Author : Paul Starkey

Villam’s first campaign began at 29:15; within minutes he was a veteran.

A third of his squad died within seconds of disembarking, victims of the Cirrillian psionic artillery, the heavy bombardment shattering their synapses and boiling their brains within their skulls like potatoes in a pot.

Sniper fire was the next danger, the Cirrillian marksmen were using hyper-reality bullets. Marsom was Villam’s best friend, they’d enlisted together …now, as he was hit, the unremitting truths that all men hide, even from themselves, overwhelmed him, crushing his spirit as surely as pressure would have crushed his body, and before Villam could stop him he’d blown his brains out with his sidearm.

Only half of them reached the Cirrillian trenches. Villam had turned his ankle trying stop Marsom, and so was lagging behind the rest of the squad. This saved his life.

Fazerthorn trees exist on every world, not that you’d ever know it. They bloom in another reality, invisible to all but sophisticated scanners. The realities are separate, and never the twain should meet…except Cirrillian scientists had discovered a way to compact the two together. Suddenly the clear ground the troopers raced through became a heaving forest.

Despite the thump and wail of battle around him, all Villam could hear were screams as fazerthorns materialised inside his comrades. The lucky ones died instantly, from organ failure or just plain shock. The strong ones lasted longer, thorns ripping through their skin, tearing eyeballs, slicing arteries and rupturing blood vessels.

Sergeant Coog was the toughest S.O.B in the unit, so Villam wasn’t surprised when he charged onwards, despite the blood haemorrhaging out around the branch that had erupted from his back. In the end though he’d taken too much damage, he fell mere metres from the Cirrillians.

Villam’s luck was twofold. Not only had he avoided the fazerthorns, but their appearance obscured him from the Cirrillian troopers who would have gunned him down otherwise. Now, belly to the dusty floor, he shuffled around the tangle of fazerthorns and corpses, until he drew level with the trench.

There were dozens of them, foul green creatures who lacked a head, a single eye stalk protruding from their necks. They were naked, six brains pulsating beneath the skin along their spines, reproduction tentacles drooping between their legs like elongated udders.

Villam crept closer. He didn’t want to, they truly were vile, but he needed to be nearer to throw the J-Bomb into their midst. He unclipped it from his belt, a fat disc of weightless metal, yet more powerful than anything the enemy had.

Too late a Cirrillian saw him, a whine of alarm echoing from its shoulder gills. He’d already thrown the J-Bomb though, clamping his hands over his head as it detonated.

He’d been conditioned to deal with the effects of the J-Bomb, but still the overlapping cacophony of musical tunes, of advertising taglines, and the whirlwind of special offer announcements almost drove him mad….The effect of the Jingle Bomb on the Cirrillians was more pronounced. To a creature they dropped their weapons and clambered out of the trench, fighting each other to gain a few moments’ advantage in getting to the Department Ship before all the bargains were gone.

Advertising was a harsh game, with more and more species rebelling again the psychic onslaught of the sales companies. The Cirrillians, like so many others, shielded their planet from orbital advertising assaults, so the only way to campaign was to go trench to trench, street to street, door to door. Villam returned to the ship alone, a veteran salesman after just one campaign.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows