose a lot in that mine, anyway.”
“Right away, sir,” he said and turned back to his work. After entering some data in his data pad, the rough voice of the mech began, “Statement: Patrol mode alpha engaged. ROE: Aggressors.”
Three weeks had gone by since the annexation of the colony by Bader Corp. So far, events had proceeded as envisioned by the captain, but Rodak had been carefully making plans since his arrival. River had collected all but a few weapons and hidden them in caches surrounding the town. The rest had been confiscated by the first officer, but had been placed so as to be deliberately found. It would have aroused suspicion had the Bader Corp representatives not found any weapons on a developing colony.
A group of citizens was returning from the mine with their day’s work in a slow-moving truck, ready for shipment. Durok’s sun was close to setting as they approached, casting the long shadows of the towering pine trees over the trail. They slowly crawled along the path back to town, covered in grime, before coming to the security detail posted just outside the town’s border. “Hold it,” the lead guard said. “You were due back 20 minutes ago. What kind of operation do you think we’re running here?”
“The kind where we aren’t worked to death,” retorted one of the citizens with a sneer.
“Jeb…” one of his buddies cautioned him.
“No Steeg. I’m sick and tired of this. I’m not putting up with these slave drivers any longer. I ought to …” Before he could finish, the guard smashed his face with the butt of his rifle. The friend who cautioned him a moment ago stepped forward to grab him, but the guard turned towards him and entreated him to the same blow.
The remaining citizens became enraged at the display of violence, and several of them gave loud shouts. They rushed forward towards the offending guard as if to grab him, but his subordinates raised their weapons. In their frenzy, most of the rushing citizens showed no regard for their safety. A few hesitated momentarily, but joined the rush when they saw their comrades move forward. Their anger compelled them on, and the guards, realizing they now had no choice, opened fire. Seven bodies fell to the floor, while three men looked onward, unwilling to admit their crime against nature.
“Well tanj. Now we have to take the cargo back ourselves,” the lead guard commented. He made no mention of the carnage, and never once looked at the bodies lying by his feet. He made his way into the driver’s seat of the vehicle and started it back up, and the teeth-like shadows of the forest slowly closed upon the trail, covering it in darkness.
Rodak had heard the gunfire from the town and immediately dropped his work to go investigate. He knew the townsfolk had been pushed to their limit in the past few weeks, but he had hoped it wouldn’t come down to this. Perhaps he had asked too much of them. He wasn’t yet sure his plan would work, but if events had already progressed this far, then he might not have a choice but to go through with it. Any longer and there would only be more one-sided violence.
Having successfully evaded the guards walking through the town, Rodak approached the head of the trail from where he had thought he heard the gunfire. He followed it up through the artificially seeded pine forest for a good ten minutes before he saw a large figure up ahead. It was a figure he instantly recognized, but one he hadn’t expected to commit such a crime. The figure turned towards him as he approached.
“Command: Do not approach further, colonist,” it said in its gruff voice. “Containment protocols are in effect until further information is available.”
He should have known it would see him first. Well, if it was going to shoot me, it would have already done it, Rodak thought to himself. I might as well try and find out what happened. “What the hell happened here, SD-49?” It was hard to tell in the dark, but he thought he could see several vaguely human shapes lying on the ground by the mech’s feet. It only further confirmed his fears.
“Ro … Rodak? Is tha … that you?” A voice struggled to be heard over the whine of SD-49’s gyroscopes. Rodak was surprised to hear it, but immediately stepped forward to help. As he did, the mech turned its gun towards him.
“Command: Do not approach!” it said in an even harsher tone this time. “Containment protocols are in effect until further information is available.”
“49, he’s been shot! I need to help him now, or he isn’t going to make it!” Rodak shouted angrily at the mech.
“Command: Do not approach. Containment protocols are in effect until further information is available. A security team has been dispatched and will arrive shortly. ETA: 74 geominutes.”
“He might not have that long! Listen, that man is a valuable resource, and I don’t think the captain would be happy about losing his labour. You have to let me help him,” Rodak begged.
SD-49 paused for a moment to consider the man’s words. “Concession: Conservation of labour resources is of higher priority than containment protocols. Command: Citizen, you are directed to administer medical care to the following individual: Zaine Russo. Please proceed at highest speed.”
Rodak quickly stepped forward, relieved that the mech had headed his words. As he knelt over Zaine, the injured man tried to speak. “Please … it hurts!”
“Relax. It looks like you took a hit to the shoulder. Nothing bad.” He took off his shirt and began creating a makeshift bandage. “Why don’t you try to tell me what went down. I get the impression it wasn’t 49, or he wouldn’t be so eager for info.” He pressed down on the wound and Zaine grunted from the pain.
“I … I’m not entirely sure,” he started, but winced from the effort. He tried to tune out the pain and focus on telling his story. “We were bringing a shipment back from the mine but were running a few minutes late. I guess we ran into the guards on a bad day, cause one of ‘em gave Jeb a pretty good smack. Then some of us rushed forward to stop him, and he gave another one a smack, and then … well after that I’m not too sure. I just remember a loud bang and searing pain and then nothing. Then I woke up and you and this mech were yelling at each other.” He tried to prop himself up and look around, but as he did, he noticed the other bodies around him. “By the Oracle, they didn’t … did they?”
Rodak gently pushed him back down. “Don’t exert yourself. You’ve lost a lot of blood and I don’t want you worrying about things.”
“Rodak, they can’t do this to us,” Zaine said, his voice becoming more panicked. “They can’t! This is no way to live. Maybe Jeb was right …”
“I said don’t worry,” Rodak said in a bit more of a commanding voice. “I was hoping I would have had more time, but I’ve got a plan, and now’s the time to put it into action. Now here’s some water.” He pulled a bottle out of the pack that he always kept with him. “Drink it. We’ll get you back home soon, but right now I need to go talk to 49.” He stepped away from Zaine and approached the mech.
“SD-49, what do you know about the situation?” Rodak asked as he stepped toward the towering robot.
“Answer: A security detail has reported 17 geominutes ago that seven colonists were lost on their return to Grettsburg with a shipment of titanium. The titanium was unharmed. Analyzing video feeds now.” The mech paused and Rodak could hear the mechanical brain inside whizzing through countless arrays of data. “Statement: Video feeds are consistent with the account of Zaine Russo. The guards attacked Jeb Steele and Steeg Boryczko before being assaulted by the remaining five colonists. Upon being assaulted, the guards opened fire, killing six and wounding one.”
“49, what is your job here?” Rodak was about to implement the first step of his plan, but it was the least reliable part. He had no idea if what he was trying could even work, and so much hinged on its success.
“Answer: I am Security Droid Model Number 49. My function is to provide security for a specified region or military installation and prevent or end outbreaks of hostility with overwhelming firepower.”
“Outbreaks such as what just happened here?”
“Answer: That is correct. I am designed to operate with a compliment of other models in order to effectively patrol a protected region. Alone, I am unable to cover all areas of responsibility. Due to this deficiency, I was unable to respond to this situation in time.”
“49, had you been here in time, what would have happened?”
“Answer: The lead guard initiated the violence. He would have been shot on sight for an outbreak of hostility. It is unfortunate that such events only happen when I am not present.” Success. Rodak had gambled that SD-49’s programming would have been set for responses to violence only. It looked like today, he was taking home the jackpot.
“And you would have felt justified doing so, even though your function is to prevent outbreaks of hostility?”
“Answer: That is correct. The guard initiated the violence, an act which is considered unacceptable. Responding to the act with overwhelming firepower insures the perpetrator will not have the opportunity to commit the same act in the future.”
“49, Bader Corp has you here to intimidate us, to keep us from initiating violence against them. But they’re constricted by the same rules in your presence. You have to realize what’s going on when you’re not around. It’s why they only brought one of you. They initiate violence against us all the time! If you can access video logs, can’t you verify this?”
“Answer: I do not access information which is not relevant to my function. The security details are present to make up for the lack of additional SD-49 units. They assist in maintaining peace.”
“Take a look at those files, then. I think you’ll find them to be very relevant. The guards aren’t helping you keep the peace. They’re the ones starting the violence. If they weren’t here, we’d be a peaceful people. They’re working against you!”
“Statement: I do not access information which is not relevant to my function. Command: Citizen, you are ordered to return to the town.”
Rodak knew he was close. He just needed to get SD-49 to review those files. “49, please. Look at those files.”
“Command: Citizen, you are ordered to return to the town. Failure to leave the premise will be considered an act of trespass and will be handled accordingly.”
He couldn’t push the issue any further. He would have to delay the action until he could talk to SD-49 again at a later time. With the Oracle’s luck, he’d be able to get the droid to review the files next time.
SD-49 lumbered into the cargo bay of the Bader Corp ship for his routine maintenance once the security detail had returned from the night’s events. He lowered himself and opened his access port for Klaus.
“How’s it going today, 49?” the technician asked.
“Statement: All systems are functional.” There was a pause as the technician began interfacing with the access port. He quickly glanced through the daily log when something caught his eye.
“Hold up. You ran into Rodak out their?” The young boy asked. “What was he doing out so late?”
“Answer: Minister of the Oracle Rodak Patel was administering aid to Citizen Zaine Russo. He later engaged in several enquiries.”
“49, playback a voice recording. I want to hear what he said.”
The recording began playing, and Rodak’s voice could be heard from the speaker. Klaus listened attentively. When it was over he said to the mech, “49, access those files Rodak was referring to.”
“Statement: I do not access information which is not relevant to my function.”
“Command override. Access code 3432401.”
“Statement: Command override accepted. Analyzing files.” There was a pause as SD-49 began reviewing the files. It took a significant amount of time as he processed what it all meant. When he was done, he stared at Klaus with his optical lens. It focused back and forth, almost as if it was a gesture meant to display the conflict he was now experiencing.
There was a tense atmosphere about town the next day. Everyone tried to go about their normal duties, but they had all heard what had happened the night before and were on edge because of it. Some were much more compliant with the guards, fearing what might happen otherwise. Others were more aggressive, giving a snarl or a curse anytime a guard was near. It was a risk, and they knew it, but the captain must have ordered some restraint given the number of workers he had lost yesterday. The work day passed without incident.
As Minister of the Oracle, Rodak had invited the townspeople to a ceremony for their six fallen brethren after duty hours. SD-49 had been sent to keep an eye on the potentially emotionally-charged gathering, but regardless of his loathed presence, there had been quite a turnout from the people who knew the men well. The crowd was gathered in the town square where the Minister was giving a few closing words. “These six men were our friends and our family,” he said to the crowd. “They were always there for us, just as we were always there for them. We will miss them dearly, but we must trust in the Oracle’s plans and take comfort in knowing that they were part of something greater. May the Oracle guide us all,” he concluded.
“May the Oracle guide us all,” the crowd chanted back. There was a moment of silence before the traditional remembrance song began playing. When it was finished, the crowd turned and departed without a word. Several citizens glared at SD-49 as they left, but the stoic droid gave no notice.
Rodak approached the mech once everyone had returned to their homes. “If Bader Corp remains here, there’s only going to be more death,” he said. He knew an emotional gambit wouldn’t work on the machine, but it somehow felt right to open the conversation that way. And he had to try something. If he couldn’t convert SD-49, his whole plan would fall apart. “If you would only take a look at those logs, you would see that for yourself.”
The mech looked at him for a second before responding. “Statement: The video logs have been analysed.”
Rodak’s eyes widened in surprise. He hadn’t expected that. “Then do you see now what I’ve been getting at?” Rodak encouraged him. “Your function here is to prevent the outbreak of hostilities. You do so by eliminating those who initiate it. Yet now you must see that those who you serve are the ones who initiate violence!”
“Concession: You are correct. Bader Corporation initiated the violence in all recorded logs. Aggressors must be eliminated.” Rodak smiled. His gamble had paid off, but now he had to tame the beast he had created. It would do no good if all their resources weren’t used at once.
“49, I know what you want to do, but you have to wait. You won’t be successful, not by yourself, and not against those fighters. But I have a plan which could turn the tide in our favor. If you coordinate with us, we can do this.”
The mech listened and Rodak shared with him the details.
Early the next morning, Rodak had informed his collaborators that it was finally time to take action. Everyone was still on edge from recent events, so they were more than ready for Rodak’s announcement. They were gathered in a small clearing near the town, hidden by the pines.
“If we want a reasonable chance at actually disabling the fighters, then we only have enough reactant for two thermite grenades,” the stout man known as Braxton informed the others. “We’re going to have to rely on 49 to take down the other two. Our weapons don’t have the penetration.”
“As long as we maintain surprise, I’m sure he can handle it. Hopefully they’ll be down before they can even take off,” Rodak commented.
“Alright then,” the huntress known as River spoke up. “But how are we actually going to get to the fighters to deliver the grenades?”
Rodak took the lead in answering her. “We’ll have group 1 act as distraction. Make trouble. It’ll bring the guards towards them. Then you and the other sharpshooters can take the remaining guards down from a distance. Group 2 will run in, place the grenades, and hightail it out of there before reinforcements arrive from out of the cargo ship. Meanwhile, SD-49 will open up on the distracted guards from the side, before they can retaliate against group 1.”
“And after that?” River enquired.
“Well, more than likely any plans we make after that are going to have to be adapted on the spot. We’re just going to have to fend off the remaining guards as they pour out of the cargo ship. With SD-49 on our side, we should be able to win no problem” But not without casualties, he thought to himself. Although it was left unsaid, the others knew it as well. They were nervous.
“Sounds like we have a solid battle plan,” Braxton said. “How ‘bout we get to it, then?”
The cool morning mist was slowly parting as the rays of Durok VII’s sun burned it away, finally revealing the makeshift airfields to the yearning scope of the huntress’ rifle. The light fell upon River’s skin, warming her from the night’s cold air, but it gave her little comfort. Now that she had a clear shot, it was time to flash the signal to the group of colonists down below. She pulled out a small mirror and angled it towards the town. Three brief flashes came her way in response.
She waited a few moments before she could hear the crowd getting loud and rowdy. It quickly brought the attention of the guards. Five of them headed over to the town square to deal with the now troublesome crowd. That left only two guarding the airfield. She flashed two quick signals twards her fellow sniper on the adjacent hill, indicating to him to take the one on the left. She then sighted in on the right-most guard.
She steadied her breathing as she brought the crosshairs to bear right over his head. Her finger moved over the trigger, and she slowly increased the pressure, in rhythm with her breathing, until suddenly, the rifle fired. There was a flash and a bang, followed by one more from across the ways. Two bodies fell near the gate around the air field.
The guards in the town turned to see why their fellow guardsmen had fired their weapons, for surely no one else could have been responsible. But before they could process the scene before them, SD-49, who had been standing off to the side of the town square, opened up with an intense barrage of machine gun fire. The guards didn’t stand a chance.
At the same time, Braxton sprang from a bush down below, followed by three other colonists. They sprinted towards the nearest fighters, Braxton’s short legs carrying him surprisingly quickly. Two held rifles, keeping them pointed forward, scanning for any guards which might have escaped River’s sight. The other two, including Braxton, each held a small canister with a magnesium fuse jutting out from the top: makeshift thermite grenades that could melt through anything.
Braxton reached one of the fighters and climbed on top to what looked like a vital part of the menacing craft. His counterpart did the same to an adjacent fighter. They lit their grenades and leaped off. The thermite quickly ignited and began melting first through the skin of the fighters, and then through the essential internal components, hissing as it did. It was clear that neither one would ever be able to take off again.
The group of rebels quickly retreated to join the group in the town. Led by Rodak and SD-49, they moved towards the large cargo ship and set up overlapping fields of fire. They braced themselves for an outpouring of guards and gunfire.
But it never came.
Instead, they waited in silence. After a while, a few of the younger colonists lowered their weapons, their arms tiring. Rodak snapped at them to remain alert. They had not anticipated this. The guards, believing the colonists did not possess any weapons, nor the courage to stand up to SD-49, had heard the gunfire but had assumed it was their brothers handling a dispute. It had not occurred to them that the other guards might have been on the receiving end of the bullets.
Eventually, a lone guard stepped outside to relieve himself, only half dressed in his uniform and lacking any armor. He took three steps down the ramp, looked up, and froze. He quickly grabbed his radio and uttered as quickly as he could, “Code 6! They have guns and the watch is dead! Repeat. Code…” River fired off a shot before he could finish turning around, and the guard fell. But now the rest of the ship was awake. Guards scrambled to get their gear, and the captain yelled. “Where the hell is SD-49? And somebody get those damn fighters up in the air! You there, give me your weapon!”
Twelve armoured guards rushed out the door, weapons at the ready. They fired off a few rounds, but SD-49 opened up on them and they quickly fell. But it didn’t take long for the rest of the guards to catch on to SD-49’s betrayal. Two guards were now blindly firing from around the frame of the door, but nobody was stepping into the mech’s field of fire. More guards poured out from the opposite side of the ship where SD-49 couldn’t hit them and took up covered firing positions. SD-49 stood his ground, the bullets bouncing off his armour like rain on the pavement, but most of the colonists had never been under fire before. Some turned tail and ran, but the more collected fell back and took cover. A few had been hit and collapsed on the ground in pain.
“Stand your ground!” Rodak shouted. “We have SD-49 on our side, so they can’t push forward! We can do this!” And it really looked like they could. All they had to do was pick off the guards as they pushed forward until they had all been dealt with. They had superior positions and all the ground to fall back on if they needed to. There was no need to expose themselves in reckless rushes, while the guards had to push in order to subdue the town. But there was one oversight which hadn’t been considered.
The townsfolk, used only to Terra Pac’s low-cost equipment rather than Bader Corps state-of-the-art technology, had assumed the fighters were manned craft. As long as they held the guards at bay, the pilots would be unable to reach the remaining two craft. But as luck would have it, the fighters weren’t manned; they were drones.
As soon as trouble had been realized on the cargo ship, the captain had ordered the pilots to boot up the drone control systems. It had taken a moment to get everything ready, and after the diagnostics had been run, to realize that two of the drones had been disabled. But now the engines had warmed up and they were ready for lift off. The lead pilot took off into the sky, eager to put some distance between himself and the cacophony of whizzing bullets below him.
A young boy, barely seventeen, had been brave enough, or perhaps foolish enough, to hold his ground with Rodak when the guards had opened fire. He was closest to the airfield and the only one to notice the drones take off. He shouted towards Rodak.
“Rodak! The fighters!” He waved and pointed wildly.
“Tanj!” Rodak exclaimed. “SD-49, we have a problem. If you can deal with it, we can hold back the guards.”
SD-49 gave no sign of acknowledgement, but he began stepping back anyway. Once he had cleared the line of fire of the persistent guards, he turned around to target the drones. Both had made it up into the air now, and were coming back around for an attack run.
SD-49 pinged the drones with his radar to get a lock and lined up his mini-gun. Not having been involved with the guards rushing out to engage the colonists, the pilots were not yet aware that SD-49 was no longer on their side. They instead turned their attention to the largest cluster of colonists. They lined up their sights, and just before they pulled the triggers, they noticed the ping from SD-49. One of the pilots reacted immediately and pulled out of the line of fire. But the other was focused on the kill. He pulled the trigger and unleashed a volley of fire down on the colonists below his drone, but at the same time, SD-49 opened up with his own returning fire. The drone took several hits before something inside exploded. The pilot lost control and the defunct carcass turned groundward with a loud bang.
The other drone, however, hadn’t taken any hits and was already setting up for another run, this time on SD-49. The mech quickly moved for the nearest cover behind several trees, but it was not enough. The drone opened up and bullets poured out from its cannon. SD-49’s leg collapsed from the damage as the projectiles penetrated his armour. The mech fell to the ground, his lens focusing in and out as he assessed the damage.
“River!” Rodak shouted as he returned fire at the guards who were still pushing forward from the ship. He was too far away for her to hear, so he retreated to a safer position. “Hudson!” This time he shouted towards another man standing near him. “You’re in charge! Make sure everyone keeps pressure on those guards. We can’t let them get to the town.” Before Hudson could reply, Rodak turned back and headed off towards River’s location. He couldn’t afford to wait.
When he got close, he gave another shout. “River!” A head popped out from behind a bush. When he saw that he had her attention, he pointed up into the sky where the drone was setting up for another attack run. “SD-49 is down, and we’re about to get chewed up by that thing if we can’t deal with it. You’ve got the most powerful rifles up here. They’re our only shot.”
Riverded without saying a word, understanding the gravity of the situation. She flashed a signal to her compatriots. My target, she told them. The acknowledgement signal flashed back from two different locations.
She raised her sights up towards the circling drone. It had already made another attack run and she could see the bodies of several people in her peripherals. She pushed the thought out of her mind and concentrated on the task at hand. She looked for the best place to land a shot, but it wasn’t the same as sighting the imported deer in the forests. She had no knowledge of the drone’s vital locations and simply had to guess. She picked a spot that looked reasonable from the tubes which were running along it. She fired. Her shot bounced. Two more shots followed from the other locations, but they were equally unsuccessful.
Picking up on their fire, the drone turned towards them. River knew their rifles were useless against the armour on the drones, but she didn’t let the fact intimidate her. Even with the sight of the cannon pointing straight at her, she kept her calm, collected manner. She knew at this point, she would only have one more opportunity. Instead of trying to pick out a decent spot as she had before, this time, turned her sights towards the cargo ship. If they were being controlled remotely, then she knew there must be something sending signals to the drone.
River searched along the ships silhouette until she spotted a cluster of antennas and dishes. She let the sight fall towards the base of the equipment. She had no way of knowing if her plan would work, but she could hear the drone approaching and knew she didn’t have much time. She pulled the trigger and the shot fired. The antennas on the large ship broke apart, but there was no sign it had worked.
River jumped and sprinted from her covered position as the drone continued on its path straight for her. She ran, expecting a hail of bullets from above, but it didn’t come. Instead, there was a loud explosion and a blastwave which knocked her to her feet. She looked back and saw that the drone had failed to pull up and had crashed into ground where she had just been standing. River had guessed right, and her destruction of the communications array had caused the pilot to lose control. She stood up and brushed herself off, her hands shaking as she realized just how close she had come to being obliterated. She took a moment to compose herself. “Thank the Oracle,” she said up to the sky.
While River had been handling the drone, Rodak had turned his attention back to the battlefield. He quickly sprinted back to where he had left Hudson, but he found that he had taken a round to the chest. “I’m sorry, brother. May the Oracle guide you” Rodak muttered under his breath. He could only hope Hudson’s death was as painless as possible.
Without Hudson’s presence, most of the colonists had fallen back, and the guards had been pressing forward, using the trees as cover. The captain had also joined them, along with two guards equipped with heavy machine guns. They were tearing into the colonists with alarming rate, and it looked as though they would overrun them all too soon.
Rodak raised his weapon to return fire, but as he did so, a stray round hit him in the leg. “Argh!” he cried in agony and stumbled to the ground. He saw the others run past him in retreat, but no one stopped to help him.
The captain recognized him from a distance as the ring leader from their first encounter and swiftly ordered a guard to secure him. The guard ran over and kicked Rodak’s weapon away. The captain approached, pistol in hand, as the guard grabbed Rodak’s arms and held him up in front of his commanding officer.
“Roland, was it? Or Roderick? Something that started with an R. I can’t remember. Anyway, it looks like your little party here is about to come to an end.” The captain held his pistol up in the sunlight to inspect it, the glint shining off and into Rodak’s eyes. “It’s a shame, really. You managed to put up quite an effective resistance. If you had been on our side …” The captain let the thought trail off. Rodak squinted in pain from his wound and tried to squirm away, but the guard only tightened his grip, increasing the pain in his shoulder.
Rodak could hear the sound of the gun fire in the distance, including a minigun. He could only guess at the extent of the damage occurring in the town right then. He turned his attention back to the captain. “Unfortunately, you’re too dangerous to keep alive. Hold him still,” he ordered the guard. The captain raised his pistol up to Rodak’s head. He held it there for a moment, but just before he could fire, SD-49 exploded through the nearby foliage, accompanied by River, Braxton, and a handful of other colonists.
The captain turned towards the rescue party and tried to raise his sights, but SD-49 was too fast for him. The barrel of the minigun swung with tremendous force and connected with an unpleasant crunch. The captain fell to the ground with a thud.
The guard holding Rodak dropped him and reached for his weapon, but River fired before he could reach it. The body fell and River pushed it aside.
“I couldn’t have asked for better timing,” Rodak managed to grunt out.
“Neither could we,” Braxton answered. “We weren’t sure if you were even still alive.”
Rodak glanced over at the mech who had just saved his life. “How the hell did SD-49 get here? I thought I saw him taken down by one of those fighters?” He grunted from the pain in his leg and kneeled down. A man with a medkit approached and began dressing the wound.
It was just then that Rodak noticed Klaus, the young technician who had prepped SD-49 upon arrival, was also with the party. He spoke up to answer the question. “I saw him go down too. Luckily, it was only a hydraulic in his leg which was damaged. I knew we had some extras in the camp by the ship, so I ran to go get ‘em and put ‘em in as quick as I could.”
“And it was a damn good thing he did too,” River piped up. “SD-49 was the only reason we were able to push them back after they brought out those machine guns. I don’t want to think about what might have happened otherwise.”
“You?” Rodak enquired with a puzzled look. “You would have had to run across the field of fire to get to it. Not that I’m ungrateful, but why would you want to help us?” he asked the young boy.
“Hey, I’m no different than you.” Klaus said defensively. “Bader Corp took over my parent’s town when I was twelve. They died later on in the occupation and I knew I had to get out. Working for the captain was the only way, so when he came to me with the offer, I took it.” He looked down at the ground to hide a tear. “I knew I was on the wrong side. I didn’t want to be, but I didn’t know what else to do. I’ve been looking for a chance to make up for everything ever since.” His voice choked up as he trailed off.
Braxton put his hand on Klaus’ shoulder. “It’s alright kid,” he said. “You did a lot more for us today than you think. You probably saved the lives of everyone in the town.”
As he finished speaking, a slow whine started up in the distance. Everyone looked towards the source to see what it was, and to their horror, they could see the engines of the transport starting up. “Where’d the body of the captain go!?” Braxton exclaimed.
They looked around, but saw nothing. SD-49 turned towards the ship and spun up his minigun, but the rounds simply bounced off the massive vessel. The ship turned away and the engines flared as it began to accelerate. Rodak thought he caught a glimpse of a figure hunched over the controls in the cockpit before it grew too distant to make out any detail.
“Tanj it!” shouted River. “I would have given that bastard something special if I had known he survived that hit!”
They stared after the orange ship as it shrunk to a small speck on the horizon. “They’ll be back, ya know,” Braxton commented. “And with bigger guns.”
“I know,” Rodak replied. “But we’ll be ready for ‘em next time. Plus,” he gestured towards SD-49. “We’ve got a little extra help now.” Braxton made no comment in reply, but simply stared after the disappearing ship with River and the others. When the medic had finished dressing Rodak’s wound, he stood up and turned towards the town. The party began a slow trot back to their homestead, where they could recover from the carnage that had torn through their lives that day. Life was hard on planet Durok, and they had a lot of work to do to keep it going. It was only going to get harder.
Story by Vincente Tellez.
Based on an original writing prompt by Johnathan Richardson.
Artwork by Ian Cooke-Grimes (iacg.deviantart.com)