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Escaping: Arrivers Part 1


Escaping: Arrivers Part 1


John K. Patterson


Shakespir Edition


Copyright 2017 John K. Patterson

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

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“Carter, are you sure you do not want to talk?” Rousseau’s words crackle through the headset, ignored. Sergeant Tobias Carter listens for orders as he marches through the corridor, rifle in hand. His coat’s sleeves and hem brush the narrow metal walls.

He has to squint as the door slides open, blue sunlight hitting him like a hot wave on the wind-whipped platform. Imposing cliffs and towers of rock flow past the retreating battlecraft. The rear deck is pockmarked by plasma scoring, black scars that had ruined the Aphrodite in her retreat from the city. She is meant to be the closest thing to the law this far from Earth, but the lookout nooks and gun turrets are piles of slag, still smoking. Without him and his rifle, the rear of the ship is helpless against attack.

“I can say a prayer for you,” Rousseau says. Tobias hopes the reverend will just assume the line has been broken and go back to sick bay, or tend to the few refugees they were able to rescue.

He remembers all the other large battlecraft lilting away from the city, only to be crippled and destroyed like the ungainly colossi they were. He peers around, inspecting the portside flank of the dark green warship. Some armor plates and reinforced windows are gone, blown away when their companion fighter caught a rocket and exploded. Tobias can see half-rooms, walls without floors. Lamp fixtures and tables cling to walls as if hanging on for dear life. The edges of the jagged breach tear into the wind and make it scream.

Aphrodite has to be hauling across the landscape at nearly a hundred kilometers an hour, judging by how quickly the spindly rock formations pass him by. Far below, he hears bare struts from the bottom deck scraping the desert, leaving straight trenches in sand and packed earth. He could follow them all the way back to Alden, where the invaders had soundly defeated them half an hour ago. The occasional piece of debris breaks off and skitters to a halt in one of the grooves.

“Carter, I know you’re there,” Rousseau says gently. Again, Tobias ignores him. How can the man see any point in prayer, considering what they’ve seen today?

Under the wind, he hears the staccato clacks of a ruined engine. How much longer until the ship’s antigrav dies out, and they’ll be grounded for good? Tarcryss is an unforgiving planet, never mind its invaders.

“Poor girl’s falling apart,” he mutters, trying to convince himself of the reality. He knows the ones who destroyed Alden won’t give up easily. They have to be trailing the ship all the way from the city. Arrivers, as people call them, don’t leave loose ends as they move from settlement to settlement, and three hundred people running for their lives on a battlecraft is quite a loose end.

He hefts the steel-sheathed plasma rifle, a remnant of his last job. It’s the one thing he took from home. More wind pours from behind him, flaring the lapels on his navy blue trench coat. He feels himself pushed toward a gap that has been blown into the railing. He plants his feet and closes his eyes, wanting to wish he was home. But Earth is light years away, and gave him too many scars while he was there.

“Tobias, listen to me.” Rousseau’s words, tinted with a French accent, carry a smoothness which even the comm set’s crackles don’t extinguish. He’s speaking from the small chapel in the ship’s core, most likely, a little alcove between the bridge and the mess hall. “Since you’re the only rear gunman they could spare, I thought you may change your mind.”

Tobias helps himself to a smile, a luxury on a once-proud battlecraft hovering through the desert in hasty retreat. He may be among the surviving half of the ship’s crew limping to the next city over, but that leaves no room to be happy.

Rousseau wouldn’t leave Carter alone when he first arrived, so why would anything change now? With reluctance, the young man presses the button on his headset. “No thanks, Reverend. Still don’t think any angels are gonna swoop down and lend a hand. If a prayer calms your nerves, help yourself.”

The steel of the plasma rifle grows colder, or so it seems through the bandages on his hands. Cold even seeps into his coat, which still reeks of his own blood and the antiseptic over his dressed lacerations and burns.

“Tobias, I wonder,” says Rousseau in the tone that foreshadows his sermons, “did you ever hear the old saying back on Earth, ‘There’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole’?”

Now Tobias chuckles, indulging himself. He lets the laughs pour out until he feels deflated, wondering if it’s the last good feeling he’ll have. The Arriver attack reminded him he could die any of a thousand deaths here, on the back of a steel beast under an alien sun.

“Sorry, Reverend. Aphrodite doesn’t look much like a foxhole.” Doesn’t the man have wounded who need last rites, or refugees who could use some comfort? Why does the reverend want to bother him?

“That’s beside the point. I know a broken man when I see him, Tobias. What happened? Why refuse to even consider that there might be someone watching out for you?”

He sighs, picturing Rousseau leaning toward the microphone, just like in the sermons he’d overheard or occasionally spied on.

No matter how far he runs from what happened on Earth, it’s always just within reach. Ready to sink its teeth into him like he’s fresh meat.

“A little girl died,” Tobias says after a long silence. “That’s why. I never told you that.”

It’s a good ten seconds before the reverend speaks again. “Would you at least like to pass on the story?”

A year seems to go by before Tobias opens his mouth, words almost dying on his chapped lips in the desert heat.

“Three years ago. Back when I was a beat cop on Earth. That was when. The force tracked down one of those real creeps. The kind I wish there was a hell for. He went after little girls. The detectives figured out his latest victim. I was on the same block they tracked him to, so they called me up. I heard screams. Ran in.”

His grip on the rifle loosens, its barrel tilting to the damaged deck. He gulps air, smells smoke from the laboring engines.

“I prayed, Reverend. Prayed she’d still have a pulse. When I got there….” A knot takes shape in his throat, wrapping around his windpipe like someone is strangling him from the inside. He hopes the captain will interrupt with some orders, so he has an excuse to recall nothing more.

Nothing comes across the other line. Not even Rousseau offering some platitude or cliché. That night on Earth repeats, plays in his head like a movie. The knot only loosens when he decides to keep going.

“He didn’t just kill her, Rousseau. He did things…things I didn’t know a human being could think of.” He can feel the venom building inside. “She was six, Rousseau. Six!”

More of the maddening silence. The reverend’s sympathetic voice floats through the headset at last. “So what did you do?”

“The only thing I could. Used the very same gun I’m holding. I shattered every bone in him. Then I fired a round, decorated the wall with half his head.” A bitter laugh shoots out before he bites down on it. “They told me it was excessive force.” He shakes his head. “No worse than he deserved.”

“Was that why you got kicked off-planet? Why you joined up with the Aphrodite?”

He grits his teeth, shoving the questions aside. “Answer this, reverend. What kind of God lets that slip by him? You think he’s going to give a damn about me when he couldn’t bother to keep a little girl alive? Or what about today? Sure, we rescued a few. For now. But what about all the others who burned alive trying to reach us?!”

Another few seconds drift past without a word.

“I wish I had an answer for you, Tobias. Truly I do.” Tobias can hear grief in his words.

A twinge of sorrow pulls on him. This could be Rousseau’s last day, too. He shouldn’t take it out on him. Not now.

Tobias’s shoulders drop. Only now does he notice his tears. The wind rips them off his eyes and casts them into the ship’s wake.

There’s a hollow click on the comm set. Another line cuts off Rousseau. Right away Tobias knows who is interrupting, and why.

“Calling Carter. Are you there?” Captain Thacker’s crisp words slice through the bellowing wind like a lightning strike.

“Go ahead, sir,” Tobias says.

“We got incoming. Two Arriver drones, taking flight to the south. The unmanned ones, faster than hell. Looks like they’re going to try and flank us. They’ll come after that hole in our side and burn us from the inside out.” He pauses. “Only the front guns haven’t been blown apart yet. We’re using every other man to hold this ship together. You ready to be a good shot again, Carter?”

Clicking the gun’s power switch and feeling it charge up in his hands, Tobias is suddenly back in today’s war. “Yes, sir. Standing by for visual confirmation.”

He dries an eye and squints through the black scope, picking apart the crags and spires and outcroppings of the desert for signs of the aircraft, working past the blue star’s glare. His shoulders grow tired, as if the surviving crew and a hundred refugees in the cargo hold weigh him down. Minutes lumber on without giving him a target.

Then Tobias sees them. Black cuts in the air, gliding vultures that sweep over a small mountain and bank straight for the Aphrodite.

Before Tobias can even line up his first shot, bolts of white plasma strike the platform and the bulkhead behind him. Sparks gush up around the metal scaffolding.

Growling, he chokes down his panic and fires his response.

The drones are too quick. Their dodges turn them in opposite directions, then they regroup and resume firing. The air lights up like the ship is exploding underneath him. He expects one of their bolts to hit home and burn him right through the chest, but he keeps firing away, yelling as he pounds the trigger like a madman. He swivels the long barrel to try and lead the targets, every new second of his life bought on their inaccuracy.

One of his rounds finally catches a drone on the wing. Smoke and metal splinters spit from the wound, and the aircraft veers down. It skips on the uneven terrain before it blasts apart into shrapnel and billowing smoke.

The other one keeps pelting the deck, kicking up a blizzard of sparks. Tobias’s shot punches it in the fuselage. The drone banks hard, rips to pieces in midair.

Tobias lowers the gun.

He’s alive.

“Targets down. Ha! Targets down!”

Looking side to side, he feels his skin go cold, despite the feeling that he’s cocooned in heat. Heat that rises from the new wounds in Aphrodite’s hide. All the way to the platform’s edges on his right and left, and on the bulkhead above him, the armor is riddled with craters that bleed molten metal, trickling in slow rivulets. Not a single square foot is left to stand on. His shoes would melt if he tried.

But directly under and behind him, the metal is undamaged. The door stands there, spotless, waiting for him to walk back in. Not a single hole smolders on his coat or sizzles his flesh. He’s unmarred. Intact.

He presses the button on his headset, holding it for a moment as he gropes for the right words. Any words.

“Reverend? Do you…uh, you got a minute?”




Thank you for taking the time to read my short story. The next installments of Arrivers are available on Amazon Kindle, if you would like to continue reading. Feel free to leave a review, especially if you would recommend it to others.


Thank you again!


John K. Patterson

Escaping: Arrivers Part 1

The battlecraft Aphrodite is the only ship to survive an attack by the vicious Arrivers. Now it drags across a desert on the planet Tarcryss, damaged and with half its crew dead. Sergeant Tobias Carter is the only man available to defend the ship from pursuers. He is convinced no one is coming to help them. Even the ship's reverend cannot convince him to have hope. And the Arrivers are catching up....

  • ISBN: 9781370766895
  • Author: John K. Patterson
  • Published: 2017-02-06 20:50:10
  • Words: 2118
Escaping: Arrivers Part 1 Escaping: Arrivers Part 1