The Impossible Hunt
Drone Commander Aima of the great Patchu War-Beetle lay conscious in his nesting pillows, unable to obtain regeneration-rest for several moons now. Voices that were not his own began to creep into his conscious thoughts. Shadows that were cast by inert objects suddenly became…human-shaped…in his fevered mind’s eye. Still, he tried to rest, until he startled back to full alertness, gasping and wheezing with the imagined cold steel of a human blade at his nerve-stem.
“I hate this world…” he murmured to himself.
Twisting his eye-stalks to the viewing porthole by his nest, he saw the great blue-and-white sphere they orbited. The native species…humans…had called the world Earth. He hated Earth. Commander Aima hated the Earth more than anything…except for That Human.
The chronograph indicated it was almost time to launch the next Bio Engine. No rest would be had now…and he begrudgingly accepted it with a burble of gas from his third stomach. He hated That Human. He hated knowing That Human would likely show up the micro-tick before the Bio Engine would become active and sabotage it. He hated that the Patchu missiles would be too slow to launch, and that That Human would disappear into the wastes far before the explosives would hit. A flying machine would simply be there in time, and That Human would escape. Or it would be on a sea-vessel, or an aircraft or…HIVE BLAST IT ALL! Aima hated That Human with a burning, rancid, rotting hatred he had never known before.
He wiped down his mandibles and skittered out of his nest-suite, only to be met by a small brigade of Med-Slugs. “I do NOT require sedatives,” Aima roared in his pulsing, guttural tone. “I will rest once the hunt is complete!”
One of the little pink slugs tried to get close enough to test the Commander’s carapace temperature, and he promptly dashed the jelly-creature across the deck-plates in anger. The rest of them quickly retreated.
Satisfied that he was once again the alpha-predator, Drone Commander Aima continued skittering to the bridge-deck of the War-Beetle. When he first assumed command, he marveled in the construction and efficiency and deadly beauty of this massive colonization-war-ship. Now…all he could calculate was the endless rising costs associated with this lingering hunt to eradicate all humans.
That wasn’t it. Certainly, when the Patchu first arrived into Earth’s orbit, they assumed the task of pacifying the natives would be relatively easy. An incredible barrage of kinetic missiles wiped out most of the planet’s population centers in less than a Moon Cycle. They suffered some losses at the hands of the Humans who fought back…who knew such primitive beasts had learned to split the atomic bonds? But the War-Beetle was sturdy and while three generations of Patchu Drones were wiped out…several more irradiated…the Humans died out faster. Much faster.
They were susceptible to gassing attacks. Firebombs worked equally well. While they hid in caves and in the oceans and even in the air and space around their planet, their billions dwindled to thousands in less than two moons. It was then that Aima declared victory and had sent the first Bio Engine down to reform the atmosphere.
Only to find out that not every human was willing to give up and die. A human showed up, damaged the sensitive, expensive Bio Engine beyond repair, and disappeared into the wastes.
After the forth sabotage, Commander Aima noticed that the skin markings and body decorations on the human recorded at the site of the Bio Engine was the same. His sub-commanders thought the idea was hilarious at first…how could one human be responsible? Didn’t all humans look relatively the same? Sure, some had different tribal skins and heights and…no. Not this time. This was the same human.
One of the Sub Commanders had an admittedly brilliant idea. “Commander Aima…if this human keeps attacking the Bio Engines when we launch them, why not launch them to the far north or south of the planet where they would not be able to survive the temperatures?”
So the next Bio Engine was launched to the Earth’s southern pole. Far from the lingering human settlement there, but also close enough to the ocean that it could convert the salt water into the chemicals needed for Patchu-larva. It would be a slower conversion, starting in such a sub-optimal location…but Commander Aima relished the slower, more painful death of any lingering Human life.
But a few micro-ticks before the Engine started, catastrophic failure occurred. Sure enough, as the drone-scans came back from the surface, they witnessed the familiar, mocking grin of That Human as it walked off into the seemingly endless ice and snow. Patchu missiles vaporized three hundred megafalkics of the ice-shelf, but none of the Patchu ever believed that the saboteur had been eliminated.
Proof came in the form of three more failed Bio Engines. Every single time…That Human showed up, blocked up the vulnerable intakes and command systems of the Engines, and danced away before retaliation from orbit could occur.
This day would be different, though. The War-Beetle had two more Bio Machines available…each costing a fortune beyond even the cost of the interstellar ship itself. They would launch both at the same time. No matter where in the world That Human was, it could never be in two places at the same time!
“Commander, you have an urgent command packet from Home-World,” his Prime Subcommander said as he arrived onto the command deck.
Commander Aima hissed, startling many of the crew, but settled himself a moment later. “Of course,” he huffed. “Please, display the message.”
On the massive central holo-screen that dominated the ceiling, a moving image of the Hive Council appeared. The entire command crew gasped in shock and quickly prostrated themselves in fear and respect. Commander Aima stayed erect and tall, knowing that this was but a recorded message and not a real-time communication.
As one voice, the twenty Hive Council members spoke with a resonant harmony.
“DRONE COMMANDER AIMA, THE PATCHU HIVE IS DISAPPOINTED BY YOUR REPEATED FAILURES TO SEED AND CONVERT WORLD THREE OF SYSTEM 230832! THE EXPENSE OF YOUR FAILURES HAS ECLIPSED ALL OTHER COLONIZATION ATTEMPTS IN THE GALAXY. YOUR REQUEST FOR A WORLD-CLEANSER FLEET IS DENIED AND UNPRECEDENTED IN DESPERATION AND EXPENSE! YOUR REQUEST FOR GROUND-HUNTING-DRONES IS ALSO DENIED. YOU WILL SUCCEED WITH YOUR AVAILABLE RESOURCES OR NOT AT ALL. IF YOU FAIL WITH YOUR AVAILABLE RESOURCES, YOU ARE HEREBY COMMANDED TO RETURN TO THE HIVE FOR YOUR DESTRUCTION. YOU WILL SUCCEED WITH YOUR AVAILABLE RESOURCES OR PRESENT YOURSELF FOR DESTRUCTION. THE HIVE HAS SPOKEN. THE HIVE IS ETERNAL.”
As the video hologram faded, nervous, worried eye-stalks slowly rose and turned to Commander Aima.
“Then we will succeed,” he announced defiantly.
One of the younger Subcommanders raised a shaking manipulator. “C-commander. Upon reviewing some of the Human radio transmissions, I believe I have learned the name of the saboteur.”
“I care not what the vermin name themselves!” Commander Aima roared. “Filth! Suckling filth! They suckle from their own brood-bodies! They suckle from their air and water! They suckle from the very ground to make their filthy creations!” He strode over and pulled the Subcommander from its chair. “Where in their world is That Human? That is the only question I want answered!”
“I…I don’t know!” the Subcommander wheezed. “Until the moment they appear, we cannot find them! It is as if they blend into the very shadows and colors of their land! Of crowds of humans! Of…even the plants and rubble!”
Commander Aima’s eye-stalks shivered in anger. “Then we will succeed. Where in the world can they hide if their entire biosphere is turned to poison for their suckling lung-sacks?”
The Subcommander cooed quickly. “The Drone Commander is wise! The Drone Commander is wise!”
The rest of the command deck followed in sync: “The Drone Commander is wise!”
“Where in the world is That Human?” Commander Aima hissed, placing his subordinate back down. “It will not matter. Our final two Bio Engines will be launched to opposite ends of their world! No matter how fast, how wise, how…annoying…That Human is, they are still but ONE HUMAN!”
The command deck all chittered and burbled their approval. “The Drone Commander is wise!”
Slowly, the ship opened its massive…nearly empty…cargo bays. One of the massive Bio Engine Pods was launched, but the deorbit rockets were modified to slow the giant machine instead of plunging it directly into Earth’s thick atmosphere. Ten minutes later, as the War-Beetle circled to the opposite side of the planet, the final Bio Engine Pod was loosed. Its deorbit burn was immediate, but synchronized with the other pod to create a simultaneous impact continents apart.
In another brilliant stroke of his final plan, Commander Aima demanded the bulk of their remaining bombs be launched to land and eradicate any humans tracking the Bio Engine landing sites only thirty micro-ticks before the Engines themselves touched down. The command deck was jostled to and fro from the massive simultaneous launch of nearly three gigaphleans of destructive heat-bombs. Micro-ticks later, sharp balls of light appeared over what the Humans once called London and Seattle. The craters of melted rock, metal and glass cooled just in time for the giant Bio Engines to land on solid-ish ground.
“Count-down!” Commander Aima roared, nearly squeezing out of his own carapace as he watched the live holo-feeds of both Bio-Engine sites. “Accelerated start, forego all safety checks!”
A few of his Subcommanders glanced nervously at each other. The order was reckless beyond reckless…potentially destroying the precious Bio Engines before they even began the cascade process…but none of them were suicidal enough to question their Commander. After only the briefest of delays, they complied and sent the overridden commands.
Green, glowing holographic timers appeared on the viewer. Thirty micro-ticks. Twenty-Nine. Twenty-Eight. Soon, the thousands of remaining humans would find their own atmosphere burning their lungs as ammonia billowed out of the oceans and clouds. Twenty-Three. Twenty-Two. The very soil they hid in would turn acidic and melt their feeble fleshy skin-sacks! Nineteen! Eighteen! Even their precious sunlight would fail as roaring clouds of soot filled their biosphere and seeded the world with-
“Out of curiosity,” Commander Aima muttered as That Human appeared on one of the viewing holos…next to the Bio Engine the West Coast of what the Humans called North America. “What is That Human’s name? I have changed my mind. I wish to name my next waste-movement after it.”
The Subcommander watched as That Human stood over the controls of the Bio Engine and produced a modified firearm of some type. It fired the weapon, and a grappling-attachment speared the delicate machinations and control circuitry as it had done eight previous times. “They call it Ca-”
Before the name of the human can be uttered, another human appears at the site of the other Bio Engine.
“What!?!” Commander Aima demanded. “Where in the world did that one come from?”
“A-Another Human!” the Sub Commander chitters quickly. “Another…?” its mandibles grow wide. “I know of this one as well! In my research, I found two names that were synonymous with stealth…with hiding in plain sight…with being the epitome of the Hunt and making a game of being prey!”
“FIRE ALL WEAPONS! DESTROY THAT HUMAN!”
The crew of the command deck know it will be too late as the new human uses a curved walking stick to destroy the delicate machine-core of the last and final Bio Engine. They have all resigned themselves to their fate, and yet, they carry out their commander’s mad orders. They launch the entire remnant of the ship’s arsenal…only for the teeming skies of missiles to collide into themselves as much as the ground. Millions of falkics of precious habitable land and ocean are boiled away, but none of that makes any difference. They know they have failed. They know the Hive will demand their destruction.
The Commander is weeping and leaking out of his shell as the flashes and explosions finally fade, leaving an Earth that is still impossibly blue and white and green and golden despite months of punishment and billions of casualties. As a silence covers the crew, they turn to him, waiting for his maddened, sick mind to finally pull itself back together. Maybe it will…maybe it won’t. “Where in the world were they?” he keeps repeating and repeating until even his voice fails and he finally allows his destroyed mind and exhausted body a bit of respite by collapsing on the floor.
None of the command deck crew move, watching the Earth slowly rotate beneath them. Already there are lights…already there are small air-ships scrambling from their hiding spots and secret bunkers. Primitive but powerful atomic missiles are launched and proximity timers begin to populate the holo-screens. Billions of casualties…and yet the Humans fight. They fight because of That Human…no…Those TWO Humans, and their victories. The ones who wore the same shade of color as the blood in their veins…
“Tell me their names,” the Commander gurgles finally, rising out of the puddle of his own filth. “If I am to surrender to these…humans…I must know their names so I can curse them into the next clutching and the Hive Beyond!”
“I do not think they will accept surrender, Sir,” one of the Subcommanders mumbles, watching the impact-timers get smaller and smaller. In their haste, even their counter-missiles were launched. If the humans hit with more than two or three of their largest atomic bombs…
“Then still, I need their names to curse. What are their names!?” Commander Aima demands. “Who are these masters of stealth? Of subterfuge? Of invisibility? Where in the world where they hiding? Where in the world-“
“Sir,” the Prime Subcommander complies, shaking as he tries to ignore the now visible ICBMs streaking across space towards them.
Images of the two humans appear on the holo-screens with translations from the silly human languages and scribbling clearly written below. Drone Commander Aima reads them and frowns.
“Carmen Sandiego? And…Waldo?” He burbles, defeated and deflated. “Humans have such humiliating names…”
The nuclear flash was brighter than he thought possible, but still he could see the red hat and alternating white-and-red stripes of his victors seared into his final thoughts.
=- Studio Shinnyo 2017. Khattam-Shud, EOF.Posted under Short Stories