Children of Heaven, Choir of Silence Chapter 16

Chapter 16:

Archaic Period, ~8000 BCE
Central Mesoamercia
Earth
Milky Way Galaxy

Vatemo

It was unbearably hot this season, even at night and Po Tguon cursed as he paced around the outskirts of the village, trying to wear himself out enough that he might find some rest. The moon was full in the night sky, shining its light down upon the hilltop village, bathing it in a warm glow.

It was not only the heat of the night that kept him awake; tomorrow he was to be wed. Shaie was a lovely girl, just starting to blossom into full womanhood and Po was honoured that her father had seen him as a worthy husband for his daughter. The old man was notoriously scrupulous and had seized more than one would-be suitor like a wolf with a rambunctious pup. However, no she-wolf had ever treated her cubs as roughly as Tco Stuon had any man he’d found wanting.

Sweating, Po crouched down against a tree, draping his arms between his knees. Gods, it was so hot! Many of the elders and a few infants had already died from the sweltering, suffocating warmth. He would have given anything to feel gentle rains on his face, or even a cool breeze. The light of the moon faded, a shadow passing overhead and the young man cast his eyes upward, expecting to see a wayward cloud crossing by. Instead, what he saw staggered him and he pulled himself to his feet, gaping in shock.

There, silhouetted against the white disc of the moon, was something that Po could only consider to be a beetle. Made of pure darkness, the creature scuttled slowly across the face of the moon, though the villager could see none of its many limbs move. What could such an event mean? Po was stricken by the urge to run and find the village’s shaman, but his legs would not obey his mind and he stood there, watching as the giant insect crawled further still across the gleaming face of the moon. There, something tiny flashed and fell away from the dark creature, hurtling to earth. Another. Another.

The god-beetle was spawning! Its eggs glowed, tails of fire licking from them as they continued to fall from the heavens. It seemed like forever, but Po watched in shock, his limbs shaking as the god-beetle’s spawn, already hatched, darted back and forth in mid-air. One of them dipped towards Vatemo, others moved in the direction of the nearby villages.

The thrum of its wings grew louder as the dark blue insect approached and Po fell to his knees; it was massive, larger than anything he had ever seen, dwarfing even the pyramids that his people raised. Long, jointed legs slid out from a fat belly and the creature’s eyes gleamed with beams of pure brilliance, the light flowing over Vatemo, sweeping through houses, the downdraft of its unseen wings kicking up waves of dust.

Men, women and children staggered from their houses, gawking at the unbelievable creature as it squatted in the air, seeming to consider them. Then it shifted position, settling down upon the well-worn dirt paths outside the village. Husbands and fathers pushed their wives and children behind them, clutching at the shafts of spears, squinting into the unholy light, holding fast against the dying wind.

For an eternity of a moment, there was nothing and the brave or the foolish slowly approached the softly humming insect, others looking up at the night sky and pointing fearfully to the beast that had spawned it. Then, with a dreadful hissing noise, the beetle’s mouth dropped open and strange things – demons! – strode out on many legs, scuttling like spiders. The villagers pulled back from the clanking beasts, holding their weapons, but the demonic creatures took no notice of them.

Po, as if in a dream, walked towards the strange beasts. He raised his hands, to show that he was not armed. “We are but simple villagers,” he spoke to the demons as their misshapen heads swiveled to face him. “Please – why have you come?”

One of the silver spiders slowly approached, raising its right forelimb, the toes splaying open and a gleaming eye staring back at the young man. Po stood rigidly, afraid of what might happen next, but all that did was that the light faded and the spider lowered its limb, closing its pincers over the eye. Po breathed a sigh of relief.

There was a flash of light and a hissing crack from the demon and Po jerked, pain flaring through every fiber of his being. He tried to run, but his body would not obey him and he toppled, face-down in the dirt, unable to move, unable to cry for help. The screams of his people were drowned out by more of those terrible cracks, more of those flashes of light and in moments, there was nothing but silence.

~

“Rath drones have reported,” a minor officer declared to the Commander, the third that Seneschal had had since its voyage began. “They have secured several hundred of the primitives. Resistance was insubstantial.”

“Very good. Have Medical Section prepare an analysis of their cognitive functions and begin biological analysis. We may have to modify stasis units for their physiology. Full quarantine procedures, of course.”

“Of course. And of the capture sites?”

“Leave no trace.”

The minor officer nodded in compliance, pausing to relay the Commander’s orders to the ship’s crew and send a signal to the returning landing craft. One of their number paused, logic engines and pre-programmed imperatives kicking to life at the receipt of this transmission. On its flanks, a pair of innocuous hull panels unfurled and thermal beam turrets rolled out, depressing to target the village of Vatemo. The beam cannons made a soft thrum and poured a focused cone of heat into everything before them, so furiously and intensely that even the caked clay houses shattered, vegetation charring and catching ablaze as the heat rays swept over it. The lander stopped at each village, setting each one aflame, the water-starved jungle adding to the blaze.

By morning, nothing would remain.

~

The Commander stared down at the security feed from the holding bays aboard Servant of Fate. The… creatures were ugly; stick-thin bodies with tiny round faces and small, dark eyes. Despite the reports from Medical Section, the Commander found it hard to believe that these… things could be of any use to the Curatorium. These are what my predecessors convinced the Curate to waste ships and men upon? Squabbling little rodents?

Well. Only time would tell, wouldn’t it?

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