Black Sun – The Murdering Messenger
April 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
Schaven had long since fired his weapon until there were no more sabots left. A kinetic kill relic, the kind handed to farmers to kill local predators when a planet’s biology is understood enough to make it a relative certainty that a hissing jacketed projectile will kill one. It was not designed for things that seemed solid one moment and wet sacks of ooze and gleaming metal the next. They shone in the thin light of Klarakshton’s actinic, blue-tinged sunlight, reflecting it as they clambered over obstacles. The terrified older man, a colonist for decades, shutting from seeming arable world to a somewhat more likely prospect, clutched the ancient gun like a club and waited in the dark of the collapsed grain barn for more of them to come. Behind him in the pockets created when the artificial stone ceiling fell in were children, other old men and women, and some infirm. Anyone else who could reasonably fight had left days before to try and stop what was happening. None had come back. Not even the confident professional soldiers, the ones with the glowing yellow and blue eyes, had returned for them. The air was not cold enough to bite lips or burn lungs, but Schaven’s breath drifted faint blue in the rapidly setting sun.
It would get colder. Food was scarce. They’d taken to eating the small red and black reptiles that the week before had been a nuisance. Now they were the only food available. The metal spiders came out more often during the day, so at least at night, a fire might not draw too much attention. The old man wondered how much longer it would take them to be found and killed like everyone else, turning the thought of what he’d seen into an endless way to torment himself, and thus keep from falling asleep. He was so tired he could feel the inside of his gut sloshing, his skin and hair greasy from sweating in panic for days on end.
The Qualsilath had not come back. The colonists they armed had not come back. Not even the militia had come back. Days and days and no one but wandering metal sacks that screamed and sent yellow sparks to blow trees in half. There was no hope. If he’d had sabots left, he’d have used them on the children rather than let them be hacked into pieces and flung into that yellow chemical pit they’d blasted out of what had been the seasonal bazaar. He’d met his wife at the first harvest when the colonists from all over Klarakshton had gathered, had raised two children, and no longer knew where any of them were. If they were still alive, his daughters, who had gone to fight and not returned. In the dark near his pant leg, long since stained by his own urine, someone else’s child peered up at him with a question he prayed she wouldn’t ask.
He did not recognize the sudden sound that split the sky above his head. It was not the sound the invaders had made. They had arrived in small machines, barely large enough to hold four or five of them and in Schaven’s eyes no more than six or seven of his people could possibly fit in them. The metal things simply weren’t that much larger, they just seemed to ignore the sabot rounds from the rifles. He hadn’t seen anything else used against them, but he’d watched enough people die with their weapons discharging round after round. Drifting in his own terror he came to himself when the sound repeated, even louder, and the sky above them lit up with light.
Near the edge of the ruined silos and barns, one of the metal discs that had arrived the week before fell from the air, burning. Then he saw what had set it ablaze, hard to make out against the steadily darkening sky until a fountain of blazing green fire erupted from it and burned another disc in half, shredding molten metal spinning from the whirling edges of the disc as it fell. As his eyes adjusted Schaven saw several of them, perhaps five, clad in black metal. Two wore black and gold, and were slightly more distinct, but all were featureless except for green eyes and spines, spikes, and edges.
He had never seen one. He had never expected to. They all landed in unison, barely a half second between them, and the two with gold accents to their metal skins walked forward. The taller one gestured. As he did so, the shattered roof of the bard lifted as one piece and even locked itself back together with the low tones of scraping slabs of cement against one another. Even as the roof hovered above them, intact, they walked (their feet touching the ground, Schaven noted in surprise) until they were within a few feet of the dazed, baffled, huddled remnant of the colony.
“You will not be harmed any further.” Schaven started as the voice simply was there, he knew he did not hear it at all, simply knew the words. “I am Kyrian. This is Rythe. We were not informed there were any survivors here.” The one whose words were in Schaven’s mind suddenly had a face as the metal, featureless void melted and flowed back, revealing features that were distressingly unremarkable. He might have been one of the traders bickering with him over cereals last month, or the animal tender who’d come to put down his herd pachyc when it had the trunk infection. The gentle smile that appeared as he thought this filled him with even more fear. They can hear our thoughts see everywhere know everything he’s going to kill me for…
“I promise you, I’m not going to hurt you, Schaven. Yes, I can hear your thoughts. It does not offend me that I look like I do, or that you can see it.” His smile grew strained as he looked around the barn at the shock spreading through the survivors. “Please forgive me, but I don’t really have time to ask you what I need to know.”
Later, they would all describe to one another the disquieting sense they had of the insides of their heads itching. Some fainted. Others tried to remember what they’d been told about the Most High, who dwell in the Endless City of Light and who killed the gods. In a few seconds it passed, and the featureless metal flowed back down to cover that disquieting normal face. For most, it was a great relief.
“Rythe.” Kyrian’s thoughts came over to her as if from a far greater distance than the few feet they were standing. From the moment they’d flown out of Otherspace into Klarakashton’s upper atmosphere, her brother had behaved more like a seasoned commander than the absolute shirker he’d been most of her life. He’d led them down on a direct path, had found the flying disc machines and set them to work burning them out of the sky, and had even done so himself, with far greater accuracy and economy than she would have expected. “They have no idea if there are other settlers. None of them have seen the Qualsilath in days.”
“None of them? How can you be sure, the old man might not know what the others have seen.”
“I did not think he would. I read them all.” He turned his face to one of the wing she’d picked out of her usual squad of 20. These five were personally loyal to her, but knew better than to defy Kyrian while he was doing the Dytariex’s direct bidding. “Get them ferried through Otherspace. Either call a vessel or start moving them yourselves. I want them all in medical care on Throneworld within an hour.”
“Kyr, that leaves just us to fight these things.”
“Did you get the sense that would be any great challenge?” He turned away from her, his hands laced behind his back. She could taste just how much restraint he was employing, see it in the line of his back. “If you want, you can help them.”
She didn’t respond right away. She couldn’t tell if Kyr was bluffing or in deadly earnest. And she certainly had no idea where he’d learned to slice an alien craft in two with the Forever Burning Gaze. They hadn’t taught that level of precision even when she’d gone for Kandrakoleth detached explore training, when they expected individual Tsilath to patrol vast stretches of barely explored space.
“No. Tatris asked me to accompany you.” She tilted her head to the side, watching her wing begin the process of scanning the Naratsilath for injuries that would be aggravated by Otherspace. “How is it possible you know how to do the things you’re doing?”
“How many teachers did mother make sure I got?” His mind voice sounded more jovial now, but forced. “You can learn more from a teacher who thinks you remedial than from one who things you gifted, sometimes. And they didn’t all think as little of me as you all did.”
“Your tutors lied to our parents?”
“They didn’t have to lie. We maintained a polite fiction.” He walked away from the survivors after taking one last look back to see one of Rythe’s wing vanish, knowing that he’d be on Throneworld in a few minutes. “While they take care of them, you and I will find out what these things want with this world, and why they’re still here.”
Several more discs fell burning from the sky as they rocketed towards what had once been the most populous single location on the planet, the small provisional capital. It had several structures erected by settlement kit, even a mine worked by primitive grey goo that devoured everything but whatever material it was selected to ignore. As they crested over a set of low hills, Kyrian saw seventeen of the disc craft a few klicks away from them both, milling about in the air. No doubt trying to understand why their fellows had not reported back.
Rythe didn’t even wait for him to think anything. Two of the craft veered sharply into each other and cracked open, spilling the contents of each vessel to rain thousands of their own body lengths to collide with the mostly rocky soil of the planet. The rest of the ships obviously managed to work out where the attack had come from, as particle beams lashed out in their direction.
Kyrian remembered the memories of Dolornthe, a freeborn who’d shown his Tsilath ability six thousand years before the resumption of the line of Rytharen to the throne, and simply willed the particle beams to bend in the air before they could reach their targets. Jacketed protons left ionized pathways in the air as they bent as if in a massive gravity well, and struck their own vessels. Then he tired of showing off.
Even as their hulls smoldered from their own weapons, a massive surge of pure force wrenched four out of the air, hurtling towards the ground like tumbling insects blown to their deaths. Explosions looked like raindrops popping into a lake of fire from their vantage far above them.
Rythe didn’t waste time watching, instead throwing her black and gold armored body forward like a missile and slamming it through another of the craft, shredding it with the impact. Two more burned as she looked at them, exploding into showers of green sparks. She saw Kyrian pop the vast razor edged, barbed wings out of their position on his back and shred several as he spun in their midst even as she grabbed one with her will and simply squeezed until it buckled and tore apart, and more of the quivering metal sacks fell. Some of them she set on fire as they descended.
In seconds they were once again alone in the sky.
“Do you see?” Kyrian turned to face her, his tone desolate, almost pleading. “Imagine if Kotash had taken one day to not chew his brains out of his ears, even he could have dealt with this! He could have stopped it three worlds ago. Any of us could have!”
“There are tens of thousands of worlds…”
“There are several thousand Tsilath on Throneworld right now trying to have each other killed over which woman our brother is going to make babies with. One of them could have come here.” He panted. “You were stationed on Kotash’s headquarters and the fat idiot made you come back with him to provide him an honor guard. He made twenty of the Tsilath stand around while he pretended he had anything worth saying to our father and if he’d left any of you behind Shorendek would still have people on it.” Ranting now, he swept his arm across the smoking, ruined little kit built city that lay on the plains before them. “There were a thousand Naratsilath or so and a dozen or so Qualsilath here. Now most of them are dead somewhere down there. You asked me why I cared. I care because it’s what we are for, Rythe, and we’re not doing it.”
Then he was gone, a streak of black and gold rocketing forward towards the ruined city. She immediately matched her acceleration to his, keeping him in view as he descended, rose over a line of jagged shapes that probably used to be a couple of fairly tall structures, and dropped himself from the sky in the incredibly showy way that craters the ground when you land. For herself Rythe just landed beside the divot he’d left in the street and looked down at him standing in the hole.
“No. I also look silly.” He floated himself out of the cracked pit and drifted towards the center of the buildings, where the corpses waited for them.
Ten Qualsilath, and hundreds of the not blooded, the people. The colonists. Armed with whatever weapons they could scrounge, a few holding energy weapons clearly given to them by the Qualsilath. It wasn’t strictly speaking forbidden, and even if it had been there was no one left to care. They’d been burned and hacked and shredded and now they floated in some awful reeking slop of hydrocarbons and methane and metals like tin – Rythe imagined that the bodies would fall apart into their component molecules after soaking in it. As a Kandrakoleth she was trained to feel little when looking at the dead. but it was challenging when seeing this.
She heard electrostatic charges, so small they weren’t even perceptible by their discharges, approaching them. Kyrian didn’t seem to notice, he was kneeling at the edge of the fluid, staring at it. The enormous black and gold bladed wings extended and twitching, looking for something to strike.
“Kyr. Something incoming.”
“Good.” He stood up from his crouch. “Perhaps now we’ll find our answers.”