Here I envision the sparks of the 2nd Nanite War in ~ 1000 words of flash fiction.
Only the sounds of Sergeant Kate Halloway’s breathing filled her enviro helmet. The squad had been on comm silence since cresting over the crater rim.
It was typical tactical positioning. Two people on point. Two in the middle. Herself, bringing up the rear.
Their large power suits plodded over the lunar soil in silence.
There were only a couple Bubbles this far out. Mostly for solar farmers who eschewed the orbiting cities to oversee operations personally. They traded artificial gravity and amenities for eyes on operations and, what Kate suspected, was some misappropriated sense of independence.
Lunar law dictated that each settlement maintain frequent comms with the orbiting Spires just in case there was an emergency.
Gall’s Bubble hadn’t checked in for over a week. It made the Central Spire nervous. Mars had been aggressive in the New Belt, pushing Earthian miners out. Many felt that Luna’s neutrality in the whole affair would be short lived.
So, Kate and her team trundled over the Lunar soil in their heavy, nuclear powered combat suits to investigate why Fred Gall couldn’t be bothered to pick up the phone.
The geodesic dome appeared from behind the next outcropping. The ugly structure was covered in solar arrays, their black paneling causing the dome to dissolve into the black Lunar skyline.
Earth’s figure lay to her right, it’s brownish hue dominating the rest of the skyline.
With the dome in sight, Kate activated her BOSy and began dialing the facility’s computer.
The computer interface chirped in her mind and began doing the proper handshake. Kate told the computer to flag someone to speak with and it chirped for some time before Kate gave up.
As they strolled onward, she began soliciting the computer for statistics. The dome’s computer obliged happily, chirping and displaying the requested digits.
Eight heat signatures. Kate thought. This would be the eight workers last recorded as checking in for the week’s shift.
“Turn on thermals once you’re in range.”
“Yes. Ma’am. Two minutes out.”
Kate usually enjoyed these types of patrols. They were often boring and usually ended with having to scold someone, usually by brandishing their military insignia and waving their arms threateningly.
There had been times, however, when Kate had to bloody some asshole’s nose for the sake of Lunar stability. Those were more interesting, sure, but less enjoyable.
When she looked out at the approaching dome, her stomach tightened.
“Confirmed 8 heat signatures.”
Harrison made a weird exhalation.
“And… they’re not moving, ma'am”
Breaching the Bubble was easy. Sergeant Kate Halloway simply walked up to the main airlock. Her BOSy connection with the Bubble’s computer was waiting for her and kindly opened the door for the five soldiers.
With the airlock closed behind them, the point man began broadcasting external to the suit. A simple audio cue for the Luna Military.
“Attention Please. Security Forces have arrived.”
The announcement was filtered through the suit’s speakers, the distorted voice ringing through Kate’s helmet.
Kate had never heard the announcement outside of a suit before. Growing up on the Central Spire, she had never been on that side of a security sweep.
There was less room to maneuver here in the large, hulking suits, and they had to go one at a time.
Harrison was still on point, and he shuffled around the corner, locked onto the the farmers’ heat signatures.
That’s when another sound emanated from her’s suits speakers. Static? White noise?
They came to a minor four way. Small huts sat diagonal from larger containers. Bodies lay in the middle.
Farmers. People. Kate reminded herself.
They had assumed all the figures were sleeping, considering their heat signatures and position on the BOSy filters.
But now, out in the middle of the small yard, the three figures were positioned awkwardly as though they had fallen in place. Their bodies still gave off heat signatures.
And the white noise here was louder too. A sonar weapon? To knock them out? Riot police had such weapons but why here?
Kate walked around the bodies inspecting one of the large shipping containers. The white noise grew louder as she approached the metal cylinder, it’s door pointed towards the four way for easy access.
Harrison and Jun began checking the bodies starting with the one closest to Kate.
“Christ”, said Harrison.
Kate stopped inspecting the metal container and looked around at the body.
The man’s face was...dissolved? As though he had been dunked in acid-
Kate considered her weapons knowledge. She inhaled suddenly and turned towards the container.
The white noise grew louder and soon black tendrils came through the seams of the container’s door.
Kate’s BOSy alarmed.
“Fuck”, yelled Jun.
Nanites. It was goddamn nanites.
“Get out of here.” she ordered, swiping at her squad mates.
Maybe they hadn’t been too close to the container. Maybe-
She felt the damn things now. She imagined them crawling over her eyes, through her ears. Into her mind…
She tried to stay calm and focus but her mind raced.
Why were these here? Treaties were in place since the Nanite War. These shouldn’t be here.
But it didn’t matter, she realized finally with cool clarity.
These were a risk. They couldn’t be let out of the Bubble. They could travel, slowly sure, but they could travel and find another Bubble to decimate.
Her skin started to itch and then to burn. Everywhere.
She told her BOSy to release the safety mechanisms on her suit’s core.
She hoped that Harrison and the others would find cover.
Kate began the countdown procedure, the burning intensifying as her sight began to fade.
The irony, Kate realized, was that these damn things were originally intended to help humanity.
The countdown ended and the burning ceased.
Story by Donald Campbell
Illustration by Lauren Walsh