Vance Argon, soldier of the future, heads into a fateful confrontation.
|Vance Argon stopped among the thickest brush, listening intently. Not far off, perhaps as close as the tree line, they were coming in after him. A dozen troopers, maybe more, and they were headed in his direction.
Being here in the woods now gave him the advantage. He could move more stealthily than the armored troops. With the canopy above blotting out the sunlight and the sky swiftly darkening in the West with the approach of the storm, it would soon be dark as night in the forest.
He could not stay hidden in the woods forever. He had to make it to the town by night or he would be out of luck. If he did not meet with the other resistance leaders soon, they would vacate, fearing capture of their own. He had to press on.
A sound to his left, the not-so-subtle crunching of brush beneath booted feet, gave Vance a start. The troops were closer now, possibly even aware of his location, and coming in his direction. He could hear them, their commander giving orders. Too close. He had to hide.
Dropping to his stomach, he crawled under the low hanging branches of an evergreen, pressing himself up against the trunk. Fallen needles from the tree scratched at his exposed skin, pierced his clothing in spots, but they were a minor irritation. Discovery and interrogation in an enemy stronghold would be much more of an annoyance.
He concealed himself just in time. From his hiding spot, Vance could see several pairs of boots emerge from the bushes, stopping where he had just stood moments before. They were speaking in hushed tones, betraying their nervousness. Despite their greater numbers, Vance knew they believed the rumors about this old, black forest. Spirits of the damned haunted these woods, outsiders were told. Even the bravest of souls sometimes failed to emerge from this dark place. Great beasts, hungry for man-flesh lurked here. Even the trees are carnivorous, one old local had told him.
Vance did not believe the legends, but from the whispered, urgent voices he heard, he knew his enemy did, and that was something else he could use to his advantage. If he could ever get out from under this tree.
He blinked sweat from his eyes, not daring to move to wipe it away, lest he make enough noise to give away his position. The weather was not very warm, but the humidity pushed ahead of the approaching storm made the air thick with moisture. In the distance, thunder announced the nearing of the storm. It was echoed by the cry of some wild forest creature.
The troops seemed to start at the feral sound, and their discussion became more urgent. The commander barked an order and the group started off again, splitting into two groups. One marched deeper into the forest, but the other group headed in the direction of the village that was his destination.
Vance waited until he could no longer hear them, then waited another ten minutes before emerging from his hiding place, lest they be lying in wait for him. He made a cautious survey of the area, cocking his head and listening intently for any sound of the troops' return, or of a possible ambush. Nothing. They did indeed seem to have moved on.
Brushing the dirt and evergreen needles from his clothes and skin, he pulled his blaster from its holster and checked its charge. Satisfied, he then checked the rifle he carried. That too had ample power. He took stock of the other weapons available to him.
A fight was inevitable now that the troops were between him and his destination, but their numbers were down by half, and he had an advantage. They thought he was still ahead of them. Striking from behind, and playing on their fears, he had a better than average chance.
He hefted his rifle. "Play time."
He made good time, despite his continued stealth. He knew exactly where to go; the troops were not cautious about covering their tracks. Soon they were within his view; six of them tromping through the brush, making no attempt to hide their position.
He followed at a distance; just far enough behind to keep them within sight. When he did make his move, he wanted to be sure the other group that had split off would not be able to come to their aid too quickly.
After some time the trees began to thin out. Vance knew he would have to act soon. They had paused on a ridge overlooking a valley and in the distance, the outskirts of the village could be seen. He would have to take the troops out before reaching the outskirts. He could not afford to fight them on open ground.
He crept up on their position, hiding behind the thick trunk of a tree, peering around its bulk to be sure that none of them were aware of his approach. They appeared relaxed, taking a break from their search before continuing onward.
He reached to his belt and grabbed one of the circular objects hanging there. Twisting the tab on the top, he waited for a count of five, then rolled it gently into the midst of the troops. One man spotted it just as it came to rest, but before he could voice an alert, there was a dazzling flash of light, sending the troops scattering.
He was in motion the moment the flash bomb went off, leaping into the clearing, going into a tuck-and-roll, and coming up with both blasters in hand. The troops, still stunned by the sudden assault, had no time to react. Vance made very short work of them.
As the last trooper fell, Vance scanned the area around him, watching for a counter-attack from behind every tree and shrub. Nothing happened. The silence of the forest closed in around him once more, only the sound of the second squad leader coming through on one of the downed troops' helmet comm systems. "Squad Six, come in! Squad Six, acknowledge! Have you engaged the target?"
He grabbed the comm from the fallen trooper, switching it on to respond. "Target has been engaged," he replied with a grin. "Target has won."
He threw the comm on the ground, crushing it beneath his boot. Then proceeded down into the valley towards the village.
It did not take long to reach the village. It was quiet. Too quiet. He found the street he was looking for with little effort. Down at the far end was the building he sought.
He was nearly at his destination when another figure stepped out of the bushes, blocking his way to the door. They were equally matched size-wise, but his adversary wore a swirling black cape and helmet that disguised his facial features. He held out a black-gloved hand. "You have gone far enough, Vance Argon. You will go no further."
Argon leveled his rifle at the newcomer. "Who are you?"
The intruder straightened, an attempt to make himself look larger, and pointed a finger at his chest. Thunder cracked overhead, and the sky opened up in a torrential downpour. "My name is...Dave Vaydahr" He pulled an electro-sword from beneath his cape and activated it. "Remember that name, for it is the name of your doom." Another crackle of thunder.
From behind Dave Vaydahr came another voice, one so unexpected that both of them jumped at the sound of it. "Would you two idiots get inside? You're going to get struck by lightning."
Vaydahr moved out of the way, revealing the speaker, a short, olive-skinned woman that glared at them from the doorway with a look that was more intimidating than if she had been wielding a planet-shattering weapon in their direction.
Vance rolled his eyes. "Mom, it's just a thundershower." It came out more of a whine than he had hoped.
"I don't care," Mom replied, pointing to Vaydahr. "I am not going to be the one to explain to...Duck Nader's mother why he got struck by lightning while playing at our house."
"Vaydahr," Vaydahr corrected. "Dave Vaydahr."
Mom glared at him but refused to respond. "And you, Vance. You just got over being sick. I won't have you missing any more school because you caught a cold by being too dumb to come in out of the rain."
She held up a single finger, and Vance immediately fell silent. "Do I have to call your father?"
"No, ma'am," he sighed.
Triumphant, Mom turned and went back into the house. Vance looked at his nemesis, shaking his head. "Dave Vaydahr? You couldn't come up with anything more original than that?"
Vaydahr removed his helmet, revealing a cherubic-faced boy; sweat-soaked sandy-colored hair plastered to his forehead. He shrugged. "Best I could come up with."
Rolling his eyes, Vance walked toward the house as Dave struggled to sheath his electro-sword through his belt loop. After the third failed attempt, he settled on tucking it under his arm as he followed along. "I suppose we could watch some tee-vee. I taped last night's Battlestar."
Dave shrugged again. "Sounds good to me."
Vance held the door open, allowing Dave to enter first. He rolled his eyes again.
This is one of my most personal stories.
Across the street from where I grew up in New York, there was an old Victorian house with a yard that must have covered half an acre (A rarity in an urban New York neighborhood, even back in the 1980s.) That yard was overgrown, with paths meandering among the trees, and if you knew where to look, even a hidden treasure or two. The old gentleman who owned this property used to let me play in his yard whenever I wished, and many a childhood adventure was had on these sacred grounds.
Dave Vaydahr also existed, in the form of my best friend—you guessed it—Dave. Every Saturday, Dave's mom would drop him off at my house and we would have many adventures like the one described above. These adventures helped contribute to my life as a science fiction writer.
Sadly, both are gone now. After the old gentleman who owned that wonderful property passed away, developers purchased the land, tore down that magnificent old Victorian, and put several multiple-family units on the site, filling in every last inch of that great playground of my youth.
Dave passed away in May of 2008 at the age of thirty-eight from complications brought on by Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He was unmarried and had no children. It was on the sixth anniversary of his passing that the idea for this story came to me. It is to his memory that I dedicate this tale. I think he would have enjoyed it.
Thanks for reading!
My novels, The Starhawk Chronicles and The Starhawk Chronicles: Rest and Wreck-reation are available through Amazon.com.