Story: They Came For Our Flesh
|They Came For Our Flesh|
The Lentaa ship spiralled out of control through space. Inside, its captain was desperately shouting orders at his crew, trying to get the ship under control. They were hurtling towards a large star, and if they got much closer they would first be fried, then unable to escape its gravitational pull.
After a few tense moments, the pilot managed to regain control of the ship, and cut the engines. With the auxiliary thrusters, he turned the ship round, pointing it away from the star, and powered up the engines again. They set off leaving the blazing sphere behind, and only then did the captain realise there was a habitable planet orbiting the star. He ordered the pilot to set them down on the planet's surface.
The captain's name was Rohkea, and he was one of the Lentaa to have witnessed their fleet's destruction by the Verplaatsen. His ship had been lucky to escape in one piece.
The spaceship slowed down as it approached the planet. Its 'legs' extended, and it set down gently on the desert land.
The captain half ran, half flew to the door leading outside. It hissed open as he came close, and he waddled down the extending ramp to the ground. He walked out from under the spaceship, and almost straight into a wall of bristling gun barrels. They were wielded by furry, quasi-bipedal mammals, and as soon as Rohkea realised what they were, he began to smile.
When the Lutrians realised what Rohkea was, they lowered their guns. Their ranks split, and another Lutrian, seemingly an authority, stepped through and cleared his throat.
"Er, sorry about that."
"We're a little tense around here. Welcome to Vasitus, a Lutrian-Lentaa colony out here on the borders of Viperius. We have seven hundred Lentaa and four thousand Lutrians in two cities, Lathyimin and Searn. I'm Veir, captain of the Vasitian police. And you, friend?"
"Rohkea, captain of the Bright Survivor."
"I'll bring you to the Lentaa governor, Raera. After that, how about joining us in the barracks for supper?"
Rohkea nodded his crested head. "I'll be there- eight days since my last proper meal. Sure will be good to eat something again. I would like-"
"Woah, my translator's acting up. Anyway, I hope to see you then."
Veir whispered something to an assistant and moved off.
"I'm to take you to the guv'nor." A Lutrian with a metal eye and a bionic leg walked up to him. "This be the way."
Seven hundred light-seconds away, a large fleet of brown-stained ships cruised towards the terrestrial planet they had just detected. City lights were detected- it was inhabited! Along the side of the vessels, gibbets hung and there was a word drawn in coarse glyphs, red from the blood used to inscribe it- "Harvest."
Raera listened to Rohkea's story in silence, though occasionally the expressions shown by his face changed. Only when Rohkea finished did he speak.
"I had heard news of the catastrophe from other Lentaa. Until now, I was unsure whether or not to believe it. Regardless, we shall have to see about getting you and your crew somewhere to stay. How many of you are there?"
"A few thousand."
"Ah," he said, mildly surprised. "I remember the days before these monstrous spaceships turned up out of nowhere, when we used to travel in decent-sized spacecraft. Anyway, it seems to me that we will need to construct a whole new city segment, if not a whole new city, to house you. For now, I'm afraid you'll have to do the best you can by sharing lodgings with Lentaa and Lutrians already here."
"Now then," Raera continued. "I believe supper starts any minute. You'd better be off!"
"Yes, I should," Rohkea agreed, smiling.
About ten minutes later, Rohkea was sitting with many of his crew, along with some Lentaa and Lutrians already in the colonies, in the barracks, enjoying his first proper meal for eight days. He was just finishing the main dish, and considering his next choice, when an exhausted Lutrian wielding a pulser burst into the room.
"Flesh Thieves! We've sighted some of their ships, a couple of hundred light-seconds from the planet, and getting closer!"
"They want to harvest," Veir growled. "Everyone to battle positions!"
"What are Flesh Thieves?" Rohkea asked him as he ran past.
"They're sapients, except they take body parts from other animals. It's called Harvesting. And by the looks of things, they want to Harvest us."
Rohkea had no words to reply, and instead followed Veir out of the room along with all the others.
"We've got very few ships- an Alme, two Thayens, two small Lentaa ships in addition to your own, and an Aquila in reserve. If we man all of them adequately, we'll have two hundred ground troops and one thousand conscripts, mainly Lutrian but with four dozen Lentaa civilians. We've got enough pulsers for all the Lutrians and you seem to all be equipped sufficiently."
The bionic-legged Lutrian walked in again. "Yarr, and we be having eight defense turrets. Four be lasers and four be flak."
"ETA of the Thieves?"
"Twenty-four minutes, at current course and speed."
"Get everything up and running. The site-wide repulsor field is currently up, but it's no defense against attack from the ground."
Grorseb, second in command of the Thieves, chuckled quietly. Six drive signatures were detected coming from the planet, and the optical distortion suggested the cities had big repulsors. They would have to take out the ships and then head down to the ground.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, mistress?
Keelia looked down contemptuously at him, her Zyrothan snout not well matching her Iridi maxillipeds. "No, because you don't want to divide the fleet."
"Three-quarters to the ships and one quarter to go to ground from the start. No buts."
Veir and Raera were sat in the command centre. A light came on as each defense turret was activated, and the screens showed the relative positions of the allied and Thief ships. Ten minutes to contact.
"What are you thinking, Raera?"
"They outnumber us both in space and on the ground. I imagine they'll send a strike force to take down our repulsors, but keep most of their ships in orbit."
"Seems likely. How will we fare against the strike force?"
"I think well. They don't seem to have seen Lentaa before, so our defensive fields should hold off their fire. However, Lutrian armour won't be so effective."
"So Lutrians as fire support, probably from the houses, and Lentaa acting as shock troops or strafers?"
"I'll make it happen."
Rohkea organised his force on the roof of the HQ building. Similiar forces were preparing on many other roofs around the colony. Lutrians were erecting barricades in the roads and evacuating civilians to the bunkers, then going to the windows and setting up heavy weapons.
"We all know what we are doing. Stun-bombs are to be released on the first strike, to make the enemy easier for the Lutrians to mince with their pulsers and MGs. Keep in formation. We use our wing blades on the second flight."
"Yes sir!" As one. Just as they'd been trained.
The defense cannons began firing. The ships had probably got contact.
In orbit, the allied ships had began firing already. At this range, most projectiles and shots missed, but one Thief ship was wrecked by a driver hit.
The Flesh Thieves began firing missiles. A few found their mark, but the shields held. The Bright Survivor began to accelerate, trying to draw at least some of them away.
As the exchange of fire continued, a small group of ships entered orbit and began an approach run to the colony. A laser from the defense turrets drilled straight through one, leaving only the wings and engine which fell rapidly to the ground with large explosions.
The others were luckier and set down just outside the field, their bay doors opening and large numbers of their troops pouring out. Hundreds of twisted feet hit the sand, and took off at a run towards the buildings that glimmered in the hot sun.
The first Flesh Thieves to enter the colony might easily have thought it abandoned. Nothing moved but the occasional sheet of paper, carried by the wind. The first barricade they came to was deserted.
When they passed it, however, a flare went up. A shower of tiny red sparks filled the sky.
The Flesh Thieves were excited now- the enemies were coming! They came to a halt, packing densely in the street.
In the crowds, the Lentaa stun-bombs were extremely effective. The first strafing run filled their force with holes, troops being thrown savagely into the air or incapacitated by the blast. They scattered, to make themselves harder targets, but then they realised why the first barricade had been two walls. Lutrian pulsers appeared in every window and a group had taken possession of each barricade. The sound of their fire was too much for many Thieves, who ran into the buildings and straight into the shotgun-wielding Lutrians within.
The sound of buckshot going off was sudden and loud from a dozen different directions. Thief bodies fell backwards from the doors in which they had been standing, and hit the pavement with a quiet thump.
Hemmed in and desperate, the Thieves were movwn down by machine guns in the windows. There were a few more seconds of convulsing bodies, then the mass of corpses was still.
Rohkea looked over them a little mercifully, then turned back to his warriors.
"There will be more."
A lutrian, down below, pointed at Rohkea and mimed activating their comm. Understanding, the Lentaa activated his radio.
"We're clearing the bodies for incineration right now. Can you keep watch?"
Rohkea nodded. "It shall be done."
The Bright Survivor was the largest ship in this fight by quite a way. As such, it was naturally drawing the most fire- little missiles exploded against its repulsors, and lasers made flashes where they hit the invisible field.
The Lentaa mass drivers outclassed any of the Thief weapons, though. When they hit, the targeted ship crumpled upon its length and broke apart. Of course, the problem was hitting.
The allies had not suvived unscathed, however. One Thayen- three hundred Lutrian lives- had been destroyed. One of the smaller Lentaa ships had been cut cleanly in two, and though the two halves could still fire their weapons, it was a sitting duck and leaking out plasma into space.
Keelia sat back and smiled warpedly. They had a dozen times as many ships- if things followed the current trend, this would be quite the victory.
"Mistress, the boarding pods are ready to fire!" Groorseb called.
"Then do it!"
Several of the Thief ships began discharging small, dull and conical pods, their points targeted at the Bright Survivor. They were around five metres across and ten metres long, though at least half their structure must have been engine.
The Thief mothership focussed a mass-lightening field around them, and they took off.
Like little blue bullets, they streamed towards the Lentaa ship in their hundreds.
The mass drivers began to fire, taking some down, but many others endured. With no point defense guns, they all seemed likely to reach their objective.
This thought was dispelled when the first reached the Lentaa repulsors. Its counter-repulsor activated, failed, and the pod promptly crumpled into a disc against the shield. The same thing happened along its sides.
"They're focussing repulsors at points of impact, and making their fields too strong to breach!"
Keelia pointed out three pods. "They missed some."
The three penetrated just in front of the ship's engine, burying themselves in the hull and then opening like a horrid flower inside the ship. Flesh Thieves, disorientated and stumbling, stepped out and pointed their guns along the corridors. An alarm blared, and the lights on the floor changed into arrows- arrows pointing to the intruders.
The second wave of landers came down from the sky, joining the empty ships that came before. This time, they all landed outside the field and began to launch smoke into the town.
The rumble of the planetary defense cannons grew louder, and the barrels of the guns traversed along their fixings to concentrate on a particularly large ship that descended with the others. Its shields withstood the bombardment, though evidently only just. Then, the eight bay doors on its underside opened, releasing Thieves and a new kind of thing.
It was robotic, with two long legs attached to a small cube, upon which were mounted cameras, stunguns, and small harpoons. Several hundred of these machines ran out with the Thieves, running faster than a Lentaa could fly, racing into the streets.
The machine guns knocked them down, breaking them apart, when they hit them. However, their speed prevented the Lutrians from aiming accurately, and great numbers reached them.
In close combat, the runners came into their own. Firing off their stunners, they brought dozens of Lutrians unconscious with their charge. Then, firing their harpoons into the bodies of the mammals, they began to drag them back to the ships.
Rohkea motioned with a claw, and the Lentaa wings took off from the rooftops. Dropping stunbombs, they knocked the robots down or sent them flying, and then their strafing took out the remainder.
Now, the Thief reinforcements entered. This time, they had more than just stunners- flechette guns, shotguns, and dartcannons could be seen amongst them. They began firing at the same time as the Lutrians, scrambling to re-man their barricades and turn the machine guns back at their foes.
On board the Bright Survivor, Lentaa security squads followed the lights towards their enemies. They went past the pods that were buried in the hull, throwing stun bombs in to make sure there was no-one hiding within.
They made their way determinedly through the wide corridors, finally reaching the point where the lights had led them to.
This was the drive core. The Thieves were in the drive core.
Ahla opened her radio. "Commander? They're in the engine."
"...why? Go in and investigate. Exercise caution."
They opened the sliding door, which the Thieves had evidently tried to weld shut, but without success.
Entering the room, they saw three engineers dead on the floor, flechettes all over their bodies. One had had large amounts of skin and muscle scraped off his belly. Ahla recoiled in disgust at the intestines, which protruded a little from the hole.
A number of flechettes clattered around them, but were stopped by the Lentaa forcefields. Their source was not visible. Another burst of the darts came, and was stopped just like the last.
Ahla made out a figure at one of the consoles, on the other side of the enormous reaction chamber. She took off towards him, razor-sharp wing edges ready to slice the Thief apart.
He saw her coming, and took a shot with his stunner. Seeing it deflected, he smashed the console open with his fist and sprinted away. There was a spark from the core.
"Warning. Reaction chamber magnetic bottle exceeding recommended strength. Reaction yield decreasing." The computer's voice was bored and monotone.
Ahla looked at Kaeyo, and he looked at her. "The mass adj fields."
The only thing that cushioned the tremendous acceleratory forces of the ship was the mass field emitters built into every part of the ship. They required constant power, and lots of it. If their supply went, the Lentaa would be left as gooey red stains on the walls...
Margob ran to the others, climbing up the ladder to the upper level of the engine room.
"The... Lentaa.... saw me."
"But you did your job?"
"Good man. Now, let's get out of here."
The Flesh Thief group moved warily along the gantry, peeking down at the Lentaa below. Some of the reptiles were flying around, on the lookout, and some were by the consoles, trying to restore order to the system.
They reached the end of the walkway and opened a door. They were back in one of the big hallways again.
The alarms blared. "Intruders found." The arrows on the floor flipped directions to point at them again.
"Guess we should run, eh?" Margob smirked.
"There. All fixed." Kaeyo stepped back from the console.
"Magnetic bottle normalising. Within acceptable yield range."
Now free to pursue the Thieves, the Lentaa leapt up into the air and flew the height of the chamber, reaching the upper doorway. Moving through, they took note of the arrows and followed them.
Machine guns rattled and sniper bullets whipped past in the ground battle. The Thieves had little to hide behind, so the Lutrian fire was tearing their crowded army apart. Lentaa strafing prevented them from spreading out, holding them together to take the full power of the Lutrian defenses.
One by one, they bit the dust, trying to hide behind the corpses of their allies. But it was all for nothing, as the last Thief on Vasitus was brought down by a sniper.
The Thieves on board the Bright Survivor had reached their pod, and prepared to launch away from the craft, their job incomplete but thinking that discretion was the better part of valour.
It came as a surprise to them to find that there was already a Lentaa in the pod, and they weren't able to move fast enough to avoid a slash of its razorwings. With a few quick movements, the reptile had killed them all.
The Flesh Thief fleet had no other attack strategy left- it was time to simply crash through the enemy lines. Their ships formed a loose V-formation and began to accelerate straight towards the three allied ships, so many thousands of miles away. Thrusters cast enormous orange and yellow balls of incandescent plasma out into space, propelling their vessels forwards and into close range. However, at this distance the Lutrian and Lentaa weaponry was even more effective. The explosions doubled in frequency, and another missile hit the lead Flesh Thief ship head on.
Grorseb looked at Keelia, panicking. "We won't be able to finish this."
"Maybe not. But we need something to Harvest from- make sure one of their ships pursues." She opened communications to all the Thief ships. "All ships, fall back. Make yourselves look vulnerable and get them to follow."
The V flipped inside-out and they were accelerating away from Vasitus. The allied ships began to give chase, but slowed.
"Why don't they follow?" Grorseb frowned.
"Bleh. They know not to. Keep pulling back, and get out of the system. There should be some more vulnerable colonies nearby."
And with that, the Thief ships entered FTL and were gone.