A Battleground Muse
by Robert Stephenson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The notebook screen dulled so as not to give off too much light in the camp. She wrote a bland report on the ambush and embellished their victory for the data hounds that lived about the spaceport. You won’t find one of their cowardly arses out on the line, she thought as she signed off on the report.
Except for the sentries, the rest of the unit slept. The eerie silence of the night never ceased to unnerve her. Green Haven might have looked a bit like Earth, but it wasn’t. There was absolutely no nightlife: nothing larger than a finger-sized insect, that is.
But the night was the time for borer slugs; thin, blood-coloured strips with the ability to eat through cheap boots and sleep mats. That was another reason she didn’t feel like sleeping. She sat, knees up to her chin, and feet on her pack watching in the dim light the small breaks in the ground as borers came up in search of food.
In the cavern of darkness, I wait, naked and expectant. My lover, a mystery, and a secret is on his way to me. I touch myself and shudder at the thought of his hands burning hot against my skin, their touch pure pleasure beyond the attempt of words. I give him release, I lick his wounds and kiss his eyes into sleep. I am but a moment in his dreams. A dim light against his darkness. — Charlette Thorn, Field Observer, Private Diary
“Observer,” Corporal Juna said, waking her from sleep. She sat up and rubbed her lower back. She’d slept after all. With some surprise, she noted her sleep mat had been unfurled for her. “You’d fallen asleep sitting up,” he said, as if that explained everything.
He nodded and moved to join the forming column of soldiers. The captain came over and squatted before her. “No time for the morning meal,” he said abruptly. “Clakkers passed us last night and will be waiting in ambush.”
“Then why the rush?” She clicked the roll switch on the mat and then stuffed it into her pack.
“Clakkers that march through the night are slow at sunrise, if we make a break now, we might get them while they’re still warming.” He stood and helped her up.
“But this isn’t—”
“It never shows in reports because we don’t want it known,” he said, keeping his voice level and cold. “We get complacent out here, and soon Clakkers will be all over the spaceport.”
She didn’t understand, but it sounded like another one of those odd, in the field, military decisions that actually saved lives. She lifted the pack and swung it across her shoulders. With notebook firmly in hand, she set out.
The spaceport still lay a little over a half a day’s march away. Not the spaceport itself but the first point of pickup for flyers. Clakkers might have been primitive and bug-like in many respects but they damn well knew how to jam communications and tracking gear.
As they marched through long grass and reedy growth, she could make out the top of Kass’s helmet three rows ahead. With an effort, she managed to pick up her pace and catch up with him before they had traveled a kilometre.
“Morning, Corporal,” she said, hoping her voice carried enough cheer to make him smile.
“Morning, Observer,” he said amiably but didn’t smile. “How are the reports?”
“Bland, as always,” she said, typing in new glyphs to describe the march.
“But the skirmish?”
“Not allowed to say too much about it, other than we were victorious against overwhelming numbers.”
“You are an Observer,” he said with childlike surprise, not the usual outcry from a soldier in full battle gear. “Are you not bound by truth in your code? Do you not record all you observe?”
She felt as if a glob of yellow bug guts were sitting in her stomach. Observers were not really tellers of all things truthful. “There are certain types of truths that cannot be known, Corporal.” She reached out and touched his arm. He looked down with a deep crease across his forehead.
“What have you said of the battle?” he asked, face now hard, stony and eyes sharp.
“I can’t tell you.” She looked away, unable to hide the shame. “That is my code.”
“So no one will know of the bravery, our sacrifice in getting you back with the reports?”
The grass thinned and the ground became hillier as they approached an outcrop of trees. The sun was now a full disk just above the horizon.
She looked at the young man, her muse. “All will know of the bravery against the Clakkers, but no one will know of the losses, the real cost.” She knew she’d said too much but it was too late, she’d crossed her own line of contact.
“Then we do this for a lie?” he sounded dejected.
“You do this for the survival of our race.” She touched his arm again. No point going back now. “We need this continent, Hendrix. We need this land.” She made the pause more pronounced by softening her voice. “We need women and men like you to take it for us.”
As the rocks grew larger and the ground hillier, she took the slower pace as a good time to open her notebook and type in some background detail of the region and the soldiers. She used Hendrix as a model for the strength of their group, but she left out the personal doubts.
She had just closed the book and slid it into her sling when a swarm of Clakkers burst from the trees to her right. The troops had been prepared for such an eventuality, but the noise the Clakkers made was beyond any she had heard in the fields. They were banging their swords against their chests as they ran towards the unit.
“Down!” Hendrix yelled, pushing her to her knees and behind a large boulder. Pulling his long knife free, the dejected corporal ran forward into the mass, screaming, trying to match the crescendo of the Clakkers.
With fingers tapping furiously over glyphs and trying to keep hidden from the skirmish, she captured the brutal slashings of the corporal’s blade as it cut open guts and lopped off heads. Men and women screamed as Clakker swords found their marks.
Two soldiers joined her behind the rock. One watching forward, one behind. She was to be protected above all else. Through a crack in the rock, she watched the soldiers slash and dance in blood. She looked at her pad and began to type.
He wields with strength where others would merely struggle. His shoulders, wide, carry the hopes not only of his people but of his lover, hiding, waiting to be taken into his arms and used as a weapon of love. But could she draw him out of the well of war? Could she smooth the creases of the pain in his face? She sighed and hoped... just hoped. — Charlette Thorn, Field Observer, “Clakker Confrontation: Regis,” unofficial entry
Copyright © 2017 by Robert Stephenson