Edition 25: A Hero For His People by Jason Lairamore
Moatvey knows Kayrill has done it this time, though what it is, he can’t quite figure out. But that won’t stop him. He has a plan to sort out Kayrill and his schemes before it’s too late. Tied third in the 2015 Story Quest contest, Jason’s unlikely partnership turned a mirror on the deviousness of these monsters. SY
Darkness was complete, but there was heat, and it moved in ways it shouldn’t, in silent rushes first this way and then that, like the chugging of some great beast breathing out over the surface of this far-flung planetoid.
Heat was how Moatvey always found Kayrill. Kayrill should have figured that out by now, but, as luck would have it, he hadn’t, and that was fine by Moatvey. He was his people’s rightful hero, after all.
He saw Kayrill’s cloaked harvester fine through his specs, even on a world as black as this. It sat there, as it pleased, collecting ore as fast as it could, as if Kayrill didn’t realize it was poaching on a planet surrounded by monstrous aliens that would pick it apart if they ever found it.
After a quick perimeter check, he jumped to the harvester’s port and scurried inside. He made sure to check for traps as he went. Kayrill had left snares and the like inside the last few ore collectors he had stolen.
This one looked clean. Moatvey made his quick way to the control access patch.
The command panel was lit up with flashing warning lights.
His hearts ran a mismatched cadence. The giant aliens had pinged the harvester. They were on their way. He rolled his head to cover the 360 before pecking away simultaneously on the console’s three boards. The harvesters were designed to flee if detected, to get off planet and head home, but this one wasn’t. Something was wrong.
Then he found it. Kayrill had rigged the collector to fail.
As he punched the three boards to work a bypass and get the machine moving, he picked up a com from the approaching aliens.
“Something is making that vibration,” one said.
“Yes, yes, something surely is,” said another. “I’m just saying it is not little green men.”
The laughter that followed sent a shiver down Moatvey’s spine.
Every time the giant aliens saw anything out of the ordinary they started jabbering about ‘little green men’. It was like they somehow knew about Moatvey and his kin even though none of them had ever actually seen one. That they seemed to know what he looked like was terrifying. It was like they had some kind of biological super-sense that he and his people had yet to discover.
He got around the harvester’s artificial intel and punched up the escape vectors manually. It’d be a slow trip back home—the poaching machines were built to make as few waves as possible—but at least he would get away.
Damn that devious Kayrill. He would pay for this.
Kayrill. He and Moatvey had been friends once. They had been chosen as the pair for the seven-year mission to catch an errant asteroid for mining. Back then, their people had been critically low on resources.
That mission had been such a success. They had managed to land on the asteroid, but they hadn’t been alone. An unmanned scout ship from the aliens had found it first.
It had been their people’s greatest scientific discovery. The alien ship had an interstellar drive, which his own people still hadn’t been able to reproduce.
Since then, he and Kayrill had managed to steal twelve other interstellar engines. They had been ghosting the giant aliens ever since in hopes of stealing more.
That Kayrill had set the harvester to get caught was insane. It had to be more than mere revenge against Moatvey for stealing the precious ships for his own gain. The aliens could have discovered the existence of their people.
The unthinkable was brewing inside Kayrill’s befuddled mind. Just as Moatvey did, Kayrill knew what those alien monsters were capable of doing. He had seen their wasteful atrocities and beast-like behavior just as often.
There would be problems by the time Moatvey reached home. He just knew it.
The harvester hit atmosphere, and Moatvey was ready.
If Kayrill had gone crazy, then he probably had some kind of plan. The best way to counter that was to be unpredictable.
So he would do the craziest thing he could think to do; fight crazy with crazy.
He ran to the interstellar engine and wedged his vice pliers into the casing surrounding its core, before taking off at a jolting lope to the impact cocoon he’d rigged up. He slid into its narrow hole and pulled the cork in after him.
The harvester’s interstellar engine blew up, and he was plastered against the spongy cocoon walls. Free-fall followed, and then impact. He bounced for a time before stopping.
He exited to the sound of screams, but didn’t waste time to examine the damage he had caused. He ran away. Nobody paid him any mind. Everybody was headed toward the devastation.
But not Moatvey. He ran toward the greater need. His people needed a hero.
Kayrill had to be stopped.
White circular domiciles predominated. In many places they were stacked twenty high. And in between the great white balls were white plastic strollways. Every so often there was a different colored ball indicating a store, or a workplace. He found a locater box and checked where he was.
Zeneta. Kayrill’s favorite ex-wife, though Moatvey doubted that she knew it. Kayrill still loved her. She was the one person that Kayrill cherished above all others.
Moatvey located her domicile and hopped a transport.
He kicked open the door of her home and entered in a rush. She lay back at her ease watching the news vids of the accident he had caused. He could hear the Newsman speak of it as he spun toward her. Her eyes were brimmed full of tears at the news. He wondered, briefly, how bad it had been, but clamped down on the guilty supposition. He could grieve later, after he made sure that the whole of his people were safe.
Her tears fell as she blinked at his sudden, noisy appearance.
“Moatvey?” she asked, bringing one of her arms up toward her face.
He jumped to her and had her bound before she could ask him what was going on.
“Kayrill has to be stopped,” he said. The dark light in her eyes brightened with the mention of that name.
“But–” she began.
“Later,” he commanded. “It’s not safe here.”
He dragged her away from the vidscreen and shuffled to her private transport. Once he had her secure, he revved up the transport’s engine and entered the main thoroughfare.
He needed some distance from her residence. Karyrill might have guessed that he would get to Zeneta. In any event, he now had a bargaining platform by which to deal.
“Moatvey, I’m frightened,” she said from the seat next to him.
He responded softly. It wasn’t her fault that Kayrill had gone insane.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “All I need you to do is call Kayrill.”
“What’s he done?” she asked. “Was he responsible for that crash this morning?”
She shook her head before continuing. “I always knew he’d get too involved, that he’d go too far. He never had your level head, Moatvey. Your friendship over the years had always kept him steady. Since you two have gone your separate ways I’ve done nothing but worry.”
“You and me both,” he replied.
Moatvey pointed to the communicator hooked to the front panel of the transport. “Contact him. Tell him you’re with me.”
She grabbed the device and paused. “I don’t know his information.”
“It hasn’t changed,” he said.
It hadn’t changed because Kayrill had wanted to leave a way for Zeneta to contact him if she ever felt the need. Moatvey was tempted to tell her this, but held back. She had enough on her mind already.
While she made her connection, Moatvey programed the coordinates to one of his secret storage facilities.
“Kayrill,” she said. “Is that you?”
“Tell him who you are with,” Moatvey said.
“Now end the contact.”
She did so without hesitation.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I’ll tell you later, I promise.”
They arrived at his secret storage building and took off in moments later.
“Call him back,” Moatvey handed Zeneta the communicator.
They were in high orbit above the planet with the planet’s communication satellites well within range of his devices.
He handed her a piece of parchment with a star location grid-set written neatly upon it.
“Tell him to meet us there,” he said.
She punched in Kayrill’s number and then nodded. “When?”
“Now.” He fiddled with his ship’s controls as she waited for Kayrill.
“Kayrill,” she said into the communicator. “Yes, I’m fine. No, he hasn’t hurt me.”
She looked over at Moatvey. “No, he doesn’t want to talk to you.”
She read off the grid-set. “Meet us there.”
“Cease the call,” Moatey said.
“What’s going on?” Zeneta asked after closing the communicator.
“We’re going to a comet,” he said, “a fast moving one, with a very low albedo. It is real hard to see. The perfect place.”
“A comet,” she repeated, looking out the window. Moatvey sometimes forgot that the masses were so less travelled than he and Kayrill.
The interstellar was quiet as he readied it for the burn to the comet. He glanced over at Zeneta, but she continued to look out the window toward the world below.
“Ready?” he asked.
She nodded, still looking away. “He called you a coward. It was the last thing I heard before cutting the connection.”
“I don’t care what he said,” Moatvey replied and hit the ignition to the interstellar drive.
The surface of the comet was broken, black rock spotted here and there with white out-gassings. He launched his detection drones and then suited up. He asked Zeneta do the same before they headed outside, on to the surface.
Kayrill stepped out from behind a rocky outcropping as soon as Moatvey and Zeneta were a dozen hops from the ship.
“What have you done Kayrill?” Zeneta asked before anyone else had a chance to say anything.
Kayrill gave her a big smile. Moatvey frowned. That smile was too predatory. It reminded him of the aliens.
“I’m glad you are here to witness my crowning achievement Zeneta,” Kayrill said.
“You’re not achieving anything,” Moatvey said, grabbing Zeneta. He pulled a blade from his pocket and put its edge against her throat.
Kayrill didn’t seem the least bit perturbed. “If you had put a knife to her before that explosion you caused, I’d not have taken you seriously. Now though, I’m willing to bet that you’d actually do it. You’ve learned a thing or two from our large friends it seems.”
Zeneta began to tremble in Moatvey’s grasp. Moatvey didn’t like how Kayrill remained so calm.
Kayrill shook his head. “We both know why you brought me here.”
Moatvey paused. He had been delaying, had been dragging out the inevitable, just to make sure that Kayrill hadn’t any more tricks to pull. That Kayrill was acting so pleased with himself was unnerving.
“You’re right,” he said.
There had been enough talk. It was time to end this. His people needed him. He was their hero. And Kayrill was in the way.
He bent and whispered into Zeneta’s ear, “You want to know what is going on?” he asked. “I’m going to kill you. Then I am going to kill Kayrill.”
He tightened his grip on the knife and made ready to use it against her trembling form.
“There can only be one hero,” he said, loud enough for Kayrill to hear.
One of his detector drones dinged. He jerked to check the panel on his wrist and Zeneta wrenched herself away. She bounded toward Kayrill. He made to follow, but saw what was standing behind the still smiling Kayrill.
Two giant monster aliens were there. One had a gun pointed at him.
“They were here the entire time,” Kayrill said, “behind the same rock as me.”
He turned to Zeneta who was about halfway between the two. “I told them to make sure no harm came to you. You were never in any danger Zeneta.”
Her stare travelled between Moatvey and him, until stopping on the aliens.
“You really are crazy!” Moatvey moaned. “You’ve seen their histories! You know what they have done!”
Kayrill turned to the two giants. “I’ve been trying to capture him for months. His behavior has been on a steady decline since the contact between our races. He set off an explosion that killed over a hundred of my kind a short time ago. And you saw what he was ready to do to dear Zeneta. As you can see, what I told you is true.”
What had Kayrill been telling them? Why had he been talking to them at all? They were monsters.
“What have you done?” he asked. “You have doomed us all.”
Kayrill shook his head. “We are overpopulated and without resources. We must have their interstellar tech. There are things we have that they do not. Mutual trade between us and them can and will be achieved.”
The monsters were smiling at him. Moatvey just stared. He could see their hard teeth from here, teeth for ripping and tearing, teeth for masticating. They were beasts. What guarantee did they have that the aliens wouldn’t simply come and kill his entire race, or enslave them, or simply take anything they wanted and then be on their merry way. He’d seen their history. They were more than capable of doing any of those atrocious things.
“Your days of villainous greed and monopolizing the situation are at an end,” Kayrill continued. “It is not up to you to single handedly control the handful of interstellar we have. Our people have a right to know. They need to know everything.”
Moatvey dropped the knife he had been carrying. The alien that had the gun pointed at him didn’t drop its weapon.
They all just looked at him, as if waiting for him to say something in his defense. He could have said that he’d been trying to protect his people from a bigger, more aggressive species, that all he wanted to do was try to keep the two cultures apart until his people were stronger. But, he remained silent. It was too late now. Kayrill had seen to that.
Kayrill looked once again to the monsters. “Our kind isn’t ready to associate too directly with your culture, as Moatvey here proves. Relations must be slow.”
“We can respect that,” one of the monsters said.
Could they? Moatvey wondered. Were they capable of understanding the notion of respect?
“If you have a need to rid yourself of this one,” the monster continued, “perhaps you could release him into our care. Maybe we could learn more about each other through…a dialogue with him?”
Kayrill looked to the hard black rock at his feet.
“I’ll go,” Moatvey said. The alternative was to be detained, put on trial and probably sent to prison.
Kayrill nodded and the giants approached.
So the monsters were coming. At least he would be there to witness it.
And, who knew, perhaps, one day, he could find a way to be of some service, just in case his people needed him.
They might, still yet, need a hero.
Jason Lairamore is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror who lives in Oklahoma with his beautiful wife and their three monstrously marvelous children. His work is both featured and forthcoming in over 55 publications to include Perihelion Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories and Third Flatiron publications to name a few.