Short Story: The Pyrrianaut

A short story about vanishing youth and fighting pseudo-dinosaurs.

Edward sat on the bench in the medical centre while the doctors prodded and poked at him. His annoyance with the whole process was tempered by the amusement that came from realising that most 22 year-old men wouldn’t visit the doctors even once a year, unless there was something wrong with them. Yet here he was at his regular monthly checkup and there was nothing wrong with him—at least not yet.

He was a Pyrrianaut—a Navigator of the Armoured Dance, provided you were generous with your translation of the Greek and Latin roots—and it had been three long years since he was a teenager, so there soon would be.

The colony’s chief doctor, Dr. Nichols, interrupted Edward’s thoughts, “Lt. Philips, have the shakes got any worse since last we talked?”

Edward hesitated a moment, before answering truthfully—or at least mostly truthfully, “Not really; anyhow they’re nothing to worry about, they only last a few minutes after I take off the suit.”

Dr. Nichols looked doubtful at that, but continued, “OK Lieutenant, but inform me immediately if they get any worse; frankly you’re lucky to have lasted this long; and at the outside you have no more six months left.”

“Sure Doc, I’ll retire before it comes to that.”

“I’ll hold you to that; God knows I don’t want to recommend mandatory retirement—the four of you are spread thin guarding this colony already—but I will if I think you’re going to kill yourself. The Colonial Administration can always send a replacement, and I’d hate to see Miss Mari’s pretty face marred by tears.”

Edward silently nodded his head, as the doctors continued to run their tests.

Several hours later Edward was sitting playing cards with some of the armour techs in the ready-room at the Pyrrianaut base on the outskirts of City. His eight hour shift had started a little over an hour ago, and right now he and Armour Chief Ichiro were making a tidy profit in a poker game with two new techs, who had only arrived from ColAdmin the day before. Ichiro, the oldest armour tech in the colony, and Edward, the oldest Pyrrianaut, had become close friends in their time together and were often referred to as the old men of the unit, even if Edward was actually younger than most of the techs.

One of the newbies—Simpson was his name, Edward thought—looked like he was about to throw some more money into the pot, which Edward or Ichiro would hopefully soon win, when suddenly the strip of green lights around the roof and doors of the room turned yellow, and a polite, but insistent, voice started repeating the phrase “Yellow Alert, Yellow Alert”.

The two new techs jumped to their feet scattering playing cards and poker chips across the table and started sprinting into the armour-room that was just beside the ready room. Ichiro met Edward’s gaze and rolled his eyes as the two of them slowly placed their cards face-down on the table before joining the other more experienced techs in a more sedate stroll towards the armour-room. After all it was only a Yellow Alert—for a Red Alert they’d join the new techs in their sprint, but there was no need for haste for a measly Yellow Alert.

As soon as they entered the armour-room Ichiro began directing the other techs to prepare to suit Edward up. Edward and the techs moved quickly, but with no noticeable haste—they did this every day, and, other than the two new techs, they had the suit up procedure down to a well choreographed dance.

As they pulled the pieces into place the voice of Control—whoever the senior office on base was—came over the ceiling mounted speakers and started explaining why the Yellow Alert had been called, “Hello, Lt. Philips, we’ve got an incoming pterodactyl; hopefully it won’t make it over inhabited areas, but we’re putting you on yellow alert anyhow.”

Edward instinctively nodded his head—even if Control couldn’t actually see him—as a pair of techs clamped his upper arm plates into place. The “pterodactyls” weren’t actually Terran pterodactyls, but they looked kind of like a larger—much larger—version of the reconstructions of fossilised pterodactyls on Earth, so that was what most people called them. The most noticeable differences were the size—Terran pterodactyls had an estimated adult wingspan of around a meter, these monsters were closer to twenty meters—and the long tail ending in foot-long poisoned stinger. Due to a quirk of biology humans were almost immune to the pterodactyl’s poison—it was even often used in various cocktails to add a bit of kick—but that didn’t change the fact that a foot long spike of bone was still a rather formidable weapon in its own right.

As Edward’s helmet was placed over his head his suit’s on board headset took over the transmission from the command room, “We’re moving a Sentry Drone to take it out with a missile, but it keeps dropping below the minimum altitude for the Xv-3 missiles so we’re a bit unsure as to whether it will be able to engage it successfully. The drone operators are moving in for a short-range, low-altitude strike in the hopes of compensating.” Which is what Edward would have done in the drone operators’ place; the missiles were a bit more reliable at low altitude if you were firing up, and the short flight time allowed less time for the pterodactyl to drop down below the minimum altitude.

90% of the time the drones killed any threatening pterodactyls, which was a good thing, because, though the Pyrrianauts could beat them most of the time, the pterodactyls were still very large predatory pseudo-reptiles, and a lot of the lighter weapons built into the Pyrrianauts’ armoured suits had trouble penetrating the scales on a typical pterodactyl. One of them killed Lt. Karoza a couple of years back, and Edward had only engaged one before and it was a hard fight then. The problem came about if the pterodactyl got over the inhabited areas of the colony, while it was safer—for the Pyrrianaut at least—to try to kill them with drones, once they got over inhabited areas firing missiles at them—except at high altitude—was considered too dangerous; a miss could easily flatten a house or four.

As his suit’s HUD came up Edward called up the display of the various long-range sensors that had direct feeds to his suit’s on board computer. A 3D display of the main colony came up, with the various communities and major geographic features included. He was displayed as a small dot near the centre beside the City, with the two currently airborne drones on nearly opposite sides of the inhabited regions, and a bogey marker out to the North that was the pterodactyl. The nearest drone, Drone 5, was moving closer to intercept and dropping down to only a couple of dozen meters from the ground.

Within a couple of minutes it hit the one kilometer from its target and a second marker separated from the drone’s and speared away towards the pterodactyl at not much short of Mach 2. Almost instantly the pterodactyl dropped towards the ground. The missile’s on board computer started compensating and turning downwards. The two markers appeared to take up the same space for a split second and a small explosion animation played, indicating the missile’s detonation.

“Was that a clean hit?” asked Control over the public channel.

“Unknown, maneuvering to confirm kill now.” came back from one of the drone operators as the small marker for Drone 5 moved towards the last location of the pterodactyl. “I’m not sure sir, I can see it on the ground under the drone, and it’s not moving, but I can’t see any obvious inj– Oh crap! It’s live.” The marker for the pterodactyl reappeared and sprung up towards the drone on Edward’s HUD.

For a few seconds the two markers occupied the same space and then the Drone’s marker fell away and turned red.

“Control, Drone 5 is out of action. We’ve got a massive system failure across the board, looks like it bit the drone in half.” If it wasn’t for the seriousness of a pterodactyl potentially flying into the colonized zone Edward would have laughed at the obvious embarrassment in the drone operator’s voice.

“OK, such is life; maneuver Drone 2 in to place for a long-range strike. Armour-team, there’s no guarantee that they’ll kill it before it gets over inhabited areas, I want you to get Philips air-borne ASAP.”

Edward watched his HUD as he jetted across the landscape at 500 meters. His suit was attached to the “Wing”, which was pretty much what it sounded like: a big swept wing with high powered engines built in. The suit had onboard ground-effect systems, but the Wing was much faster, and had a longer range and higher performance ceiling, so it would carry him to the location of the pterodactyl and then he’d detach to engage it.

At least that was if they decided he needed to engage the pterodactyl, but that was looking very likely now. The reptile had—rather smartly for its kind—dodged the first two missiles from Drone 2. Edward was watching a third missile rush across his HUD towards the target, but it was likely it would miss as well, and they wouldn’t get a third shot; in a few moments the pterodactyl would be over Bill’s Lake, a small lake on the northern edge of the colonised zone, and on the southern shore was the village of the same name. They wouldn’t risk another missile shot this close to a community, so Edward would most likely need to engage the pterodactyl over the lake before it hit the village.

Edward had spent the entire flight pushing down the worry that came from the memory that Bill’s Lake was where Mari’s parents lived and that she was planning to visit them after her shift, and he couldn’t quite remember whether her shift was over yet, or still going. For sure, most houses in the colony had pretty well protected basements—almost definitely enough to stop a pterodactyl—and the villagers would have already been alerted by Control, but that didn’t stop him from worrying.

As he speed over a rise he could suddenly see the pterodactyl rather than having to watch it on the HUD, though the missile was still outside of his field of vision. The pterodactyl was only just airborne, and zig-zagging across the water, and as Edward watched the missile suddenly swept down from the sky, and slammed into the water—20 meters from the pterodactyl.

The underwater detonation shot a fountain of water fifty meters into the air, and threw the pterodactyl off balance. For a moment, as its wing-tip clipped the water, Edward thought it might have been going down, but it recovered and started regaining height, to his disappointment. Sure it most likely would have survived a crash into the water without any real harm, but he’d never heard of one managing to take off from in the water before, which would have made finishing it off a bit easier.

“Looks like I’m going in. Preparing to disengage the Wing.” He started dropping down the couple of hundred meters he needed to lose before his suit’s on board ground-effect system could safely take over.

As soon as he dropped down to the official safe altitude—235 meters—he disengaged the clamps holding him into the wing and started dropping like a rock. At this altitude he couldn’t fly, but he could manage a controlled fall.

As he fell the sense of scale of the beast became more obvious, and as it did he realised that it must be nearly half again as big as the last one he fought. He decided then and there to give the outlanders a bit more credit when the told their tall tales about the big “terries” they saw up in the North.

Edward considered firing a burst from one of his wrist-mounted needle guns to draw the beast’s attention so it didn’t just ignore him and keep flying towards the community, but it turned towards him all on its own, so that wasn’t necessary. Now all he had to do was kill it.

The weapons built into the suit would be of limited effect against such a large creature unless Edward managed to hit a vulnerable spot, so he closed in to under 100 meters before firing his first volley.

He willed his shoulder-mounted micro-missile pods to lock onto the pterodactyl’s head, and then willed them to fire a third of their missiles, and the neural link passed his orders on to the suit and six tiny little missiles darted between him and the pterodactyl. The beast twisted its head away from the buzzing darts, but several impacted across its neck and shoulder, sending up small fountains of gore and broken scales as they exploded.

Edward grinned as the pterodactyl roared in anger and pain.

The beast twisted its whole body before Edward could lock a second volley of missiles on and whipped its tail out towards him. Edward didn’t even have time to consciously think about it before he’d reflexively sent the mental order to the suit to dodge to the side. Unfortunately even that wasn’t fast enough to avoid the stinger, which slammed into his leg.

Of course it wasn’t tough enough to penetrate the armour, but it still dented the shin plate, and threw the human wildly off course. Edward felt the distortion of the armour through the neural link; a less experienced Pyrrianaut would have felt a discomfort in his leg, but Edward was so used to the suit he could tell, purely by feel, that it was his suit, not his leg that was damaged.

That thought flashed through Edward’s mind as he stabilised himself moments before splashing down into the water. He spun himself back towards the beast, and looked straight down into its open jaws.

He just managed to swing his right arm up and fire a short burst from his needle gun before the pterodactyl’s jaws closed over him, and both man and beast slammed into the water with a thunderous splash.

A wave of sensation rushed across the neural link from the suit to Edward, and suddenly what should have just been discomfort turned to pain, and then agony, and then blackness. Edward’s body and suit started spasming, and then stopped after a couple of seconds as he returned to consciousness.

As he faded back into consciousness he absent mindedly noticed that the beast was still shaking him around under the water and trying to crack open his suit, and doing quite well, a small puncture had already been made in the weak armour around his elbow, and water was slowly leaking in. He also noticed that there was a familiar voice trying to ask him something, who was that? Ah, Control, that’s right; I should pay attention to what they have to say.

“… conscious? You need to get back in the game. Looks like you suffered an NFC according to the suit sensors.”

That brought Edward fully back around; NFCs, Neural Feedback Cascades, were one of the reasons why mostly only teenagers used neural links. Even a single NFC nearly always did permanent nervous system damage, if they didn’t kill right away.

Edward sighed and shoved down his worry about what the long-term consequences of this might be. If he let this pterodactyl chew on him for much longer he wasn’t going to live long enough for there to be any long-term consequences.

Edward twisted his whole body in the jaws of the pterodactyl and swung his free left arm up towards where he believed the beast’s eye should be, and started sweeping bursts of needle gun fire around in the hope of making it let go.

Suddenly the pterodactyl jerked its head—and Edward—up out of the water and threw him away across the lake.

Edward tried to use his ground-effect systems to compensate for the throw, but they had been damaged by the bite and he smashed back into the water. It took a few seconds, but he stopped himself sinking using the damaged ground-effect system just in time to see the pterodactyl start swimming away from him. With its long tail sweeping back and forth and its wings folded in against its body it more closely resembled a serpent than the dinosaur it was named after.

Edward shook off his disorientation and pulled the suit up out of the water using on the failing ground-effect system, and started following after the pterodactyl. As he flew over the top of the beast he locked his micro-missiles on again, and fired off the remaining 12 missiles in single volley of flaming darts which tore away from him towards the water.

The already injured pterodactyl twisted its body downwards and tried to dive away from the incoming missiles, but only managed to avoid a handful of them, with the rest striking it across the back and wings.

Edward dived down into the water after the beast, and slammed into its back between the two wings. He activated the gripping bolts built into his suit’s hands, knees and feet to hold on as the pterodactyl twisted its body under the water in an attempt to knock him loose.

Edward started dragging himself up towards the reptile’s neck. Some of the other Pyrrianauts had suggested strangling pterodactyls before, but he doubted he could reach his arms around its neck; he instead hoped he could finish it off with his needle guns or wrist-mounted blades.

The pterodactyl kicked its body up out of the water as high as it could go, and turned itself over so that fell back into the water back first—directly onto Edward. The shock was communicated from the suit to Edward through the neural link in what should have been simply discomfort, but instead was pain. Edward gritted his teeth and concentrated on not blacking out again as he continued to pull himself towards the monster’s neck.

Edward’s needle guns wouldn’t be able to punch through the scales, but, if he shot through one of the wounds already torn open by the micro-missiles, the needles would hopefully penetrate far enough to do some damage, so he kept moving towards a jagged gash he had chosen on the side of the pterodactyl’s neck.

Just willing the suit to move turned the dull background pain into a sudden flare of fire, but he clawed himself up the last couple of meters and punched his right fist into the wound as hard as he could. He willed the needle gun to fire, and just kept firing until his HUD started flashing up alerts that it was empty. As he started to pay attention again he realised that the pterodactyl had stopped moving and that the two of them were sinking towards the bottom of the lake.

Edward released the gripping bolts, and watched as the body of the beast, now freed from his much denser suit, started to float towards the surface. After a couple of seconds he shook his head and activated the ground-effect system and started towards the surface of the lake himself.

Edward sat on the shore of the lake with his helmet and gloves removed, watching the pterodactyl’s carcass floating a couple of hundred meters from shore. He didn’t trust the suit’s ground-effect system, so there was a team on their way to pick him up, but for now he just had to wait.

He turned his head towards the sound of a ground-effect vehicle flying in over the trees behind him. He momentarily scrunched his eyebrows in confusion; it wasn’t a ColAdmin vehicle, but one of the civilian air trucks, but then he recognised the woman driving the truck, and smiled. Mari must have seen the fight and come out to check on him.

Before the ground-effect system had even finished shutting down, the surprisingly tall, and surprisingly blonde, Asian girl jumped down from the front seat of the truck and jogged towards Edward with a worried look on her face, and a first aid kit in her hand.

“I’m fine,” Edward assured her as she approached, “You don’t need to worry.”

Mari stopped in front of Edward and placed her hand on her hip and raised her eyebrow, “Really? ’Cause went I called up to ask if you were hurt, no one would give me a definite answer. If you weren’t hurt they would have simply told me.”

Edward hesitated for a second watching her face, before breaking eye-contact and glancing down at his hands, “I had a NFC, maybe even a second small one. I hope there’s not any really serious damage, but my hands haven’t stopped shaking yet.”

Mari’s eye’s widened and she covered her mouth with her hands as she glanced down towards his shaking hands. After a moment she sat down beside him and clasped his hands in her own, holding them still, before kissing him on the cheek.

Edward gave her a quick smile before turning back towards the water. As he stared at the body of his now dead enemy he was reminded of the other possible etymology of Pyrrianaut they used to joke about back at the Academy; it seemed appropriate now, another such victory and I am undone.

He turned towards the beautiful woman beside him and grinned before kissing her on the lips. Maybe civilian life wouldn’t be so bad after all.

The End

Well this is my first short story to actually get "published". Once I've finished the cover I'll put it up on Smashwords and [probably] Amazon as a freebie.

If you have any comments—good or bad—I'd love to hear them.

Categories: Writing
Date: 2014-03-18 23:03:54, 10 years and 37 days ago

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