Story: Bellum Ex Machina
|Bellum Ex Machina|
Part One: Genesis
Valent sniped another of the Kardeth skirmishers with his battle laser. Its head exploded in a shower of gore, and the headless body fell down. A return volley of laser fire burst up towards him, but he ducked behind the outpost's silvered carbon parapets.
An armoured column was coming this way soon- Valent knew only that. He was the sniper of the Fourth Battalion of the Second Army, a proud Mordan in the prime of his life. But creases and scars were already present on his face, and a life occupied only by war had taken a heavy toll on his mind. He existed now only to kill the Kardeth.
Below, the rest of the battalion gathered their weapons and chargers. They were one of the few groups left with any energy weapons, most of the army being now forced to rely on cheap, rugged projectile guns. Both were effective, but lasers were just more terrifying to face.
He popped back up and took another shot, which got one skirmisher in the torso. Each pulse had drilled into his abdomen, and blood spurted out onto the ground behind him from the hole in his scaled belly.
Apparently the Kardath homemoon was very arid, and there was much more UV radiation. Valent's only education had been in war, so he didn't know what that meant, but he did know that Kardeth hide contained a layer of sand. It didn't present much of an obstacle to lasers- in fact, the lasers caused it to bury itself in their internal organs, causing severe internal bleeding- but it gave a sickening clumpiness to their blood when spilt.
A little nauseous, Valent motioned to the soldier on the laser cannon. "They're entering your LOF in ten sels."
Nodding his thanks, the turreteer aligned his focus. The skirmishers turned the corner and were blasted into fragments by a barely visible beam.
Looking through his scope, Valent saw dust clouds on the horizon- the tanks were coming. His mind turned to how an alien would see all this. He imagined trying to justify it- they fired first, and so on.
The two races had lived here peacefully at first. They had gone to the stars together- that much he had picked out from each side's propaganda. The war itself had started on a colony, and spread from there. No-one seemed to know for sure who fired the first shot, but everyone was keen to point fingers (or claws). When it had reached the Mardan homeworld, the two races had fired all their nuclear weapons at each other. But their interceptors were too good, and they had detonated in the sky, the fallout turning most of the land to radioactive desert. The Kardeth homemoon had suffered even worse, as Mordan FTL ships had crashed into it kamikaze-style, turning its surface to cratered slag.
But that was war, wasn't it?
Tavarr took off his NBC suit once inside the bunker. It was lead-lined and boron- reinforced to the extent that a radiation counter placed inside beeped perhaps three times a minute only.
A little sand came out of his skin from where a little shrapnel had hit it. He held his paw to the wound to stop the blood flow, and limped to the hospital.
The sight was depressing as ever. Thousands of Kardeth lay in the beds that filled the hall, and double that number were on grey mats on the floor. There was a constant low moan of pain.
There were only forty medical staff, but they were very impressive at what they did. No patient herew had been here for more than three days. Tavarr had heard stories from back when the Mordans took prisoners, instead of flaying them and rendering them down to water and plant food. Patients left to die, wounds festering for months. It was barbaric.
Looking for the source of the noise, he saw Urha waving at him. She was his old commanding officer, since demoted to lieutenant (his rank) for an unspecified war crime. He didn't care what it was, so long as it hurt the Mordan. "You're still alive!" He smiled.
"I couldn't go and die when there are still Mordan left alive. I heard the kraggers are preparing something big, and I don't want to miss it."
"Damn it, they're always planning something big. And when they aren't, we are."
"Yeah, but I think this is different. I got a peek at some classified recon stuff- apparently they're building something. A machine."
"How would we ever find out if they were?"
"I dunno. But you don't put rumours in classified docs."
Tavarr sat down on the end of her bed, wincing slightly. "They tell me you're in spec ops."
"I couldn't possibly comment." She grinned. "But I'm stuck here until the antibiotic course is finished."
"Could you do something for me?"
"Why, what is it?"
"Get me in with your task force."
She thought for a moment. "Yeah, I think I can do that. But only if you stay here until you get moved."
The Mordan local HQ was a mess. Artillery had shredded its outer wall before the Kardeth were pushed out, and left the building itself half-destroyed. The fallen side of the structure formed the new roof for the lower rooms, angled at around forty-five degrees.
There were still defences- three rings of barbed wire and many proximity mines. The path was marked on Valent's positioning device, but he figured that most were probably broken or duds anyway.
As he headed in through the door, he couldn't help but notice how tired the guards looked. There really was no time to sleep or rest when the nights were a constant barrage of shells and bullets, and it showed. The clerk at the front desk was currently lying with her head in her arms, shoulders rising and falling gently with each breath. He decided not to wake her up.
Heading into the regional commander's office, he was greeted warmly. "Welcome back, Valent. You did good."
"Sir." He nodded quickly.
"Time's wasting, though." He handed Valent a file. "Your next assignment. 0100 under the stairs."