Friday, February 3, 2017

Excerpt from Sieging Manganela

Which will be out this month depending on how fast I can get off my butt to proof it one last time and pending completion of the awesome artwork. 

“Berengar!” The sergeant singled him out, and Turo felt ice cold for an instant, even though the  scorching hot day was well underway and sweat was running down his ribs. “Report to south tower, Berengar. Get out of here. You died doing this yesterday so you get a pass today.”

“Siryessir,” he gasped, feeling ashamed.  They rotated tower duty. It was probably near his turn. It wasn’t like he was dodging, throwing someone else into the death lottery in his place. The tower could also be dangerous, if there was anything that spewed way up high, but that was rare. For the most part, drones stayed on the ground, where all the targets were. Drones were extremely economical. There was no sense in building one to waste energy flying around in search of targets when you could use the same amount of materials to make something designed to stagger a few hundred meters before exploding in a big cloud of death.

Drones came in many different models, which had many different classifications that every soldier was required to memorize, and recite back in surprise quizzes given at random times. They could carry weapons, like the electrified spikes that had killed Turo. They might have payloads of explosives or corrosives or shrapnel or modded bees and snakes and scorpions or mind-altering drugs or projectiles. If it was lethal within ten meters for a duration of ten minutes or less, it was legal according to the Rules of Engagement. In the seven years of siege, thousands of soldiers had been wounded by drones, and eight hundred and forty-six of them had been irretreivably and irrevocably killed.

Turo zigzagged over to south tower, keeping an eye on Manganela. A big door on the side was slowly closing. Nothing but badness ever came out of that door, and six shifts of six men each were tasked with staring at it around the clock, and sounding the alarm when it opened. Turo had seen pictures of what had happened on the occasions they’d tried to assault that door, and they still flashed through his mind sometimes and caused his stomach to twitch. He knew the surface of Manganela was made of some kind of mutated coral, with embedded poison jets and flamethrowers and jagged projectile launchers. There were rumors they had some kind of a supervirus – some said thousands of them – embedded in the walls to infect anybody who figured out how to peel through the layers.

The door was now slowly closing, and rolling down the bare and rocky stretch of perimeter, toward the base, was a mottled gray container, like a big truck without a cab. It trundled slowly forward until it was level with the towers. The men already there handed Turo a thick curved transparent shield that was big enough to block his entire body, which was apparently what it was intended to do, and Turo joined the shield wall and watched the front panel of the container drop open.

At least forty drones were inside. Normally the enemy unleashed no more than five at a time. Turo guessed they wanted to use up their supply before the war was officially over. It looked like they’d been saving some of them for a special occasion. The drone that had killed Turo had been plain and utilitarian, but these drones were the decorated type.

Turo had a little bit of fab experience. You had to, growing up on a farm. The heavy duty stuff made of metal had to be worked over by a blacksmith, and wasn’t really as reliable as fab, which was limited to the size of your printer and whatever medium you put into it, which was often sheep shit on Turo’s family’s farm. Sometimes tree trunks and rice hulls. The printer would separate off the materials it could use and then, depending on what schematic you had loaded into it, it would print you a nice new three dimensional object that no longer smelled like sheep shit, for the most part. Shovel heads, tractor gaskets, floor tiles, whatever.

On Turo’s farm they could output things up to a meter square, but in Manganela, they had a fab printer that could output larger pieces, with far better detail. Many of the drones they created looked like toys for spoiled rich city kids. Colorful race cars. Shiny robots. Fashionably dressed dolls. Seven or eight miniature scorpion tanks that shot unpleasant substances from a forward mounted rear cannon, with claws on the front for removing any inconveniently obstructing dead people or their belongings. Turo believed all the full sized scorpion tanks were lying scattered in pieces now, or at least he hoped so.

The guy next to him kissed his shield with a loud smack. Shields were key to this war. Dysz had great shields, and at the beginning of the war it had given them a tremendous advantage. Then Vanram had figured out how to rip the shielding off of whatever they captured and use it to block whatever Dysz was chucking their way, and then the border had started moving in the opposite direction.

Captain Rufus Marshall stomped out of his quarters, bearing no trace of hangover from the previous night’s indulgence, although he did have a lot more stubble. Bulky sunglasses covered his eyes.  He was carrying more weapons than Turo could count strapped to his torso and bulging from holsters and pockets and scabbards. In his hands were two little crossbows with pistol grips. He hollered something and a army medic shot forward and took a position behind Rufe, quivering with tension.

One of the tanks zipped forward, spewing something from its cannon, and the rest of the drones followed the charge, spreading out. A couple of drones took to the air, and the man who had kissed his shield popped up for a fraction of a second and fired, nailing them both in rapid succession. The drones flared in a brief blue explosion, which took out another drone, one shaped like a toy alligator with snapping jaws. Turo saw another explosion over by the mess hall, a gout of flame shooting high into the sky.

He heard a scream and looked down to see a man lying on the ground with wide slices of leg flesh missing and blood fountaining skywards. The colorful pinwheel drone that had hit him was spraying some kind of caustic in jerky, random jets, discouraging a squad of medics trying to circle around and grab him.

A memory gripped Turo. Andre, coming toward him, face twisted in an evil grin, covered with streaks of gore, aiming a rifle in Turo’s general direction and asking the question, “Why don’t you just shoot me?” Turo had shot him, had in fact looked him in the eye just before shooting him, and that’s what he was doing now as the battle below him faded. His memory-hand pulled his memory-trigger and Andre’s head exploded into a pile of goo, and then it looped, seven or six times before Turo came back to the tower, and the shield, and the noise, and the stink of chemicals. Frozen, behind his shield.

He saw Madrigal fleeing from a purple penguin, screaming, as Hortsvang ran over to help him. Hortsvang had a combustion pistol in his hand and he aimed at the penguin, and Turo stood up over his shield to scream at Hortsvang in a vain attempt to advise him not to be an idiot, but Hortsvang fired anyway. Penguin shards flew everywhere, along with a clear liquid that looked like water, most of which landed on Madrigal. Turo was close enough to see Madrigal’s face, which looked normal for about thirty seconds until it started swelling, from the inside, his mouth distorted in a scream which Turo couldn’t hear. Madrigal ran into the base, toward a crowd, his body swelling as he went. He burst out of his clothes, a naked fat man, and then he burst right out of his skin, spraying the crowd he was running toward. Thirty seconds later, some of them were swelling up too as the crowd rapidly dispersed and a containment squad arrived.

Hortsvang, whose mouth was making sounds that would probably sound like whimpering if Turo had been close enough to hear, dropped his combustion pistol and ran straight into the path of another drone heading up behind him. This one was shaped like a cat, and looked like it belonged on a little girl’s bed. It target-locked Hortsvang, and the cartoonish cat head unfolded into an array of rapidly spinning circular saws. Turo bit into his lip. A combustion pistol might have actually done some good against a sharps drone. The fact that Hortsvang was an idiot didn’t stop Turo from wincing as the saws thrust at his midsection and laid it open, releasing a coil of bluish intestine.

The robocat spun around as Rufe appeared and gave it a new target to lock. Rufe target-locked it right back, firing  a combustion round out of his left crossbow and scattering the drone into pieces. One piece nicked Rufe’s arm, but a medic was right behind him, holding a shield up in one hand, using the other hand to spray medicated nanobot-infested goo over the wound. 

While his arm was healing, Rufe dropped another drone with a projectile from his left crossbow, then he grabbed a harpoon gun from his back and sighted along it before firing at a race car drone, pinning it to the ground. He didn’t get to the scorpion tank in time to keep it from spraying some kind of corrosive into Hortsvang’s face, and Hortsvang was long past caring, but Rufe did have the courtesy to draw a spray cannister from a leg pocket and spray the bug with a neutralizer, which incidentally froze it solid.

Rufe was very good at destroying drones. Turo saw him down at least ten, while barking orders that probably helped others to down several more. The battle wound down and soldiers cleaned up the mess like industrious ants, and Turo got tasked with taking notes for the report. He didn’t look up until the all clear was sounded. There were still smears on the dirt that used to be Hortsvang, and Madrigal, which containment teams were spraying down and staking off.

Rufe was standing right at the border of no man’s land, where he had dragged a pile of drone pieces. He was pitching them, one by one, against the walls of Manganela, while yelling abuse, and demanding that they come out and fight. 

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