In Time

Posted: September 21, 2013 by writingsprint in Science fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

shooting bugsFor something new, I wrote a scene where time was a factor. I worked out how long it would take the characters to run a distance, then worked out how far they could cover in the time it took me to read what was happening. Once the ball gets rolling, everything that you read is happening in “real time.”

Steve had been up since 9 a.m. yesterday, for 28 straight hours. His eyes burned, and his muscles felt like they were breathing, slowly. He had sticks in his eyes, cotton in his ears and a taste in his mouth like old shoe leather. His guns were sighted down a plain about a miles wide, and half a mile long, the opening of a mountain pass that led to a bug nest deep inside it. The pass was the only way the bugs could come down to attack their outpost on planet R. They’d come down about once every hour. The pass was filled with bug corpses. It would have been worse, but they had burned down the bodies with incendiares to keep the sight lines clear. Now they were low on ammo, and they were due for another attack.

Steve’s binoculars were trained down range, looking for the patrol that had been sent out to find the bug nest. He tried to avoid rubbing his eyes. His vision was sharper that way. He’d run out of eye drops two hours ago. His eyes burned like someone was crinkling paper in them every time he blinked. He drank some water to keep himself lubricated. He started to yawn when he saw two human-shaped silhouettes come running around the corner at the end of the pass. Two out of the six that had gone. They were running fast. He thought he saw Mary’s face.

Steve hit the bug alert switch. Klaxons started sounding all over camp. The dozen sleepy faces in Blue bunker with him sprang up like they’d been jabbed with electrical shocks. Steve’s face twisted like water going down a drain as his yawn melted away under the flood of adrenaline. It felt good to yawn but it felt better to live.

“What’ve we got?” his lieutenant called over his radio.

‘“Patrol’s coming in hot!”

They were fifty yards down the pass when the bugs showed up. Mortars started lobbing bug juice – literally, Raid on steroids. Steve took the safeties off his miniguns and sighted them down range. The patrol was running dead center down the pass. Yes, he saw Mary. She looked scared. Steve sighted the left side of the pass.

The bugs under the gas attack flipped over and started convulsing. Their ugly brethren kept coming. Some of them died too but the gas was already breaking up. It had been hours since their last supply drop.

Over Steve’s radio, he heard the lieutenant saying, “Cover the patrol! Keep them alive! They know where the bug nest is!” Steve could see the look on Mary’s face. He didn’t need to be told twice.

His guns whined, bucked, and a hundred rounds of hot metal were flipped down range before he blinked. The bullets slashed through the first batch of bugs so fast they didn’t feel them. They didn’t understand why they were dying, until they took a step and their wounds opened up and bled out. The bullets struck the next wave behind them and killed them too. Red bunker was covering the right side.

Steve checked the range. The patrol had covered about a third of the way. The bunkers kept firing.

Bugs kept spilling out through the pass, like a hemorrhage. It was happening slower than before. Steve saw dozens of them coming out the left and right sides, but more of them crushed together in the middle. Steve’s jaw hung open.

“Frag me. They’re using the patrol as cover,” someone said to his right.

“If anyone hits the patrol by mistake I’ll put a bullet in them myself,” Steve replied.

No one called him on it. His buddy Francis said, “It’s all right, dude. We all care about her.”

“Not like I do. And the lieutenant hates her guts.”

The mortars fired again. Steve couldn’t believe it had been so long since he heard them fire. For the first twelve hours, they had fired about every ten seconds. The valley had been soaked in bug juice, so badly that they’d had put on gas masks. It had been a minute since they fired the first time.

They were halfway there.

The other trooper stumbled. Mary helped him stay up. He could read her lips through the range finder. Come on! We’re almost there!

I’m cramping up. Go!

She kept him moving. No heroes today. Breathe. Run!

From the other bunker, Steve heard someone say, “They’re getting through the pass. Request permission to shoot the patrol.”

Steve’s heart dropped. Then he heard the lieutenant say, “Negative. We destroy the hive.”

Steve had one eye on Red bunker. They were firing as fast as Blue, but he wanted to know the hell was losing his nerve.

Francis said, “Steve, you’re slacking off. Keep shooting!”

“Had to cool the gun,” he lied. He had let up. He buried the left side in fire and steel. His ammo was lower than he liked, too. Mary and the other guy – it was a guy Tanner; they all played cards together – had less than 300 yards to go.

“Sir, if we all die it doesn’t matter,” it was sergeant Burke.

“Burke, do your job!” the lieutenant said.

The valley was filled with bugs. The mortars started firing constantly now, from halfway down the pass all the way to the entrance. The valley filled with dead bugs. Steve focused on shooting live ones. It wasn’t easy.

A hundred yards. He imagined he could hear her, breathing hard, dagger wisps of breath knifing her throat.

“Come on, Mary!” Steve yelled.

“Ready flame units,” the lieutenant said.

If they had to use the flame throwers it was all over. Mary would die right in front of him.

Tanner stumbled again. Steve could see he was in agony. Mary looked tired, scared, and more than anything else, lost. She had nothing else to give.

When they had been ordered to planet R, Steve and Mary had promised each other to pull trigger if they had to, each to keep the other from getting ripped apart by the bugs.

Steve broke his promise. He kept firing on the bugs.

Tanner yelled, Run. He pulled out his sidearm and shot himself.

Mary hauled ass.

She ran between the bunkers.

The flame units went off less than a second later. Steve and others dropped to the ground. Orange light and heat bathed the bunkers. Bugs shrieked. Steve couldn’t breathe. The heat ate into his body, but he still smiled.

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