Authors: Jason Halstead
Tags: #coming of age, #action, #science fiction, #robots, #soldier, #dystopian, #colonization
“Devon!” she gasped. “We have to go!
Lily scrambled to her hands and knees and
stood up, pulling on him as she rose. He climbed up, pulled by her,
and then ran beside her as she leapt through the underbrush. Lily
ducked around a tree, turned and then found herself flying through
the air and slamming into the ground. She rolled and came up
gasping and coughing. She looked around, aware of how quiet
everything was. She blinked and shook her head, and then reached up
when she felt something wet on her face. Her fingers came away dark
Something moved nearby, drawing her eyes and
helping her focus. Devon sat up on his knees and looked around. He
had dirt and twigs in his hair and scratches on his face and arms.
But he was alive. His eyes found hers and he blinked the confusion
out of them. His lips moved but Lily couldn’t hear him.
Devon struggled to his feet and ran over to
her. He grabbed her arm and tugged, trying to pull her to her feet.
Lily let him and looked down at herself. Her clothes were dirty and
torn. Blood dripped onto her shirt and bounced onto her leg. That
was funny—why didn’t it stick to her shirt? She laughed without
“Lily! Come on!” Devon shouted, breaking
through the silence at last and returning the horrible sounds of
the world to her.
Lily gasped and staggered, thankful that
Devin was there to catch her. She turned and looked. The tree
they’d run behind had been blown up. Nothing but a smoking stump
remained. She nodded; she could see the robot leading the invaders
on the other side.
“Go!” she yelled, in control of herself
again. “We have to warn somebody!”
They turned and ran, ducking into thicker
trees to their left. It kept them from heading to their colony as
fast, but slow was better than not at all. She followed Devon, not
trusting her sense of balance after she’d bounced off two trees and
tripped on another bush. He led her around the stand of thinner
trees and came to an abrupt stop.
Lily crashed into his back and sent them
both sprawling on the forest floor. She rolled and looked around,
confused. She started to stand when she heard someone say in a
mechanically distorted voice, “Just a couple of kids. Zap ’em!”
She turned in time to
see a squad of five soldiers. Two of them raised their guns and
pointed them. Lily’s world erupted in a blinding white pain that
was as short-lived as it was painful. She collapsed in a limp heap
on the ground next to Devon.
Krys stopped when he heard the explosion. He
stood still, staring into the forest and looking for signs of
something. Anything that would explain it. He heard more explosions
that reminded him of when their neighbors were building their house
and it fell down on them. Except this seemed a lot louder.
Krys glanced behind him and wondered how far
he’d come. He’d just been running after them without paying
attention. He wasn’t even sure he was on the right path, but he
hadn’t found them yet and couldn’t see a reason for them to go
With his stomach in his throat, he took off
again. He could always go back and come up with an excuse. Maybe he
wouldn’t get in too much trouble. Maybe.
Krys ran through a low spot that had the
footprints of his friends on the muddy ground. “Yes!” he hissed as
he ran on, excited to have found that much. He ran between some
bushes and stopped as the forest thinned out from the taller trees
to the shorter bushy ones. He could see through them to where the
trees shifted and was about to take off again when he saw movement
darting between tree trunks ahead.
Krys raised his arms and almost shouted when
he noticed both of the people running from his left to his right.
He not only heard the next explosion, he saw it firsthand as a tree
shattered into a million pieces. Krys stood there gaping and saw
the top of the tree crash to the ground and fall backwards.
“Lily?” he squeaked. He needed to run up and
check on her but his legs wouldn’t move. He’d seen two people. Two
people he was pretty sure were kids his age. Well, Lily was a
little bit younger but not much. If it was her. He didn’t see
Pita’s blond hair but if she’d been in the shade, maybe he
“This sucks compost,” he muttered before
starting to run ahead. He stopped after a half-dozen strides.
Smaller cracks and pops were going off ahead of him. He hid behind
a tree and crouched down, wondering and waiting. He shifted to
stare around the other side of the trunk, hoping to catch sight of
one of his friends. He’d seen two, but maybe the first one had
already run past.
A crash made him jerk and shift so he could
see the massive robot painted with brown and green splotches
parting trees and knocking them over. Krys fell back from the tree
and stared at it, stunned by the size of the metal behemoth that
was crushing trees like toothpicks.
He scrambled to his feet and staggered into
a sharp-needled tree before he gathered himself and took off at a
run. He went the same way his friends had, running to the east. If
he could find them, they could at least know one another were safe
and make their way back. Krys heard a crash ahead of him and
stopped. Another robot?
He spun to his left when he heard a gasp. He
rushed over to a tree that had fallen without the assistance of any
massive robots and ducked under the thick trunk. He almost called
out when he saw Devon and Lily, but stopped himself in time to keep
the soldiers from noticing him.
Seconds passed like hours as two of the
soldiers raised their guns. Krys didn’t hear a thing but both of
his friends collapsed and hit the ground, writhing. They stopped
jerking after a moment and lay still. Perfectly, deathly still.
Krys whimpered and fell back. Had they been
killed? Was Lily gone? He’d kissed her—well, she’d kissed him,
really—and that was it? She was dead. He started to pick himself up
but stopped. He needed to see them. Or did he? Did he even want to?
Would it be better to just go home?
Home? That’s where they were headed: his
home! If he waited, they wouldn’t have any warning. His parents and
his friends’ parents would be wiped out. Just like Lily and Devon
had been. Where was Pita? Had she escaped or did they shoot her
Krys shook his head and started to crawl
away. He had to get going! He planted one foot and looked up just
as a soldier leapt over the log and landed in front of him. The
soldier stared at him from behind a darkened faceplate. His—or her,
Krys had no way of knowing—armor had a dull gray chest plate and
brown and green patterns on the rest of it. He or she held a big
gun that was pointed at him. The only other thing of interest was
the small pink bunny head and ears painted on the side of the
helmet. If the bunny wasn’t strange enough on its own, its eyes
s and it looked like it was sticking its tongue
“Another kid? What is this place, run by
children?” a filtered voice muttered. Krys thought it sounded
female, even if it was rough and robotic.
He raised his hands slowly. “Please don’t
hurt me!” he begged.
The soldier looked around and then turned
and pointed their gun at the tree. One of the soldier’s hands slid
forward and twisted something, and then Krys jumped as the ground
exploded where he’d been hiding a few moments ago.
The soldier grabbed him, startling him out
of his stupor. He was thrust under the tree and into the crater the
explosion had created. He stared out, looking up at the soldier,
and then cowered with his arms in front of his face as the soldier
kicked the tree and knocked it off the stump and down towards
He realized a few seconds later that he was
still alive. The tree hadn’t crushed him! He shifted and looked
out, only to see the soldier’s armored foot. “Stay hidden. You
don’t want a part of this, kid.”
Krys watched as the foot disappeared. He
shivered and turned, wondering what was going to happen next as he
heard another crash that sounded nearby. The ground went from
trembling in rhythmic thumps to a steadier vibration. He caught a
glimpse of a vehicle that drove by on tracks; some kind of massive
tank passed by. Soldiers climbed over the log he was on and one of
the robots pounded the ground with a foot less than five meters
Krys curled up in a ball in his tiny hollow
and let the tears fall. He had no idea why, but something terrible
was happening. His friends were dead and for all he knew, his mom
and dad were next. And he was trapped beneath a fallen tree in the
woods. As much as his dad loved to tell him that crying wouldn’t do
him any good, it was the only thing he could manage.
Krys lay under the log, shivering long after
the sound of the advancing army faded. Distant booms rumbled in the
sky, reminding him of movies he’d seen with thunderstorms on Earth.
Venus didn’t have many storms. They learned in school that the
solar shield regulated the temperature of the surface and
atmosphere, preventing major weather patterns from forming. That
and the slow rotation kept the winds and buildup of charged ions at
It still rained often enough but the storms
moved slowly and the rain that fell was mild. That meant the
colonies had to irrigate their farms and for the rest of the
planet, the rivers had mostly been man-made to maximize the
distribution of water from the hills and peaks of the massive
dormant volcanoes that dotted the planet’s surface.
The thought of rain reminded Krys of his
tears. He’d stopped crying awhile ago. Now he huddled under the
fallen tree and shivered. It wasn’t cold out. It never got cold out
when the sun was up. But he was lying in a hole in the ground and
his stomach was pinched from not eating for hours. If ever there
was a time to cry, this was it.
“Crying won’t get me out of this hole,” he
mumbled to himself. He shifted so his back was against the ground
and pushed up against the tree. It wouldn’t budge.
Krys turned and used his hands to dig away
at the small opening between the tree limb and the ground. It was
slow going and before long, his fingers hurt, but he was making
progress. The dirt was soft at the top but was harder packed when
he cleared out the first few decimeters.
He took breaks and studied his dirty
fingers. His nails were caked with dirt and had already started
cracking. Blood ran from his thumb when he’d tried using it to
drill into the dirt and yank it out. He thought about using some of
the stronger words the adults used but decided against it. Like his
dad always told him, cursing a hard job didn’t get it done any
faster or easier.
He sniffed and used a clean spot on his
forearm to wipe the sweat off his forehead before he started
By the time Krys switched to using his feet
to try to kick the dirt out, he figured at least another hour had
passed, maybe more. He had a watch on but he was afraid to check
it. As long as he didn’t know, he could still hope that he had time
left. Time to run back home and find everyone still waiting for the
soldiers to come.
Krys paused. The soldiers and the robots.
Those things had been huge! Like knights out of one of the netshows
he watched every Elthday. The ten days before Elthday were spent
working and going to school. Then again, today was the seventh
Elthday of the Venerian summer. Not that the two hundred forty-two
days of winter were much worse. Summer or winter, it got cold
midway through the fifty-nine-day cycles when the sun was warming
the other side of the planet.
His dad told him stories of what life was
like back on Earth. Living in domed cities and working in giant
caves with rows of lights strung overhead to help make plants grow.
His dad said it was pointless; the only way to get things to grow
was on the ag stations orbiting Earth. That or moving to Venus. The
terraforming had made the volcanic crust of Venus full of nitrogen
So Krys’s dad had come to Venus to start
fresh. He gave up farming when they found out he could keep their
equipment running better than anyone else. That left him in charge
of keeping all the machinery running for the colony. That was
fifteen Earth years ago. Krys had been born on Venus and didn’t
know anything else.
His foot broke through! Krys yanked it back
and panicked when he couldn’t pull his boot back through the
opening. He struggled until he managed to get it back in and stared
at the enlarged hole. It was his window to getting home. Now he
just needed to turn it into a door.
He punched at the dirt with his knuckles
until they were scratched and split. He moved on to his palms then
before finally going back to digging with his heels and kicking the
dirt out. Krys worked hard, gasping and trying to keep the sweat
out of his eyes the entire time. When he finally paused to admire
the job, he wondered if he could really get out.
He tried to twist around in the tiny dugout
and found he couldn’t get his head towards the hole. He was too
big. He sat there, breathing hard and fighting the urge to cry
again. “This isn’t fair!” he whined and punched the tree limb above
It wasn’t fair. But maybe fair would have
been him being shot like Devon and Lily had been. Maybe fair was in
his favor, because of a random act of kindness from a stranger. Not
just a stranger, but a soldier. He’d read stories where soldiers
were supposed to be nice like that, but he thought it was more for
the officers. The knights. Like those giant robots had been. They
looked like the knights. He shuddered at the memory of his friends
Krys blinked back more tears and stared at
the light teasing him through the opening. If he couldn’t get his
head to the hole, maybe he didn’t need to. He twisted back and
shimmied around in the hole until his feet poked at it again. Krys
took in a breath and started pushing himself out feet first.