Wolves of Sorrow (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: February 23, 2017 in Fiction
Tags: , , , , , ,

This week’s Chuck Wendig challenge: Take one of ten titles and work a story around it. I went with Wolves of Sorrow, and decided I’d use it as an excuse to bring Hiram Sand and his behemoth back out for a spin. Because giant mechs and killer robots and giant mushroom forests. It is a smidge over the given limit, but you won’t hold that against me, will you?

Hiram Sand crashed through the yellow-tinged atmosphere of Sorrow, the heat panels on the behemoth going from cherry red to fierce yellow to a blinding blue white. Then the panels were sloughing off, breaking apart in atmosphere as the behemoth’s jets kicked in, Hiram’s body punished by the G forces despite the inertial dampeners. Below, on the surface, forests of colossal fungi erupted from the surface, obscuring the surface under caps broad enough to hide a battalion under.

“Report, Lieutenant,” a voice crackled over his radio.

“Making the descent now, Argo,” Sand responded. “Entry went smooth.” He flicked his fingers over the controls, bringing the passive sensors back online. He kept his fingers off the weapon controls even as they twitched in that direction. He cut the rockets on the behemoth, letting it do a hard descent. The armored frame broke through one of the caps with a sound like a thunderclap. He fired the rockets again for the final part of the descent before coming to stand on the surface.

The ground under the behemoth felt strange, spongy under the footprint of the armored beast. The audio sensors picked up wind whipping around the cyclopean trunks, but little else. Hiram called up a satellite imaged map, peeled back the layers until he could get a better view of the landscape. He pinpointed the series of domed structures he was looking for, the crude shelters of pioneering colonists eager to get out from under the boot heel of government, any government, even if it meant living on a world inherently toxic to their life. He set the behemoth on a course, feeling it move and shift under him, first a walk, then a loping, kilometer devouring run. Hiram took the opportunity to scan the surrounding area but keeping it passive, searching for any rogue radio waves or transmissions, anything to indicate sentient activity. He was greeted with silence.

The behemoth broke out from a stand of fungal colossuses, came up short at a descending cliff face. Below, the domes were arranged with no discernible plan or purpose. In the approximate center of the domes, a stripped out skeletal frame of a colony ship lay on its side. Hiram flipped through various spectrums, visible, infrared, electromagnetic, but the domes showed no sign of activity of any kind. He gave the behemoth a nudge, letting it drop over the side of the cliff. The rockets kicked in about halfway down, slowing the decent into a controlled fall.

The ground here was harder, the upper layer of detritus and fungal growth having been burned away, the scorch marks still evident on the otherwise red-yellow rock. Staring over the domes, Hiram could see where they’d been breached in places, victims of meteor strikes from the look of it. Hiram maneuvered his behemoth around the colony, making sure his video recorder was picking up the detail for the eventual debrief back on the Argo.

“I’ve located the colony, Argo,” Hiram broadcast. “Looks like it’s been dead for a while. No sign of activity.”

“Say ag… Lieut… comm… down.” The rest that followed was static.

Hiram cursed, brought up a real-time map of the planet. Storms were building in the upper atmosphere, the electrical discharges accompanying them disrupting communications. Even as he watched, the map on his head-up display shuddered and flickered. Fat, heavy drops fell from the sky, splashing against the armored hull of the behemoth. The drops hit the ground, sulfuric steam rising up from the ground.

Hiram took a few more scans of the settlement, something about it bothering him. Then he realized what it was.

There were no bodies. No bones. No grave markers.

According to the official report, Sorrow wasn’t completely devoid of fauna, but beyond some small aquatic creatures dwelling in the oceans, there was no record of land based fauna larger than some microscopic creatures. Hiram maneuvered through the domes, trying to determine their function. Some were easier than others. He could see where the water distillation plants were, the wind and solar generators. In one place, someone had set up a crude terraformer plant, designed to slowly convert the atmosphere into a less toxic sludge. Hiram smiled at the quixotic optimism. It would take more than one anemic terraformer to successfully transmute the atmosphere into something humanity could breathe, the ground into something able to bear food they could eat. He reckoned they might have fed the bodies to the incinerator or possibly recycled them for the organic matter, but there should have been some sort of sign. The majority of the interiors had been stripped bare, leaving little behind but the shells and some scrap.

He wondered why the would-be settlers had decided to colonize Sorrow at all, or if they’d been forced to land there despite their best wishes. A small light blinked in the corner of his eye, a small warning light on his heads-up display. Turning his attention to it, he frowned. External sensors were picking up movement further in the mushroom forest, and it wasn’t wind this time.

“Argo, can you read me? I’m picking up surface movement. I’m going to scout it out.”

“Roger, Lieutenant. Carry on,” the Argo reported back, the storm overhead breaking apart with the same speed it had formed.

Hiram had gone about two kilometers in, the trunks of the fungi growing larger, thicker and denser the further away he moved from the colony when a muted pinging echoed through his audio pickups. He flicked fingers over the controls, flares firing off the back of the behemoth as it took a hard right angle on its current course. Missiles streaked down from the sky, veering off to track the decoys and exploding into the trunks with a shower of metal fragments and fibrous material.

Hiram cut back, sending an automated message to the Argo to let them know he was under attack. A quick scan of the satellite data helped triangulate the rough position of where the missiles had been fired from. He broke free from the forest into a clearing, then brought the behemoth to a sudden stop, its feet sliding on the slick ground. A hunched metallic beast crouched in the clearing, the glass lenses of its eyes gleaming red in the half-light of the under canopy. A missile rack sat perched on its back, and more weapons bristled on its limbs, chrome claws gripping the earth. The creature itself was at least twice as big as Hiram’s behemoth, and just as obviously artificial with tubes and wires running across its body.

“Go away, beast,” it blasted out of a speaker mounted in place of its mouth.

“You… are the colonists?” Hiram asked.

“We are what is left,” the creature replied. “But we are not alone.”

A second form jumped from the treeline. Hiram’s behemoth twisted, but was too slow to avoid the impact. Metal screeched as the creatures claws scraped along the armored plating of behemoth. Hiram snarled in response, the neural feedback from the behemoth broadcasting rage rather than fear or pain. The behemoth’s own hands gripped the sides of the mechanical wolves head, gave a hard twist to the side. The sound of metal wrenching filled the audio pickups and Hiram winced before the dampeners kicked in, reducing the severity of the sound. The behemoth got its feet back under it, hefted the beast up and tossed it to one side.

Hiram triggered the particle cannon mounted on his behemoth’s side, but the second creature landed hard on his back. Hiram snarled in frustration, his emotions and the behemoth’s caught in a vicious loop. He trigged the rockets, shooting up to the sky with the beast clutching at him in futility before carashing back to the surface. Hiram fired the particle cannon again, but scored only a glancing shot, the beam slicing through the front right leg of the beast.

The second creature regained its feet, sent a salvo of missiles spiraling through the air. Hiram jinked and set off another round of flares, before setting a collision course. The impact of the behemoth against the beast shook him, but he felt the claws sink into the metal hide, tearing into it.

“Stop, you’re kill her!” the first beast shouted, trying to pull Hiram free. Hiram leveled the right hand of the behemoth at the first creature, fired the pulse laser mounted there. Green shards of light punched through the metal hide of the creature and it shrieked as it caught fire. Hiram never let go of the other one, driving it to the ground. He lined up the particle cannon and fired, blasting a hole through the beast. The shrieking ceased, leaving Hiram alone with two smoking husks.

“Argo. Requesting dust off. I think I found the colonists.”

#

“Interesting. Seems these two took matters into their own hands when they determined the colony was failing,” Sayed Tenasi remarked to Hiram. Hiram stood in the engineering bay with the scientist and his team as they picked over the remains brought back on board the Argo. “From the footage you brought back, it looks like the colony failed about a century ago, standard time.”

“They converted themselves into… those?” Hiram asked, his mouth twisting in disgust.

Sayed nodded. “From what we can tell from the records, Isiah Murrow was a skilled engineer and scientist. He figured out the colony was failing and designed the bodies. Managed to do a hard upload of him and his wife into their new bodies.”

“And the rest of the colonists?” Hiram asked.

“Maybe they disagreed with what Isiah was trying to do? Maybe the upload failed for them. Hard to say.”

“What now?” Hiram asked.

Sayed shrugged and walked over to the console. “Sorrow will be entered into the world database as a potential for colonists. The cycle begins again.”

Hiram snorted. “And when it goes sideways, your descendants will pluck me from coldsleep to clean up your mess.”

Sayed turned to Hiram, a sad smile crinkling his eyes. “When you need monsters hunted, what better than a monster of your own?”

END

Enjoy Hiram Sand? Want more?

Check out Phase 2 Issue 5 and Issue 6!

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Comments
  1. Yay! Hiram might be one of my favorites of yours.

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