Eric Flint: Rats, Bats and Vats

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Eric Flint Rats, Bats and Vats
  • Название:
    Rats, Bats and Vats
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  • Жанр:
    Юмористическая фантастика / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Eric Flint


Rats, Bats and Vats

Prologue:

A successful experiment.

THE EXPEDITER LISTENED in silence. With difficulty, it managed to remain motionless. The Expediter was in the middle of its sex-interphase and the hormonal changes always made it irritable. That irritability interfered with its logical thought processes. The Expediter did not want to act out of simple aggravation.

Should it continue to prevaricate?

Lying was possible, of course, especially to such as these. Primitive creatures, really, the female as much as the male. But the Expediter thought that it would still be very difficult. Any explanation as to why the starship had left so hastily would seem contrived-even to the two stupid beings who were bombarding the Expediter with their clamor.

The Expediter pondered the matter for some time before coming to its conclusion.

No. Further prevarication would hardly be worth the effort. Besides, the Expediter thought that it was time to discover how well the protease haemato-toxin affected this species.

The dart-spines targeted, ocelli orientating them to center on the soft, bulging midriff-masses. The two beings in the room made no attempt to escape. They simply continued their babble. Apparently, they did not recognize the purpose of the spines. An interesting datum.

Razor-tipped, barbed harpoon-darts streaked out, each trailing their protoplasm hose. The skewering force of the darts cut into the gold head-filamented female in mid-shrill. Her bleat became a scream as the Expediter's internal myomeres pumped the massive dose of digestive-toxin into the soft-bodies.

The creatures threshed. The Expediter studied the ensuing process with interest.

Cell-lysis caused the circulatory fluids to pour out of the eating and scent-detection orifices. The soft, pallid epidermis ulcerated and erupted, spraying liquefied flesh. The bipedal beings were now twisting and writhing in bizarre contortions.

Another interesting datum. The Expediter had not realized that their vertebral columns could bend as far as that. Endoskeletons were strange biological adaptations. It made a note of that flexibility.

The Expediter watched as lysis continued. A full two minutes passed before the bodies finally lay still. Also worth noting. The digestive-toxin was not rapid, but it was effective. That, of course, was to be expected. The Overphyle had yet to discover a sentient species immune to it.

The Expediter disengaged the barbs of its harpoon darts, pulled them out and winched them back into itself. Then, after a moment's hesitation, decided not to feed. It was not particularly hungry, and there was always a slight risk with ingesting untested alien protein.

Multiple ocelli checked the room. Other than the two sprawled, bloody, ruined bodies there were no signs of the Expediter's passage.

Calmly, it left, locking the door behind it. In the silent and luxuriously appointed room, the only trace that remained of the murderer's identity was a faint camphor-naphthalene scent. That would dissipate within a few minutes. The Expediter itself was quite oblivious to the smell, but it hardly mattered. By the time the servants found the bodies, the odor would be indistinguishable from the general reek.


Chapter 1:

Under Enemy Attack.

DOWN IN THE BUNKER the music issuing from Chip Connolly's small portable radio stopped. "We interrupt this broadcast of Forces-Favorite Radio with a newsflash. The bodies of the Chairman of the Board, Aloysius Shaw, and his wife, Gina, were found by household staff in an advanced state of decomposition. Despite this, servants claim that the Chief Executive Shareholder had been alive five hours previously. Foul play is suspected. Police are following definite leads and several suspects are being held for questioning."

Chip sat up. "I'll be damned," he muttered. There was no noticeable chagrin in his voice. "Somebody up and killed the rotten-"

He broke off, feeling the ground shake. A moment later, the bunker rumbled with thunder. Dust and dirt showered down from the roof. Chip sighed. Clearly, the lull in the bombardment was over.

Another shake and rumble, and dirt showered down on them again. Some sifted onto Chip's face. One of the other soldiers in the bunker sneezed in the darkness. They were being softened up for an advance. For the three hours prior to that brief lull, he hadn't heard anything much except for the endless pounding thunder of Magh' artillery.

Silence.

Shit! That meant-Chip flicked the infrared headlight on, just in time to see the whole wall behind Lieutenant Rosetski, Dermott and Mack cave in on top of them.

Out of the billowing dust stormed the stuff of nightmares: Magh'.

They were a variety of creatures designed to shred soft bodies. Their white pseudo-chitin armor gleamed and their chelicerae snapped angrily. Then the air was full of shouting and squeaking. In the wild, confused melee, headlight beams danced in the dusty air, as more and more of the invaders piled in.

The Maggot arrowscorp nearly got him. Chip rolled frantically, barely getting clear, thrusting his blade out sideways. The stupid scorp slid straight onto the Solingen steel. It wasn't standard issue, that knife. It was a real twenty-first-century chef's knife from Old Earth, which Chip had stolen from his employer's kitchen the day before he had reported to boot camp.

Good thing he had, too. The official crap the soldiers were issued wouldn't even have penetrated. The colony's steel plant would have been at home in 1870. With a standard-issue blade he'd have been dead already. Instead, Chip was able to enjoy the experience of having an arrowscorp slowly pressing down onto him, snapping its jaws eight inches from his face, about to kill him in, oh, maybe ten seconds or so.

The spine-tail streaked forward, barely missing his twisting shoulder with its venomous barb. Chip managed to grab it, just behind the stinger, and cling to the slippery, leathery pseudo-chitin. Corrosive venom dripped, inches from his arm. The Solingen steel slid slowly through some more Maggot, then stopped against a joint ridge-thickening. The Maggot's ichor dribbled off his wrist and into the dust as the creature pressed down onto him.

The back-edged jaws were only inches off his face now. The creature writhed, jaws snapping air just in front of him. Chip couldn't let go, and he couldn't win. In the clatter-clatter and effort-grunts of hand, claw and tooth combat, somebody screamed in a terrible, tearing agony. A scorp sting had obviously gone home.

"Help me!" another shrill voice shrieked above the tumult.

It sounded like a rat. Hell and buggery! He couldn't even help himself! Sweat was lubricating the hand that clung to the scorp's tail. Any moment now and he'd be screaming too…

Suddenly, his headlight silhouetted a batwing flutter, then highlighted a clash of inch-long white-white fangs in an evil, black squashed-pigsnout face.

The scorp went limp, its ganglion-ladder severed.

Chip shoved it away, gasping. "Thanks, Michaela!"

"Moronic, useless, be-damned Primate!" Michaela Bronstein fluttered off, dodging other reaching and snapping claws with ease.

"Get it offa me!" groaned a smothered voice from the dusty darkness. Chip's searching headlight showed a long tail protruding from under a St. Bernard-sized armored burrower. The stocky soldier heaved the dead Maggot aside by the telson. A long-snouted plump rat-shape, as big as a small siamese cat, scrambled hastily out from under, with its red-tipped fangs exposed in a wicked, lean-jawed grin.

The rat leaped at Chip's throat, moving in a twisting maelstrom of teeth and raking claws. Sudden shreds flew… from the joint of the saw-edged pedipalp that had been about to take Chip's head off. The rat had disabled one claw, but the other claw would soon snap the rat. Chip's Solingen steel proved its quality again, slicing an exact "X" into the double ventral ganglion knot of the attacking Maggot. A quick, neat, precise job, like carving tomato roses.

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