A Spacehawk Adventure by George L. Duncan
As my jet roared to the ground, it clipped the tops of several trees and sent branches soaring into the air. Bart sliced through several others, as did Tequesta when her jet slammed into the Moalkan equivalent of pines. Our engines sputtered and coughed, then died. But the safety mechanisms remained efficient enough to bring us down safely. With a few bumps, but safely. My jet bounced softly on a hill, spit up dark brown earth, then uttered one last gasp. Tequesta landed behind me. Bart and Lupe eased down a moment later.
I grabbed the laser rifle and jumped out of the cockpit. Tequesta, in her bright yellow suit that matched her hair, scrambled out of her jet. She didn't look happy.
"...and blue blazes," she was saying, as she walked over. "What hit us?"
"I don't know. The Chinors have some type of weapon that can disable our engines. Something new."
"I thought they were supposed to be stupid."
I grinned. “Our analysts might be wrong. Wouldn't be the first time that..."
Bart's gravel-throated warning yell sent us scurrying behind the jet. The four of us peered over the wreckage.
"Here they come," Bart said.
About two dozen of the six-foot tall insectoids charged toward us, emitting their high-pitch battle scream. They carry small blasters that looked like mini-rifles, but they prefer hand-to-claw combat. Every Chinor is expert with his razor-sharp, two-foot long knife. It's twisted at the end so when they gorge an opponent, muscles and organs come out when the knife is withdrawn. If a soldier was careless, he'd focus on the weapon, then realize his mistake when a Chinor's mandible bit into his throat.
They ran on long, spiny legs toward us but they didn't have much cover. We had laser rifles and the jet as a partial shield.
The blue and yellow spitfire bullets of flame smacked into them. Our fire blew arms and legs off. For all the high-tech weapons, the shots sounded like boots smacking on mud when they hit. A solid splat of impact. One smack blew the head off the first Chinor. The next cut a second Chinor in two, sending the green fluid they called blood splattering the jet and us. An orange blast singed the jet. But the Chinor soldier who fired it was felled by Bart's shot.
Our initial blasts took out about ten of the attacking squad. I'll say this for the Chinors. They don't like to retreat. The high-pitch buzz rose by an octave. It left our ears cringing. The remaining insects charged again.
Bart tossed an incendiary grenade. Lupe also hurled one. "Down guys!"
The explosions sounded like thunderclaps, and sent bits and pieces of brown Chinor flesh hurling over the jet. Green blood rained down on us.
"Damn!" Bart said.
Droplets splattered my face and my uniform.
"This stuff smells like sewage," Lupe said. She wiped three splotches of green from her jaw. She wrinkled up her face.
"Yeah," Bart said. "None of our enemies have smelled like French perfume."
"Could we fight the French?" Tequesta said. "Do they smell like French perfume?"
"No, they smell like a French house of ill repute," Bart said.
Tequesta turned toward him. "Thank you for sharing that with me."
We stood up and peered over the jet. The grenade blast had killed all but two of the remaining Chinors. They wriggled on the ground. The high pitch cries were now muted. In a few seconds, they would fall silent. We take no Chinor prisoners. Not because we kill the wounded, but because they never fall captive. Each insect has some type of inner mechanism that can shut off all vital organs. Death is almost instantaneous. The Chinor don't take prisoners either, but for a very different reason.
I looked at Bart. "Any other jets in the area."
"Our honing signal is broadcasting." He tapped his earpiece. "No reply yet."
Lupe flicked open the compass on her wristband. "Our base is about three miles from here. But there may be more Chinors in between."
"That's what I guessing." I sighed. "But, let's look on the bright side."
Tequesta looked at me. "What's the bright side?"
I grinned. "We are not among those humans who lead lives of quiet desperation."
"No," Tequesta said, as she slapped her rifle. "No, we lead lives of frenzied, hectic desperation."
"Yeah. There's that."
Bart jerked his head toward a nearby hill. "The base is south. One plus is the terrain is hilly but a lot of the ground is covered with trees. We'll have cover."
We moved away from the jet. As we did we spied the Jarlqez. Silent and indifferent, as always. He stood calm and composed as he surveyed the site, now littered with Chinor remains. The Jarlqez never smile or, for that matter, show any emotion.
Tequesta shouted a greeting in the Moalkan language. Our universal translators weren't working. Possibly damaged in the crash. The Jarlqez flicked his eyelids, but said nothing.
"Quite the conversationalist, isn't he?" Bart said.
Tequesta tried again. There was a spot of green on her chin. A pink bruise and a thin line of red crossed her brow. Drops of blood matted some of her hair that flowed to an inch below her shoulders.
The Jarlqez remained unimpressed. His thin lips twitched briefly but there was no other movement. He didn't reply, just swept his gaze toward the horizon.
"Do we have any clue where they come from or what, exactly, they are?" Tequesta asked, nodding at their silent friend.
Bart shook his head. "Not one. They're not like the other Moalkans if, in fact, they belong to the same race. The Moalkans will talk to you."
"And send requests for help," Lupe said.
"Right now I'm beginning to wonder if we should have responded," I said.
"Sure we should have. They needed us," Tequesta said.
"But this planet has no military significance whatsoever. It has no minerals or materials we need. The Moalkans..."
"Are nice folks," Tequesta said. "We couldn't let the Chinors chew them up...literally."
"With that attitude you'll never get into the strategy and tactics division."
The Jarlqez didn't move. Not even the Moalkans seem to know where the Jarlqez originated. The Moalkans have a simple rural culture. The most cutting edge technology on this planet is a tractor. But the Jarlqez seem to understand technology. One of our tanks had stuck in a farmer's field about fifty miles away. A curious Jalqez watched as occupants cursed in the best military brogue. In one word, the Jarlqez told them which part to check. They did, found it defective, fixed it and moved on. No one knew why the Jarlqez bothered to help, or how he knew about tank engines.
They were taller than the other Moalkans, about six feet. Skin color is a dark gray. They are slender, with hairless faces, dim eyes and only a slit for a mouth. All of them we've seen are clothed in a gray tunic.
"All clear," Lupe said, looking at her wrist. "At least for now. No bugs within radar range."
"Let's head out," I said.
Tequesta took the lead. Lupe followed. Bart walked behind me. The youngest Spacehawk leading, the oldest in back. In his deep southern twang Bart started singing. Bart usually hums old country songs. He can carry a tune so his singing is only occasionally annoying.
"Cross the Brazos at Waco.
"Ride hard, and we'll make it by dawn..."
The Jarlqez watched us but said nothing. Our base was a modular facility, built in several days by robots. It was for a number of specific functions, including providing safe haven for pilots shot down. High-tech, electronic security fields extended out five hundred yards. The field was designed to identify human genetics. We could pass through safely. Any Chinors who tried would be incinerated.
To the tune of "Brazos," we walked up a small Moalkan hill.
"You all ever hear the story about the Jarlqez?" Lupe said.
"Nope," Tequesta said.
"May be a myth, probably is, but it's interesting."
"Are they aliens, dropped on this planet by other aliens?" I said.
"No. That's not the legend," Lupe said. "The tale is that aeons ago, before the beginning of time, there was a titanic battle on this planet."
"Between who?" I asked.
"The good guys and the bad guys."
"Oh. Thanks for clarifying that."
"Anyway, the inhabitants chose up sides. Most Moalkans chose the good but, the story goes, the Jarlqez stayed neutral, perhaps too afraid to fight. Since they couldn't tell the difference between the two sides, or perhaps were too scared to do anything, they were condemned to be watchers forever. Emotionless. Forever neutral. Despised by both sides."
The bright orange Moalkan sun gave even the grass an odd hue. At times, the atmosphere would play tricks on your eyes. A person's face might look orange, then an off-shade of pink.
My left shoulder ached. The wound had never completely healed. Every step on the firm ground jolted the nerves. I winced as I walked. Sweat formed and poured down my jaw. Dark circles of sweat formed on the backs of Tequesta's and Lupe's uniforms.
"Cross the Brazos at Waco.
"We're safe when we reach San Antoine."
Tequesta stopped when we came to the crest of the hill. She pointed. When I walked to her side, I could see our robotic base.
"Still about two miles," she said.
Bart peered through his binoculars. Through those lenses, he should be able to see the dust on the doors. He looked left and right.
"Looks secure, Seb. It hasn't been breached," he said. He folded the binoculars back into his belt.
"I didn't think the Chinors could overrun it but you can't take any chances," I said.
Lupe was also scanning the horizon. "Don't see any Chinors. None on the radar scans either."
"Maybe this will be an uneventful journey," Bart said. "But I wouldn't bet on it. They knew we went down. They'll be looking for us. There have to be other Chinor patrols in the area."
I jerked when I saw the Jarlqez again. They never seem to walk, except for a couple of steps now and then. They just seem to appear. Tequesta shouted a Moalkan greeting. The Jarlqez said nothing. He did give an almost imperceptible, very quick nod. For the Jarlqez, I guess that was akin to talking a mile-a-minute. I peered out over the countryside. A nerve sent a bolt of pain to my shoulder and it rode the circulatory system around to my neck. I winced again.
"I wonder if we should have let the Chinors have this place."
Tequesta startled me with a baffled, yet angry look. "Seb, you've seen what was left of the Moalkan towns when the Chinors came."
"We've seen what was left of the Moalkans after the Chinors attacked," Bart said.
"Exactly. We couldn't let that happen to the whole planet."
I shook my head. "If it's not worth anything to us, it can't be of military value to them. With the Skellians, you could understand their planetary ambitions. When they wanted a planet, you knew why. Not with the Chinors. There is no rhyme or reason to some of the things they do."
"Evil doesn't need a reason," Bart said.
"And it hardly ever rhymes," Tequesta added.
I sighed and shook my head. "Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky."
"You're genrich. You don't get old. And you're not getting cranky," Tequesta said. "You've always been cranky."
"Oh. Thanks for sharing."
I looked toward her, but pointed at the Jarlqez. "They stand around looking like they know everything. Ask them why the Chinors are here, and if they'd like to help."
Tequesta walked a step toward our tall, gray companion and posed the question. At first, he said nothing. He stood immobile. Then, very slowly, he extended his hand and gestured toward us. The voice was deep and melodic. Tequesta turned back to look at us. "He said he can't help. Neither can any Jarlqez."
"You mean they won't."
She shook her head. "The word he used implies a type of mental and emotional paralysis. I...I don't quite know what he means, and I'm not sure I could explain it if I did."
"Then forget it. We've got other things to do." I turned toward Lupe. "Anything on the scanner."
Lupe nodded. "Nothing yet. It's all clear."
I looked at Bart. "Any pilot nearby?" He shook his head. I drank some water, then wiped the sweat from my face. "Let's go. Cautiously. Let's see if we can reach San Antoine."
We started down the hill, shoulder to shoulder this time.
"By the way Bart, what happened in that Brazos tale?"
"The guy never made it. He was killed."
"And on that optimistic note..." Lupe said.
The ground reminded me of the red clay back home. The Moalkan clay was a darker red than Calhoun County's. Chunkier too. But it allowed good footing. The landscape was spotted like a checkerboard. Dark clumps of green and gray foliage. Down one incline and up the next hill. We headed for a clump of trees that looked like it stretched almost to the base. I looked around. The Jarlqez had followed us. He stood about twenty yards to our left. Tequesta spied him too.
"You know there is something odd about him," she said.
"You mean something else odd, don't you? The guy isn't exactly one of your normal aliens," I said.
"I didn't think about it at first, but when he said he couldn't help us, he used the word 'txerleph'."
"And the reason this is important is..."
She stopped and wiped away several drops of blood from the bruise on her forehead. "That's not a generic term, like 'team' or 'platoon' or 'squadron.' It's a term of respect, almost admiration."
"Akin to warriors?" Lupe asked.
"There's a hint of that, but it doesn't suggest physical combat as much as a moral awareness."
I stopped to light a cigarette. As I lit the tobacco, I said, "Maybe he appreciates that we're trying to help his Moalkan..."
I yelled when the blast singed my side and crumpled to the ground.
"Sniper!" Bart yelled, as he fired into the trees.
Lupe and Tequesta both brought up their rifles and fired volleys. I groaned again, felt the fire in my side, and rolled to cover, leaving skin, blood and bits of my uniform on the ground. The other three joined me behind a small hill. Another blast spit into the earth.
"See where he is?" Bart said.
"No," Lupe said. "Whatever weapon he's using is soundless. Can't locate it. No flash when he fires either."
"The trees give him perfect cover too. We need somebody in the trees to get him."
Lupe squirted my wound with the military's all-purpose, antibiotic gel. It sealed the wound immediate. Tequesta ripped off her jacket to show her green t-shirt, and dropped her rifle on the ground. She kept her sidearm though, and patted the knife by her side.
"Cover me, guys," she said.
"Yes, ma'am." I said.
Our laser rifles cut branches from trees and pealed bark off trees as Tequesta zig-zagged her way into the forest. When she runs, she's faster than a road runner and can leave Wiley E. Coyote in her dust.
The earth erupted twice near us again. We fired back. A few second later, Lupe decoyed the sniper. She ran to another small mound. The blast knocked her off her feet but didn't wound her. A few seconds later we heard the eerie death cry and saw the Chinor tumble from a tree. He hit the ground and didn't move.
Bart and Lupe walked and I limped over to him.
"Unusual," I said. "Chinors fight in mass, in hordes. They overwhelm their enemy. They're not much for individualism. First time they've had a sniper."
"Maybe, they're learning," Bart said.
"That's a happy thought," I said.
Tequesta walked back and picked up her jacket and rifle. A branch had opened up the gash. Two small lines of blood ran down her jaw. We grabbed our equipment and rifles and started walking again. Bart pointed. "One more hill to climb. Our station should be at the bottom."
I groaned as I walked. Tequesta 's dog tags jangled as she moved with me. Bart hummed "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Sweat mixed with blood and emitted a tangy scent.
It took less than five minutes to get to the summit of the last hill. Three of us eased down on the ground to rest while Bart walked ahead. I stretched out on the ground. Tequesta sat next to me. She wiped away a spot of blood. Then smiled.
"Ever think you chose the wrong profession?"
"Once in a while," I said. " Then again, I don't think I could have sold insurance for a living."
"Or real estate," Tequesta said, flashing a quick smile at me. "You'd be a lousy real estate salesman."
Bart's deep bass was an octave deeper than usual. "Oh-oh."
We got up and walked toward the hill, flattening out when we came to the crest. As I looked down I saw about fifty Chinors lined up in front of the station.
"This is not good," I said.
"Darn, Seb. It's strategic thinking like that that got you promoted. You can size up a situation," Tequesta said, giving me a friendly slap on the back. "You'll be a general soon."
I turned around and saw the Jarlqez again, standing motionless against the horizon. "He is getting on my nerves."
"Forget him. We have other things to worry about. At least he's not shooting at us," Bart said.
"That is a point in his favor."
"There is hope, though," Bart said. "There's a pilot within range." He spoke quickly into his beacon.
I peered back down the valley. The Chinors had not moved. They were waiting for us.
"It's Megan," Bart said. "She's asking how things are going?"
"Tell her it's just another routine day at the office," I said.
"She says she's almost empty on ammo but does have a few care packages she can drop."
Tequesta hastily slipped into her jacket. We zipped up our suits and put our goggles on. Our uniforms are so strong we can walk through fire in them, and we would soon have to. We looked down the hill again.
"Soon as the bombs hit, we head for the base. There's one chance. We don't want to be stuck out here with other Chinor patrols."
Then we heard the hum of Megan's blue and white fighter. It roared into the valley. Tequesta turned to me. "Can you run Seb?"
"To get to our base I can do cartwheels," I said.
As Megan flew closer, a half dozen bombs dropped from the jet on the Chinors. Blasts of fire and smoke erupted, blowing a few insects high into the air. Several Chinors became pillars of fire.
"Now. Let's go."
We charged down the hill, firing as we went. The Chinors had scattered. A dozen or so were flailing in the flames. Halfway down the smoke covered us. A Chinor appeared, his gut-knife raised. I slammed the rifle butt against his face. Bart fired twice and brought down two other insects. A fiery Chinor screamed his death knell. I kicked him out of the way. Flames licked around me. Smoke blinded me for a moment, then I saw Tequesta on the ground. She quickly rose to her knees. Her knife slashed into a Chinor's leg. I fired and his head exploded.
We kept heading toward the security fence. A blast hurled me back. I crashed into Lupe. "This way," she said.
Sweat clouded my goggles, I wiped it off and saw we were within three feet of the perimeter. I looked around and saw Bart and Tequesta emerge from the smoke. Bart had a jagged, bloody wound on his shoulder. I waved at them. "Come on!"
When we crossed the perimeter it buzzed slightly. A Chinor tried to follow but exploded when he hit the line. I stumbled. When I raised up, Tequesta stood at my side, pistol in her hand. I looked up and stared at the tall, gray Jarlqez again.
He looked toward us and spoke. I didn't understand a word. The melodic voice had changed to melancholy tone.
Tequesta gave a one-word reply as she helped me up.
The gray guy kept talking but I was limping toward the door and not listening.
"Then you will never know Vcitrzel," Tequesta said.
Overall, our Moalkan walk had no military significance. It mattered to us, of course. But it was a minor skirmish. There was nothing memorable.
Except the Jarlqez's face. I can never forget it.
I had never seen a sadder expression. It was one of utter despair, of complete hopelessness.
We staggered into base, hurt and wounded, and slammed the door behind us. My arm was around Tequesta's shoulders. She helped me into the small medical chamber. Before I eased down on the bed, she took off my shirt.
"A Chinor nicked you," she told me. "On your back." She opened a medical kit and took out an ampule. "Sometimes they lace their weapons with nasty little germs. This should take care of it." I felt the vaccine flow into my skin.
Small lines of blood flowed down her face. I pointed to her wound but she merely shook her head. "I'm fine," she said.
My wounds didn't bother me, but I couldn't get the Jarlqez out of my mind.
"What was the conversation about?"
She cut some bandages. "Oh. He asked why we were helping people we didn't know. I told him agape."
When she saw my baffled look, she said. "Love, Seb." She placed a bandage over the wound in my side, then waved away a robotic medic. "I'll do this. You check him later." The black-cased medic beeped in acknowledgment and backed out of the room.
She sighed. "He said they couldn't do that...there's no love in them. They lost it long ago. So they don't help people and can't sacrifice for others."
She eased back and wiped her brow with a linen.
"So what is Vcitrzel?"
She seemed genuinely surprised I asked.
"That's the Moalkan word for joy, Seb."
© 2007 George. L. Duncan
George Duncan, with 30 years in journalism, is currently an editorial writer with the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va. His first novel, A Cold and Distant Memory, was published in 2004. A second novel, A Wine Red Silence, was published in 2007 by Capstone Fiction. For another adventure featuring the Spacehawks, this tight-knit military unit, read When the Sacred Ginmill Closes in The Sword Review. George's web site is SciFi Faith Golfer.