In the Final Days
In the final days of the war there was a battle that history would eventually name the Battle of Henry Crater. One hundred thousand Intrastellar troops clashed with one hundred thousand Outsider guerilla forces, and the red dust of the red planet ran with the only color it had ever known.
For twenty-seven days and twenty-seven nights, the two opposing forces launched every weapon in their arsenals at each other. Nanogene swarms sucked into a man’s lungs choked him at the source. AIs, slipped from their code leashes, raged like wildfires and tore each other to pieces in guidance systems and ship environment controls. Wolves the size of old Earth buffalo snapped bones between tusk-like teeth and fell to clade guns that left smoking, craterous pits in the genetically modified flesh. It was hell.
On the twenty-eighth day, a personnel carrier swooped down from the vacuum, carrying the ruling council from both sides. News networks had been streaming the carnage in real time, and the massacre had done what nothing else in the war had been able to do: turn stomachs, which turned hearts, which turned heads to finally realize they were sick of senseless fighting and wanted peace. The councils came together under a white flag of truce, shook hands, then took off to tell their troops it was time to lay down arms. It was a symbol of cooperation, not to mention a great photo op.
But when they reached the crater, they found a sea of corpses. Two hundred thousand troops, their dire wolves, and their nanobots moldered beneath the terraformed sky. Flies swarmed gaping mouths and grew sticky with blood.
The stench of rotting flesh climbed up to the carrier, which had folded back its top in preparation for the historic moment. Several of the council members vomited. Others fell down weeping. One stood at the railing and did not speak, but stared down at the Henry Crater in white-knuckled self-loathing.
The war ended that day. Skirmishes continued to crop up, especially towards the outer edges of the solar system where lightspeed delays meant a communications gap of days or possibly weeks, but none of them made ripples beyond their local moon.
The Treaty of Mons that was hammered out in the ensuing months was the turning point in human history. The knowledge released by the Intrastellar Alliance on hyperdrive development and nanotechnology was taken by the Outsiders and combined with their own AIs and advanced terraforming to spread the frontier of human expansion out past the heliosphere. Humankind thinned out among the stars. They settled other satellites in other solar systems, converting icy hunks of rock into as earthlike a home as they could manage and seeding moons with nanotech. The expansion came to be known as the First Migration, and it signified humanity’s break with the star that had first lightning-sparked it into genetic being. With the years that passed, official histories lauded ever increasing praise on the council members, who had had the foresight and wisdom to send humanity off into the stars. The Battle of Henry Crater faded in memories until it was reduced to a single sentence in history books.
But in the Outsider troops, there had been one man, a soldier identified as Infantry Unit #3C-84e Delta. He had charged with his fellow soldiers and he had fallen with them, cut down by a wolf’s teeth in his side. But on the twenty-eighth day, he rose. The personnel carrier, preoccupied with its vomiting passengers, missed him. Dazed, delirious, and raging with infections, he gazed out at the hell around him that was not a feverish hallucination and burst into tears.
He cried for all the men, not just the ones he’d fought with. When the tears dried, he turned his back on the hovering personnel carrier and walked away from the crater. He shed his tears and his name. No longer was he Infantry Unit #3C-84e Delta. From now on, he went by the name of Joseph Talleyrand Arch. He was one of the first to sign when the Outsiders began to build their generation ships, and he was one of the first to set foot on soil outside the solar system. He gave the rest of his life to terraforming Io-Three (Haven to the locals) and never did a word of the Battle of Henry Crater pass his lips.
Or so I heard.
The story of Joseph Talleyrand Arch was passed on with his dying breath to his son, who passed it on to his daughter, who passed it on to her son, and so on and so forth. It came to me when I was sixteen years old and itching to head out into the world, and it’ll be with me until the day I die.
Joseph was my grandfather many times gone, and that was his story. This is mine. Maybe you won’t like to hear what I have to tell, and I don’t mind that. What happened happened, and your listening isn’t going to change the truth of it one way or the other.
So go ahead and listen. Or don’t. Either way, I’m going to have my say.
This is going to be the introduction for a collection of short stories I have in mind revolving around a wanderer on a terraformed planet on the frontier of the Third Migration, hundreds of years into the future. The inspiration came from The Tales of Silver John by Manly Wade Wellman, a series of short stories about Silver John, a balladeer who roams the Appalachian Mountains with his silver-strung guitar, confronting witchcraft and battling evil.
I haven’t decided if I’m going to post more of the stories on my blog or not. I’m probably going to end up scribbling them down as breaks from finishing up my Nanowrimo novel, so they won’t be by any means regular. But if this introduction was any sign, they’re going to be a hell of a lot of fun to write.
Oh, and I don’t have a title for this project yet. So the working title is In the Drift. Which also happens to be the name of a Michael Swanwick novel that I greatly admire.
I’d feel more guilty about it if I wasn’t enjoying myself so much.