A hunter above the cloud line notices red streaks in the sky...
|Raindrops fell, an endless deluge from a sky of black and grey, soaking the earth still devoid of life after the long winter. Green shoots broke the soil, sitting in the puddles that collect in the clay. The wind shook the budding trees clean of the last few brown leaves and birds sheltered under empty branches. Nolan turned into the forest, down the slippery, well-worn path between the giant oaks and ash trees looming over him. A dark brown canopy full of holes for the wind and rain to drench him further. April was meant to be warm but Winter still lingered in the windchill today. |
Nolan's long strides brought him into the big clearing at the heart of the woods, to a log cabin complete with smoke rising from its chimney. He could see his wife Zara through the window chopping vegetables. The two rabbits hanging from his back sack would go nicely with whatever she had prepared. He admired her for a moment through the curtain of raindrops, She was thirty-five and in the prime of life. She had lived through many pains and these were etched in tiny lines on her face. They added personality to the most beautiful of women, one who could have launched a thousand starships into the void of space somewhere way up there, stretched out over the grey of the day. He hoped she would look up and see him and smile through the window but she did not notice him through the rain nor hear him coming until he entered the house. Then he saw her smile and it warmed him inside and out as he removed his raincoat placing it on the coat stand noticing also the big log fire that she had also prepared.
She kissed him on the lips and then seeing the rabbits said, "Great you brought meat, do you want me to skin those?"
"No I can do that," Nolan replied. He moved to the room behind the kitchen where he had things set up. He could see Zara working in the kitchen while he worked on the rabbits.
"I was up the mountain, above the clouds about an hour ago in the sunshine. I saw contrails from space force drones and they were firing on something red in the sky."
"Something red?" Zara continued chopping vegetables loading them into a big pot when they were done. She glanced at Nolan through the door when she asked her question.
"Yeh it could have been meteors but I fear it was another attack," said Nolan with a shrug. He continued, "The Empire seems dead set on wiping the rebels out, I just hope it was not another biological weapon."
"This planet is one of the few we have found that can support human life without any adaptation, why would they ruin it?"
"Why would they wrongfully accuse the Emperor's daughter of a crime she did not commit forcing her into exile and into the kitchen to make me dinner?" Nolan grinned at Zara as he said it, "These guys are not rational, it is all power games in the end."
Zara put her hand on her hip and turned to Nolan, "This princess has never been happier, learning to cook and clean my own place has been liberating, in fact, I have never been so free..." She paused smiling and glanced at the ceiling as if through to the sky and stars above the rainclouds. "My daddy knows I am here, do you really think he would try and murder me, I am no threat to him."
But Nolan never got to answer that question because the outer perimeter alert buzzer interrupted him. He instantly moved to the cabinet drawing out a powerful assault laser rifle from his days in the imperial guard. He flipped a switch on the wall escalating the perimeter defenses to level 1. The rifle was fully charged. He quickly moved to the kitchen turning off the stove. He guided Zara to a trapdoor in the main living room beneath a carpet, his rifle slung over his shoulder. She ran quickly down the stairs. They had rehearsed this a thousand times before. She turned at the bottom and blew him a kiss. He shut the trap door and covered it with the carpet.
He returned to the war room, pushing the half-skinned rabbits to one side and clearing the space. He opened a section of the wall to reveal a panel of monitors. The inner perimeter fence was intact and nothing was inside the perimeter. But the sensors outside the perimeter were picking up movement. There were three large red blobs approaching the cabin, at speed. At their current rate of speed, they were twenty minutes out which gave him time to prepare the defenses. He deployed drones to get visuals and more information.
"My goodness," he exclaimed when the first video feed came back with results.
The bugs looked something like giant cockroaches twenty feet tall and thirty feet wide and a hundred long. They were wading through the forest snapping tree trunks like they were out for a Sunday stroll in a field of grass. Nothing like this existed in the known universe so he surmised it was some kind of product of the Imperial Bio-weapons research division. He visually analyzed the bugs for weaknesses noticing that because of their immense size taking out their legs was his best strategy. This would reduce the speed of movement the momentum of any attack and the capacity to react to attacks. He scanned the legs on all frequencies: infrared, visible spectrum, and X-ray but noticed they were covered in carbon composite armor. The armor was thinnest and weakest at the joints. He turned to the sentinel guns monitor giving instructions to the AI to focus fire on these weak spots when it engaged. He set the AI to engage a hundred feet from the perimeter and returned to the other monitors.
He looked for news reports of similar attacks around the colony and scanned the space force frequencies to check for intruders in orbit but came up blank. This looks targeted like they knew we were here, he thought. He wondered if the armor meant that there was also a technological component to the bug. He set another AI to do a more thorough scan.
On a whim, he set another AI to analyze cockroach extermination plans for insights on how to deal with supersized versions. It came back with recommendations to attack the eyes and to use acid and adhesive. One of his drones was equipped for pesticide duties in the garden they maintained and he recalled it filling its tank with bleach from the kitchen. He instructed the AI to control the drone to target the eyes. But as he did so the full body scan results came back. These cockroaches have armor-plated eyelids! So he needed a twofold strategy to disable their vision combining missile penetration of the eyelid with the bleach attack. He adjusted the AI strategy instructions and deployed three attack drones and the pesticide drone to carry out the mission.
He watched as the drones deployed. They focused on the nearest bug. The eyelids were blown away by missiles and then the pesticide drone deployed bleach. There was a roar and the bug seemed to sway and then started walking in circles. But the next two bugs seemed ready for the missiles deploying some kind of membrane before their eyes to divert the missiles. The missiles caused damage but did not open up the option to blind the creature.
The next defense was the LEDs he had planted, he needed to take out the legs. One bomb went off and the cockroach's leg was blown away. He then concentrated drone missile attacks on the other five legs removing two more so that the cockroach tottered and fell no longer able to support its weight or continue moving.
The last cockroach approached the perimeter and the sentinel guns activated and focused on the legs. The withering fire disabled the creature and it plonked to the ground still alive but no longer able to move.
Nolan left it writhing on the ground and set the home detonation routine to ten minutes. He then ran to the living room entered the trapdoor and ran through the tunnel below. It came out 200 feet away in the woods where Zara was waiting. Their ship was there and she had already prepped the engines and started the preflight routines.
"It is a shame," she said as the ship roared into the sky, "that was the first place I could truly call home." She looked down on the log cabin and the battle still raging under AI control below as the sentinel guns pounded the prostrate bug with fire directed at its eyes.
They kept below the grey clouds thankful for the rain which would improve their stealth capabilities helping them to avoid detection by Empire or rebels. A giant explosion behind them informed them that the threat behind them had now been eliminated. The mushroom cloud temporarily blew away the clouds around their old home letting the sunshine down on a giant fireball. Nolan edged the ship into a vertical climb and they entered orbit moving quickly out of the solar system. On the run again they knew now that the Emperor would stop at nothing to kill his daughter...