Roach Pickin’: Part One

I’ve wanted to write sci-fi so badly for a long time, but I’ve found that it’s a massive beast to tackle. Everything needs an explanation, even if including it would detract from the story. And planning all of that takes massive amounts of time.

So, I’m trying a short story. Since I can’t pour whole days into this, I’m splitting it up into a few parts that I’ll post over the next while. And your feedback is more than welcome on this. As much fun as it is, creating new solar systems with their own politics, species and technology is a little daunting, so any (constructive) criticism is appreciated.

Since this story involves men of ill repute, it’s entirely possible that readers will find content in the story that they don’t agree with. I would caution those readers to exercise discretion.
***

When the dust and steam from the airlock cleared, there was just us and them. The shuttle pod stamped its iron springboard into the sand in a concussive wave that sent up a ring of debris that sucked back in with a clap when the pod zipped back up its cable.

We were alone to do as we pleased.

We were the Incinerators, sent to liberate colonists and prospectors on the far flung worlds of our Cosmic Empire. The Galactic Queen sent us when planetary militia couldn’t pry the Offlanders loose. And pry we did. Often, it was like extracting a burrower beetle three weeks deep.

The Offlanders were ready for us. They usually were. Giant grappling hooks from space tend to alert even the most obtuse of watchdogs. The tethering claw often bit into the wasteland with enough force to aggravate fault lines.

But we weren’t here to prevent earthquakes.

The aliens had assembled atop the outpost’s wall, a mass of waving, claw-tipped tails and insectile chittering. They sparkled green and sickly yellow in the merciless desert sun, their eyes deep black orbs that saw everything at once.

“Well boys,” Rustwel, our squad leader, rasped around a well-loved cigar. “These fuckheads are in deep. Pry ’em out and tear ’em up.”

“May their innards curdle in the sun,” snarled Blust, a man with shoulders wide enough for two. He had a head in there somewhere, too, but evolution had taken special time with him and decided it wasn’t important enough to warrant interest. Except for his nose. Blust was made up of legs thick enough to block traffic on the metropolitan planet of Caldwist, a pair of pillars that served as arms and topped off with shoulders and a nose. The rest of him was just included by necessity. Stories said he was born with a rifle in hand.

“That’s very nice of you, Blust,” I muttered and threw the last of a cigarette into the brownish-yellow sand. “But I don’t think anything’s gonna curdle until it lies spilled on the ground.”

He snorted. “I like to make them spill, Jethro. You know that.”

Couldn’t argue with that. I chambered a round in my MALLET (Military Assault Landside Liberator for ExtraTerrestrials) and hefted the beastly machine gun to a shoulder and drew a bead on the ugliest one. “Permission to spill brains?”

Rustwel spit in the sand and checked his own gun. “Granted,” he muttered and bit the end off a fresh cigar. “Keep a Roach for questioning.” He lit up with experienced hands and aimed his Mallet past the smoke curling with a stagnant breeze. “If you can.”

It’s amazing what three men can do when you rob them of the will to do anything else and replace it with the most advanced weaponry this side of Beta Zeitreb. (Hell, if they gave us Zeitreb’s guns, Rustwel would’ve torn them in half with his bare hands and used the leftover bits to fix the plumbing in our doghouse. “Fucking Huns can keep their goddamned treasonous hardware,” he’d spit.) Not that better guns would help much against Offlanders. They were fast, cruel and impossible to predict. The best tactic was to get as close as you could to them, ram your barrel down their throats and pull the trigger until it clicked. And if that didn’t work, you might try dropping a building on them.

That might work. There was a reason we called them cockroaches.

Luckily, this settlement was small, probably made up of people with big dreams and small minds. Even if they found resources on this hellblasted rock, it would take all of them working their asses off for well over a century to find enough to convince the Empire to send barges this far out. And there was no way they had enough equipment to dig even small mines.

I watched the ugly bastard in my sights. His eyes, set in an insultingly humanlike face, twitched in opposite directions. They always looked like that. Shocked out of their damned minds that anybody would dare challenge them.

And then they fought like sons of bitches, so you knew you were reading them wrong, but it hardly mattered. I pulled the trigger and put a rifle bullet the size of my thumb through one of those beady black orbs. The Roach’s head snapped back and flopped lazily to the side before it straightened, staggered to one side as if it was genuinely bewildered and dropped from sight.

Blust whistled slowly. “He dead?”

“Yep.”

“The hell did you use?”

“Anti-tank round.”

“Well fuck me.”

“Maybe later. Gotta kill me some Roaches first.” I sprinted toward the settlement. The ground sloped gently downward and a sparse scattering of boulders promised just enough cover that I could get close if I was careful. Dust plumed in my footprints as I sprinted, each step cracking the sun-baked crust as my augmented armour pushed me forward. I dropped to a knee and slid, ignoring the blinding wave of dust that swept around me.

My helmet’s visor clicked down automatically when it sensed the dust about to obscure my vision. Everything took on a warm yellow haze and red insectile humanoids began popping up as the infrared picked them out. Small, blue text appeared on the far left side of my vision, displaying basic battle statistics and squad-based instant messaging. Beside it, an overhead wireframe map detailed the other Incinerators’ positions. Blust had mirrored me and taken cover behind a rock on the far side of the canyon. Rustwel was snug against a rock behind and directly between us.

“Who goes first?” Blust huffed into his throat mic.

“You went first last time,” I reminded him.

“And you already took a cheap shot for the first kill,” he retorted.

Rustwel butted in. “You boys wanna get a room or are we gonna get to killin’?” He didn’t wait for a reply. There was a gunshot that would have been deafening without our helmets, and then he sprinted past, dust billowing in a drifting roostertail twice his height.

I shrugged. “Guess that’s your answer then.”

“Blow me, sweetheart.” Blust’s icon moved forward on my mini-map.

“Not if I can help it,” I muttered to myself and followed suit. These Roaches were in for a hell of a day.

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One thought on “Roach Pickin’: Part One

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