Huvek, by James l. steele


            Loy rose from behind the wall and opened fire, spraying razor sharp bullets back and forth across the line of advancing reptiles. Three hesitated and jerked to the side as his rounds connected with their body armor. A split second later they righted themselves, still charging forward at full speed. They never hesitated long.

            Loy emptied his clip, ejected it and crouched below the wall as he yanked another from his vest and popped it in. He braced himself on the sandbags piled midway up the wall for a firing platform, stood up straight and started shooting again.

            His entire battalion was firing into the line of massive reptiles from behind the city's defensive wall. They had previously succeeded in clearing the kesvek out, but now the reptiles were coming back and they had never looked more intimidating.

            One warrior's head bucked backwards and he (or she) toppled back with it. The warrior sprawled out on the ground and did not get up. Loy wasn't sure if he had fired the killing shot or not, but the sight of a fallen reptile energized him. It made him think of the countless worlds the Kesvek invaded. The billions of human lives they took as they advanced through the star systems, claiming world after word for their own. Loy was fighting for all of them, and seeing a Kesvek fall reassured him they were vulnerable to razor rounds. They could be killed. The war was winnable.

            A kesvek was nearly indestructible, even without his armor. The reptiles carried no weapons and advanced as a single wall of solid scale and brute muscle. The massive claws on their feet and hands were known to pierce solid metal. They preferred hand to hand combat, so the strategy was to keep them as far away as possible. Spraying them with gunfire would kill them eventually, but as the line of red, green, white, yellow and blue scales ran closer, Loy began to feel the first hints of dread.

            Loy's clip was empty. He ducked below the wall and ripped another from his vest as he ejected the old one.

            "Jesus help me. Jesus keep me safe. Jesus give us victory and take care of my wife and daughter if I fall."

            He said it every battle, sometimes multiple times in a battle, always while reloading. He locked the clip, rose above the wall and opened fire. The wall of charging lizards was so close he could hit them with his eyes closed.

            The swarm hadn't thinned, and they merely flinched as they charged. The spray of gunfire was like a strong wind they had to resist.

            One of the warriors reached behind his back and pulled something from a holster slung between his shoulders. It was cylindrical, twice as thick as the kesvek's arm, and had multiple openings at the front. It resembled a type of automatic weapon that was usually mounted at perimeters and took four soldiers to transport. Loy ceased fire, puzzled this reptile would be holding a weapon.

            The wall of charging reptiles slowed to a stop as a dozen other warriors pulled identical guns from behind their backs as well. They looked like they weighed two-hundred kilos apiece, and the lizards swung them around like cardboard tubes. Moments later, fifty reptiles were aiming weapons at the wall.

            Flashes of light emitted from the barrels of these guns. The first few shots sounded like gunfire, but then every gun began firing at the same time, and the shots blended into a solid roar. Loy leaped from his perch and rolled down the sandbags as bullets shattered the wall. Loy crashed on the cracked asphalt and covered his head as a heavy spray of concrete rained down on him. Six other soldiers also dropped to the street and lay low, waiting for it stop.

            "They have guns!?" Leo shouted.

            "What the fuck!?"

            "Break position! Try to flank them!" shouted Northpoint, the lieutenant colonel.

            The gunfire ceased for a breath. Loy scrambled to his feet and ran hunched over. The other soldiers on the ground got up and ducked away. A second spray of gunfire pierced their stone cover as Loy joined his fellow troops moving up the left side of the wall. From the sound of the weapons, Loy guessed the reptiles weren't advancing anymore. They stood in place as they unloaded round after round into the city wall. They knew they had the advantage. They didn't need cover, and their guns were big enough to punch through any cover humans tried to take.

            Loy tried to wrap his mind around this. Over forty years of war, and the Kesvek had never used guns. Kesvek disliked fighting at a distance. They preferred to tear things apart with their claws. What had kept them at bay for so many years was mankind's skill at fighting from a distance. Now the enemy was using human-style weapons. This meant the reptiles were desperate enough to sink to lowly human combat techniques.

            Loy had a thought. He pressed his radio button. "Anyone notice they waited until they were close to us before opening fire?"

            "They held off until they were right on top of us!" someone said. Loy recognized the voice. It was Batter, a private, first tour of duty, total rookie and too eager for his own good.

            "They like to touch their victims," Loy said. "Maybe they settled for seeing the whites of our eyes instead. We stay out of sight maybe they won't open fire again."

            "Hooah," someone announced, followed by a chorus of other replies.

            "Keep flanking, stay low, do not reveal position until ordered," said Northpoint.

            Loy and his squad ducked low along the city wall. The point commander broke away from the edge and quickly ran between buildings just in case the warriors turned their guns to the flanking sides of the wall. The kesvek warriors continued firing.

            Loy was aware they were leaving a gap for the Kesvek to march straight into the city, and the commander was hoping they'd walk right into the gap. The entire battalion would have them surrounded.

            Finally, after several minutes of nonstop shooting, the Kesvek's weapons were silent. It took a long time for the reverberation to drain from Loy's ears. When it did, Loy heard marching lizards, and then the unmistakable sound of claws raking stone. They were breaking down the wall with their bare hands. A couple warriors could do it in no time, and a swarm of them could make even shorter work of it. Sure enough, the stone crumbled.

            Loy wished for a tank, or artillery, or something big right now. There was always a device like that in video games at a time like this, but the reality was tanks were useless against the Kesvek. Their lack of mobility and narrow field of vision made them easy targets for warriors. One could tear his way through the armor in just a few swipes and ruin the whole machine.

            The same went for unmanned attack and defense systems. The Kesvek immediately sought out and destroyed the satellites and antennas that ran them, and then it was back to meeting the lizards on the front lines again. They always pushed forward faster than the humans could pull back.

            Air strikes were little help, as explosions only bruised them. Traditional bullets were stopped cold by their hides. Extremely sharp blades were the only thing that seemed to get through the thick layer of scales. In the early days of the war, grenades and bombs loaded with shrapnel worked beautifully, until the Kesvek began wearing secondary armor.

            In response, humans perfected bullets with sharp tips, which pierced lizard hide very well, but then they had to get through the tough layers of muscle and thick bone. The best way to kill a kesvek was to fill him full of bullets until he dropped. Unfortunately, the extra armor the Kesvek wore stopped the razor rounds.

            The Army couldn't train everybody as a sharpshooter, able to aim for the weak points between the joints in the armor, or the gaps in the helmet, and equipping the troops with multiple types of ammunition would have been too much for them to juggle. Instead, the Army simply gave automatic weapons to all the troops and counted on the sheer number of razor rounds to tear through the armor and eventually take the kesvek down.

            Computer-aided aiming systems were still not fast enough to make precise hits on a kesvek moving at full speed, so it was up to the troops on the front line. Ground troops, like Loy, were mobile, agile, able to adapt on the fly to whatever the enemy threw at them, but it took so much to take even one lizard down. Sometimes a shot to the head would kill a kesvek instantly, but there was still a lot of bone to get through, so it would have to be a very lucky shot.

            A minute passed in relative silence as the warriors tore through the city's defensive wall. It had been built to resist a Kesvek invasion, so it was high and thick, but it served more as psychological comfort to the citizens who once lived in this colony than real defense. Nothing short of kilometer-wide moat would slow down an army of kesvek warriors.

            Loy's squad leader took them to the wall, which had already been prepared with piles of sandbags every thirty meters. Loy climbed up one of them and peeked over the top.

            The line of reptiles broke through the wall at that moment. They pulled the stone blocks down and opened the gap wider and wider. It would take a wrecking ball to do what these lizards could do. Loy had nothing but respect for them--a respect he channeled into disdain.

            When the gap was wide enough, the enemy marched through it into the city. The Kesvek had backwards legs and walked on their toes, making them appear as if they were always hunched over, about to charge at full speed. Several kesvek walked by the position Loy once held. Their tongues slid from their snouts, flicked around and tasted the ground where he had taken cover. Loy sneered in disgust. Snakes with limbs was one nickname given to the Kesvek.

            "FIRE!" screamed Northpoint.

            Loy rose from cover and emptied his clip. His entire battalion unloaded theirs. Several hundred guns went off at once, all trained on the group of kesvek in the middle. Soldiers on the other side of the wall opened fire as well. Troops had taken position on rooftops and rained sharp metal down on the enemy. Still others launched grenades into their ranks to distract them. They unloaded everything they had on the warriors. The kesvek were surrounded and there was nowhere to run.

            If the kesvek had been anything close to human, they would have scattered for cover. But not these monsters. The warriors stood their ground, took the razor rounds. Pieces of armor flew in all directions as fast as the bullets fired. Sometimes the kesvek flinched when a shot made it through a joint.

            The lizards with weapons swung them around and sprayed bullets in all directions. Several voices over the com were cut off in mid-sentence. Blood splattered everywhere. Loy reached for another clip, but the space on his vest was empty. He felt the next, and the next. Nothing. Four of his fellow humans were out of ammo, too.

            The sound of human weapons was noticeably quieter than before. The kesvek weapons had taken out many soldiers, and now the warriors stopped firing. They shrugged the weapons off their backs. The guns clanged on the asphalt like cast-iron girders. Now free of the weight, the kesvek stood hunched over, tails out for balance, and splayed their claws. Their tongues darted in and out, tasting the air for prey. They fanned out through the city in all directions. Three kesvek ran towards Loy's group.

            Loy and two others dropped from the wall and bolted into the city. He glanced to the sides at his fellow soldiers. Private Axer on his left. Corporal Harni on his right. He didn't know these two very well, but they were human, which made them family. They ran down the streets, taking turn after turn from one street to another, knowing it didn't matter if they stayed out of sight. The kesvek could smell them. They knew exactly where they were, how fast they were running, and that they were running for their lives.

            Loy heard crashing footsteps turn a corner behind them. He stole a quick glance back. The three kesvek charged down the street like rampaging dinosaurs. He'd heard soliders use that analogy before. A typical kesvek was only about half a meter taller than a human, so the expression had nothing to do with physical size.

            Loy felt like a little mouse scurrying away from a trio of T-Rexes. Deep throaty growls and snarls gained on them. Loy picked up the pace, fully aware the armor that should save his life was now weighing him down, but he dared not ditch it to pick up speed now.

            Loy felt heavy footsteps slamming closer and closer to him. A kesvek warrior caught up from behind and ran Harni through the chest with his claws. He disappeared from Loy's side. Axer turned white. Loy's blood froze as he heard the kesvek tearing Harni's body apart through his armor.

            A few seconds later, Axer's skull exploded as another warrior's claws speared it from behind. Loy didn't look back, but changed direction just in time to avoid the claws of the third warrior, which chopped empty air instead. Loy turned the corner and booked down the open street, hoping to be in sight of a human soldier with ammo.

            Before him was an avenue with twenty kesvek in it. Loy's heart stopped, but his legs kept moving. The lizards saw the lone solider running towards them and turned to face him, claws out and tongues flicking the air. Suddenly Loy's body caught up to his mind. He skidded to a stop, reached to his side and grabbed his knife. It was the last desperate act of a soldier.

            The kesvek behind Loy shouted something to the others. The Kesvek language was almost unpronounceable to humans, but Loy had learned it like everyone did in basic training. Loy could only make out the word clash.

            The other warriors halted and watched. Loy turned and faced the reptiles chasing him. Two of the kesvek had blood on their claws. The third had none, and he was the one who had claimed Loy.

            Loy heard no radio chatter. Not even the commander. They were dead. Just like that the reptiles had destroyed everyone. They never took prisoners. Civilian, military--didn't matter. The Kesvek killed them all just the same, except for the children. They left the young to starve to death.

            Loy was pumped full of rage. His childhood fantasies of making these people pay for what they'd done came back to him. Now, with nothing to lose, he faced the lizard that claimed him and held his knife up.

            The kesvek flicked his tongue around. It was long enough to reach down to mid-chest. He was smelling Loy from a distance. The warrior removed his armor, let it drop to the asphalt, and stood before Loy naked. Loy had no way of knowing if his attacker was male or female, as their genitals were hidden inside the body The sight of it filled Loy with disgust and he charged the lizard, screaming.

            When he was less than a pace away from the scaly monster, Loy reached out with the knife, shoved it into the lizard's belly and continued his charge, beyond his opponent.

            At the same time, the lizard's hand reached out to the side and the claws raked across Loy's abdomen as he tried to run by. His armor plates burst apart, his uniform turned to ribbons, and his skin opened up. The claws penetrated to his ribs, pulling a few of them free. They sank deeper and deeper, finally scratching the lower spine and exiting the body. Loy leaned into the wound and teetered over. He fell on his arm and rolled four times before resting on his back. He couldn't feel his legs. The damn lizard had pierced his spine with only a glancing scrape!

            The lizard stood over him. He leaned down, tongue dangling over Loy's face. Loy swatted it away with one arm, clenched his other fist shut and punched the lizard across the snout. His knuckles shattered. The kesvek's body was solid as stone. Loy screamed, channeled the pain into rage, wound up with the other hand and threw another punch at the kesvek's snout. His hand connected with solid scale, bone and muscle, and broke. The kesvek didn't even flinch.

            Loy dropped his arms to his sides and screamed at the lizard. He wanted to make him suffer, make him pay for what his people had done to mankind, but he couldn't even hurt him.

            The lizard's tongue flicked over Loy's face. He muttered something in their language, but Loy couldn't make it out. The warrior raised his claws and plunged them into Loy's chest. It pierced his armor and his skin. His ribs snapped like toothpicks in the kesvek's grip, and the lizard wasn't even putting effort into it. He could break Loy's body just brushing up against him it seemed.

            Loy's heart stopped. The warrior withdrew, flicked his tongue over Loy again, and got up. Loy lay still, blood gushing out in torrents. He couldn't move. He wanted to move away from the pain, but nothing responded.

            Blood. Lots of blood.

            The kesvek were walking away. Loy thought they'd eat him, or drink his fluids, or take a trophy. He'd heard they did that often. Maybe he wasn't worth it. Maybe they were pressed for time. Maybe some of his battalion survived and were going back to their supply cache. Sooner or later, the Kesvek would fall. They had occupied this planet for more than standard year. It was on the leading edge of human/kesvek territory and mankind wanted it back. They would not let the kesvek advance any further. Loy lay alone as life drained from him.

            He had an amusing thought as his vision flickered. For thousands of years man wanted to know if he was alone in the universe. Then, forty-six years ago they found life. Intelligent life. Idealists heralded it as the greatest day in human history--bigger than the discovery of faster-than-light space travel--greater than teleportation--more important than the construction of the first artificial planet--more far-reaching than man's success in terraforming and colonizing other star systems.

            But all it wanted to do was kill them.

            Forty-six years of constant war. Humans settled on a planet, the Kesvek would land and take it. There never were survivors except for the children, and a few stragglers who managed to wiggle between the dead bodies and take word of the invasion to other colonies.

            Loy grew up listening to these stories. He heard recorded pleas for help played back again and again. One of them he’d had to memorize, the immortalized testimony of Don Traversa, who escaped the invasion of Apparatus 8 on an FTL and delivered the first distress message to neighboring colonies. It was the first time a colony had been invaded, and the first of thousands of conflicts.

            Loy's vision flickered. He saw his wife, Emma. His daughter, Jill...

            Loy had served his mandatory term in the military, and then reenlisted voluntarily to keep them safe. To drive the reptiles back where they came from so they could never hurt anyone again.

            Loy knew when he reenlisted what he was up against. Every kid grew up learning about their enemy, and ever since he heard about the atrocities they committed on mankind's colonies in other star systems, Loy wanted to do something about it. His mandatory service began when he was ninteen standard years old.

            Loy was proud of what he had accomplished since then. They may have lost this city, but Loy helped win dozens of others. He himself had been there for the retaking of colonies on Kreno 3, Taurus 2 and many others.

            So many planets. So many battles. So much death. But he drove the Kesvek back. He killed thousands of reptiles. He made a difference. Someday someone would find his dogtag and know he died defending mankind.

            His wife was prepared for this, and so was Jill. They'd know he died for them, but more importantly he killed for them. When she was younger, he always told his daughter he was out killing monsters. It was the truth. He killed more monsters in his life than he ever thought existed, and it made him feel good to know that he kept them from harming her. Loy was happy knowing he made a difference. His eyes closed.

            "I'm coming, Father. Jesus forgive my sins... I'm ready..."

            His mind faded in and out. His body went numb. He had no regrets.




            Loy opened his eyes. His lungs were empty, and his chest felt like it was caving in. He gasped. His lungs expanded, as if for the first time in his life. The pain burned off the fog in his mind and he sat up, coughing and gasping, holding his throat with one hand and his chest with the other.

            He was butt naked on a cold, metallic floor. He coughed and wheezed for over a minute. Feeling returned to his extremities. His vision cleared up. He noticed the walls were metal as well. Brushed metal, non-reflective, no seams anywhere.

            Gradually his lungs became used to expanding and contracting. His heart settled into a stable rhythm again. Loy calmed down. He turned his head and looked around.

            Against the wall to his right was a small bed. Mattress, box spring and frame with a blanket. Twin sized, he guessed. He looked to his left. There was a small nozzle sticking out of the wall. A showerhead. Beneath it were a few tiny holes recessed into the otherwise perfectly smooth metal for drainage. Just behind the showerhead, in the corner, was a small lavatory.

            Loy slowly rose to his feet. He felt weak as a newborn kitten, and couldn't gather the energy to stand up straight. He stood hunched, still holding his chest with one hand, and turned. The room was five meters across. Perfectly smooth except for the shower area. Eerily clean. A five-meter, metallic box with rounded corners.

            No entrance. Loy turned around in place, nearly tripping over his own feet, and confirmed it. There was no door or window. He couldn't even see an air vent. The entire room was solid, clean metal. The only soft thing in here was the bed.

            Loy had turned in four complete circles, and now stopped, facing the foot of the bed. He lifted his foot and took a step towards it, suddenly feeling exactly how weak he was. He couldn't seem to remember how to put one foot in front of the other, so he lifted one foot and dragged the other behind him.

            Something in the corner moved.

            Loy just now noticed there was something large crouched in the corner. He stumbled to a halt and followed it with his eyes as it rose to full height.

            It had green and blue scales. It stood about two heads taller than Loy, and was twice as wide. Its claws were as long as Loy's entire hand, and it stood on digitigrade feet that seemed to balance on claws just as long. It was as naked as Loy, allowing him to see every line on its hulking frame.

            A kesvek.

            Loy stumbled backwards a step, waving his arms around for balance. The reptile in the corner loomed, eyeing him. Its tongue flicked in and out a dozen times.

            Distantly, Loy thought he should scream, or attack, or run and hide. He also thought the kesvek would coil up and leap on him, tear his chest open without hesitation. But instead, he only stood there. They glared at each other.

            Loy felt this strange sense of calm. His heart didn't race at the sight of his enemy. His blood didn't boil. He only looked at him, and in the absence of rage, he felt curiosity.

            "Who are you?" Loy said.


by James L. Steele

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