Rise Of The Hunters

This Science Fiction short story is a lead-up to the book titled, Onyalum Wars. The book is part of the Science Fiction Onyalum Series written by NB VanYoos.
Link to Podcast

Picture of Trilliu HunterA cold wind blew across the dead littering the barren landscape. Reeking Trilliu and Acriend bodies were strewn about the ground, remnants of an epic battle in defense of the hive. The predictable Trilliu soldiers had fought valiantly, their efforts inflicting heavy damage on the enemy.

But it had not been enough, and they were overrun by the grotesque Acriend who rarely took Trilliu prisoners. All that remained of the Trilliu defenses were rotting corpses seething with local insects benefiting from the unexpected feast.

The Trilliu soldiers were victims of more than their enemy. They had been betrayed by the very soldiers who were created to lead them. These new soldiers, offspring of the scientists and engineers, were designed to lead the less intelligent fighters that were incapable of independent action. But that was an Achilles’ heel the new soldiers intended on exploiting to supplant the old guard with their own rule.

Though the hive leaders had agreed to the procreation of this new breed to bolster their floundering armies, their fears were grounded in reality. The scientist and engineers had devised this plan for millennia, working diligently to perfect this new line in their species, a breed that ironically sprang from an ancient line lost through billions of years of evolution.

In the far distant past, the Trilliu hive operated much as it did today. The leaders organized and protected the hive, breeding with females to create workers, guardians, and hunters. These hunters were the forefathers of the scientists and engineers. Their purpose had been to swarm the environment, bringing back the bounty that was processed for all to eat. And these hunters were formidable, cunning, and effective at taking down enemy hundreds of times larger than themselves.

They had been equipped with an arsenal of natural abilities that made them effective as hunters. And they were as loyal as any in the hive, often mating with females when their numbers dropped below certain thresholds. But over time, evolution and the scheming of the leaders who viewed the hunters as threats, forever changed their line into a highly sophisticated, but physically weak part of the hive. Their natural fighting abilities were atrophied, dormant within their genetic makeup, but nearly impossible to reactivate.

That was until a single scientist found that mixing the genetic makeup of the existing soldiers with that of the scientists, resurfaced many of those old attributes, creating a glorious new breed of soldier with the strength of the old guardians, the cunning and abilities of the old hunters, and the intelligence of the modern scientist and engineer. They were a marvel, and the leaders feared them for good reason.

The scientists wisely hid many of the hunter’s new talents from the leaders for fear of reprisal. Though Confale had blessed this new creation, the leaders still held the upper hand in the hive and in the eye’s of their Creator. But that would change as the rise of the hunters showed their true worth to the species. They would replace all but their fathers, forming a new hierarchy within the hive—a new evolution long past due.

But first, they had to win this conflict, defeating the Acriend before taking on the other species battling within the colliding galaxy. The hunters would tip the scales in their favor, and this battle would kick off their rise to prominence.

Jiirtik woke from his self-induced coma, vibrating his body like a jackhammer, the liquefaction of surrounding soil forcing his body to the surface. Within seconds, he emerged from his cocoon, his senses coming to life to survey the carnage around him. He was a hunter, and burrowing into the ground was an old trick hunters had used to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Sorry brothers, you are but victims of evolution. He thought quietly as he took stock of the guardians lifeless forms. Their loss was a necessary evil, a way to trim their numbers while the hunters displayed their true value. It was a senseless death, but would lead to victory for all in the long run.

The ground vibrated gently as the thousands of the hunters surfaced from their hiding. Their camouflage, far superior to the old guardian’s, made them nearly invisible against the barren landscape, scorched clean by an earlier Acriend occupation. The planet was nearly lifeless, hardly worth colonizing, but rich with raw materials the Trilliu desperately needed to rebuild their depleted forces.

The Acriend had invaded and destroyed the world decades earlier, its riches too far buried for them to mine. But they didn’t possess an inexhaustible supply of workers like the Trilliu. Given time, the workers of the hive would recover half those buried riches within the husk of the planet. But time was not being afforded as the Acriend came back to reclaim the world. It was a single hive against an Acriend fleet, but this time, the hunters would ensure victory.

Jiirtik walked over to the corpse of a fallen Acriend soldier, its mangled form a tangle of blood, hair, and swarming insects. Though he didn’t like feeding on his enemy, he needed the sustenance for the forthcoming battle. He leaned over, releasing a caustic soup of enzymes, breaking down the Acriend body into its basic constituents. Even before the reactions were complete, he began sucking the vile mixture through his proboscis, ingesting the food to rebuild his reserves.

Thousands of hunters followed suit, many forced to eat their fallen brothers, their loss turned to a gain. The sounds of artillery echoed across the plain, the final battle for the hive underway. Jiirtik knew how this campaign would progress, their plot banking on that predictability. After the Acriend overran the Trilliu’s outer perimeter, they would setup camp just outside the heavily defended city limits. Within those defenses were the oldest and most hardened warriors of the old guardians, and they would put up a powerful resistance.

But the Acriend would beat them mercilessly with artillery and probing raids, eventually breaking down the defenses to overrun the city itself. Once inside the city walls, the Acriend would be unstoppable. The Trilliu had watched in horror as many cities were overrun often with nothing more than pacifier forces. It was the beginning of the end of the Trilliu in this contest, and the hunters were the final salvation for the Trilliu species.

After satisfying his hunger, Jiirtik signaled his men using the clicking language of their distant ancestors. Only scientists and engineers fully understood this ancient language carried down for millennia as a means to speak without being understood. Plotting against the leaders was a dangerous game, and the scientists and engineers had become adept at playing. It was the only remnant of their former glory, until they had resurrected the hunters from their genetic slumber.

En masse,  sixty thousand hunters charged across the landscape towards the Acriend whose backs would be fully exposed and undefended. They would take out the artillery first, a signal to the Acriend soldiers that the final push for the city was to begin. It would be a false signal, and the fools would charge into a heavily defended position without backup. Caught between the old guardians and the new hunters, the Acriend would be crushed before any of their leaders knew what was happening.

The sound of the large cannons grew louder as they neared the outer perimeter of the Acriend army. Jiirtik came over a rise and stopped, signaling his men to wait as the rest of their forces moved into position. Time to survey the enemy before proceeding. He adjusted his goggles, switching between multiple spectrums to fully scan what they were up against.

From his vantage, he spied at least four dozen heavy artillery units spread out in a thin line only moderately guarded by regular troops. Many of the large weapons were only manned by non-Acriend aliens, slaves enlisted to fight the Acriend battles. They were smaller in size, easily dispatched. As predicted, the weakest links in the Acriend forces were their rear echelon, now unprotected with an enormous force of hunters arrayed against it.

Jiirtik eyed the distant spiral of the city walls, its protective field still intact. The Acriend knew better than to fire upon the city proper, the wall’s design and force fields could withstand powerful ordinance, even nuclear attacks. The Acriend artillery was simply softening the defenses around the city, weakening the old guardians to penetrate and swarm the great hive.

On his left, his squad mate relayed the signal for readiness, and he dutifully passed it down his right line, the message continuing in a long succession of units ready for the attack. From his vantage, he couldn’t see any sizable obstacle keeping them from completing their mission. Once inside the Acriend forces, they wouldn’t stop. They would mercilessly move inward, killing all in their path until their foe was vanquished.

At the same time, a swarm of new aerial fighters manned by hunters would launch from the city, their mission to destroy or heavily cripple the fleet overhead. It was a bold move by the Trilliu, and the leaders had been reluctant to commit so many of their resources to a single battle. But they had been convinced it was necessary, trusting the very soldiers they now feared. If they won, the rise of the hunters would be ensured.

He spotted the unit to his left moving out towards the enemy and he signaled his own troops to move out slowly. They crept along the ground on all six legs, their stealth and camouflage hiding them from all but thermal scanners. But even those would be hard pressed to recognize them against the background radiation, their bodies able to shift heat to their underside, presenting a colder, more ambient temperature above. To the casual observer, the ground would shimmer and move, but could easily be discounted as ambient temperature fluctuations.

They were within a hundred meters of one of the big cannons, its enormous size and sound an obstacle to the Acriend recognizing there was a threat. He held his troops steady as a lone soldier briefly turned to survey the landscape behind the big gun. But his eyes were not adequate to peer beneath the veil of camouflage hiding a swarm of enemy. The reckless soldier would be the first to die.

The shaggy soldier turned back to watch the gun crew continue firing towards the distant city, and Jiirtik gave his signal. Two of his troops moved out in a flash, covering the hundred meters in seconds. He and the others moved out behind them, their mission to disable the gun crew while the others took out the guards.

As he came upon the massive gun, he latched his strong arms onto the cold metal and lifted his body up to the main control platform. His other troops moved around the base of the gun to disable the workers feeding shells into the monstrosity. He climbed quickly, his multitude of grasping digits easily finding perches on the bulky weapon. He covered the final few meters and leapt onto the main controller’s platform, two aliens startled by his sudden appearance.

Before they could signal anyone there was trouble, he sprayed his caustic chemicals into their faces, the mixture dissolving their bodies while strangling their screams. Within seconds they lay lifeless on the grate, the chemicals leeching their brains through the deformity created in their faces. This was yet another weapon the hunters had at their disposal, a powerful spray of chemicals easily fired nearly ten meters with deadly accuracy. The leaders didn’t know about this ability either.

The gun was silenced, and Jiirtik moved to the ground to see how the rest of the assault had faired. He’d heard only a few shots of small arms fire from some of the guards, but most had been disabled before they even knew what hit them. Hunters were not as large as a full grown Acriend, but their strength was nearly on par. But a chemical arsenal mixed with a lethal combination of blades, small sidearms, and lightning speed made the hunters a serious threat to any Acriend soldier. Teamwork was what made the hunters lethal.

Jiirtik eyed the dismembered remains of one of the Acriend soldiers, his troops using nothing more than their speed and strength to take him out before he knew they were there. He was satisfied with the initial assault and signaled his men to continue moving inwards, squeezing the Acriend army between the hunters and the old guards. They moved onto all six limbs once more, stealthily making their way towards the distant spiral city. The artillery was silent now, and the foolish Acriend would launch their final invasion in their final moments of life.

As Jiirtik covered the distance between the artillery and the Acriend troops, he was excited to watch swarms of fighters launch through special bays installed within the city walls. Thousands poured forth, their powerful engines lifting them into space, signaling doom for the Acriend fleet as they ushered in the rise of the hunters.

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