Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Greathites # 52 Bonus Episode # 4

365 Days and Counting
Ashley Redden


Josh Starsky halted, still as stone, at the base of the mound. After a furtive glance left, then right, he began to climb. As he prowled up the mound, his shoes made a slightly hollow ping sound with every footstep despite the heavy sound dampening screen surrounding his person. The mound upon which he climbed was composed entirely of metal, not shiny exactly, but neither was it dull. But color was not absent. Contained within the molten metal beneath his feet was every hue imaginable changing constantly, dependent upon the angle of view.
When Josh reached the summit he paused. The land that spread out before him reaching from horizon to horizon was alien in the extreme. Mound after metal mound like so many oblong fingers sat upon the sterilized land. Some mounds came larger, some smaller, but most relatively the same size. All, however, were exactly the same shape. In between each mound the ground had a black and parched look. Sterile. Burnt.
The first time he had entered this strange land, he had been awe struck by the view and the significance. Though the mounds had been quite beautiful that first time, the visage had also been exceedingly strange. Josh had since come to appreciate strange sights, and resent them. After all, this had once been a great city subsequently reduced to something out of a comic book. The city that had stood proud upon this land was named Atlanta.
Josh glanced down searching for Hutch. As if on cue, Hutch strode into view at the base of the mound upon which Josh stood. As he watched, Hutch seemed to shimmer with a haze that lingered at the edges of Josh’s vision. This haziness was the shield affect. Josh carried the same shield, but silently guessed that Hutch could see him far more clearly. He had thought about asking, but experience had taught Josh that seemingly innocent scientific questions like that could and would lead into terribly technical and lengthy answers from Hutch and his ilk. So Josh almost never asked, but often wondered.
He looked out again at the myriad of metal mounds in contemplation. No matter how many times Josh saw this sight; he was still astounded that this used to be a city. No matter the changes that he underwent, some things would always be difficult to reconcile.
The city had been slagged completely from close orbit. Hutch had explained that the weapon used on this and Earth’s other cities had actually changed the chemical composition of the metals and plastics and people and everything else that was part of the building when attacked into the solid, hill-shaped mass he now stood upon. Some were bigger, some smaller in direct relation to the size of the building prior to the attack. Mass was mass no matter what the composition, or so it had been explained. But the greatest tragedy, Josh had come to understand, was that the current state of the metal mounds was that their makeup was no longer susceptible to terrestrial chemical or physical decomposition. These mounds would stay this way forever, or long enough to make it seem so. Then again, these mounds were, after all, grave markers of a fashion. Their endurance would forever remind the survivors of the price paid by humanity when unsolicited death rained down from the heavens. The Killing of Atlanta had been the work of BPs, as had the complete destruction of every city-like structure on the planet.
As Josh began his descent, he glanced down again and smiled, good old Hutch. Of course, Hutch wasn’t his companion’s real name, but a private joke that belonged to Josh alone. Hutch wasn’t even human, but a Pip. The surviving humans called Hutch’s race Pips because the name started with that sound then slid into something gravelly and scratchy that nothing yet sprung from the bowels of Mother Earth could pronounce. But people could say Pip, so that was that.
Pips were mainly humanoid in structure, though they looked more like one of Star Trek’s Borg had stepped out of the screen and began assimilation. As a species, they had altered their biology so that perhaps as much as fifty percent of their mass was integrated electronics.
Pips came in a myriad of colors, mostly different shades of green or blue, though all were muted.
Their bearing was aristocratic in stature and approach. Pips were a study on measured deliberate action. They absolutely never jumped the gun.
“Yeah,” he thought, “Me and Hutch make a great team. All that’s missing is the red and white Gran Torino.” But there were no gas combustion engines on Earth any longer. Just cranking one up would get a person fused. Fused being short for fusion bomb, which was short for signora sister hope your friends enjoy the fallout. The joke remained private. Josh doubted that there was still anyone left alive that even remembered the antiquated television show much less appreciated the joke.
Hutch never went onto the mounds unless absolutely necessary. He would never break cover as Josh did with such frequent abandon. When asked, Hutch always said something about detection from above and being fried. He was right of course, but humans weren’t known for always making rational decisions. That was why Josh was at the top of the mound and Hutch was at the bottom. The human component of the team took chances, Pips didn’t. They were like a yin and yang balancing act. Besides, Josh climbed these mounds every chance he got and the fire had still not rained down from the sky. Personally, Josh strongly suspected that if there were any chance at all of detection; Hutch would never let him climb to the top of even one mound, much less hundreds. More likely, Hutch stayed at the bottom to conserve resources. Pips were pragmatic that way, humans not so much.
Josh and Hutch had become elite among the operative teams. They were very good at what they did, searching out and eliminating threats. Almost exclusively BPs were the target. The BPs made frequent forays into the allies’ territory. Humans, along with their Pip allies had claimed and now defended what used to be considered the old south of the United States. As matter of point, the allies’ territory was still referred to as the states. The BPs, which stood for Bad Pips, held the ground above the old South and on up.
As Josh reached the bottom of the mound and strode purposefully to the next, he remembered the end of the world as he knew it. About a year ago, the population of the Earth had been bumping along pretty good. Humanity was just coming into stride in the twenty first century and preparing to march into the twenty second when the BPs arrived. The first documented interstellar visitor to the third planet from the sun came with no warning or fanfare.
The BPs popped into the orbit, silent and loathing in their sleek symmetrical craft. Then within one standard day of detection, they began to annihilate the populous areas of the planet. Three weeks later the rest of the Pip fleet showed up and all hell broke loose, full fledged galactic civil war. The pitiful human survivors of the BP’s initial eradication campaign were like ants scurrying beneath the feet of brawling titans. Though bitterly contested by both sides, the war lasted about one week.
All the Pips, good and bad, had made a one-way trip and neither group was willing to risk extermination. The Pips don’t volunteer much information on where they came from. The ships they were on were something of generational vessels.
The Pip fleet had been in transit so long that their origins had become something of a religion to them either by accident or intentionally. The actual facts had been lost or obscured into more of a fairytale form. One thing was for certain, the Pips were here to stay.
Society on the fleet had split into a dual class system during their long voyage. One group was fanatical, elitist in their strict and severe beliefs. The BPs would have the Earth for themselves, period.
The other group, humanities allies, was made up of more moderate thinking individuals. This group contained almost all of the artists and Pip philosophers within the fleet. Eventually, the two separated to different ships alienating the population further by not only beliefs but physicality also. It turned out that Pips were a lot like humans, some come equipped with conscience, and some don’t.
The BPs managed to arrive at Earth earlier than our Pip allies. Our Pips have never explained how the BPs managed that, but whatever it was that the BPs did seemed to seal the breach between the two separate societies. Humanity learned these facts only after the pro-humanity Pips had contacted and joined the remaining humans. Had our allies been even one to two years later arriving, humanity may well have slipped into extinction quietly without ever seeing the face of our murders.
South America was a wash, being too irradiated for human or Pip survival. This continent was heavily damaged during the first days of the Pip civil war. The BPs had set up command deep in South America initially after arriving on planet. Our Pip allies had launched a preemptive strike not long after which led to open war and the fouling of that great land. In the end, an uneasy, unspoken truce had been established but not before irreparable damage to the Southern American Continent had occurred.
Eventually, Josh knew they would have to make contact with any surviving members of the human race holding out elsewhere on the planet, but for the time being, securing and holding the Southern United States was enough of a challenge.
The primary mission of the operative teams was to locate and destroy any BP infiltrators into the States. The land was vast, but the pro-human Pips were expert at detection of their erstwhile brethren.
“Can it have only been one year since the BPs arrived,” thought Josh shaking his head as he topped the next metal mound.
He sighed audibly while thinking, “what a year this has been.” Josh thought of how different humanity and especially himself was now after just one year of occupation. He remembered most of the movies made in the last decades depicting invasions by aliens where the populace of Earth would rise up heroically and crush the galactic invaders through some magnificent technology or sheer chutzpah. Pride, it seemed, was a very bitter pill to swallow indeed. Still shaking his head, Josh headed down the mound towards the red blip that blinked in the virtual map haloed in his right eye.
Hours later, Josh and Hutch had eased into an overgrown thicket and taken cover, some forty or so feet from the enemy. Three BPs were busying themselves with several pieces of equipment unknown to Josh in a small opening within the thicket near a dry streambed. Josh and Hutch watched, prone on a slight rise above the natural bank of the washed out dry creek. They waited patiently for the team to split up, neither spoke, neither needed to. Pips were anything if not predictable, though Hutch’s people were becoming much less so with the help of humanity whether they wanted to or not. One cannot sleep with the dogs and not get fleas as they say.
Shortly, one of the BP crew picked up a piece of equipment, a bulbous matte green device, rasped something at his fellows and walked across the creek, over the bank and out into the woods. Though still somewhat thick, here the original forest had been ignored when the thicket area had been cleared, perhaps several years ago. Josh and Hutch watched him go. That left two BPs, a number much more manageable for the team.
Josh made eye contact with his companion, and then watched as Hutch closed his eyes and frowned in concentration. It had taken Josh some time to recognize any expression upon the Pip’s aquiline features. Unlike humanity, Pips had very little muscle mass on their faces. They made the absolute best poker players. Josh knew that Hutch was siphoning off and cancelling the BP’s shields, though he had absolutely no idea how such an act was performed. He had found out from other Pips that Hutch was considered something of a great artist at removing shielding without the owner’s knowledge.
Hutch sat frowning for perhaps two minutes before again making eye contact with Josh. This was the preordained signal that the enemy was without personal protection and, more importantly, unaware of their current predicament.
Carefully, moving with the caution and care of an alert predator, Josh raised one of two loaded crossbows. These were the only weapons taken by operatives within a klick of the enemy. The crossbows and bolts were made the old way, by technicians that had the knowledge and skill to craft such a simple deadly weapon. A group of medieval weapons junkies had been out of pocket during the attacks. This simple occurrence had been a tremendous boon to the allies while seeking undetectable weaponry.
The BP’s technology was awesome in itself. And though they feared and loathed Hutch’s people and their talents, the BPs looked upon humanity with considerable disdain thinking them little more than animals.
Josh leveled the crossbow sight upon the farther of the two BPs, calmed himself and squeezed the trigger. The BP in the crosshairs looked down in disbelief as a feathered stick seemed to spring from his abdomen. He blinked twice then fell dead. As the dead enemy’s companion gazed down dumbly, Josh brought up the second crossbow with a quick steady hand, aimed and fired. The second enemy looked at his side, directly in the Pip equivalent of a human heart, and was able to move his left hand to the bolt before he too fell like a stone, dead when he hit the ground.
Josh quickly reloaded the two crossbows and waited. Hutch sprang up, ran down the bank, leaned over what looked to Josh to be a square table and dropped a small cube into a machine resting there. He then grabbed both the dead BPs by their perspective legs and moving with the quick efficiency that Josh had come to associate with his partner, pulled them up to and past his previous position. Pips, BPs and allies alike, had augmented much of their physical form giving them considerably more strength than their human equivalents.
Hutch returned and after again laying down, pulled another cube out and began to rasp into the device. Josh heard a rasping reply, but Hutch spoke no more. He immediately closed his eyes, the frown was back. Josh wasn’t sure how close Hutch had to be to strip the enemy’s shields, but he’d watched enough to know that it worked at some distance. The third BP reentered the small clearing, crossed the creek and walked straight to the square table. Once there, he picked up the cube and concentrated. Hutch opened his eyes; Josh caught the look and let loose another bolt. The third enemy fell just as quietly, and dead, as the two previous. The same procedure was applied to the BP captain luring him from the ship to the small clearing again with the same result, clean and efficient.
Within hours Hutch’s people were on the scene destroying the evidence and securing the ship. It was of the upmost importance that the BPs not discover the current strategy of the allies. They would probably wise up eventually to the scheme, but for now mystery was power.
Hutch spent several minutes in raspy chatter with the work crew leader, and then approached Josh.
“Very good job Josh,” spoke Hutch with only a slight gravelly tone.
“Thanks,” responded Josh. “You did a pretty good job yourself.”
Hutch nodded one time then moved off, back the way they’d come. Josh wasn’t sure how much language was exchanged when the Pips got to rasping and snarling at each other, but when they spoke an Earth tongue; their verbiage was almost always to the point and brief.
The crew would go back in their ships, the one they brought and the one that Josh and Hutch had just procured. The operatives, however, would still hoof it back. Such was the life of a grunt. Josh smiled. It was after all a life, something now appreciated above all. Possible extinction tends to open one’s eyes to gratitude for present.
Josh would be turning fifty-five next week. Though unsure how far he would go forward, figuratively speaking, he was quite sure of how far he’d come. And to think, it’s been only one year. With this thought lingering in his fore brain, Josh set out after his alien companion. Even though Josh and Hutch may have been born beneath different stars, come what may, they would remain brothers-at-arms for as long as he had the strength to go on.
Still smiling, Josh Starsky caught up to his Pip companion and together the operative team made their way back towards the once great city of Atlanta and to home beyond.