By David Castlewitz
It wasn’t unusual to find newborns on the battlefield. Anvil didn’t know which Snippet tribe won this fight, but he knew his duty. He’d survived. Now, the wiggling red babies expelled by dying comrades needed saving. Those with stubby antennae sprouting from their oblong heads, and with two well-defined legs and two mature arms, even if the fingers and toes hadn’t yet sprouted, should be salvaged and taken to the hive.
Anvil stood on the crusty ledge outside his battle station. He’d spent much of the terrifying fight cringing behind a bolt-throw-machine, hands feeding the gun with a fresh ribbon of needle nose missiles. As a warrior-class Snippet, Anvil didn’t expect to be afraid. Especially, since he fought from the relative safety of a Dyak, one of the biomechanical war machines the gods bequeathed his race.
When Anvil stepped onto the metal ladder bolted to the Dyak’s side, blood seeped between the thick scales protecting the beasts's flank; an audible intake of breath rippled through its body. It snorted. It spat bloody phlegm from its snout. Its rear legs – reduced to ragged stumps – supported its hindquarters and it knelt on shattered knees. The control booth in its skull was a charred canyon, its operators strapped to their seats burned black.
Anvil dropped to the soggy ground. A watery mass coated the back of his uniform and he stripped naked, gagging on his own stench. With strips of cloth torn from a dead soldier’s jumpsuit, he tried cleaning himself. Oily, black clumps slid down his legs, accumulated at his bare feet. A blast had torn off his boots. Something had cut his lower back.
He looked at the battle raging in the distance. Two mobs surged towards one another, broke apart, collided again, like ocean waves crashing against seashore rocks. Massive Dyaks lumbered towards one another, their huge heads raised, their long snouts spitting fire. They bellowed, and Anvil pictured the fighters in the recesses behind the Dyaks’ ears shooting darts and throwing spears. On the ground, foot soldiers shouted to rally their courage.
Red newborns crossed his feet. Anvil dropped to a squat and inspected the closest babes. Their parents had ejected them with a burst of blood and water, and pink fluid coated their young bodies. Anvil touched his mid-section. Old enough to be of the warrior class, he hadn’t yet matured to the point where his body could develop a fetus to be taken into the hive and raised to be a warrior, a herder, or any of a dozen occupations.
Anvil often dreamt of siring a breeder that would learn the lore of the gods and cultivate Dyaks, those massive cyber-organic beasts that served the armies. Or, perhaps, he’d birth a controller, one of the few of the warrior class that drove Dyaks by melding their thoughts to the animal’s.
So many babies slithered near the dead soldiers – friends and foes -- that Anvil didn’t know where to start. How would he carry the ones he rescued?
A Dyak neared and Anvil patted the scaly flank. According to the symbols emblazoned on a shiny cloth clinging to the gray body, the beast belonged to his tribe. Anvil pulled on a cord dangling from the massive head and the Dyak dropped to its knees. Quickly, he pushed one wiggling babe after the other into the recesses behind the ears. He put more into the control booth carved into the head.
He wrapped the remnants of a uniform around his midsection and climbed in. He didn’t understand how to use any of the equipment arrayed before him. Putting on the controller’s helmet would be useless. As would attempting to maneuver with the handles and horizontal bars facing him.
“Home,” he said. All soldiers knew the simple verbal commands Dyaks were trained to obey.
The Dyak rose. The surrounding carnage set Anvil’s stomach to heaving. At his first battle, the soldiers encountered a herd of kiekies, those six-legged creatures that roamed the plains and whose migratory patterns were the cause of inter-tribal warfare. Without kiekies, there’d be no meat to feed the populace, no sinews for rope, no bone for utensils, and no raw material for any of a dozen or more implements the tribes relied upon.
Harvesting the herd took precedence over fighting the enemy. They didn't fight.
For his second battle, Anvil remained with the reserve, far removed from the action.
But this battle, his third, showed him the carnage and slaughter old soldiers spoke of as if death and damage were heroic.
The Dyak trudged away from the fight. In the control booth, dozens of babies wiggled close to one another. In the recesses behind the ears, a similar knot of infant Snippets sought warmth and security. Soon, the Dyak reached the tangled mass of roots at the base of the forest, where Anvil’s tribe nested. Snippets rushed to greet him. A breeder inspected the Dyak for injuries. A builder checked the gun ports behind the ears. Tenders, in their roles as nurses and caregivers, unloaded the dozens of babies Anvil had rescued.
Anvil sat on the ground amid the fury of activity, curious to know how the battle fared. Where he’d been, there’d been so much death on both sides that he didn’t know if his tribe had won or lost.
An old warrior approached. “You rescued so many.”
The warrior pointed at the wiggling newborns. A few, Anvil noticed, didn’t move. These were soon carted off by weeping tenders. Builders assembled pens for the survivors.
“Which ones are ours?” the old soldier asked. “They all belong to the tribe?”
Anvil stared at the babies he’d brought home from the battlefield. There was no way to tell friend from foe. But this ancient Snippet, this hoary tribesman, might discern the truth if their eyes met, so he looked away.
“Yes,” Anvil said. “They’re ours.”
“Of course,” the old soldier said. “Of course they are.”
- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, I have turned to my first love: SF and fantasy. I have published several stories in Weirdyear, Farther Stars Than These, Fast Forward Festival, Encounters and other online as well as print magazines. Search the web and you’ll even find some of my earlier military history articles. My longer work can be found at
Thursday, June 11, 2015
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