Saturday, July 16, 2016

Short science fiction: The Logcutter

So back to my Science Fiction. This time it's an old story that has been revised three times now. Twice during the 5+ plus years since I wrote it, when I learned something new about writing, and once just now. This last one was actually half a revision, there are probably still spots that need work, but it's one of my stories that are on my top level. In other words I like. :)
It's 3,800 words long and Science Fiction and deals with the emotions of a soldier years after the war ended. 

Hopefully next week I can finish that new one I keep saying I will do. But this week I ended up with two short ones dealing with a dust bunnies of doom theme and other writing work.
As I have stated in earlier posts I don't mind comments including real criticisms.

So without further adieu :

The Logcutter

By L. E. Doggett

The condensed beam of light shot out. It took only an instant for it to cut through three two foot wide log. The roughly ten by ten clear area where he did his cutting was quiet as it should be. Trees started another five feet after that but something could wiggle its way here. The scent of burnt wood tickled Cal Jones’ nose. Burnt dirt also, for the laser cut into the soil under the wood. That’s why he set up a tripod so it would be aimed downward at all times. 
The six inch long piece dropped with a dull thud. He would wait until it cooled to place it with the others. The air this morning showed that he better work faster to get his wood cut for the winter. Thanks to the insulation and building materials, it looked rough like rock, heating the prefab two bedroom green and grey house behind him didn’t take a lot of wood. However cold hamburgers and soup didn’t taste good. Cold cut sandwiches wouldn’t be bad, but not for all winter.  
The ex-solider shook his head. He still didn’t like to use such a beautiful weapon to cut logs. If he didn't though he wouldn't have anything to warm his farm house, or cook his food with when winter started. Fall, what passed for fall on this planets, chilled the air. The wind picked up for a moment and blew dust, pollen and ash into the air. He spat, followed by a sneeze. It also blew it into his mouth and nose. He never did like the flavor of ash-it reminded him of all the times he had breathed it in, and tasted it, during the war.
Cal sighed, it would be better to use the laser against some of the dangerous, large animals that roamed this forest. They roamed further deeper however, and he didn’t really want to use it on them. He had used it on animals, but he tried to avoid them when possible.  
The pile of lasered logs grew. His house had solar panels, but the sun didn’t shine for long in the winter months. If there was an emergency he could use his bicycle generator, even though that supplied only enough power for certain appliances: such as his radio and his TV, when he was in the mood for movies that is.
He liked pretty much any type of movie except for war movies. After five years of fighting a real one Cal didn’t feel ready to watch a make believe war. War movies reminded him too much of what he had done during the real war, and the friends he had lost. Cal’s nightmares were strong enough now, he didn't need anymore reminders.
He bent down to adjust the laser, moving its tripod, so it could cut another six inch slice off the log.
The laser and his boots were the only things Cal brought home from that Godforsaken war. He still felt surprise that the people who signed him out let him keep the rifle and the boots. 
If I went crazy I could do a lot of harm with that rifle. The military hadn’t needed the number they had for peace though. My buddies decided to each keep something and after an argument I ended up agreeing. Evidently those that processed us also agreed. After I signed the release papers they turned their backs, literally, as I walked out of the processing center carrying both the laser and my boots in a sack that didn't hide their shape. They didn’t like the way the government just booted us out and at the same time they were grateful we had kept the Juggernaut at bay.  
At least the money the government gave me was enough to buy two acres and a small house out here in the middle of nowhere. The house is well built, with good installation, and all the appliances are well made. 
I bought these acres way out here, because I didn't want to be around people. I knew I needed to be alone to heal and at the same time I didn't want to be bothered by people. I felt like the hard work needed to farm in this half jungle was what the doctor ordered.
He shook his head, there's probably over two hundred of us out here on these two acre farms, and I know of two other communities with the same numbers. So many men, and a few women, with bad memories and feelings.
He sat down on the log tired. Maybe he should move to town. Teddy and John are coping in the city. They say it’s hard, but they both found the love of a good woman, which they said helped.
A scream interrupted his thoughts. A loud growl followed a second scream. The screams came from a human throat and the growl didn’t. He stopped to listen, all of his senses on alert. 
He heard another scream, this one was joined by softer ones. 
Oh oh, children, which probably means a family; one who came here to enjoy nature. It sounds like they are being attacked by a Gorillain-and they traveled in packs. 
Without further thought, he unhooked his laser from the tripod and took off. From his battle experience he knew how far away the screams came from and what direction. As he ran through the tall grass he didn’t feel the knee high, whip like red seed stalks as he crashed through them. Before he knew his senses slid into war mood. His speed increased, the trees and anything else along his sides blew by in a blur. He caught a whiff of a dead animal, he normally won’t have notice, he could see better in the dark shade under the trees.
On the way he glanced at the power setting. A curse slipped out. He already knew the power level, but out of habit he double checked it. He should have recharged it instead of waiting until after he finished with the logs. On the run, he used his thumb to change the weapon’s setting to just below medium. That would make it harder to kill any of the beasts, but it wouldn’t be good if the charge ran out before he chased them away.
He hoped he didn’t have to kill them, but bile came up when he thought of the children in the animals’ claws. At least he didn’t have to worry about where he set his foot. His boots had survived the last two years of the war and three years of living here. It wouldn’t matter if he stepped on a sharp twig, a snake or a sting beetle. 
It took him only seconds to enter the trees, even though he slowed a little he still ran almost full out, weaving in and out of the trees. The low branches he avoided for even the very thin ones felt as strong as battle steal when he ran into them. Which explained why he used the laser to cut the wood from these trees. They burned for a long time, but took for ever to saw through.
Seconds later he smelled the musk of the Grollians, very strong which meant they were upset. When he neared the clearing from where the screams and growls come from, he heard soft thuds, followed by growls of pain and anger. The air had warmed, sweat tickled his forehead, under his arms and back. 
He thought that the noises sounded like the humans were trying to drive away the beasts by throwing rocks at them. Not a good idea, as they were about to learn, but at the same time there wasn't much else they could do. 
He hurried through the last of the trees, instinctively moving with the wind blowing his way instead of toward the beasts. Without thinking he moved silently as he learned to do during the war. 
Cal came upon the scene from one side. The Gorilians stood still on one side of the clearing, which gave him a sense of relief. No one had been killed yet. A glance on the other side made bile raise in his mouth. Five people stood there: a woman and man with three children of various ages. The two oldest were boys and the youngest looked like a five year old girl. Even from his postion Cal could see tears as they ran down her cheeks and hear her sobs. All three children stood behind the couple. Both adults were holding thick sticks, ready to swat the first beast to come near them. Both wore terrified expressions on their faces. 
From the way they glanced at each other they more then likely knew their best efforts probably wouldn't slow down the animals. At the same time they looked determined to do something to protect their children. He thought he could smell their fear; it reminded him of the war. That stink always melded with his thoughts of the battles he had been in.
A breeze blew by him and carried their and the humans’s scent. He studied the animals for a moment. He knew them by sight and study, but it still amazed him that they looked so much like a cross between an earth gorilla and an earth bear. These like most of their kind, even the females, were seven feet tall. From his position he could make out females in this bunch. The females were not as board as the males, and Cal could easily make out where their six mummery glands would appear, as they filled with milk right after they gave birth. Their presence made this a family group. 
He wondered why they were attacking the humans. They usually left humans alone, preferring larger prey. Maybe they couldn’t find their usually prey and thought the family would make a communal meal. Or maybe the family had come upon them and started screaming and throwing rocks. Whatever the reason, their standoff was about to end. One male moved toward the humans.
Without having to think about it, Cal leaned against a rough tree and raised his rifle to a firing position and pressed the trigger. A red beam shot out hitting the moving gorillian in the claw it was reaching toward the adults. 
The beam could have been invisible, but the heads of military development thought it was better if soldiers could see the beam. That would help them not run into it on the battle field. They might have been right, he grudgingly admitted, for he had seen soldiers blunder into the laser beams, as bright as they were. If they couldn’t see the beams there would have been more accidents of that type. 
The beast kept moving for two-seconds, as the beam burnt into its hand. It finally stopped and looked down at the claw, before letting out a howl of pain and rage. It pulled back the claw, but Cal managed to keep the laser on the hand with practiced ease. It finally burned all the way through the claw, as the beast screamed its fury. It turned from the family, glanced around, as it looked for the source of its pain. 
Cal switched targets, firing at another one, hitting it in the chest. It humphed in surprise before it screamed in pain with a deep throated growl, as the needle of light started to burn into its chest. The gorillian moved out of the beam, before it could burn all the way through its chest. From the blood and time Cal thought it might have cut halfway through the torso, but it looked like it missed everything fatal. 
A glance to his right told him that the first male he hit was headed his way. Moving with haste he backed into the trees. Without stopping he ran as quietly as possible against the wind. He came out of the trees closer to the band. This time he fired from the hip, another maneuver he had plenty of practice with. He hit another big male, keeping the beam on the creature long enough for it to burn all the way through its torso. Its yell lasted a long time and when it tried to move it fell. The wound didn't kill it immediately, but Cal thought it would eventually. 
He moved again when the one he had just shot started to move his way, probably after catching his scent. On the run, he let the beam score along the back of another male, who was headed for the family. It didn't go deep enough to do much damage, but the beast turned from the family, now headed his way. 
A glance told him that the family was edging toward the 
trees. A wide fallen tree lay behind them, that would slow them down. 
Cal made it to the other edge, turned, aimed and shot all in one movement. He hit one in the eye this time. He was able to keep it on it long enough to burn out the eye, but not long enough for the beam to reach its brain. The Gorillian whiplashed in pain, first moving its head up and back then falling to its knees.
Shaking his head, that wasn’t good, I wanted a fast kill. 
A shadow interrupted his thought. He pivoted out of the way of a claw swiping at him, then dropped to the ground to avoid the other claw. Rolling out of the way he thought that's it for the lower setting. If my shots are fast and precise I should be able to score death shots before the power is used up. 
Without even a glance he used his thumb to slide the setting to the second from the top. He rose up on one knee, raising the rifle up to an aiming position and fired, all in one movement. He hit one in its back. The beam cut in quickly, but the beast arched its back. The beam slide sideways burning a line across the back, but not staying in one place long enough to burn completely through. Keeping the beam on it Cal managed to finally hit its heart, destroying it in less then a second.  
Beetles scattered from where it dropped and a large carrion eater crowed its thanks to Cal. Tasting sweat on his lips Cal turned to the one whose eye he had burnt out, it still rested on its knees, in an all too human position. He moved to it behind it. When it started to turned toward him, he fired one quick shot at the base of its head. He smelled something new and realized that it wasn’t just humans that sometimes emptied their bowels when they died.
His stomach felt like it wanted to empty his last meal, as he turned; that felt too much like an execution. He watched two during the war and someone told him that the other side had killed one of his friends that way. In this case it was putting an animal out of its misery, but it still didn't feel right. 
As the gorillian fell, Cal ran to another position and fired 
at still another one. Before the beam could kill that one, he leaned backwards as a claw came out of nowhere again. This time his rifle went flying across the clearing. He observed a hole in that claw, and knew this one was the first gorillian he had shot. Somehow he missed it’s smell when it snuck up on him.
His hands stinging Cal dropped to the ground to avoid another swing meant to take his head off. He was surprised, but glad when the soft dirt under the trees, hard dirt can be just like rock. With a soft grunt he rolled to his back, fear grew while at the same time he would not let the thing win. He positioned a knife he had managed to pull on the way down. It was what used to be called a Bowie knife; long, thick and very sharp. He cursed himself for leaving his hand weapon back at the house. It may not be a military grade weapon, but it could still kill this Gorillian before it got him. A bullet in the chest, neck and head would do the job. But he didn't have it on him. 
The knife could do the job, if he was quick enough. He knew where the vital spots for a gorillian were. He picked up the habit of learning a potential enemy’s weaknesses during the war. It would be a fight with a real possibility he would end up dead. Or wounded bad enough to make him an easy target for one of the other members of the band. He couldn’t let the thing just kill him, or the family however.
Before he could move though something flew across his vision. He thought it hit the gorillian in the head. A second later another fist sized rock hit the beast. It ignored this rock, as it 
had ignored the first one. It also ignored the next three which hit it almost the same instant. Cal took a second to glance at the direction the rocks came from. He saw that the two older kids throwing the rocks. The father picked up a rock three times the size of the pervious ones and threw it as hard as he could. It hit the beast in the face, as it reared over Cal. Blood dripped from a gash left behind by the rock as it dropped almost hitting Cal. 
Roaring the beast turned toward the family. Cal readied the knife as another rock flew across the clearing. Slightly smaller then the one that left the gash it hit the beast as it roared again. By luck, or by planning, Cal didn't know, but it landed in the gorillian's mouth, sticking in the orifice. The beast let out a muffled roar, and shook its head, trying to dislodge the hard thing in its mouth. 
While it was occupied with the rock. Cal rolled out of its 
way, and on his hands and knees scuttled to where the laser lay. He could hear the other gorillians moving, so he raised up to a crouch, running the rest of the way in that position. He scooped up the rifle on the run, turning to face the animals, as he kept stepping backwards.
He again fired from the hip, scoring a hit on the gorillian, as it headed for the family. It screamed and pivoting before the beam could burn in far enough to kill it. The beam scored along the beast's side as it turned. Once it faced Cal, the beam started to burn into its stomach. He raised the beam burning a line upwards until he found its heart.  
Even before it started to fall, Cal aimed his weapon at another male heading his way. He kept the beam on its chest for 
the few seconds it took the beam to reach its heart. As it fell the rest of the band decided that they had enough damage. They ran off, using their hands, much like earthly gorillas, to increase their speed. 
Cal knew that one of them would die before too many days had passed. He better get home to radio a warning to anyone else that might come across that band in the next few days. 
He stood there a moment tasting blood from where he had bit his lip, but otherwise he seemed to be in one piece. Before he could move the family came over to thank him. They introduced themselves, and with tears in her eyes the mother hugged him. He smelled her sweat over a weakening perfume-deodorant. The father shook his hand expressing his thanks. The oldest boy shook his hand also, while the two youngest hugged his legs. 
Cal squatted down to let the two smaller children hug him, both stunk of dirt and he felt loose soil fall on his clothes, but he didn’t care. He thanked them for throwing the rocks and distracting the gorillian, while he was on the ground. They both shyly nodded a you're welcome.
Mr. Andrews asked him if he was ok. 
"I'm in one piece. Thanks for asking, I didn't take any serious injuries. This action wasn't any rougher then anything I experienced during the war."  
The father nodded, for he had heard stories about how bad some of the fighting had been during the war. They talked some more, as they walked to the family’s vehicle. With one last thank you, the family piled into it and drove off. As he watched them drive off, Cal smiled glad he was able to save them. He didn't want to think about them, especially the little girl, being torn apart and eaten. It hit him that the only reason he had been able to save the family, and that little girl was his training and more importantly his war experiences.
On the way back to his house, he realized how much he missed seeing children play. Once home, he sent out a general call to warn his neighbors about the wounded Gorillain. Then his stomach growled. He thought a shot of whisky would be good, but decided he didn’t need it after all. A quick meal of warmed up noodles and beef, though would be good. 
The next few days he thoughts of playing children stayed on his mind. In a sudden realization, it hit him, he hadn't been having very many nightmares since the rescue. He sat and thought about his experiences the pass few days. He used what he learned during the war to save the family. All that junk he had gone through had ended up for a good purpose. As he considered that, he remembered John and Teddy’s statements. The love of a good woman helped them to heal. 
Maybe it was time to move back to civilization. Not all at once though. He could sell this farm, he always was getting 
offers, and get a place in the town three hours from here. Only two to three thousand people lived there, a large portion of which were veterans like him. And just as importantly the population included single females.
He would miss this place. He liked working the land... maybe he would buy a farm next to the town. He would have to think about it, but by the way he felt he knew his mind was made up already. 

The End

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