Off worlders, p.1
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           S.S. Delaunay
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Off-Worlders


  OFF-WORLDERS

  Short Stories, Tales & Out-Takes

  Sci-Fi Gems

  from the Worlds of Rise Siren Five

  S.S. Delaunay

  Copyright © 2016 S.S. Delaunay

  All rights reserved.

  ISBN: 978-0-9943312-9-8

  www.ssdelaunay.com

  Published By

  CPP

  Carter Pierce Publishing

  Distributed By

  Outpost

  Red6 surveyed the monochrome wasteland before him with a distaste bordering on hatred. Not bordering. He did hate it. He fucking hated it.

  "I hate this place."

  Blue8 snorted in his attempt to suppress a laugh. Red6 made this observation several times a day and it never ceased to amuse Blue8. Of course Blue8 had spent the last 29 years listening to new recruits express similar sentiments on their first tour of duty in the salt plains.

  Blues were few. So Blue8 was literally the 8th Blue to be stationed at this outpost station. Reds, on the other hand were comparatively numerous. It was good that when they got to Red99, they simply started at Red1 again. Otherwise this Red would have a five digit number assigned to him. Just 6 was better. Much better. Especially for Blue8, who would have had to remember it.

  "Secure that scope and prepare to bunker down," Blue8 ordered Red6, his dark silver eyes scanning the horizon with a practiced gaze. "This one's going to be a beauty."

  Red6 swore steadily under his breath as he went about his task. Blue8 smiled to himself and headed into the outer hub.

  Two terrain vehicles, Desert1 and Desert2, stood side by side. Desert2 had a bobbing yoda on its dash. Blue8 had no idea what a yoda was. It had been a gift from one of the Sprites he had regular dealings with. But he liked the little fella sitting on the dash of the vehicle. He had a fine set of ears and a reassuring air to him.

  The Sprite had remarked the yoda would look better on the sputnik. But Blue8 liked him on the terrain vehicle. Besides, the sputnik was weird enough all on its own. He sighed as he looked at it while he waited for the scanner to read his pineal signature. It took up way too much space, that sputnik, and Blue8 disliked having things about that were no clear use to them.

  And a broken, bejeweled, Cirillean planetary transitioner was definitely no use to them.

  But he had strict orders from his Federation superiors. The thing was worth a fortune. They must keep it there and guard it, until they sent a ship big enough to collect it.

  That had been how long ago now? Years? Tens of years?

  Blue8 grunted and moved inside.

  Blue8's own first tour of duty here had come to an abrupt end when he’d disobeyed a direct order not to offload a written-off terrain vehicle to the Sprite who gave him the yoda.

  “Do not give the Sprites anything. Do not talk to the Sprites. Do not engage with them, period,” he was warned when he returned, the yoda safely tucked away in his pack.

  He had a regular woman and two young children by then, but he’d still jumped at the chance to come back here. The regular woman had long since moved on and his children barely knew him, or he them.

  He had never gone back. He'd stayed here. He'd served well. And the Reds they gave him to train up over the years had been children enough for him.

  As for the Sprites, well he was more circumspect in his dealings with them, and knew better how to keep a secret.

  It was a short walk down a well lit corridor to their quarters proper. Eerily quiet now after the noise outside of the oncoming storm.

  A wall blazed with the incongruent images of mute feeds deemed necessary by The Federation. There should have been sound on at least one of them. But Blue8 had tired of those in love with the sound of their own voices long ago. He shook his head. Bad management everywhere. They were always the ones convinced everyone else wanted to listen to further evidence of their rambling incompetence.

  Most of them would be better served just shutting it. But hey, if they weren’t going to, he was happy to do it for them.

  If he could have turned off the feeds completely he would have done that too. He would have been more than content with the real images of this place. But that was beyond his control so Blue8 simply ignored them as best he could.

  What he didn't ignore entirely was the desert scanner.

  There were many things in these salt plains, and in the rock mountains beyond them, who could at anytime decide to pay them a visit. There had been some unfortunate visits over the years the Federation had a base here, and many wild tales abounded. When Blue8 had first been stationed here, he had been glued to it, whenever he had been confined to being inside.

  But there had been no visits and no movement on the radar towards them for several years now.

  So of late, although he didn’t ignore it completely, his regulation glances had been cursory at best.

  Red6 was more fascinated with it and more disciplined. He was a good lad. Blue8 thought he'd make a fine officer one day. But he was young enough still to be coltish and distracted easily. Young enough to lose his calm and his focus.

  “I fucking wish something would show up on this. I fucking wish something would happen!” Red6 had gotten frustrated after his first weeks adjusting to life at the outpost.

  Blue8 smiled.

  “Don’t you?” he demanded of Blue8.

  "I don't know," Blue8 replied thoughtfully. “But if something does show up on there I’d prefer it to be a different something than the something that separated Blue7's head from his shoulders."

  Red6 blanched, visibly, and Blue8 took pity on him. "Hey, by all accounts the one Blue1 picked up was a real peach."

  Red6 looked unconvinced. "Blue1? You mean like the original Blue1 stationed here? That was like over 1000 years ago. What have they been like since then?"

  "Hmmm,” Blue8 considered his question carefully. "Generally speaking, not so peachy."

  Red6 was beginning to look a little wild eyed and Blue8 laid a steadying hand on his shoulder. "Calm down Red6. It's going to be all right. Remember, we’re not here to catch desert monsters, we’re here to catch Sirens.”

  Red6 calmed a little and then said sulkily,“But we won’t even get to see her, will we? All we’ll get is some signal that she’s risen.”

  Blue8 laughed. “That’ll be some signal to bear witness to. The Veil Sirens rise once in an age. There’s only been four in existence that we know of before this one.”

  Red6 sighed, “I know. It would just be cool to see her for real, is all. They’re smoking hot, you know.”

  Blue8 smiled, “They’re Sirens. I think it sort of comes with the territory.”

  Red6 scuffed at the floor with his boot. “Do you believe what they say about them? That they sing you your freedom song? That they set you free from…,” he gestured around him, “this?”

  Blue8’s eyes followed his gesture, “It’d be nice. But who’s to know for certain?”

  Life at the base had gone on. No desert monsters on the scanner, and no Sirens rising.

  Blue8 turned away from the scanner and began to make preparations for dinner.

  Food and a good long sleep. The only things these sandstorms were good for.

  The bots could watch over the station. There was nothing so crude and primitive as the need for sleep on their agenda.

  Blue8 and Red6 slept.

  The sandstorm raged outside.

  One of the bots completed his customary sweep of the station and came to check the scanner.

  On the scanner, in the midst of the sand storm, a little red blip moved inexorably towards them.

  The bot registered that it was impossible for anything to be moving about in the sandstorm, let alone moving towards them with such perfect direc
tion. But here it was, anyway.

  The bot sequenced to raise the alarm, and failed.

  The second bot, sensing the unusual and unexpected deactivation of the first, moved to the scanner.

  The little red blip on the scanner had made good ground.

  The second bot sequenced to raise the alarm, and failed.

  Blue8 and Red6 slept. And the sandstorm raged outside.

  In-fact, the desert winds beat relentlessly against their snug little home for some 3 more hours.

  At 0500 the main hub alarm and each of Blue8’s and Red6’s individual alarms failed to activate. Remained silent.

  Neither bot had come back online.

  Which was odd indeed. Because the bots and the alarms were the best the Federation could supply. For even one of these regularly maintained alarms and two bots to fail would have been unlikely. For all five to fail, highly unlikely indeed.

  And verging on the realm of the impossible, which is always an area difficult to deal with. No matter how many times a day the realm of the impossible has the audacity to reveal itself.

  And as Blue8 and Red6 slumbered deeply on past 0600, the sandstorm passed over them and silence fell over the plain.

  "RREEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!"

  "RREEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!"

  "RREEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!"

  "What the hell!" Blue8 was awake and on his feet in an instant. He was already punching commands into the screen of the main console when Red6 appeared.

  Mercifully, the screeching ceased.

  “Get those bots back up, Red6!” Blue8 ordered, when he looked up to see Red6 still at the scanner.

  "Ah Sir, I think you're gonna wanna come see this,” Red6 replied. "There's something out there!"

  "What?"

  "The scanner. Look. There's something out there!”

  “Fark!” Blue8 swore. “That’s not out, that’s in. Guns, now!”

  The little red blip began to moving unnaturally fast toward them.

  The bashing on the inner airtight doors was so loud it shook the station.

  “Max stun,” Blue8 barked at Red6 as they took the corridor at maximum speed. It was a strict Federation order on outposts such as these. Where the host planets did not want them there and tolerated them only under strict conditions. One of which was not killing the locals, unless absolutely necessary. Even then, you had better pray your definition of necessary matched the powers and politics that be.

  The Federation, like most successful, long term ruling bodies, maintained Cosmic order on the threat of force, rather than the actual use of it. Once you started to use force and others retaliated in kind, it all got rather messy, rather quickly.

  Having said that, when the Federation did use force, it was brutal, far-reaching and effective.

  It was good that it was rare.

  Blue8 noticed the small adjustment Red6 made to his blaster out of the corner of his eye and was glad he had reminded the young one. It was a strict Federation order that could easily get forgotten in the heat of the moment. And one that could have massive consequences if the wrong local was taken out. Particularly on a world belonging to the Old Ones.

  Red6 rolled neatly into position on the opposite side of the doors.

  There was nothing in the room. The airtight doors were shut tight. Whatever had knocked at them had knocked loudly enough to wake the dead, but it was still outside. Not as outside as Red6 would have liked it to be. It had breached the outer hub. But he'd take it.

  Blue8 kept his gun steady on the doors. It was like a mini red sandstorm was happening behind the window glass. He couldn't see a thing except for swirling red dust.

  Slowly, the dust settled and two words began to emerge. They were two words advised to each Blue who served here. They were not words communicated to or known by the Reds who served with them.

  Which was ironic in a way, because, as was customary, the words were always written in red.

  Blue8 spoke quietly. “Set to kill,” he said to Red6. "Set to kill - Elemental-1.”

  Red6 swallowed hard, but quickly adjusted his gun without faltering its aim or moving his eyes from the pane of bullet proof glass. The blood was beginning to run down it, rendering the mysterious words unreadable. The dust was almost dissipated. He could see nothing out there. Elemental. A fucking Elemental had attacked them!

  "RREEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!"

  "RREEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!"

  "RREEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!"

  “Fark!” They cursed in unison. The motion detector between the doors quieted quickly again.

  ”Sir! It's inside the airlock!" Red6’s voice was a little ragged.

  "No. It was inside the airlock but it’s out,” Blue8 was already at the door. Red6 hadn’t even seen him move and it startled him.

  This Blue was so grounded and straight down the line, it was easy to forget the magic that coursed through his veins. That the Blues were the elite mage military of the Federation. The closest thing they would ever have in power, to the Echelon of the Old Ones. Possessing levels of ability above and beyond the Reds, who held their own well enough in the more esoteric units of the armed forces, but still.

  Red6 felt the Blue’s eyes on him and he brought his mind back to the job.

  Blue8 signalled the countdown and the offensive silently with his fingers and hit the release.

  The door hissed open, the dripping blood markings on the small glass panel disappearing into the wall.

  Blue8 moved through low, while Red6 covered him in a hail of elemental taking out capable laser, that cost more to produce than two years of his wages.

  Once Blue8 was safely ensconced behind the terrain vehicle, Desert1, he returned the favor to Red6 who bunkered in behind Desert2.

  This was going to be an expensive day for the powers that be, Blue8 thought absently to himself as he noticed the softly glowing light on the yoda on Desert2. The thing had a light? Funny, he’d never noticed it before.

  A blast of silver laser shot close by his head, bringing his mind back to the present.

  Silver laser?

  That was a Pirate weapon, not an Elemental attack.

  But what the fark were Pirates doing with an Elemental?

  They weren’t. They couldn’t be. The Elementals didn’t discriminate amongst human forms. They hated all of them pretty much equally and killed the same.

  The Elemental was gone, or far enough away, for the Pirates to take their chances in the wake of its carnage.

  But how did Pirates get on an Old Ones’ world? How did they even know this base was here?

  Blue8 signalled Red6. “Switch to standard human kill,” he commanded. No point wasting Elemental-1 on these bastards. But the Pirates wouldn’t hesitate to kill them, they were not locals and the Federation was always happy about dead Pirates. No sense wasting stun.

  “Oh, but you insult me, Federation agent,” the tone was mocking, the accent heavy. “I assure you, we are far from standard.”

  “Good for you,” Blue8 replied, when the next barrage of silver laser was over. “But my gun will just do you as standard all the same.”

  There was a bark of laughter. “That is no way for the Federation to speak to its loyal citizens.”

  “Loyal Federation citizens don’t storm its bases and terrorise and steal from its other citizens for their criminal livelihoods,” Blue8 retorted. He was listening to movement, factoring where the leader’s voice was coming from, as opposed to where he was projecting it - an old Pirate trick - and getting a gage on numbers.

  He dove quickly to the other end of the terrain vehicle and fired off a round over its rear. He dropped two of them, there were still at least five more plus the leader.

  “But we didn’t storm your base,” the Pirate gasped in mock indignation, and giving no indication that the downed men meant anything to him. “The Elemental did that more than adequately. Th
ey don’t like you here you know. Those words on the door in that poor Sprite’s blood. Tsch. Tsch.” There was a slight pause and Blue8 tracked his almost imperceptible movement with his gun. When the Pirate spoke again, his voice was exactly where Blue8 was aiming.

  Blue8 smiled to himself and Red6 looked impressed, and a little more sure of himself.

  “Do you know what those words mean, little red experiment?” the Pirate leader drawled casually. “Do you know what the Elemental has cursed you with?”

  Red6 responded by firing off a round of his own, and then dropping quickly back down again, as a streak of silver damage came by way too close for comfort.

  “You should stop now,” Blue8 called, at the same time as giving a series of hand signals to Red6. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

  "Aim down slightly," he ordered Blue8 quietly. "You need to factor in the up-take."

  Red6 nodded fervently and waited for Blue8's next signal.

  Blue8 was aware the Pirates were stalling, firing off only routine rounds in their general direction to keep them bunkered down behind the terrain vehicles. They were up to something and they needed to get on the offensive with them STAT.

  “Oh, but I do, Blue8, I do,” the Pirate drawled on. “I have very much an idea of what I am talking about.”

  The sound of a voice speaking in a language neither Blue8 or Red6 understood, broke quietly but urgently, over the Pirate’s comms.

  “Ah, and it seems your little friend returns,” the Pirate’s voice was not so casual now. “We will just take what is ours and leave you to entertain the Elemental.”

  Blue8 and Red6 exploded simultaneously above the lower front end of their respective terrain vehicles, guns blazing.

  Blue8 was rewarded with a grunt of pain and a spreading patch of red blood on the shoulder of the Pirate leader. But he moved well enough and was secure in his own armored vehicle before they could do any further damage.

  The vehicle was huge and it was carrying a rather large payload as it sped through a gaping hole in the wall of the outer hub.

  “Motherfucker!” Red6 gasped. “They’ve got sputnik!”

  “Dammit!” Blue8 cursed. He made incredibly fast - too fast - adjustments on his blaster and launched a volley of ridiculous blasts after the vehicle.

  Red6 looked on, and then down at his own gun, fairly confident his regulation Federation blaster had no such options available on it.

  No matter. The vehicle was well equipped to withstand what Blue8 had unleashed on it, and it was fast. And already, almost long gone, a swirl of desert sand camouflaging it nicely. Their ship must be near by, though, Blue8 thought. Even with something that sophisticated, they would not want to be long in the desert with an Elemental still potentially about.

  “Dammit!” he cursed again. Expensive day at the office indeed. There was going to be hell to pay over this. But what could they do? There had been nothing to indicate the Pirates had been watching or tracking them. And the holes the Elemental had ripped in the outer hub? He’d never seen anything like it.

  And if they'd really wanted the sputnik that badly, they should have picked it up years ago instead of leaving it here.

  Blue8 sniffed the air. There was the smell of sulphur on it. His skin prickled and a sense of dread hit him in the gut. The Elemental was on its way back again.

  “Get inside. Now!” he barked at Red6.

  The young soldier didn’t need to be told twice.

  Blue8 glanced around him. What to take in with them? Nothing. It was all too big. It was why they left it out here in the first place. He slammed his fist down on Desert1 in frustration and prayed the creature would leave them at least one Terrain Vehicle in-tact when it was through with them.

  When it was through with them, would they even need a Terrain Vehicle? He pushed the thought from his mind and grabbed the yoda. Damned if the Elemental was getting that.

  He secured both airtight doors. The window on the inner one bore the streaks of red blood and red dust.

  There was another door off the foyer into the corridor, thick and titanium, which could be dropped down and locked into place. Only in an extreme emergency. Blue8 was confidant this qualified.

  He dropped it and locked it and went to join Red6.

  “What do we do?" Red6 demanded of him again, as he emerged from the corridor. “How are we supposed to deal with this?”

  “We do as we’ve been ordered,” Blue8 replied. "We follow procedure."

  “You’ve dropped the door,” Red6 said.

  Blue8 laid a steadying hand on his shoulder. “Yeah, I’ve dropped the door.” He turned and placed the yoda on the desert scanner. “Why don’t you see if you can get those bots working? Get some of these systems back on line.”

  There was a lot to do. A lot to repair, even in here. That was good. It would keep them busy.

  “But what if…?”

  “What if nothing,” Blue8 cut him off. “We do as we’ve been ordered. Get those bots working.”

  Red6 let out a deep breath and went to work.

  Blue8 got one of the outer alarm systems back up in short order. He kept to himself that the Pirates had seemingly helped themselves to all of the outer mounted guns. The kid was already freaking out. No need to scare him further.

  The men worked in silence for a time, focused and intent on their tasks.

  “I can’t get these bots back up,” Red6 stood up away from the one he was working on in disgust.

  “That’s Ok, son,” Blue8’s voice was quiet and distant.

  Red6 looked up, concerned. Blue8 had never called him that. Blue8 was looking at the scanner.

  “It’s back,” Red6 whispered.

  “It’s back,” Blue8 nodded. “Guns. Set to kill. Elemental-1.”

  “But it can’t get through the door,” Red6 said as he moved to stand beside Blue8 and watched the red blip move steadily across the desert towards them.

  “Guns, Red6,” Blue8 repeated.

  Red6 got the guns. They were freshly charged and loaded. They had more. They had plenty of guns. Guns were not the problem.

  They sat and waited. The red blip gained speed and ground towards them.

  “How does it gain speed like that?” Red6 asked.

  “Fresh kills,” Blue8 replied. “Human, animal, environment, the elements. Whatever can give it what it needs, it will take from.”

  “What did the Pirate mean?” Red6 pressed on. “When he said it had cursed me? And why did he call me an experiment?”

  Blue8 sighed heavily. “Don’t listen to Pirates, Red6. They spread nothing but stuff and nonsense.”

  “It wrote words on the door, in the glass on the door, in blood!” Red6’s voice was raising in volume. “You know what they mean, you know you do!” His voice was very loud and accusing now, the blaster he clutched waived unsteadily in his hands.

  “Easy, Red6,” Blue8 looked at him sharply. “Those words are classified.”

  He held up a hand before Red6 could speak again. “And nothing to do with you.”

  Blue8 cast his dark silver eyes back to the scanner quickly. It was a lie, but it was a lie Red6 needed to believe right now, if he was to have any hope of getting through this.

  “Dammit,” this time the curse was quiet and resigned. “It’s here.”

  Red6 started and glanced at the scanner. The red blip was still, dead.

  The pounding on the titanium door was ridiculous.

  “Oh my godds, it’s already in,” Red6 gasped.

  He said it to air. Blue8 was already down the corridor, taking position, gun aimed, in front of the door.

  Red6 paled when he joined him and saw the dents the thing had already made in impenetrable titanium steel.

  In the main control room, the yoda started to glow.

  And one of the bots slowly reactivated.

 
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