Here’s a fun little short story for you all!

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The Weight of One World by Robert Corrado

Maris scowled at the image of the planet on the large telescreen before him.  He resented that the council had placed such a weighty decision on his shoulders.  He’d been able to avoid it for the duration of the voyage, telling himself that he had to focus on matters of ship security, or navigating the best possible course among other nonsense.  He had acted like a cancer victim in denial.  A tumor grew inside him and the knowledge of that tumor he’d pushed as deeply into his subconscious as possible but the unpleasant feeling he carried with him every day that a confrontation with it was inevitable persisted.  It had been a long voyage from the Milky Way and so he’d had plenty of time to push that tumor deep.  Now it stared him right in the face from the telescreen.  Balt, his second in command coughed loudly from behind him to get his attention.

“Yes Balt?”  Maris asked, his eyes glued to the telescreen, but Balt seemed hesitant to deliver.

“The Council would like a status upda…”

“FUCK THE COUNCIL!  Am I clear?”  Maris hissed the retort without turning from screen.

“Yes sir.”  Balt meekly took up his previous position behind his commander.

The Annihilator was the grandest ship in the armada and Maris was her captain.  The ship currently occupied a low orbit around the miserable planet that still sat serenely in the center of the bridge telescreen.  Maris had given the gun crews authorization to target the grey sphere just moments after their arrival but still had hesitated when it came to the order to fire.  They could have been bombarding the planet for hours already.  Even the ship’s largest battery was prepped to fire but sat silent, her maser cannon.  It ran the length of the ship’s entire spine and its energy could turn every drop of water on the planet to steam and ignite the atmosphere into a fireball.  Maris persisted in his hesitation.

It was no easy thing to commit genocide.  There were aliens down there and they were dangerous.  Others of their kind had killed so many of Maris countrymen that the death toll could scarcely be counted even by computers.  He should want to pull the trigger, end the war for good.  The knowledge that once this planet was gone that this species would be exterminated left him feeling sick, and also very angry.  The council had given him vague orders.  When you arrive, determine the level of threat, and then respond to that threat to insure the safety of our people.  The subtext however had been clear; they expected him to deploy the maser; to destroy the colony utterly.  The official orders allowed the cowards in the council the comfort of knowing they had not officially committed the living creatures on the planet below to extermination.  Maris railed inwardly against the impatience oh his masters.  How dare they?  Not one among them with enough spine to make the decision themselves yet they demand a status update! ?

Maris spat.  Politicians!  What are they good for except filling graves!?  Ultimately, Maris conceded to himself that the species that they contended with was dangerous enough to merit the level of force that the council expected.  Maris had fought the aliens since he was barely a cadet out of the academy, and now as an admiral he had the opportunity to end their threat for every future generation.  Balt had sidled near Maris again and spoke to his captain, a nervous flutter in his voice.

“The planet is haling us sir.  A peace envoy wishes an audience.  Will you hear this envoy sir?”

Maris considered carefully.  Perhaps talking to this envoy would give him the clarity he needed.  He needed to be certain that extermination was the right course of action.  Perhaps the alien would show its hand, reveal to him some evil intent in their species future that might steel his resolve.  Then again, the envoy might evoke sympathy, perhaps even pity in him.  If he were swayed by that and stayed his hand would that decision come to haunt the future of his people?

“I will give this envoy an audience.”  Maris had almost whispered it and it was probably for the best that he had not seen Balt’s dismayed reaction to the answer.

The telescreen changed from the small greyish planet to the face of Maris greatest enemy.  He’d seen captives, and been up close to them before.  They violated all of his senses, and looked so utterly different from his own kin that Maris could hardly keep himself from wincing at the image before him.  It was a female of the species and disgusting to behold as all of them were.  The horror before him did not wait his bidding to speak but instead began as soon as she could see she had the admiral’s attention.  It’s harsh and ill-formed speaking parts barked out an unrecognizable string of sounds that pained his ears, but the translator within the ship’s computer did not delay for long.

“We are unarmed.  We beg of you.  Grant us mercy.  Grant us life.”

The image on the screen widened its maw and bared its teeth to Maris.  It was how they showed friendship a behaviorist had once told him.  It was all the impetus Maris needed.  His resolve had grown to the size of an unassailable tower.

“Balt.  Open fire.”  Maris sighed as if all the worry of the world were lifted from him as the words were uttered.

“Yes sir!” Balt responded, wide-eyed.

The telescreen changed back to the image of the small grey planet.  The ship batteries began to open fire, pummeling the world and causing blossoming explosions on its surface.  The maser punctuated their barrage, its beam colliding silently with the center of the planet and turning its surface at first red and orange as the atmosphere completely ignited and then to ash grey and cinder black over a period of a minute or more.  The campaign had been so long, starting in the Milky Way and ending all the way out here.  This was it, the last planet in their ancient empire and Admiral Maris could hardly believe the thing was done.  The image of the alien’s snarling visage still stained his mind’s eye and he feared that even with the eradication of the species he’d never forget it.  Balt placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t worry sir.  No one will mourn the extermination of the humans.”

~end

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Written Word Wednesday: Man Against Machine!

Man and Machine

McCall clutched his assault cannon close to his chest and gritted his teeth in grim anticipation.  A nod in Vargas direction was the signal, and McCall’s partner received it all right.  Vargas spun from his position behind an upright steel girder and let loose a steady stream of  rounds from his weapon.  His power armor whirred as he advanced, an orchestra of hydraulic humming and metal-clanking footsteps.  McCall gritted his teeth again, the return fire from their pinned-down quarry had not come yet, but McCall knew it would.

Vargas continued his advance up the narrow corridor, releasing shell after shell from his weapon into the darkness that lie at the end of the hall.  There was a pause in the deafening noise and then what McCall had been waiting for came.  It was lower, louder, and sounded far more powerful; a larger cannon, the kind only mounted on C.A.I. units.  McCall and his partner had found their quarry indeed, and it didn’t look like it wanted to go quietly.

Running from his position behind the steel girders McCall immediately noted the white muzzle-flash at the end of the dark corridor.  McCall fired as he moved, aiming for the flashing end of the cannon.  The power armor he was wearing seemed to be moving slower than usual but for now he knew he was safe.  A C.A.I. unit mounted massive firepower and was deadly accurate, but would not acquire a new target until its current target was surely eliminated.

Bright sparks lit up across the front of Vargas’ assault armor as the large-caliber weapon at the end of the corridor hurled rounds at him.  The enemy weapon’s loud report resounded through the tight chambers but inside McCall’s mind was only silence.  Any hesitation on his part would result in a quick death.

McCall just kept firing and advancing.  Vargas slowed pace and his right leg dipped, he leaned on the wall for support.  Further bursts of fire from the enemy impacted with Vargas.  His armor relenting, he crumpled, blood and viscera splaying across the walls of the narrow corridor.  McCall did not hesitate; he could not afford to.

His rounds began to find their mark and a bright shower of sparks lit up a dark, hulking silhouette.  McCall kept the trigger on his weapon depressed and was rewarded with rattling explosion and the sparking of hot flying metal, as the monstrosity’s weapon arm was torn free.  In his armor McCall sighed relief.

“Click” his weapon was now empty.

The one-armed assailant stepped into the low green light of the corridor.  Its mangled shoulder sparked and hissed like an angry cobra.  McCall began to back pedal as he frantically attempted to load a new magazine into his weapon.  The beast began to advance, slowly at first, but then more quickly as it realized McCall’s intentions.  It moved with in a fashion both alien and human and with a speed beyond its appearance.

McCall grinned as he felt the relieving “snap” of fresh ammunition  sliding into its position.  Unfortunately he was already too late.  Raising his weapon to fire, McCall noticed all too quickly the four-digit talon hand now gripping the business end of his assault cannon.  He felt a pull and the weapon was gone, flung into the darkness behind his opponent.  His grinning turned into the gritting of teeth.

A mechanical appendage thrust at him and clamped down like a vice on his neck.  Panic began to invade his mind as the metal monster lifted him from the ground and smashed him against the wall.  He suppressed it and attempted to break the mechanical beast’s grip.  It was futile and he gasped, his armor constricting and buckling around his neck.  He stared into the single, cold, red eye of his killer and it stared back.

McCall reached for his vibroblade, a weapon of last resort, and with all the strength left in him drove it into the behemoth’s metallic torso.  Once again its grip tightened and McCall gasped and squinted his eyes to fight off the pain of death.  He twisted the blade and drove it deeper.  The monster’s red eye transfixed upon its prey.  He pushed and twisted the blade while gasping for life.  The machine faltered, its legs collapsing as McCall’s knife tore through the leg gyro systems.  Onto the cold, hard floor they fell in a heap but the machine’s grip held firm and McCall felt the life being crushed from his body.  The adversaries stared at one another in their deadly embrace.

McCall may have been unconscious when his blade’s final thrust destroyed the beast’s power unit.  He didn’t know.  He awoke to the sound of voices chattering on the comm.

“Captain McCall are you there?  Come in Captain McCall.  This is Bravo team.  Do you read?”

The steel claw of the mechanical beast still held his neck firmly, however more loosely, and McCall could breath.  Its now unlit mechanical eye still gazed silent hatred at him.

“Captain McCall answer me.  What is your status?”

McCall still didn’t answer; his eyes turned toward Vargas, sprawled across the metal floor of the corridor, still clutching his assault cannon, a small trail of smoke issuing from its barrel.

“Captain McCall do you read?  This is Bravo…”

“McCall here.  Tango Two-Seven is clean but Vargas is down.  Bring the meat truck.  I am switching on my beacon… come pick me up.”

-Fin

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Let’s try this again! Announcing The Fifth Column Give Away Raffle!

Hello friends!

My last attempt at a raffle crashed my website so now after revising my strategy here is the new and improved deluxe version!  The raffle will begin accepting entries on November 12th.  The prizes include copies of the book and the grand prize is a $50.00 Amazon gift card that can be used to purchase other books by inferior authors or even more copies of MY BOOK (for the super fans!)  KEEP CALM AND RAFFLE ON!

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The Fifth Column Release Raffle!

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