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2190 RC

written by Brunnen G on November 18, 2004 | forum profile | contact me
number of views: 76953 |   printable version (text) (PDF)

A ship above Mars.
A ship above Mars.
Credit: John Ridgway and Dan Dare
“Did they make the Great and Terrible Machines of Mars?”
“They did it not”
“Did they burn the air of Venus, did they cool the molten rock?”
“They did it not”
“Do they know our truths, our shame, our sorrow”
“They know it not”
“Shall they know our anger?”

- Battle prayer of the Red Guard

Samic awoke to sound of sirens, pulling him from his customary nightmare. The crack of aluglass, the vacuum of space ripping the air from him, boiling and freezing him. Same old shit. The ship’s med-witch had gave him potions and offered him a memory wipe, but the potions didn’t work and there was no way some red eyed psycho from Phobos was coming near his brain.

Still, the sirens. He put his battle armour on as quickly as he could, the remnants of sleep and dreams banished instantly with one inhalation of stim-gas. Once suited, he grabbed his helmet and weapon and ran to his unit’s rally point, knowing that whatever was wrong, he would need both before long. The sirens never sounded unless they were under attack.

He was not last to arrive; for that he was grateful. The last warrior to arrive always received a beating from his superior, a lesson on tardiness that was not soon forgotten as the errant warrior had to request it and thank his superior for the correction. Tomis was last, but his punishment would have to wait, though it would not be forgotten. There were no seats in the room. A data screen dominated the forward wall, displaying information on the status of the ship and crew. In the corner of the screen, the date 7 / 7/ 2190RC the thirty men that made up Samic’s unit stood in silence waiting for the commander to speak.

“The Enemy has appeared in orbit over Rohan. There are over one hundred vessels, type three. This is, as you all know, the fourth time they have attacked Rohan this year. Our mission is to take prisoners.” The men showed no reaction. “It is imperative that we succeed, we need to know what they have learned about Rohan, why they persistently attack it when they usually attack at random.”

Samic stepped forward, as Alpha of his unit he was expected to question the commander if the unit doubted the wisdom of a mission, and challenge him to combat if the commander’s argument was insufficient. In his time as unit Alpha, he had killed three commanders, he did not wish to make it four, but he had been bonded with his men since birth and could feel their moods as easily as his own. They were in doubt. Unacceptable.

“None have tried to capture one of them for over a century, why now. Speak now or may the god of war protect you!” Said Samic, as he moved forward and stood toe to toe with his commander. This last part was the traditional challenge, taught to him during his childhood indoctrination.

“I know not why, Alpha. The order comes from the Pope-King himself, I do not question the will of the Pope-King. Are you satisfied?” The commander looked directly into the eyes of Samic, knowing if he broke contact before his subordinate, then violence would ensue, regardless of what he had said.

Samic stepped back and bowed low, exposing the vulnerable back of his neck to his commander. “I beg forgiveness. None here challenge the will of the Pope-King. Hail to the Pope-King!”

“ALL HAIL” Replied the rest of the unit, including the commander. All was well. The briefing continued. Plans were made.

Extract from the book of the Pope-King

In the time before counting, Mars had become the home of humanity. In shame we fled the dying Earth, saving what we could from the storm of our making. As refugees we landed here hidden in vast domes as the first Great and Terrible machines were built, changing Mars to a place where we might survive outside and flourish once more.

We made Mars a world that looked like Earth once might have, and great was our joy, but greater still our longing to return to the world that had birthed us. We sent two ships, to see if she was healing. Both exploded without cause as they entered orbit. The same fate awaited every probe we sent after them.

Men were also changing. The castes emerged. First came the warrior caste, strong and fearsome. Their pointed teeth, horns and need for raw meat separated them from society, and for a time they were outcasts, living in the wild places where life is hard and death comes swiftly.

Then, while men were still wondering how the warrior cast came to be, the psychic caste began to emerge. Able to heal or kill with their minds, their skin as black as boot polish, eyes glowing red. They knew men’s hearts and how to change them.

Finally, the ruling caste. Tall and beautiful, totally incapable of deception, with minds greater than any man that had come before them. They could also resist the mindcraft of the psychic caste and their ascendancy to power over all mankind was both inevitable and welcome. At last we had rulers worthy of the trust we placed in them.

The warriors were still outcasts, the psychics reviled and used in equal measure and the rulers barely in power when Sanjay, the first Pope-King emerged from amongst the rulers.

He told us that he would journey to the Earth, taking with him three of the warrior caste and would return within one standard month. It was ten years and alone that he did return to us, Speaking these words:

“Woe to thee, O tribes of man
17255 we must count.
We have been banished for our sins
The Greatest and Most Terrible Machine has spoken unto me
17255 is our remaining penance
All who break this shall be broken.

“Woe to thee, O tribes of man
I have seen the unwritten land.
An enemy shall come
A destructor, a slayer of men
The time of war is at hand.”

Great was our fear, among all the castes and the unchanged children of Earth.

And so the Right Counting began, 17255 years of exile we must endure, a time of healing for our mother, a time of war for her children.

Samic knew little of the history of his people or of the Pope-Kings. All warriors were programmed to venerate the Pope-king as much as their own God, Ares, but it was better if the Pope-king remained an aloof, distant figure. He was to be obeyed without question and if his orders meant your death then your place in Valhalla was secure, and glad should be your heart.

The plan was almost certain to send Samic and his men to Valhalla, and probably before moonrise. The ship’s fighters would attempt to shoot down as many enemy craft as possible, without destroying them, before the enemy disappeared into nothingness as they always did. His unit (one of many) would then deploy on foot and capture alive as many if they could. It was a simple plan, and almost certainly going to fail.

The dropship deployed them twenty kilometres from the downed craft. If it had come nearer then its engines would have failed and it would dropped from the sky and exploded on the Martian soil as though thrown down by a giant, petulant child.

So far things had been going surprisingly well. Civilian casualties in Rohan had been light and the fighters had scored higher than predicted. Now it was the turn of Samic and his men to do their job. They ran for the craft, Samic and the Commander in the lead, as was warrior caste tradition. Their battle suits lent them great speed and within minutes the craft was in sight, so were the crew that had piloted it.

“Remember,” shouted Samic, “Alive. Go for their cursed legs!”

His men obeyed without question, firing at the seven alien beings gathered near the craft, aiming only to wound and incapacitate. The aliens showed no such restraint.

Samic fired and surveyed the battle with despair, twelve of his men had fallen already and the energy shots seemed to have little effect on the enemy, indeed they seemed to be laughing. “Draw blades and charge, we shall have them or die!”

He looked at his prisoner, beaten and cut, tied like a food animal, but still very much alive. He wished he could say the same for himself. His armour had been torn open by one of his prisoner’s dead companions and his intestines now lay before him. It didn’t matter. The beacon had been set and his place in Valhalla lay before him, where he would be re-united with his unit. He wondered if the Commander would be there. True, he had been acting on orders from the Pope-King, but he had led Samic’s entire unit to their deaths, and for that Samic had killed him without hesitation. Damn, that made four.

The darkness took him.

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