And Kill Them

William R. D. Wood

June 1, 2023

Khalid flexed his new hand inside the gauntlet of his assault weapon. The grip’s texture was rough and the cold of the nitrogen chiller next to his thumb felt exactly as it had before the last combat drop. The docs did good work. Sometimes that bothered him. 

“Got that look in your eye again.”

“What look?” asked Khalid, flipping down his visor. The other noncom locked into position beside him as the tram gained speed. The slipfield in the launch tube was already frosting the air and the tang of ozone stung his nose and throat.

“Like you’re dwelling on retirement again.” Cooper shook his head. “Heaven ain’t for us, Staff Sergeant.”

“You can secure that shit,” snapped Khalid. But Cooper was right. He really could go for a simpler life. The annual rejuvenations when he re-upped were nice, but what good was living a few hundred years when you had to spend it with a bunch of assholes? He sneered.

“Yep, thought so,” said Cooper.

Khalid could hear the grin spreading across the smug bastard’s face. 

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Navy types watched from observation platforms as the tram sped along. That was living. Drive the big ships within range, then shoot the ground-pounders through slipspace at the target world. Same tech that pushed billion-ton warships through subspace could also deliver troops across short distances without the need for landers. Space jockeys never even broke a sweat. 

A group of women in civvies smiled and waved as they flew past. 

Khalid glanced at Cooper as the other noncom waved back. A green icon pinged above Cooper’s head—Kahlid’s IFF system identifying Cooper as a friendly. Someday he was going to have the techies program in another color to designate moron. He smirked.

“Okay, boys and girls,” said Cooper to their squads. “Links on. Weapons hot.”

Khalid’s own link tingled to life, data scrolling across his vision, delivered to his brain by nanofilaments and synzymes through the base of his skull. Basic drop site info, weapons settings, and local bio profiles. 

“You gotta be kidding,” said Cooper. “Where does that even evolve?”

The tunnel convulsed into a mass of crisscrossing discharges. Needles ripped through Khalid.

And his feet hit the ground.

He sprinted ahead to clear the drop for the troops flashing into existence behind him. The panorama assaulted his senses. Golden rings arced up from the horizon, bisecting a violet sky filled with iridescent clouds. Smells, pungent and sweet, bypassed his respiratory supplements. An ocean of orange and yellow grasses shimmered, ringing like wind chimes in the breeze. 

Khalid had never imagined a place so… heavenly. 

“Go to exotic places,” murmured Cooper through their noncom link.

Blurs of blue and green sprang skyward from the grasses. Feathery tentacles writhed beneath veined butterfly wings. The closest bore down on them, a twisted rod in its tentacles growing brighter as it closed. Meet exotic people.

His field of vision filled with icons, pinging into an oncoming storm of red. 

Khalid smiled, his new hand unleashing hell.

William R. D. Wood traces his love of science fiction and horror back to a childhood filled with Space: 1999 reruns, frequent visits to the Night Gallery, and a worn-out copy of Dune. Much of his work is influenced by eight years of service in the U.S. Navy, five years in steel mills, and a thousand years of observations along the way. A good writing day finds him at any of several overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, deeply immersed in new works of cosmic horror. Will lives with his wife, children, and assorted ghosts in an old farmhouse turned backwards to the road.

“And Kill Them” originally appeared in Battlespace.