They came from beyond the heavens, cautiously at first. A light in the sky, an unconfirmed report, murdered livestock, missing persons and persons found again with stories no one believed because such things were impossible.
Soon, they must have become tired of lurking above the clouds, studying and testing. They had learned our strengths, our weaknesses, our powerlessness and, sure in their supreme knowledge and technology, they descended upon our world like a plague. Killing, robbing, terrorizing, they raped our cities. They opened our museums and stole our must precious art and historical artifacts. They destroyed important documents and valuable research. They took our past, our future, our very souls and left us in a terrible present.
We fought for our homes as best we could but it was hopeless. Our bullets did not even mar the surface of their armor. Shells and bombs only angered their great ships and they lashed out with screaming blue fire that left little more than dust where our finest war machines, our finest warriors once stood.
They were . . . they are the Outsiders.
Some of us continue to fight and to die. To do less would admit defeat in all things. We are warriors. If we are fated not to succeed, we will die in the attempt. Honor demands nothing less than our lives.
Perhaps they will grow tired of our incessant insect-like attacks. They may grow bored with challengeless slaughter and go home. They may find more fertile worlds to plunder elsewhere and direct their attentions there. We might pile the bodies of our comrades and families so high as to climb the mountain of dead and there, above the sky, attack the Outsiders in their homes. At times, this thought seems no more absurd than the dream of actually driving them away.
Tonight, my comrades and I are embarked on another futile gesture. An outlying village reported hearing one of their ships. An indescribable sound to send even the Emperor to his cellars, praying for the sound to end. A sound heard before their coming only in nightmares.
The motor of our boat thrums below deck, carrying us against the black, jungle river current. The night air, moist and still carrying the lingering heat of the day, blankets the water, holding sounds close to the surface. Our quiet craft passes unnoticed even by the native animals. We wait, quietly and with ears straining, for the jungle itself to alert us to any alien presence.
The squad leader is the most animate of any of us, standing in the small open-roofed cabin slowly turning about. He peers into the jungle with sharp eyes and paranoia. The pilot is there also. Not daring to use a light to guide our way he uses instinct and a feel for the river's currents to plot our route past submerged trees and sandbars. He says he uses magic and we do not dispute him.
The engineer is below deck tending to his motor, keeping the heartbeat rhythm quiet and steady, ready in an instant to throw all the power it has behind the pilot's command.
The rest of us are on the deck, finding what little cover we can behind inadequate armor plates. While one watches the night, another catches what fitful sleep he can, waiting for the nightmares of his slumber to become the nightmares of the waking world.
I find that I sleep better during these missions as if my moving on patrol prevents the nightmares from finding me. I think we all sleep better on patrol, actually attempting to drive the Outsiders away. Leaning against the gunwale I wait for sleep, my heart keeping time with the engine's steady pulse. A cloth lay over the rifle in my lap, keeping the night mists from the action. My partner, on watch while I rest, stands on the other side of the small craft with his back to me, gazing into the jungle with his weapon ready.
He doesn't even have time to cry out when the bolt strikes him full in the chest, blasting through the back of his ribcage and spraying me with the remains of his heart and lungs. I sound the alarm for him and dive for the near side of the cabin, firing as I go. The armor plating of the gunwale is probably not enough to stop the alien's shimmering weapon but it may not be able to cut through the additional layers of the cabin walls. Each layer of armor is an added layer of survival or, failing that, an added layer of self-delusion.
We open up with small arms fire, pouring hot metal into the jungle gloom of the riverbank. Towards the bow, another of my comrades is cut in half. But our gunner saw where the beam originated and he directs his heavy caliber weapon there. As the squad leader barks orders, I reload and again empty my rifle into the darkness.
The enemy's third shot easily penetrates the main gun cupola. The gunner screams in pain and rage, firing one last round before his head is vaporized by yet another bolt.
Our engine roars to full power as the pilot seeks to put some distance between ourselves and our unseen attacker. A third empty clip is thrown from my rifle, spinning into the darkness with a musical ring. I slam a full clip into its place. A pause follows. The enemy has ceased his firing, perhaps realizing that his glittering beam revealed his position. Perhaps something else.
We pause also, waiting and alert. A few more moments and we'll be further up the river and around a bend. A few more moments and we'll be out of his line of fire.
But not soon enough.
Something screeches out of the darkness and the boat shudders. We all hold our breaths and, without knowing why, I look down and see the armor of the cabin wall pushed out a mere handspan from my knee. It is as if a great fist had punched the inside, bending it like foil.
I leap over the side as the shell, which had punched through both gunwale and cabin armor, explodes. The blast carries me tumbling and skipping across the water like a stone. Perhaps I am unconscious for a moment, but when I gather my senses I am coughing up a lungful of water, my ears ringing and numbness throughout my body.
The boat, burning now, veers uncontrolled towards the riverbank under renewed attack. Weaponless, I watch helplessly as my comrades are butchered. With the pilot blasted to memory, the boat runs full speed up onto the bank and against the trees. After a moment an explosion rips at its guts leaving only burning wreckage and the echo of its death cascading into the night.
I allow the current to carry me like floating debris, guiding myself cautiously towards the shore. Exhausted, I drag myself onto the bank and under some concealing foliage. As quickly as the night forgets the excitement, so too does the numbness leave me. Remaining is the pain in my back that, with every breath, tells me of the shrapnel lodged there from the boat's destruction. While serious, the injury is not fatal and I welcome the pain. It tells me that my destiny is yet unfulfilled.
I force myself to move through the undergrowth, slowly and cautiously at first, later with more confidence as the jungle returns to its nocturnal routines. An angry red glow struggles through the branches from upstream as the boat wreckage still burns. I make my way there to salvage what I can and look for survivors.
I find the boat on the bank like some sea creature washed up and turned inside out by scavengers. It is all twisted ribs and shattered hull plates. The trees are still burning quietly from spilled fuel and exploded ordinance.
I see some movement and am about to cry out to my comrade, my fellow survivor, when I see it is not one of us. It is one of them.
I would have expected a monstrous insect with slashing claws and crushing mandibles, a shapeless amoeba with oozing tentacles and a thousand stalked eyes, a hulking, loathsome demon from nightmare depths. Instead, it looks like any one of us might look dressed as a deep-sea diver. With two arms, two legs, a thin torso and a head, it stands just a bit shorter than me. It wears a backpack and helmet and carries what is clearly a rifle in its hands.
The creature's seeming normalcy makes it all the more insidious as it searches the wreckage. With little more than a cloak it could be any one of us walking through a busy market or in a crowded amphitheater. Their spies could have been among us for years.
It turns its dark face plate in my direction. Has some device alerted it to my presence? I made no sound. Can it sense my thoughts of hatred and revulsion at a distance? I stand still in mid stride, willing my heart to beat more quietly.
It quickly raises its rifle and fires its glittering blue beam into the trees to my left. Some night creature takes flight and, taking advantage of the distraction, I too run.
I feel the heat as deadly beams pass close to me, slicing through trees as if they weren't even there. But, like the night creature, I grew up in the jungles, chasing over fallen trees and under bushes. This is my home and my opponent has a bulky backpack and a rifle to slow it down.
The Outsider's three shots fail to find their mark and go sizzling into the night. The alien is not perfect. The advantage in this instance, however slight, is mine.
After I feel certain that pursuit is far behind, I put the river to my back and continue as quickly as I can, yet as quietly as possible. I might make my way to the village by morning, working through the jungle paths to where the river twists back upon itself. There I'll have my wounds tended and call for reinforcements. Of course, by that time the Outsiders might be a continent away.
I come upon an opening and in that clearing I find a craft. It fills the space, large but not huge like the devastators of cities. An ugly flattened sphere with bumps and wart-like nodes standing on three short legs. A myriad of half-globes underneath pulse with an eerie green glow. I wonder if the fortune of my finding it is good or bad, an opportunity to avenge my fallen comrades or join them.
Wielding a fallen branch as a club, I venture into the clearing. No death rays lash out, no alarms sound, no hordes of aliens spew forth as I approach the base of a ramp folded down from the ship's belly. Just silence at the menacing presence of this invader.
The top of the ramp ends in a round hatch. I can find no lever or wheel, merely a colored plate. I am surprised when touching the plate actually causes the hatch to roll aside. After the darkness of the forest, the bright light of the craft's interior is almost blinding.
Squinting against the glare, I jump through the entry, brandishing my stick. Nothing. My eyes adjust revealing a short corridor, several more hatches and a ladder. Motors hum and I'm startled by the hatchway automatically closing behind me. I quickly ascend the ladder searching for enemies. The next level up appears to be a control room. A pilot's seat, panels, switches, lights but otherwise devoid of life. No one home.
I am tired and sit down in the pilot's seat, amazed at how comfortable it feels. I could imagine forgetting what is happening for a while, taking time to remember my friends and family. I might imagine happier days. But I am being called by my fallen comrades. Called to duty. I stand, leaving the seat slick with my blood.
The hatch, rolling aside to allow me to leave the alien craft, reveals the startled owner standing on the ramp. We regard each other for a moment, hesitating at the proximity. The creature raises its rifle and I swing with my makeshift club, connecting with the side of its helmet. There is a sudden flash of light and heat and I am thrown backwards to slump in corner.
Taking a difficult breath and, through tunneled vision, I look down to see the fist-sized hole through my abdomen. A minor annoyance, for what need have I for a stomach when my destiny is at hand.
I launch myself at the overconfident Outsider raising its rifle to finish me off and, grasping the straps of its backpack, we tumble down the ramp. Landing atop the creature I slam my fist into the face plate. I scream, striking again and again. My body grows cold and my fists numb. The Outsider struggles, reaching desperately for his weapon dropped just out of reach, but I grasp the helmet and twist, breaking retaining straps to reveal the face underneath.
He has a large, smooth head without hair. The barest of slits for a nose above a thin, lipless mouth. Gray skin and large, black eyes. A face vaguely like my own, but as if the artist had smoothed away the ridges and lines of individuality, washed away the deep colors of heritage and left it bland and shapeless. I grasp at the neck and squeeze, the creature struggling beneath my weight. He gurgles in an incomprehensible language. The creature is similar enough for me to recognize his facial expression. Fear. I squeeze harder, reveling in the knowledge that, if they can fear then they can be defeated.
I am without fear. I cannot be defeated. Even as my life drains away I see my own reflection in his eyes. The stars above, breaking through the heavy clouds, look down with remembrance. I feel no pulse from the creature anymore, no breath escapes his shapeless lips but I squeeze harder. There will be no escape in this life or the next. I will kill him a thousand times, each time laughing, knowing that my grandchildren will climb the mountain of bodies on which I, with honor lie. The stars will be theirs and they will find the grandchildren of this thief and take back what is rightfully ours.
Then we will have become the Outsiders.
|http://www.tasigh.org/kordite/outsider.html -- Revised: 18 May 2002
Copyright © 1995, 2002 Kevin A. Geiselman