Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Slowly revolving like Christmas decorations, sparkling under the spotlights of the Seacole.
The barbarism of those we face brought an old quote back to me: ‘An honest soldier will regard the battlefield as dawn breaks across it on the morn after the battle. He will take in the awful beauty revealed. Set against the death-dealing evidenced by that vista, something he knows full well, having oft dealt such, he must acknowledge the sacrifices made. He should then give thanks unto God for his survival, no matter it be by the fortunes of war or the vicissitudes of rank.’
Every time I come to a field like this, I start by looking at it unfiltered, admitting my relief at not being part of it.
“When you’re ready, Jackie.”
We call the enemy ‘Triclaws’. Not much is known. They’re secretive, ruthless, and never ones for what humanity considers a ‘fair fight’. Merciless, overwhelming force is their trademark. We have some basic descriptions: at least two metres tall, two clawed arms on one side, a giant pincer on the other. There may be other limbs, because they can use our keyboards and the like. They never leave their dead, and delight in taunting us. Every atrocity is capped with some disgusting trophy display. When it comes to space battles, they leave only wings and fins.
“Seacole, I’m going in.”
We search every site. The first clue we got was from a lone tech on an isolated orbital station. She took one of them out. Had to use herself as bait, and kill herself, to manage it. Left us a description and some clues. Since then, re-investigations have revealed many supposed accidents as likely Triclaw attacks.
They aren’t infallible. Horrifically good, hinting at long practice, but not perfect. Their advantage is in leaving so little of themselves behind. One fine day we’ll bury them. Painstaking efforts like this are how it’ll come to pass.
“What are you thinking, Jackie?”
“That we should change our parameters. The Triclaws obviously use heat sensors. I’d guess movement detection too. For anyone to survive a post-battle purge, they would need to be cold and still. Everybody knows, so anyone with the skills and materials would have to be fast.”
“Only if we find them alive.”
“True. We reckon whatever they came up with would be of diminishing effectiveness, too.”
So, my theoretical survivor is hiding in plain sight – or inside plain sight.
“Seacole, give me a 3D map of the debris field. Highlight all remains with an internal volume over a square metre.”
This search would be nonsensical if the Triclaws hadn’t taken everything but the wings. My grid fills with coloured debris.
“How long since the battle, do we reckon?”
“I’m heading towards the nearest. Scan the others for raised temperature. There’s no way to hide body heat for that long without prepared containment.”
Please. I want to prove they’re not perfect killers.
“Jackie, the ventral fin from the ‘HSS Expedient’ is warm! A check of the original schematics reveals it had a manned weapons cubicle that was sealed up during a refit. It’s flashing on your grid.”
That’s a way off.
“Seacole, I’ll rendezvous there. Go get them.”
Darkness returns as the Seacole moves off.
The thing that offends me most is how pretty the wreckage looks in the light of the distant sun.
I take my time and check all the other possibles. Finding two would be a miracle, but I have to be thorough.
“He’s alive, Jackie.”
Here’s hoping he’s got information: another rivet for the Triclaws coffin.