Tobias Buckell
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Necahual by Tobias Buckell
We drop out the wormhole towards a mess of a planet by the ochre light of a dying sun. From the cant of orbit, upside down and even then through virtual portholes we can see tiny spots of white light blossom in the atmosphere.
We're liberators.
Each one of those little blossoms of light is an impact. A chunk of rock with a controller vane on it, predestined for a certain point. It clears out the enemy's ability to hit back above the stratosphere.
I know from past experience that sunsets here on New Anegada won't be the same for a long while. As I a child I'd sat on porches near the coast to watch the magnificent sunsets of my own world for many months after The League came to liberate us.
"Man we're dropping the hammer on this backwater shithole," the man across from me says. His white and blue exoskeleton wraps around his body. He looks like a striped mantis. Right now it's plugged into the convex wall of the pod, charging and keeping him from bouncing around as we skate atmosphere.
A single bead of sweat floats loose from his bulbous nose and hangs in the air between us.
"You know much about the target?"
Everyone wants to know juicy details about them.
"Historical info only," I say."The Azteca of Mother Earth never even called themselves that. They were the Mexica."
I wonder if the black man caddy cornered to right of me has skin-flauge painted on. Hard to tell under the blue and white he's wearing. It's hard not to look askance at him. No one like him on the home planet. But at least he's human, real human, and The League today will be adding another human planet we're told. If there are any aliens here we'll wipe them out, every last one, like they tried to wipe The League out.
"The warrior priests of Mexica were pretty brutal," I explain. "They used to induce hallucination by piercing their foreskin," all the men wince, "and dragging a knotted rope through the tear until they saw visions."
The woman caddy cornered on my left asks, "What is going to be like when we hit?"
"I got the same report you did."
The large island continent of New Anegada on the planet is also the name of the planet. This is confusing for conversation, but no one had consulted with the original colonists, mainly Caribbean refugees from Mother Earth after some minor alien attack a long time ago. Half the continent is New Anegada, the other half is Azteca. Large mountains split them down the middle.
The entire system got cut off several hundred years ago, a forgotten incident, a sidenote of history. The wormhole that connects New Anegada to the rest of the worlds opens up again several weeks ago and shit hits the fan.
We're ordered out, to make sure The League gets here first to offer these humans membership and the Azteca contingent attacks. Now things are messy.
This is all I know.
All four of us are strapped across from each other in the pod, waiting as the heat builds up, looking past each other.
The virtual panorama on the floor screen flickers off.
The buffeting ceases. We're still alive.
"Hello," says a small voice deep inside my inner ear. It's a dry and bored monotone. "I am riding shotgun for you. Got about a minute and thirteen seconds left until you hit dirt, and congratulations, you have just passed the highest probability zone of being shot down by automated Azteca fire."
Which is why it is just now downloading itself into my armor.
"Name's Tai Thirteen Crimson Velvet. Call me Velvet. Lady on your left is Paige, man across is Steven. On your right is Smith. Smith has augmented ears for deafness. If you get hit by anything with a good electromagnetic pulse, it'll wipe his hearing chips and he'll back to being deaf. Just so you know."
All the information we need comes to us from the Tais. Tactical artificial intelligences. Little cybernetic ghosts. They give us the real orders, the real info, so that if we got into trouble they can scramble, leave, and we won't be the wiser for the big picture.
These are tactics learned from many strange, alien encounters. Ones where they could just suck shit right out of your brain and figure out what the enemy's plans were. Humanity adapted. It adopted alien tactics wholesale right back at them.
"Take a deep breath and close your eyes," the Tai orders. "Time to peel."
The pod explodes. The sides rip back and vaporize themselves. I open my eyes to see the real island of New Anegada directly below me. My heart hammers as we plummet.
The green land rushes faster and faster toward me until the Tai whispers, 'okay' and the chute slides
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