A sci-fi short story by Tyler Golec
Year: 73 SA
The LU had pulled back from the front in the moments before they set off the nukes. Now they were trying to reestablish their positions before the UNE could reestablish their assault. That meant Tony had to venture out in his radiation suit with his unit to locate the enemy.
They did have drones, just not many of them. Tony was small, so that helped the LU. He was barely five feet tall. Tony didn’t think it was much of a benefit though. It meant, in order to save money on precious equipment he would instead be planted in a rock cluster, tree, shrub, mushroom, or thing of that variety. There, he would sit with his gadgets and report.
That was what he was doing now. His unit had left for the safety of somewhere else and left him in a dense shrub. Plants didn’t grow tall here on the soft earth. Here they grew dense. Tony never really thought of himself as brave, so when he found himself reading a Project with two dozen men, he began his retreat swiftly. After transmitting his readings, of course. Projects were for soldiers to deal with, not him.
He was finding it a challenge to run in all his gear on the soft moist earth. After a quick look at his visual scouter revealed that the Project and its men were gaining on him, he quickly ditched the equipment. Except for his head unit. He was able to run now. He took evasive maneuvers: running in water when he found it, creating false paths, and even planting a few false heat signatures.
The Project was still there. Then it was just his men and the project was gone. It had engaged its stealth, why it hadn’t earlier was beyond Tony. He knew this meant the Project would be leaving its men behind and perusing him.
“Damn you, Rach!” He cursed a bit too loud. “You said you’d get me non-combat roles. What kind of joke is this?!” The comedic truth was, there wouldn’t be any combat. It would just be him versus a project. It would not be a fight. He had seen firsthand what some projects did to those they killed.
He was not going to be returned to Molly with his face peeled back or with patterns carved into him with a Projects plasma weapon till he died purely from the pain of it. That was when he stopped running.
He drew his sidearm. Before he took the next step he activated the messaging application in his headgear. An image of his wife flashed onto his headpiece. He selected it and chose to send her an audio message.
“Hey, Mol. Just need to say I love you one more time – so yeah, I love you.” His voice was beginning to crack. “And, well… maybe it may be good to hold on to this for April when she’s older… you know? Hey April, I know I never got to see you walk and stuff but I want you to know this. I love you. I love you so much. I got my self-involved in a real mess. I’m sorry I won’t be there for you. Just know this… I love you.”
He lined up his sidearm with the back of his neck and pulled the trigger. His hope was they would find his body intact. Projects didn’t play with dead bodies.
Project Nine examined the dead soldier’s corpse. After taking his own life, Anthony Carter as his tags read. He had slid halfway down the slope of the dune. Anthony’s head barely remained attached to his body.
Death perplexed Project Nine. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand what death was. It was more the total and complete irreversibility of it. They were organic machines with hard drives and programming. Yet when they malfunctioned severely enough, there was little in the way of recovery.
He feared death. He knew he could die like them. He was once like them. He felt like death was the only reasonable thing to fear. Its completeness felt strange in his thoughts.
His unit caught up to him and he let his stealth fade. Officer LeCroft came up to address him, “I see your prey did not escape you.”
“He wanted to die,” Project Nine responded. “Death he found, though through his own devices.”
“Suicide?” She asked. “Aye, he must have known what was chasing him.”
“Death should never be sought,” Project Nine said.
“Well, as we are on a battlefield we should likely seek the deaths of the LU,” LeCroft said. “So, where to, killer?”
“Same, same way,” Project Nine said before turning. He could smell the blood of his would-be victims. Those in the past and those to come. He didn’t need his gear to lead these men to more death.
He remembered carving out the innards of some rodent in a classroom. The first generation of projects had spent much time together in classrooms. He was separating the organs and categorizing them.
“Nine, Project Nine,” He looked up to see his teacher standing over him. “Your hands are so dexterous, you are working at a great pace.”
His teacher that year had been a peaceful young woman with a calm kind demeanor. At the time she had no idea she would die soon, but Project Nine knew this. Every teacher died after a year or two with projects. It occurred when they’d seen too much.
Her name was Selina. Project Nine would be selected to kill her. He remembered slicing her stomach open as easily as he had the rodents in her class. She had cried and begged. She had even reminded Project Nine what a sweet kind boy he was. Still, he had cut her down.
They were closing in on the LU’s position now. Project Nine had his stealth activated while he led his group. A sniper found them. LeCroft dropped – a second – a third – a fourth – then a brief pause before death began again.
Pull the bolt back. Load four shells. Push the bolt foreword. Look through the scope. Find a target – a second – a third – a fourth. She had retreated before the nuclear explosion and had been one of the first to receive Tony’s report.
The unit he had located had been easy enough to find. They weren’t progressing in an elusive manner. They were being rather direct really. That was until she had begun dropping them like cattle. Pull the bolt back. Load four shells. Push the bolt foreword. Look through the scope. Find a target – a second – a third – a fourth.
There had been a project with this group but now she was certain he had left them behind. Other riflemen and units of the defensive forces had joined in. She took this opportunity to hunt for the project. She was confident now in her ability to spot them even while in stealth. She would take the shot when she had it.
She found him. Or rather it revealed itself as it waded into a collection of defenders. She caught the glint of stealth gear and pulled the trigger. She put a shell into it – a second – a third – a fourth. Pull the bolt back. Load four shells. Push the bolt foreword. Look through the scope. She found her target again and it was not dead. Its stealth was failing but had not yet fallen. She wondered if her shells had even breached its armor. She took her shot – a second – a third – a fourth. All of them ricocheting off its silver mask.
Pull the bolt back. Load four shells. Push the bolt foreword. Look through the scope. Find a target – a second – a third – a fourth. It was gone. It wasn’t anywhere. She didn’t need more than several moments to decide that it was time to move.
That was when her stomach turned as the composition of the world seemed to change. She was being pulled. Pulled in a way that should never be.
Boom! The UNE fired right into the World-Destroyers reactor. Tammerin Latkis had seen this coming in time to duck behind one of the thick blast walls. Despite this, her ears still bled and her eyes saw nothing but hot white light.
She hadn’t even realized it, but she had stumbled into the center of the operations room by the time her sight returned. She tripped over what resembled a burnt skeleton rather than a recently dead co-worker.
Her hearing more clearly returned with the addition of clearer thought. She was kneeling in the small bunkers hallway, now open-roofed, staring dumbly at a wall. She wiped some of the blood off her cheek. More blood replaced what she had cleared.
She wanted to kill the UNE now. She needed to figure out how. For an unknown period of time, she simply starred. She turned slightly and stared out of the blown-off access door which gave her a straight-shot view in the direction of the UNE position. She couldn’t see it with her own eyes but she was certain she was looking in the correct direction.
There was a spare singularity drive beneath the bunker. It shouldn’t have been damaged. She started to move. Reaching the stairs down into the lower levels, she tripped and fell, rolling down the stairs. She spent another unknown period of time motionless on the floor of the bunker’s lower level.
When she finally opened her eyes, she nearly started to cry. The singularity dive was fine and it was not alone. Three of the bunkers skidders looked like they would work just fine.
She had been a junior technician here. She had a gift for handling technology. Even in her state she was able to rig the singularity drive to catastrophically fail and mounted it onto a skidder.
She opened up the bay hatch and picked up the remote to operate the grounded-class high-speed transport aka Skidder. It shot from the bay as Tammerin slumped against a wall. She let herself slide into a seated position. Eyes on the remote’s screen. Death was the only clear thought in her mind.
Project Fifteen listened, not overly intently, to the directions he and three other projects were receiving. Twelve, six, and Nineteen were also here. He didn’t feel this way or that about Twelve and Nineteen. Twelve was a small woman. Her chemistry project had something to do with that. She was supposed to be nearly impossible to notice. Her character was more the lack of character. To Project Fifteen she had less personality than his hibernation pod.
Project Nineteen was a variety more similar to Project Fifteen. Well, mostly they were physically similar. Project Nineteen lacked Fifteen’s developed love of art and literature. Project Nineteen had developed a love for the things he killed, and by love Project Fifteen meant all of its meanings.
Project Six was the one that really bothered Project Fifteen though. Most of the first generation sent chills through Project Fifteens chemically enhanced nervous system. He had heard bits about their upbringings and he was happy to say that he hadn’t been straight out of a deranged fantasy.
“The assault should force the LU to flee into a different position.” Project Fifteen had nearly forgotten that he was listening to someone. “When they are outside the protection of their bunker you make your moves. Do not act before this moment. I want none of you to try to kill General Aasin before he attempts to flee.”
Project Fifteen figured that he could infiltrate and get to the general well before their ridiculous frontal strike forced the retreat. The six other projects were in the thick of the assault. Project Fifteen envied them, not because they were allowed to slaughter, but because he found this planet pretty and wanted to wander it more freely. However, he was here because he possessed skills and abilities that were rare even among Projects.
Sometimes he wished he had failed a couple more tests in his youth. The alarm com blared, “LU skidder approaching us at speed.”
“Shoot the damn thing,” Captain General Spira yelled back at the communicator. A breath later Project Fifteen felt a powerful tug and his feet were no longer touching the ground.
In fact, he had been thrown several hundred feet into the air and was traveling with much velocity. The air was full of sand and debris. Beneath him and with a diameter of hundreds of miles was a crater that he was only just beginning to make out. Debris ricocheted off him but none of it penetrated his armor. He began to lose altitude as the gravity of the planet returned to normal. He took in the moment. He had some time before he returned to the planet’s surface.
Based on the data Project Fifteen was now receiving, at the moment of the incident, it seemed that a rather small black hole had been created right on the surface of the planet. It was gone now but the destruction was evident in the chaos surrounding him. The intense but short-lived pull from the singularity had consumed a sizable chunk of this planet’s surface. It had also thrown the majority of the UNE position into varying degrees of orbit and many spacecraft had been destroyed after being suddenly pulled into the atmosphere.
Project Fifteen had been far enough away that he would return to the surface eventually. It did appear that a sizable portion of their encampment would not. He figured he and the other projects would survive this thanks to their armor and enhancements. He doubted much of anyone else had, or would. He watched some soldiers flailing desperately as they freefell.
The UNE had lost this battle. He doubted those in the assaulting groups would continue their attack. He activated his extraction beacon as he continued to fall. The UNE had kept a few ships in a distant orbit around this world’s moon. This included the project’s interstellar craft, Loretta.
He received confirmation that his personal pod had been launched and was heading toward where he would eventually land. The debris clouding around him faded with every moment, so he took this opportunity to appreciate everything that was still beautiful about this world.
His armor braced for the impact as he hit the surface and skidded in great puffs of dirt and debris. However, he only had a couple of broken bones. He was able to stand up just fine. His escape pod shot another plume of sand up as it landed just ten meters away. He hesitated to get in. his gear was picking up life signatures. Not close by, but with him in the crater, there was about forty-eight who had survived the singularity.
He already detected several other Projects leaving this world. Sometimes Project fifteen wished those normal people during his upbringing had shown him cruelty. He had heard of some Projects being forced to strangle puppies. Project Fifteen figured he would have turned out a lot worse if he had been forced to strangle a puppy.
Project Fifteen sent his pod back into a low orbit. He turned and in a brisk jog headed in the direction of the closest life signature.
Project Nine had felt and seen the singularity, and the damage it had wrought. His unit was almost entirely destroyed and the UNE’s defeat was becoming merely an issue of time. He had taken high caliber rounds to his spine, his chest, his right shoulder, his left hip, and both thighs, and had been concussed by shells ricocheting off his mask. Project Nine had depleted its rounds in his rifle by now and he was left with only his plasma edge.
He remembered the scout he had discovered earlier, and how he had taken the liberty of deciding how his life would end. Somehow this filled him with a potent desire for the one thing had always feared. He ignored the order requesting his evacuation.
Death was coming for him but he no longer felt fear, he did have concerns or worries. He was doing what he had been designed for. Commands calling for him to return to his pod and to retreat were intensifying, but that was the option he could no longer take. Project Nine was no slave. Project Nine was a killer, this was his task, and in this purpose he was divine. He, the miraculous pinnacle of man’s science, was designed for how best to kill other men.
He was deep inside the LU’s encampment. They were falling back from him as fast as they could manage. Diving behind walls and barricades trying to take whatever shots they could at him. Blood, his stealth was nearly useless as he was coated in too much blood. He severed a man’s femoral artery, then another’s Jugular. Project Nine grabbed a man’s neck with his left hand and crushed it.
He had begun strength training at twelve years old and remembered benching half a ton at seventeen, and a full ton at twenty-two. He could long jump forty feet and run a six-point six-second hundred-meter dash. Other projects had paled next to him.
His plasma edge had been shot from his grasp at some point and now he was simply killing with his hands. He didn’t slow much, though he was now fighting through serious injury. His armored suit was adjusting, adapting, and keeping him alive. It was juicing him so he was so numb that he was barely self-aware. He was aware enough to kill.
He vaguely recalled a bladed weapons lesson when he was eight. At that age, he didn’t have the patience yet to master the eloquent weapon. He remembered growing frustrated as his instructors’ lessons failed to create the improvements in himself he was used to seeing. It would take a later chemical alteration that would steady his hands. He would never be much of a shot with a rifle. He didn’t enjoy the waiting or fine attention it required. He had killed his first firearms instructor and two of his knife-fighting instructors.
They were gone – no they were just not near. He found himself in a room in his mind with its dead guardians. He felt his legs weaken first, but he did not fall. Men entered the room to his right. Fourteen soldiers and someone else. Someone important looking.
General Aasin beheld the lone Project that had bloodily infiltrated his base. It could barely walk. Its stealth had failed long ago. It was a giant of a creature though. Nearly seven feet tall and broad. It was watching him as General Aasin raised his right hand. The Project began to laugh slightly, then louder with its whole body shaking.
“Fire!” General Aasin shouted as he brought his hand down.
The project took a few rounds and its laughing stopped. It looked like it was about to fall, but didn’t, not yet. It had one last act in it.
The massive bloody thing moved like a cat. General Aasin felt himself get pinned against the wall behind him before he could mentally register the movement of the project. It took no effort for the Project to crush his trachea and esophagus. It was unable to finish the job swiftly though as they both collapsed to the ground. General Aasin stared into the metallic half-smile of the Project’s mask. He was suffocating and blood was all he tasted. He died looking into dark metallic eyes.
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