Enterprise rising out of abandonment
A Novel by Tom Ciolli
We were awakened at dawn by the sound of variable rotor aircraft in vertical landing mode. I stepped out of the bunker to see five aircraft, each carrying a howitzer suspended underneath. The Colonel was back and we added another seventy men, five howitzers and fifteen mortars to our contingent.
I consider Zach Murphy a friend, but having seen him become a night terror on several occasions, I have to admit that my respect easily broaches the boundary to fear when I think of what he is truly capable of. As I moved from foxhole to foxhole, in each case finding one of Murphy’s grizzly victims, I tried to gauge the intensity of the man. I could not keep up as he moved from place to place and everywhere he went, he was like a specter of doom. He seemed to be a shadow as he moved and in his wake, lay his disfigured victims. As I dropped into the last machine gun emplacement, I was shocked to see Murphy sitting next to his last set of victims while he cleaned his knife on their clothes. When he saw me, his facial expression changed from one of extreme disgust, to a sort of embarrassed disorientation. He gestured with his head toward the next foxhole and whispered, “Michael is over there. I guess we’re done on the perimeter.” I said, “I’ll pass the word back down the line. I guess we move into that center bunker next.” Murphy seemed relieved that the conversation had found a direction. “Yeah, if you want to retrace our steps, see if you can find another silenced sub-gun. We’ll use those to take the bunker.” He looked around and continued, “Geez, it’s quiet.” When we moved into the bunker in the center of the compound, we found a dozen men sleeping in there, and Murphy and Michael dispatched them silently ... It was tense, but over quickly. And then, the hill was ours. It had been understaffed and the defenses had not been completed. The next day, we began to clear the woods back further, and we began to clear the rocks off of the slope. The view from the hill was striking. The lush green forest canopy stretched to the horizon and this prominence rising three hundred feet into the air contrasted sharply with its surroundings. Strategically, the elevation gave a commanding view, but psychologically, standing on the mound allowed me to appreciate my ability to breathe the morning air. With weapons and a defensible position, our small group of militia had a fighting chance.
Then, as the day wore on, we kept over hearing people talk about machinery moving on the horizon. Every once in a while, we would see a glint of light reflected in the distance or see the outline of a vehicle silhouetted at the top of a hill, but for the most part, nothing seemed to be happening. Murphy used the optics on his Kravitz for most of the day and eventually turned to me. “Have you ever heard of a modern day war machine called a Guillotine?” “Yeah, it’s some kind of a laser array.” “That’s right, and the horizon is crawling with them. There’s going to be ten thousand simultaneous beams of concentrated light headed toward us. They will be precisely aimed and lethal. They will target anything that moves or gives off a heat signature. The only reason that I am not already in those woods, is due to those sentries. There’s only one way to survive this. Stay below the berm and then when the air is obscured by dust or explosions run like mad for the woods.” Murphy was scanning the sentries now and said, “Something tells me these guys won’t be a problem by then.” We hunkered low and hid beneath the trench line. And then it happened. The thousands of laser pulses killed silently. Their action was not dramatic. The end result was. Anybody who was standing simply dropped to the ground. Looking around at men who had been peering over the top of the trench when the first salvo was fired, revealed a macabre scene of cadavers with cauterized holes through their heads and torsos. The faces of these men were expressionless slack jawed and vacuous. Their lives had been taken without their knowing it and now, like a bunch of prairie dogs, more men crawled up the side of the trench to see what was going on and they joined their comrades in this circus sideshow of death. I looked at Murphy and he lay flat and simply patted the air with his hand as if to say, “Stay down.”
"Most people bore the mark of Syndicate ownership in the form of a barcode on the back of their neck."
This novella is the prequel to the Chronos Military Science Fiction series. The action begins as the Mining Syndicate drops a thousand obsolete factory workers off in a forest, gulag style. To survive, the workers must learn to fend for themselves, and eventually, they must confront the Syndicate and fight. A young Zach Murphy must hone his skills as he learns first hand about being on the receiving end of technologically advanced weaponry.
Photos courtesy of Tom Ciolli