Authors: Jason Halstead
Tags: #coming of age, #action, #science fiction, #robots, #soldier, #dystopian, #colonization
He got stuck halfway out and pushed harder.
It worked for a few centimeters, and then he realized he was really
stuck. Krys started to panic but couldn’t find a way to pull
himself back in. He collapsed, exhausted, and pressed his cheek
against the cool dirt of the hole. His hips shifted, allowing his
knees to take up some of the pressure.
Krys jerked his head up. He’d just moved! He
inhaled and tried again but found the dirt scraping and pressing
against him. “What the heck?” he gasped. As soon as he breathed
out, he felt the pressure release. He tried pushing himself and
slid out another inch. He started laughing, tightening himself fast
against the tree trunk and the ground.
After he finished laughing at how silly the
situation was, Krys managed a few deep breaths to calm himself and
then breathed out. He pushed and slid, and then repeated the
process. After five more breaths, he pulled his head and shoulders
out and rolled over on the ground. Krys stretched his arms and legs
out and gasped for the cooler air outside of the hole. He was free
again! All the hard work had chased his chills away but now he
basked in the sunlight that the filtered solar shield let
Sunlight? Krys sat up and looked around,
blinking in confusion. The forest was still there, but mostly it
was on the ground. A wide avenue had been cut through it as the
army marched through with their robots and tanks.
He looked around, stunned, and slowly
climbed to his feet. At fourteen years old, he should not have been
the tallest thing standing in a three-hundred-meter radius.
Lily glanced around the room. She had no
idea where she was but that didn’t even feel important to her. What
did matter was that she hurt everywhere! Her entire body, even her
throat and chest when she tried to breathe, felt like it was on
fire. She tried to groan but that simple effort made her feel like
she’d tried to swallow wooden splinters.
She gasped at the memory of trees exploding
around her. The gasp made her wince and gag, which left her
shuddering in agony until tears ran down her face. She couldn’t
move, other than twisting and rolling a little. It wasn’t just
because it hurt; something kept her hands behind her back and her
feet wouldn’t respond.
“You made it.”
Lily gasped and then coughed at the fire in
her throat. It gave way to a new burning wetness that made her gag
all over again. In the midst of it all, something tickled her
throat and made her feel like she couldn’t breathe.
A shadow fell over her. Lily twisted, her
panic pushing the pain into the background. Someone towered over
her and grabbed her. She was forced up and bent over. A second
later, something slammed into her back, making her cough. She
hacked several times, her chest and stomach stabbing her with tiny
knives a thousand times . When she stopped and was able to draw a
ragged and shallow breath, she saw her legs and the dull gray floor
under her were speckled with dark dots.
Spots colored everything, though, not just
the floor. She tried to look up but the room she was in tilted.
Shapes swam in and out of focus. Her feet melted into the floor and
then turned back into feet. She gagged again at the tickle in her
throat and leaned forward, vomiting onto the floor.
“Get it together, kid!” the person who had
helped her hissed.
Lily sagged forward, her stomach touching
her thighs, and wondered if she was dying. The smell of what she’d
thrown up made her moan. If she was dying, she hoped she would
hurry up and get it over with.
“They hit you with an adult dose—wasn’t sure
you were going to make it.”
Lily tried to look up again and managed to
squint against the bright light that made a bright aura around the
man talking to her.
“Not sure if that’s a good thing for you or
not,” he said while he did something that released her hands and
relieved the tension on her shoulders. “You’re a daughter of the
“W—what?” she managed to wheeze.
He stuck a cup with a pale and yellow liquid
in it under her face. “Drink this, kid, it’ll help.”
Lily took it in trembling hands and lifted
it to her lips. Every movement hurt, even the touch of the cup
against her lips. Swallowing the thick drink was almost as painful
as she imagined tearing her throat out with her fingers would
“Good job,” he told her. “You’re an orphan
of the revolution. It sounds terrible, I know, but at least the new
government wants to do their best to start you guys off right.
Proper education, training, and placement when the time comes. So
it’s off-world for you, to a reeducation station.”
The drink had a sweet taste and left her
throat feeling like it was coated with something slimy. She tried
to clear her throat and stopped when she realized her throat wasn’t
burning as bad. She looked up at the man, focusing better.
“Reeducation? I don’t—My parents! I’m not—”
He shook his head. “Look, kid, I don’t make
the rules. Your farm was hit hard. I don’t think there were any
survivors. I—oh crap. No, don’t cry, damn it! I hate it when they
cry. Every rock-humping time!”
Lily stared at him and shook her head. She
blinked at the tears in her eyes but couldn’t stop them. Her
parents couldn’t be dead—she’d just seen them earlier! Pita, Devon,
Krys, Anner, all her friends. They couldn’t be gone. Their parents
too? She turned to stare out the open end of the small room she was
in. She saw her colony, but it was different. Changed. Ruined.
Smoke rose from burning and broken
buildings. The ground was pitted with craters and burn marks.
Soldiers milled about, taking care of things or sitting on tanks
and talking to one another. In the distance, one of the massive
robots loomed over the town, ready to destroy anything it didn’t
“It’ll be best for you,” the man said,
jarring her out of her trance. “Give you a fresh start and help you
come to terms with how things are going to be from now on.”
“Devon!” Lily gasped. “Where’s Devon?”
“Who? Look, kid, I told you—”
“No!” Lily shouted. She winced at the pain
in her throat but pushed on. Pain didn’t matter, not if people were
really dead, like he’d said. “He was with me when we saw the
soldiers. Me and Devon and Pita and—and—”
The man snapped his fingers as Lily trailed
off. “Oh, I’m not sure, to be honest. I had to treat a couple of
kids. I don’t ask any names; it’s easier that way. You’re the last,
though; the others have all been taken to the transports. You’ll
probably see him there. I don’t know after that.”
Lily blinked back fresh tears and nodded.
Devon might be alive: that was something, at least. Wait, he’d said
a couple of kids. Maybe Krys too? “How?”
He turned away from the compartment in the
wall he’d opened and took the empty cup from her. “How what? How’d
we get here? We came in a fleet of transports. How’d we take over?
Easy—we’ve been liberating humanity for over a year now. Any more
than that isn’t for me to—”
“No,” Lily said, stopping him. “How’d
everyone die? Was it, um, was it quick? Like Pita?”
“Pita who? No, never mind. Quick? Yeah, I
imagine. I wasn’t in the first wave. I’m support. But when those
tanks and biomechs roll in, not much can stand up to them.”
“Yeah, the big guys. Good grief, they really
keep you guys in the dark out here, don’t they? Explains why you
had no defenses and no idea we were coming. Keeping the farmers
dumb and isolated.” He snorted and looked as though he had a bad
taste in his mouth he wanted to spit out. “Anyhow, that’s why
things are changing. The human race has been kept in the dark too
long. Letting the greedy people run the world and not taking care
of the everyday folks like you and your family.”
The soldier opened his mouth and then
chuckled. “Forget it. I’m just a combat medic, not the kind of guy
who changes things. Those people are running the show. Good people,
with good ideas. You listen when you get to your reeducation camp.
Should take about six weeks. You seem like a smart girl. No telling
what they’ll assign you to if you do good and keep your head on
“I don’t understand?” Lily asked. What was
wrong with her education? Why’d she need it changed?
“That’s all right. Just remember that it’s
for the best for everyone. I’m sorry about your family and friends,
but you can’t stand in the way of progress.”
“Progress?” Lily asked. He nodded and held
out something that looked like a one-handed gun. A pistol. She’d
seen them in the shows Krys liked to watch. “Good luck, kid.”
She opened her mouth to ask him what he was
talking about when he pressed the gun against the side of her head
and pushed a button on it. Wait? A button? Guns had triggers,
not—Lily’s thoughts blanked out as a wave of vertigo passed through
her and sent her tumbling into darkness.
Krys saw the smoke ahead of him and wondered
what had happened. They’d had bonfires at the village from time to
time, usually during the days of sunset when the sun dropped out of
the eastern sky. Those were the only two real seasons on Venus:
summer and winter. Technically they had four, but fall and spring
each only lasted two veeks, Venerian weeks that lasted eleven
He stopped in his tracks when the smell of
the smoke hit him. It wasn’t like a bonfire. They’d burned more
than wood. Some of the vison, maybe? Or had they burned more?
Houses and harvesters too? His dad would be mad if they burned up
His dad? Krys’s lips parted and his mouth
went dry. Lily and Devon had been shot. Pita was missing. That
soldier had blown up a tree and tossed him under it like it was a
pile of sticks. What would they do to his parents?
Krys took off at a run, sneering at the
growing stench as he ran ahead. He slowed when he began to make out
shapes ahead of him beyond the swath that had been cleared in the
forest. His heart jumped when he saw something moving. It was a
person walking near the outskirts of the village. He grinned and
started to jog forward until the thought came to him that maybe it
wasn’t one of his people.
Distracted by the thought, Krys tripped on a
fallen branch and crashed into a bush that had been flattened by
the army. He rolled away from it, picking the twigs and leaves off
his arms and shirt, and sat up. Closer to the ground, he had the
cover of the crushed forest to hide him. Krys watched, trying to
figure out if the person he’d seen was a friend or an enemy.
Seconds turned to minutes without the
distant figures giving away their identity. He brushed his finger
across his lips and went to run it along his teeth when he tasted
the dirt caked to his fingers. Krys spat it out and looked at his
hands. He hadn’t chewed his fingernails in years; he’d finally
kicked the habit. He scowled and rubbed his hands against his
shirt, transferring dirt from one to the other. It was anybody’s
guess which ended up cleaner.
Krys climbed to his feet and then froze. If
he could see the people in the village, then they could see him
too! He ducked down into a crouch and glanced around. The people he
saw didn’t act like they’d seen him. He frowned and wondered if it
was safe after all. Maybe the army had just passed by?
He looked to his left and saw the tree line
where the army’s devastation had left off. That would give him more
cover. That was what Brak Taggart would do, one of his favorite
movie heroes. He nodded, proud of himself for thinking of the idea.
Now he just had to get to the tree line without being seen.
Staying low and crawling across the bare
patches of torn-up dirt, he made his way across the ground without
hearing anybody coming. He paused to rest and check on the village
several times. Crawling through a ripped apart forest was hard
work! The good news was he didn’t see anyone coming his way.
He made it to the trees that were still
standing and paused to rest again. He continued to watch the
village and then jerked when he felt the ground tremble. Krys
twisted and looked around just as he felt another tremor. He heard
the sound of heavy footsteps coming from his village a moment
later. He turned in time to see one of the robots walk across the
opening of the forest. The robot stopped and turned, facing his
“Oh crap,” Krys muttered. He stood behind
the tree, paralyzed, and saw another robot come to a stop near the
first. Several vehicles, tanks, and other large boxy vehicles with
tracks instead of wheels that reminded him of their crop
transports, gathered near them. “They’re not after me,” Krys
He ducked deeper in to the forest and found
a spot where he could still see between the bushes. In a few
minutes, the robot started forward and then the vehicles moved out
behind it. He waited as they crossed over the trampled forest and
passed him without so much as a glance in his direction. First the
robot, and then the tanks and transports. He lost count after
twenty of the mixed vehicles. Not because he couldn’t count higher,
but because he was distracted by the robot that brought up the rear
of the convoy.
The robot was painted the same, in a mottled
green and brown pattern, but it looked bigger and different than
the first one. Each hand had a gun mounted to its forearm and over
its shoulders large cannons were pointing forward. It was like
something out of one of his shows, except this was real. Real and
Krys waited until the convoy passed by and
was nothing more than a blurry vision to the north. His stomach
rumbled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten in hours. He felt worn-out
and tired too. He shook the thoughts away. Venus was a man-made
world, for all intents and purposes, and there wasn’t anything
dangerous to worry about except other people. Except now it seemed
like there was a lot more other people here.