Horde

Wow, we’re at the last story day for 2020! I’m in shock! It’s been fun and is going to continue into 2021. First, let’s get to the point of this post, the new story. And the last one for the year is Sci-Fi again (unsurprisingly). It’s shorter than the last couple at about 14,400 words and is an invasion story, but with a twist. What that twist is you’ll have to read to find out. I’m giving nothing away.

A little more than two years have passed since an alien race known as The Barren arrived on Earth. In that time they have almost completely decimated humanity, who now live and hide underground as a result.

The Barren struck without warning or declaration. They decimated governments and militaries across the globe.

Without leadership or defensive capabilities humanity was left to attempt organising on their own. Small communities joined and merged with others to create a makeshift military force. But it wasn’t enough and after weeks of attempted resistance The Barren claimed dominion over the skies, seas and finally the land. What limited numbers of humanity remained at that point fled underground. It’s the one place The Barren cannot go due to a necessity for clean non-recycled air. That gave humanity the first win since the alien’s arrival many months earlier. But it wasn’t enough. The Barren mounted bombarding attack after bombarding attack, breaking through the terrain of the Earth in key areas that forced humanity to stay on the subterranean move, until all they could do was burrow deeper and so they did. And that is where humanity finds itself today, deep underground living in squalor as they plot to continue their resistance against the alien aggressors, who if not for their singular evolution limitation would have expunged the human race from existence already. But no one knows what they want or why they are here. They can only surmise. Give human reasoning to a race that is in no way human.

The Barren have never been heard to speak, at least not anything humans can understand. They make grunting, barking, grumbling sounds, but if that is speech then it is far beyond anything mankind can understand. Most believe it is not and that The Barren cannot speak in any form.

The extraterrestrial race physically dwarf humans in size, seeing as they are on average around three and a half metres tall. But the resistance knows that what they see are not The Barren proper. Instead, that is just some form of bio-mechanical suit, almost impenetrable to human ammunition. That is unless several people unload multiple magazines worth of rounds into a single ground-based target.

Because of the difficulty of taking down one of the aliens, the resistance fighters find mounting attacks almost impossible. As a result human morale is at an all time low as they dwell deeper than any thought humanity would ever be capable of reaching with the limited technology they have available to them.

One such member of the resistance is Akira Ryujin. She is a veteran of the war against The Barren, who has somehow managed to survive dozens of battles that should have been her last. However, the one hundred and seventy five centimetre tall woman with waist length black hair and green eyes has as yet not been felled. She herself would not be able to tell you how she has been so fortunate. Not that she would call it fortune. She doesn’t believe in such things. It is a case of you either survive or die.

Because of her will to survive, Akira is one of the most battle hardened frontline troops the resistance has and part of the reason she is armed with a custom three mode bullpup assault weapon she commonly refers to as Bloodbolt. In truth it’s a heavily modified version of a Baron RA-1161 battle rifle. The modifications having been made by her own hand using whatever scrap and items she has managed to scrounge together over the years. The sorts of pieces that she thought would allow her to make necessary adjustments to aid with balancing, weight, handling and power of the weapon. If she were not such a veteran the resistance might balk at her against-procedure modifications. Not that the resistance has much in the way of procedure, and what it does have is rarely adhered to for a multitude of reasons we will not get into.

However, no weapon used in the resistance is conventional or consistent throughout the ragtag band that refuses to call themselves an army, even though they are vaguely organised.

But none of that matters now. What matters is that today will mark the greatest test, not just for Akira but also the rest of the resistance. That is because they intend to mount the greatest counterattack that humanity will have ever seen or performed. And that is an attack against The Barren starship, the very one which the alien menace descended from when they arrived on Earth and unleashed their relentless and viciously unprovoked attack that scorned much of the once green and vibrant planet’s surface. Whether on purpose or as a result of the battle that ensued no one can say for sure. Many have their opinions that it is the former and that The Barren are using the need to exterminate humanity as a boon that aids them in terraforming Earth into a world that is more in line with wherever it is that the angular headed species originates from. If that is true then whatever world they call home is a mesh of jagged, shattered rock formations, cavernous valleys, towering peaks, brutal deserts and rivers of boiling lava.

But let’s circle back to the plan, the last hope humanity has. If it fails, if they fail, so will the last resistance to The Barren.

Hell’s Gate, where the resistance stem from, is the last subterranean human city and while not all members of mankind live there, if they do not prevail there won’t be enough left to mount another assault. Instead, The Barren can do with Earth whatever they please, leaving humanity to wither away in the deep passages below ground for as long as they may be able to sustain themselves without natural light or proper food supplies.

Many in the resistance believe it’ll be months, a few claim years. Akira doesn’t have an opinion. She doesn’t think about it. There are more important things at hand, like the mission. The one where the ragtag band of fighters, untrained in most cases, will have to push back and break through the lines of a superior alien force, a horde would be the most appropriate term, and then somehow wrestle control of their spacefaring vessel from their mighty clutches. It sounds impossible and it just might be. But what is the alternative? Laying down and accepting defeat, death, oblivion. That is not the human way, it never has been. Mankind has fought from the day it came into existence to survive and many a time it should have failed. It should have been condemned to the pages of history, but it refused then like it is refusing now.

If by some miracle they succeed, like they all hope they will, then the native Earth-born species will unleash the very weapons that were wielded against them, against their masters.

The problem, which is by no means a small one, is the fact that the resistance will have to initiate the assault from ground-level. To anyone unfamiliar with this war that might not sound like a big deal, but when you have been forced underground and then must burrow through miles of rock, navigating past the massive city sized craters that your enemy wrought upon your homeworld it is the biggest of deals. And that is only the first step.

Once they are right beneath the behemoth of a starship that rests on its four towering edifices of legs, they will need to break ground. The Barren will detect that. There is no way around it. But breaking through right beneath their feet is the only chance the remnants of humanity have. If they tried to break and then trudge their way to their goal they’d never make it.

Sadly, the largest contingent of The Barren will be nestled beneath their ship. It’s where they have been since they arrived. A form of base camp might be the most applicable description.

It’s like they always knew this fight would be coming and so prepared for it from the very start. Maybe it’s a process they have repeated on countless other worlds. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if that were true, and yet, as Akira stands inside one of the burrowing, troop carrying vehicles that is tunnelling to their destination, she can think of nothing else.

The muscular woman is clad in makeshift armour plating, it is almost useless against The Barren’s energy-based weapons, and surrounded by several dozen others all dressed just like her. Unlike her many of them seem confident. They believe this will be a victory. Akira knows they will die, and that she might too. But something tells her that the confidence she is glimpsing is faked. A façade meant to keep spirits up. She doesn’t believe in such things. Doing so only entices death and so she stares ahead, ignoring everyone crammed into the space around her whether they are young, old, male or female. The Barren don’t care. They kill all humans the same, without showing an ounce of remorse. It’s why Akira will continue to show them none like she has never shown them any during her previous encounters. That is her constant, and it will sustain.

Still, she cannot shake the feeling that something is wrong. Not like she forgot to turn off a light or close a security door though. Those are trifling matters barely worth consideration.

She pursues the feeling trying to reach a conclusion as to why and what is unnerving her, but try as she might she cannot put her finger on it. That worries her, gravely.

Then the alarm blares into her ears. It’s deafening and pulls her immediately out of her mental wonderings, which are banished and forgotten instantaneously. Though, the feeling of unease remains, constant and gnawing.

Akira knows what the alarm is indicating, and that is to advise that the drill-carrier, one of more than a hundred of varying sizes, is close the surface level. Break through will follow ninety seconds later so that they can begin the final assault.

The veteran resistance member has to admit she wasn’t aware that they were that close to their target in the seconds before the alarm screamed in her ears.

She looks round at the faces frequenting this limited space but admits to herself that she feels nothing for them. She knows many will die, perhaps all of them, and yet there is no remorse or pain felt thinking about it. Akira lost such parts of herself long ago when The Barren took her family, friends and the love of her life, Yarra.

Akira can still remember the face of the woman who had been the brightest light that ever did shine in all her days on this world. She’d radiated beauty and confidence with her big hazel eyes, long eyelashes and silky down-to-the-jaw red hair.

Akira’s blood boils. She cannot think about Yarra, see her face as though she is still with her, without seeing how she died right after.

The black haired veteran of the resistance can remember it like it was yesterday, but it wasn’t. It has been almost two years since that day The Barren slaughtered an entire village filled with people. Akira hadn’t been there. She’d been out on patrol. If she had been she could have saved Yarra, or died with her. Either would have been preferable to the reality of getting the call too late and returning to find everyone butchered.

Yarra had returned hours earlier after a member of her team had suffered an injury. Akira doesn’t know the details. She never found out. Not for lack of trying. On that day Akira knew hope would never get you anywhere. It died in her then and every day since Akira has been doing what she must to survive. She doesn’t believe in the cause. She just wants revenge. Revenge against The Barren for the lives she cared about, and that were ripped away from her.

Revenge will not drive her in battle though. It’ll fuel her, but she will not think of revenge as she fights. She will think only of survival. As she always does when going into battle. It’s what she attributes to being how she has survived thus far without suffering a single severe injury. That alone makes her one of the lucky ones. The same can definitely not be said about most. Not that many of those that do suffer grave injuries survive.

At one time they would have, but with humanities technology vastly reduced and supplies dangerously low, difficult decisions have to be made. And they are made, daily, and in a manner that no one from the time before The Barren would find suitable. Especially, as people with the worst injuries, the kind that mean they will never fight again, are left without any kind of painkiller to die in agony. Not because of malice or contempt but because of the limited capacity of human resources. Most of the drugs cannot be manufactured anymore, so what remains is from the time before the war.

Suddenly, the drill-carrier is rocked violently from side-to-side as it breaks through the last shreds of solid ancient rock. The vehicle, in all its cobbled together make-do ugliness, lances up and into the air. It hangs there, the light shimmering off its rust coloured surface, for a few seconds.  It’s like it’s has been frozen in time, and then those precious seconds pass, time resumes and the hulk of varying metals haphazardly welded together comes crashing back down to Earth. An enormous ground shaking boom rings out as a result of the impact and sends plumes of dust bursting into the air around it. This dust cloud shrouds the vehicle beneath a fine haze that lingers in the air lazily.

This is one of many such instances as all the other drill-carriers burst forth from underground only to lance into the air and then come crashing down again, several seconds before the heavy brittle metal sheets that are serving as a combination of the sides of the vehicles and doors, slide open. They grind as they retract, emitting a teeth chattering noise like nails down a chalkboard but much worse.

In that moment Akira can see light, real light, natural light. Not the artificial kind that her eyes have grown so used to after the years of living underground. Then she tastes the air, still filled with dust. Even though it is polluted by the presence of the dust it tastes rich to her as she feels it in her mouth and nose.

A second later she rips her Bloodbolt from across her back, secured in place by a large weak magnet, and then along with those packed in around her, ambles from the confines of the drill-carrier and out into the now near clear again air below the monstrous ship of The Barren.

Immediately, the scene is not what Akira expected. There is no dead, dying, screams, cries or the sound of weapons fire. The woman is confused and stands there with the barrel of her black and red painted weapon with it’s under barrel bayonet, the remains of what used to be a heavy sword, affixed and ready.

She scans right and then left. Her left eye peers down the sight of her weapon as she manages her breathing to ensure that it does not become laboured or rapid. If it does it’ll throw her aim off.

It makes no sense, Akira thinks. There should be hundreds of those alien bastards. Intel suggested they were dug in deep with energy launchers, mounted cannons, defences, emplacements, towers, thick walls of rock fashioned to protect against outside attempts at assault. But there is nothing, except for The Barren vessel looming large above them. It fills the sky so that only tiny slivers of blue and white can be seen around the periphery, while the sun is blotted out entirely.

Akira cannot tell if the alien ship is black or whether it is the fault of the shadows that blanket it’s underbelly that make it appear as such. She decides on it being the latter for no other reason than so she doesn’t dwell on it. She needs to keep her focus on the ground, on where the enemy should be. Except they aren’t and by the looks on the faces around her as she scans they cannot fathom either why all that seems to be present is the vast chaotically angular galaxy traversing mass above them.

Again the black haired woman feels a twinge in her back. She had ignored it back on the drill-carrier, but it’s familiar enough that she can say it was, and is still now, a feeling as though something is wrong, very wrong. It’s not an affliction the woman suffers often and if she were in-charge here she might be inclined to either commit or call for retreat. Which exactly she cannot say for sure as such things are beyond her remit and so she has no need to make a decision either way.

Many of the fighters, they never refer to themselves as soldiers due to their lack of training, exchange confused looks and glances between one another. They too do not understand what is going on. They should have been walking into a meat grinder. Been met with hails of flesh searing energy projectiles that force them to duck and dive more than fire.

Then someone dares to ask, “What the fuck is going on? Where are The Barren?”

They sound scared, which is unsurprising. Yet, no one dares to reply. Others murmur in agreement, making the kinds of noises only the most confused can ever achieve, but no one has an answer. There should be a horde of the hulking invaders, everyone knows it. A battalion three times the resistances fighter’s total numbers, and while intel has been known to be wrong it has never been an overestimation. It just doesn’t work like that. Every failure in calculations has been an underestimation of the scale of The Barren’s numbers. Its part of the reason this is all that remains of humanity, those from Hell’s Gate, the deepest human settlement on Earth. Thusly named because of its depth as though what lies deeper is nothing but hell itself.

If humanity had tried to dig any further they might have risked being swallowed up by rising lava. They were inclined not to risk such things, seeing no reason to finish The Barren’s work for them.

Akira lets out a long breath. It isn’t a sigh, just an exhale, controlled and measured. Unlike many of the others she still hasn’t relented on scanning and waiting for the shit to hit the fan. It has too. But after what she can only guess is getting close to ten minutes of silent, standing in one spot without moving, she is inclined to say something. So she clears her throat, quietly, out of habit and then goes to speak.

She doesn’t get very far; she manages only to open her mouth in preparation to speak only before an overwhelming burst of pain erupts inside her head. It’s excruciating and sees the woman’s face twist into a mask of pain and torment. Her eyes screwed shut as tightly as they are able while her free hand, that had been gripping the barrel of her Bloodbolt, comes up to grip painfully at her right temple. Her teeth bared as though she plans on feasting on something, though she isn’t. No thought is going through her head. There is simply too much pain to think, which is why she manages to stay on her feet for only a handful of seconds longer before collapsing to her knees. The pain somehow, it would seem against the odds of what should be possible, continuing to intensify in her head. If it continues Akira is sure her head will explode, yet she needs to know if the others around her are afflicted the same. But she cannot bring herself to open her eyes. They refuse and resist her demands as a choked cry fails to leave her throat and is instead swallowed.

Finally, after a great deal of fighting, though how much time has passed she cannot say, Akira manages to get the thinnest glimpse of those around her. It confirms that something is wrong as they all continue to stand there, paralysed, but in no way suffering the agony she is. It confirms her worst fears that it is her who is the problem. But even that realisation does not explain as to why the others have not moved a muscle. Not that she can see them again now; her eyes are screwed so tightly shut that they might actually never be able to open again.

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