A Battleground Muse
by Robert Stephenson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
In such beauty, I see the glistening colours of flowers and love, of life and beginning, and of an ending dark embrace. — Charlette Thorn, Field Observer, Private Diary
Is he my muse? she thought as she watched Hendrix hack into another warrior. Blood gushed as she tapped in the glyphs on her notebook. The screen’s blue light was strange in the haze of morning.
From her position, high in a tree, she had a good view of the battle; though in the manner of all things on this barbarous planet, it was actually a small skirmish with several thousand Clakkers. The three hundred human soldiers on their way home from the front had fought through several skirmishes in the last few days. Three encounters with death and three with her muse.
Corporal Kass slashed up then down with his long, yellow-stained blade, driving back every attack with brute strength. The kind of strength she dreamed about her waist but minus the blade and minus the entrails that hung from his armour.
She captured the killing in glyph after glyph, even managing to save some memory for selected sound bytes and some vision. All the recorded takes were of the corporal. She’d have to explain this later, but already an argument on positioning began to form in her mind.
The Clakkers, named such for their incessant noise when agitated, were beaten. Well, not really defeated, but more like discouraged from the fight by the stink of their own insides. Kass wore plenty of it over his green and scarred metal suit.
The black sea of Clakkers, their small wings helplessly flapping — clakking — on their backs, disappeared back into the forest that edged her protective unit’s chosen pathway back to their human camp. To her, the Clakkers resembled very large head-lice, and she was often corrected on this fact when superiors checked her reports from the front. They insisted the species had an unidentifiable uniqueness.
Where she saw icky, blood-sucking mandibles on a head so black that it competed with the night, the scientists saw intelligent eyes, proboscises, and almost human facial expressions. To her, they didn’t have a face to express with. In keeping with the standard military line, she wrote what they wanted to read; she would satisfy herself with softer portrayals.
“Ya can drop down, miss,” the captain of the unit said. “Corporal! Help Observer Charlette down, will ya?”
“Sir!” Hendrix Kass said, marching over and reaching two insect-bloodied arms up at her.
This was not the first contact situation she had envisaged with the man. She turned off the notebook and tucked it into its sling. Taking care not to catch the sling on any branches, she dropped from the tree into the sticky and stinky mess of Clakker guts. She held back rising bile while memorizing Kass’s strength.
“Thank you, Corporal,” she said as he helped her stand. “You fought well.”
“Stinking Clakkers; no brain, no reason.” He offered a half-smile, but it carried weariness. “I just kept swinging until they stopped coming.” He looked over to the yellow-stained group. Amongst the stains were also pools and splashes of red: human blood. “We lost a few,” he said. “Make sure you get all their names in the report please, Observer.” With that, he turned and marched off to help his comrades.
Across his shoulders sits a world on edge and a heart full of the need to love. Such passion is kept in check by the demands of strength and leadership. I reach and want. Love and lust for those lips to touch mine and quell the cries. Smother the lies. — Charlette Thorn, Field Observer, Private Diary
“What are you writing?” the captain asked.
“Oh, nothing,” she said snapping the notebook closed. “Ah, do you have the list of the lost men and women?” With the movements of a girl caught doing something wrong, she pushed loose strands of hair back under her helmet.
“Something wrong?” he asked. To her it looked like the captain thought her odd behaviour was for him.
“No... I mean yes,” she said. “You were meant to deliver me safely to the camp and the spaceport.” She pointed to the mess of a battle. “But this! I suggested the open fields to the west could have been safer.”
“Are you dead?” He looked more tired than annoyed.
“No.” She watched as Hendrix picked up someone’s head and then kicked aside a Clakker body while looking for the rest of the soldier.
“Then don’t complain, Observer. You have ordering power, but I ask you not to use it here. To the west are sulfur swamps, and our suit filters are three days past critical.” The captain looked to his unit. “I don’t want to lose any more of my people if I can help it.”
“I understand, Captain and, as I said when I pulled your unit from the front for an escort, I will not invoke my rank in this, rest assured.”
The captain stared at her for a moment before turning away to leave her to the musings of her soul and to the writing of the official report. The captain hadn’t offered any names, but she could see it wasn’t going to be a short list.
* * *
The camp perimeter glowed a vibrant blue as it radiated heat to keep Clakkers and other creatures at bay. The only two dangerous creatures on or near this continent were a Deep Swimmer, which lived in the planet’s one, salty sea, and the OxShark. The name said it all, but it never ventured near humans, Clakkers were its main source of food.
I gaze at the stars and see his eyes bright against the depth of his life. In his face, restful and full of loving peace, I see the future of embrace and kiss; the many moments of holding hands and whispers. Here, I still see the boy, fresh and unharmed. — Charlette Thorn, Field Observer, Private Diary
She didn’t have time to close the notebook, so hoped the soldier couldn’t read her glyphs. She looked up from where she sat on her pack against a tree.
“Your list.” It was Corporal Kass. He held in one hand a silver data tab, the other crossed his chest lightly in an informal salute.
“Thank you, Corporal.” She took the tab but stared at him. His armoured uniform had dark patches where he’d washed off as much of the blood and guts as he could. “Would you care to join me?”
He frowned and made no move to sit.
“I would be happy for you to sit with me and talk,” she said, indicating the flattened grassed area beside her.
“I am on watch, Observer.” Kass walked off, his blade hanging deadly at his side and a hand blaster nestled high on the hip. She touched her own blaster, but it brought no comfort. The weapons were useless in battle; they could not cope with the continuous energy flow needed to stop a horde of Clakkers. The long blade was far better. Clakkers carried a sword-type weapon, but they were not well adept with these. What they lacked in skill they more than made up with numbers.
She wished she had a long knife. She’d barely be able to lift the half-metre long, serrated blade, but the fact of it hanging at her side would be some comfort.
The captain had said before setting out that the only good use for a blaster was on yourself. Should the Clakkers capture you and unless you really wanted to be food for their deep nests of nibbling young, a blast to the head would save you the screams.
Copyright © 2017 by Robert Stephenson