Running On Empty

Author : Rae Walker

The field was nothing special, drying knee high grass and a few scrubby trees, but to Ed it looked like paradise. It pained him that the battle would tear apart these few acres, churning more land into waste, but the Smarts had reported burrowing in this location and any moment now at least forty Batteries would emerge crab-walking from the ground. Dirt would fall away from their steel bodies and they would attack fully charged, ready for battle. That’s what the Smarts had said without realizing it, holding their screens close to their faces so the blue light reflected off pale flesh, “At least forty -we don’t think more than sixty.”

Now Ed waited and watched for the attacks to begin. Forty. No more than sixty. Ed spat. His men were young and scared, skinny in oversized rubber suits that protected them from the massive electrical charges that remained the only effective weapon against the Batteries. Long ago, the land had given way to metallic grids. On those grids the Batteries were unstoppable, drawing energy from ports with every step, never tiring, never needing rest.

“Do you think our chances are good?” A private asked him, his face buried in the ground as though the Batteries’ scattershot rifles had already begun firing, “Gunny Howel?”

“We got to keep them from growing. That’s all that matters now. There’s no reclaiming, only defense.” Ed muttered, not hearing his subordinate’s plea, “Only defense.”

Ed imagined he could smell metal now. He could smell them burrowing to the point of attack, massive extension cords keeping them charged. They wouldn’t expend energy on the journey, unlike his worn troupes.

“Gunny Howel? Should we ready the bolts?” The private looked not much older than his son.

“Set’m up, but don’t switch them over until my say so.” Ed gritted his teeth and turned away. The bolt cannons had only two or three good shots in them, and if sixty was what came out of the ground then he would have to be careful, creative. Once those were gone they would be down to hand units and those didn’t do a scratch’s worth of damage.

Ed stared in the distance at the land they had lost. Even from here the grids glowed bright and uniform, laid down on land that had once been home. Most civilians now lived in the mountains, where his son was now. His wife was lost long ago and her body now lay beneath that distant neon mass.

The ground trembled. It would begin, in moments.

“First half forward! Drop!” Ed shouted. His men positioned themselves on their knees to send a spray of ammunition once the Batteries emerged. “Bolts ready!”

The Batteries burst from the ground, pouring out into the dying night like ants from a nest, forty, sixty, hundreds. Ed’s mouth went dry. He heard the private whimper beside him and an image of his son, safe in the mountains, leapt to his mind.

“FIRE!” Ed screamed as Batteries swarmed upon them.

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