Dawn Over Apep (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: April 5, 2016 in chuck wendig challenge, Fiction, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

So the challenge this week was to do a Dragon story. The dragon could be literal or metaphorical. I went with a cross between the two. Oh, and for those of you not up on your Egyptian mythology, Apep was the Egyptian god representing chaos, and often depicted as a giant snake. This is the third time I’ve written something involving Hiram Sand. If you like him, I suggest you check out Phase 2 magazine, where you can read more about him.

Hiram Sand sat at the bar, staring out panoramic window across the purple waters of Apep. A glass half-filled with liquid the bartender purported to be whiskey sat on the bar, his hand curled around it. It tasted off to Hiram, but the pleasant warmth in his gut and the slight fuzziness to his vision attested to the property he desired most in his drink.

Somebody slid into the booth next to him. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of a long, bare leg revealed by the slit in a shimmering azure dress. The woman set her clutch on top of the bar, murmured something indistinct to the bartender.

Hiram blinked, raised his glass. He worked his tongue around his mouth, wondered where everyone else had gotten to. Wondered how late in the night it was.

“You’re a pilot, aren’t you?” The woman’s voice sounded like honey poured over silk. Smooth, sure, but too sweet and sticky the way her tongue clung to the syllables. She spoke Trade Pidgin, a distant ancestor of the English Hiram had grown up with, centuries ago. Still, he knew enough to be able to hold a simple conversation.

“Behemoth.” He raised his glass, swallowed some of the off-tasting liquid. Hints of what? Grapefruit, he decided, lips turning down in distaste. He’d taken the time to grow a beard. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been out of cryosleep long enough to develop more than a bit of stubble. The techs would shave him clean again before he went back under.

“Oh.” She opened her clutch, retrieved something.

Startled, Hiram dropped his hand down to his belt, grasped for a missing pistol. Weapons weren’t permitted in civilian establishments.

The woman laughed, finished adjusting her make-up. “You’re a jumpy one, aren’t you?”

“Sorry.” Hiram turned back to his drink, thought about moving away.

“Do you often come here to watch the sun rise?” the woman asked. “You know it actually rises on the other side.” She pointed one long nail to the other side of the room. Her nail was lacquered the same color as her dress.

Hiram shook his head. He hadn’t realized how late it was. Still, he spent enough time in cryosleep that every moment awake was to be cherished. “First time here.” The woman’s close presence made him shift. He caught a whiff of her perfume, some floral scent he didn’t recognize. Probably something local he’d never smell again.

“Don’t see a lot of flyboys make it over here. They usually prefer the, ah, lower class establishments.”

Hiram shrugged his shoulders. “Thought I’d look for a change of pace.” He forced a grin through his cropped beard. “I’m not like most of the other pilots. I think I make them nervous.”

“Why’s that?” Hiram felt her hand press on his leg.

Hiram swallowed hard. “Maybe it’s because I outrank them.” Or maybe it was the fact that Command only thawed out behemoth pilots when they felt there was an imminent danger they couldn’t counter with more conventional forces. Hiram was a walking slap in the face to the local defense force and everyone knew it. He knew there was a slaver problem, and Command was hoping the threat of a behemoth would make them keep their distance. It left a sour taste in his mouth, being used merely as a deterrent.

“You don’t frighten me.” Hiram felt the woman’s breath on his ear, the tip of her tongue flicking out to taste the lobe. He felt her hand squeeze his thigh, slide further up.

“How much?” Hiram forced the words out with a leaden tongue.

The woman blinked, retracted tongue and hand both.

“”I’m not saying ‘no.’” Hiram adjusted himself in his seat, finished his drink. “What, offended?”

The woman laughed, showing off even, perfect teeth. “No, though I probably should be.”

“Why, was I wrong?”

The woman shook her head. “No woman wants to be called a whore.”

“Oh.”

The bartender came over, but Hiram placed his hand over his glass and shook his head. “So what should I call you?”

The woman tapped a long nail against her chin. Hiram found his eyes drawn to it, unable to look elsewhere. “Why not Isis?”

“All right. Isis.” Hiram rolled the name around on his tongue, testing it. He wondered if it was her real name and realized it didn’t matter.

Later, in his quarters, he watched her slip into her dress and heels. His eyes lingered over her legs even as she collected the credits from his chip. His door hissed open on quiet pneumatics, closed again behind her, the only evidence she’d been there the faint floral scent on his sheets.

The box next to his bed squawked. “Lieutenant Sand? You’d better get to the hangar. We have a situation, and the commander requested you personally.”

“Right. Tell the commander I’ll be there in fifteen.”

Ten minutes later, Hiram strode into the hangar. Along one wall loomed his behemoth, squatting like an ogre, floodlights gleaming off his blue-black carapace. Hiram could see as it flexed against its restraints, eager to be let loose.

Hiram grabbed his flight helmet from the technician that ran to meet him. He settled it over his head, flicked the comm channel over to Command.

“Lieutenant Sand, so nice of you to join us.”

Hiram chuckled. “It must be bad for you get me out of bed. Commander.” Jogging over to the behemoth, he scrambled up the ladder, settling himself into the flight seat and strapping himself in. He felt the rumbling vibration of the behemoth’s heartbeat underneath him. The beast’s hands opened and closed, claws flexing.

“Listen, flyboy-”

“My rank is lieutenant,” Hiram spat. The cockpit hissed as it closed around him. “What have we got, Commander?”

“A big damned problem is what we’ve got. An unknown craft emerged from the sea bottom an hour ago. It’s already wrecked three squadrons and one surface fleet.”

Hiram blinked. “And you’re just telling me about this now? Isn’t this why Central Fleet has me stationed here?”

“You’re here to deter pirates, fl- lieutenant. We don’t know what this is.”

The restraints came off the behemoth and it strode with heavy steps toward the exit, its walk turning into a shambling run. Hiram’s heads-up display came to life. He patched into the satellite network surrounding Apep. “How far out is it?”

“Twenty klicks and closing,” the Commander replied.

Hiram ground his teeth in frustration. The booster attached to the behemoth ignited, propelling it into the sky. Hiram directed the behemoth out over the fuchsia sea, the light streaming behind him. Gaining altitude, Hiram patched into the security network, trying to get a view of his target. A satellite image projected on his heads up gave him pause. A long dark shadow streaming under the water, moving with incredible speed toward the city. Hiram got a sense of a serpent, but certainly no serpent could be that big?

Hiram sped to meet it, aware that he was like a bit of krill looking to face off against a whale. More data came through. It was mechanical, whatever it was. Some relic left over from a different age. It predated humanities stretch into the stars, probably. Hiram ran his tongue across his teeth. The serpent breached, small forms breaking off its body, hurtling through the air. Hiram marked their exhaust trails, thumbed his weapon systems on-line. The behemoth growled around him, its lust for blood threatening to consume everything. Hiram triggered his weapon systems as the drones sped toward him, a barrage of homing missiles streaking from its rack. The drones broke apart in small explosions, pinwheeling into the sea below. Laser pulses streaked by the behemoth, shots splashing against the armor, but failed to do more than scuff the carapace.

A heavier pulse streaked up from the ocean, the serpent breaching again. It rose from the water, five, ten, twenty, thirty meters tall. Optics and sensors bristled from its body. It opened its mouth, a pulse of discharged plasma streaking through the air, leaving a trail of steam in its wake.

The behemoth slipped sideways through the air, and Hiram triggered a blast from its own weapons. A brilliant blue streak connected the behemoth to the mechanical leviathan. The serpent’s armor peeled back like armor, and the serpent gave something like a scream that sent waves rippling out. Hiram grinned, focused the behemoth’s weapons where the armor peeled back, hammered the creature. The serpent writhed and shook, crashing back into the water. Hiram dove toward it, breaking the surface of the water in his pursuit. The serpent slid effortless through the water, but Hiram’s behemoth was faster. The behemoth hooked its claws into its mechanical body, claws puncturing the serpent’s metal hide as it scaled up the body. The beast thrashed back and forth, seeking to dislodge its unwanted passenger, but Hiram clung on, tenacious and inevitable.

Gaining its head, the behemoth clung on with four limbs as it used its free limb to batter, claw and smash the sensors and optics. Blind and deaf, the serpent continued to writhe, seeking to trap the behemoth in its metal coils. Hiram dug a hole into the bulk of the serpent, deposited an explosive charge, and spread an adhesive to keep it in place. He timed his escape, breaking the surface, pursued by the grasping jaws of the serpent, the heated plasma brushing the behemoth and causing it and Hiram both to scream in pain.

Hiram felt darkness closing in, felt the pressure building as the behemoth maneuvered around the final desperate attack. He pressed the button. The resulting blast wave flung the behemoth like a pebble through the air, spinning end over end. Hiram succumbed to the dark.

When he awoke, it was to a soft steady pinging. He was on a beach, somewhere, fuchsia waves lapping at the behemoth’s feet. It stood still, what passed for its eyes staring out at the horizon.

“Lieutenant Sand?” Command’s voice came over the channel, hesitant and unsure.

“Yeah, I’m here Command.”

“Oh, good. What was that?”

“An artifact of another age.” Hiram focused, despite the pounding in his head. “Intel is going to a have field day with whatever I left out there.”

“Yes, well, that won’t be your problem. Flight Group Alpha was able to eliminate the pirates two days ago. We just got word. It’s time to turn in, lieutenant.”

Hiram nodded his head, immediately regretted it. “Yeah,” he said, staring out over the waters of a world he doubted he would see again.

 

 

 

 

 

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