Monday, March 22, 2010

Locusts

The old oak door splintered into a dozen or more fragments in painfully slow motion, each major section tumbling or spiralling away into the hazy murk of the strobe-disturbed night.  The boy held his hands to his bleeding ears and could understand nothing that the adults were screaming at him.  Uncle Cledru stood up defiantly, outraged at whomever had destroyed the door that he'd carved personally.  He shook his fists and his chest erupted into red mist.  Uniformed men, soldiers from some unknown army, burst into the old house.  There were a few sporadic flashes, each one causing a peculiar buzzing sensation on his skin.  Then they were roughly man-handling him and marching him out of the door.  He struggled vainly, being only a small boy and no match for the soldiers.  Looking back at the corpses of his family shocked the fight right out of him.  He grew suddenly cold, alone and very afraid.

It had been winter.  He had turned four earlier that autumn.  His family had been in the midst of their preparations to attend the Solstice Fair in Admeth.  He had only just gotten to be the one who placed the holly wreath on the door to their home in acknowledgement of the Holly-King's seasonal ascendency, which they were to celebrate with mulled cider, roast venison and much dancing and laughter amongst their family, friends and neighbors.  Only it never happened.  In fewer minutes than it takes to tell of it, the locusts had destroyed another family, despoiled another homestead, and abducted still more children whom they considered recruits.

The boy was rudely thrust into a cluster of other children roughly his age or a little older.  All of them were in shock, though a few were crying and one in particular just stood there watching everything with the cold, black eyes of a killer-in-the-making.  She had the distinctive look of someone with telpar ancestry.  He being of dryanni extraction didn't seem to bother her.  For some reason he felt more comfortable standing nearer to her than to the rest.  For her part, she did not reject him.  She was hard and sharp, he was cold and empty.  They formed a wordless bond that saw them through the often brutal and harsh military training that their takers put them through.  They survived.  They mastered the skills and the drills that they were forced to learn under pain of maiming, dismemberment or death.  Unlike most of their comrades, they wore their scars on the inside, for the most part.

Death hovered always on the periphery all the days of their training and indoctrination.  The instructors yelled, swore and did everything they could to break their spirts, crack open their defenses, reprogram their hearts and minds.  Most succumbed.  Not them.  Together they gave one another a kind of strength that silently reinforced their resolve, their mutual determination.  They were beaten for their insolence, threatened for their disobedience, and punished cruelly and often for their stubbornness, despite being the best pupils, the most accomplished recruits, the most promising of soldiers to matriculate from the camps of their taskmasters.

Day-in and day-out they were constantly told that they were unworthy of the uniform that they were expected to win as though it were some prize.  There was constant pressure to cave-in, to conform, to capitulate and let the instructors win, to allow themselves to be broken and remolded.  But they were too smart for their trainers in their silent conspiracy of two determined children who had quickly grown to adolesence.  They learned the fine art of subversion and sarcasm, the ancient tricks of military life that have never changed in a million years, how to scam a superior, evade responsibility, misdirect the attention of officers, and more.  They rose through the ranks, becoming trainees, squad leaders, platoon-leadres, cadets, probationary non-comms, eventually assistant instructors.

They had proven themselves worthy of the uniform.  They had been embraced and assimilated into the ranks of an army that fought what to all appearances seemed to be an unwinnable, endless war.  To all intents and purposes they were committed to the cause.  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

One night, a warm summer night with a slight drizzle, they were awakened from their bunks and rounded-up to hitch-along with a locust-team.  To serve on such a mission was regarded a mark of honor and one's position on such a team was determined by a blind lottery.  They had won the lottery. 

The gray-overalled support-technicians got their team sorted out and the armourer made sure that they were properly equipped and armed for their destination.  They stood on the bare concrete pad of the Interface Zone and awaited their final orders.  The signal came through.  Lights flashed, claxons sounded and the boiling fractal mass of the temporary transitional aperture tore into existence and back out again like the bleeding wound in space that it was--and they scrambled through the thing with impeccable precision.

The otherside of the Interface Zone was a courtyard under a blazing red sun.  Hand-painted murals worked into the smooth adobe walls stretched off in every direction.  Wordlessly they hung back, making a show of punctilliously examining the perimeter for possible conflicts.  The rest of the team began hammering at doors, tossing strobe-bombs through apertures and windows, releasing yellow confusion-gas into the area, and the collection of a new round of recruits was underway.

Only this time things went differently.  The screams began almost as if on cue.  The two ideal students, themselves recruits collected in just such a raid, with the screams of their own families still burning hotly in their memories, checked their weapons one last time then strode purposefully and professionally right into the midst of their comrades and systematically killed every last one of them as though executing fish in a barrel.  Without so much as a single word, not the least warning or hint of treachery, the two killed their entire team.

But the transitional aperture was still open.  Another team could--would--follow in short order to capture or kill the traitors.  But they were apt pupils.  While she watched over his efforts, the boy, now a young man went to the swirling maelstrom of aggrieved space-time and began the process of closing the aperture down.  Being a momentary derangement of abstract mathematics, the aperture could never be re-opened in the same place twice.  They both knew this.  Indeed they had counted on it.  Both of them had trained extensively in the full repertoire of skills expected of their profession, but of the two of them he possessed a more developed talent for teleportational mechanics, so it fell to him to shut things down.

Everything would have gone perfectly if only someone from the otherside hadn't lobbed through a phase-state grenade just as Aesic shut the aperture down.  It took three local months for him to recover from his injuries.  His hands, as well as some of his internal structures had been inverted or turned backwards by the weird vortex-effects of the unstable aperture as it shut down and the grenade detonated simultaneously.

When he awoke from his coma, she was gone.  She had left a note for him, a small slip of discolored paper upon which she had scrawled 'Welcome to the Revolution.'

He laughed until he grew hoarse and then collapsed into a fitful slumber.

When he awoke once more, he burned his uniform and the note, thanked the locals for watching over him -- which they were most happy to do in light of his having defended them from the locust team -- and set off for Aegron, the world of his birth and the beginning of a new life as a revolutionary, though he wasn't exactly sure just what that meant.  He knew that he would learn soon enough.

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