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Authors: Phil Geusz

Tags: #adventure, #guns, #aliens, #space, #first contact, #postapocalyptic, #rebellion, #phil, #geusz, #artemu

Early Byrd

BOOK: Early Byrd
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EARLY BYRD

 

 

PHIL GEUSZ

 

 

published by Legion Printing,
publishing on Smashwords

 

First Printing 2015

 

Published by Legion Printing,
Birmingham, AL

Copyright Phil Geusz,
2014

Edited by Garrett Marco

Cover Art by James Hill

 

ISBN:
978-1-941618-02-8

 

This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and events are the products of the
author

s imagination or
are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. No portion of
this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever
without explicit permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles or reviews.

1

 

The lower shotgun barrel of Tim's gun kicked a lot
harder than the upper twenty-two did. Twenty-gauge shells were also
a lot harder to come by, so we didn't fire it often. But when we
did, it was always for good reason. Not that we didn't use our
twenty-two's plenty often enough; there were always jackrabbits and
prairie dogs and groundhogs and the like to deal with on a cattle
spread as large as ours. But when we went after serious game, it
was time for the twenty-gauge.

I stood and frowned as my twin brother took
careful aim and held his mouth just-so. It was deer season and
venison was never a thing to be despised when served roasted at the
head the family table. The stuff we shot or caught in the local
streams always ended up at the head of the table, even when it
wasn't anything to write home about. We and our hired help had
plenty to eat, being ranchers. But Dad was super-proud of every bit
of meat we brought home on our own. Sometimes he even came hunting
with us, and those were the best times of all. But it didn’t happen
all that often, what with him being a congressman and away to
Washington so often.

The tender-steaked doe stood frozen in the
dappled sunlight under a largish stand of trees. Her ears and tail
stood
straight. She knew
something was wrong but hadn't as yet been able to figure out
exactly what. Tim was certainly taking his time about aiming; my
finger itched to pull the trigger for him.

Timmy and I were twins, and early on we'd
decided to share all our really cool stuff equally. The
rifle-shotgun combination gun he was taking so long to aim was by
rights half mine, just as the lever-action twenty-two dangling from
my own right hand was theoretically half his. Yet somehow he was
always the one to carry the far deadlier twenty-gauge when we were
out in the field, and therefore he got to take all the prime shots.
I fidgeted, twisting the toe of my right sneaker in the grass.

"Hush!" he whispered, not breaking his
concentration. "We're still too far away, really. I'm waiting for
her to turn so I can give it to her through the lungs. Cleaner kill
that way."

I nodded and sighed to myself. He was right,
really. A twenty-gauge slug was just barely enough to humanely take
a deer at close range, and it was wrong to simply blaze away at an
animal when a swift, nearly painless kill wasn't almost certain.
Tim had exactly one shot and he was the person behind the sights,
not me. Only he could judge for certain.

Before either of us could react the doe
lowered her ears, sort of squatted down, and then bounded directly
toward us! It was the last thing either of us expected; we stood
rooted to the ground with eyes wide as the deer first charged and
then frantically swung aside at the last second before running us
down. Something had spooked her like crazy, that was for certain.
But it wasn't either of us!

"What in the world?" Tim asked, raising his
weapon's muzzle safely skyward.

Then I heard it too, just before Tim. It was
the buzzing of a billion bees emerging from the sky beyond the
trees. "Artemu suborbital ship!" I declared, feeling a thrill of
excitement. Almost certainly Dad was aboard or else the vessel
wouldn't have any business so far out in the Montana boonies, and
we'd not seen him for weeks!

"Yeah," Tim agreed, less enthusiastically.
The Artemu weren't particularly popular around these parts, if one
defined "these parts" as the entire planet. Humans had never been
known for loving their conquerors, after all. Not even when they
were at least fellow humans.

Tim opened his gun's breech and removed the
valuable deer slug. They cost a lot of money these days, and Dad
insisted on a one-slug/one-deer ratio. As he did so, a bright
silver arrowhead flashed by, slowing visibly. He didn't even raise
his head.

I
sighed
then began the long tramp back to where we'd left our
ATV's. "Come on," I said. "It'll be good to see Dad, at least."

"Yeah," Tim agreed, though he still didn't
look happy. "Let's go."

 

2

 

It was just as well that we started for home before
being told to—within seconds of mounting up for the long ride back
to the house our phones lit up with the expected text message from
Mom. "Hurry home," it read. "Your father's back from the
conference!" It was still a long ride, however, and as eager as I
was to see Dad again I didn't object when Tim pulled off the trail
for a couple minutes to admire a herd of antelope off in the
distance. We sat side-by-side in silence, taking in the wonder of
it all. Then I wordlessly twisted my throttle and we were off
again, this time with me in the lead.

People sometimes claim identical twins are
effectively telepathic because they tend to think so similarly.
Neither Tim nor I would know. Though we looked enough alike from a
distance that people were often unable to tell us apart, we were
actually fraternal twins. Timmy’s hair was a darker shade of dirty
blond, his eyes blue where mine are brown, and my brother was just
a tad taller where I was built heavy in the shoulders. Yet despite
our differences we often spent hours together in perfect harmony
and understanding without a single word being spoken. Maybe
identical twins are closer still and there really is something to
the telepathy thing. All I can say on the subject is that if it's
possible for two brothers to be closer than Timmy and I were, well
. . . it's impossible for me to imagine.

When we cleared the last rise, the Artemu
ship was parked on the concrete pad by the corral where we usually
kept our cattle trucks; one of the hands must've moved them closer
to the main road to make room. And there was Dad, standing tall and
slim and proud in his battered brown hat, with a blood-red-robed
and golden-furred Artemu standing beside him. I frowned at that;
blood-red was the color of the Gonther, or Night-Howler clan. Their
ancestors had conquered first their own planet, then those of
several other stars, and now—after a particularly brutal fight even
by their standards—Earth herself. So most likely this particular
Artemu was associated with the Imperial Administrative
Government.

"Hello, boys!" Dad greeted us as we zoomed
up on our identical machines. Or nearly identical—mine was still
missing a rear fender from a jumping accident last summer. He
extended his arms for a hug, embracing both Tim and I at once.
Meanwhile the Artemu stood aloof; it was the practice of his kind
neither to interfere with nor be offended by local social behavior
so long as the Imperium received its ultimate due. "Get anything
today?"

"We were about to shoot a nice doe," I
explained. "But your ship spooked it."

He colored. "Sorry."

"As am
I,"
the Artemu agreed, stepping forward. "It's always
unfortunate when a successful stalk is ruined. You have my sincere
apologies."

I forced a smile. Dad had long ago explained
why we had to be nice to Artemesians even though they were our
overlords. "It's all right. You had no idea."

He smiled, an oddly humanlike expression
despite his slight muzzle and dark, doglike nose. Humans and
Artemesians were similar in many more ways than they were
different, which according to our scientists was probably due to
there being one clear, best and easiest way for liquid-water-zone
carbon-based life to evolve. While Artemesians didn't have DNA, for
example, they had a close chemical analog. Their reproduction was
sexual, using two sexes, because apparently this was the simplest,
most reliable way to shuffle genes in an environment like ours.
Their blood was warm—somewhat more so than human—because
carbon-based chemistry worked most efficiently one way and one way
only. And so on and so forth. We were
even
able to eat most of each other's foods.
According to our new masters, almost all sentient life they'd
encountered so far followed our same basic pattern, though there
were a few odd variations here and there. The key to understanding
the Artemu, Dad claimed, was to never forget that where our
ancestors had been plains apes, theirs had been the local analog of
either omnivorous wolves or, if you looked at it differently,
pack-hunting bears. Either version worked just fine.

"We could take you on a nice hunt in the
morning if you like," Dad suggested to the alien. "There are deer,
as the boys mentioned. Plus antelope, bighorn sheep, a few black
bears—"

"No," the alien replied, raising his right
hand in dismissal. "It would be a great pleasure, of course, and
I'm honored to be asked. But as we both know I'm here on clan
business rather than as a diplomat or military official. It's not
seemly to mix clan business and pleasure at such a high level."

"Of course," Dad replied, bowing. Then he
turned to us. "Boys, this is Rapput, an Ocrevennar of the Clan of
Gonther. Currently he's the highest-ranking Artemu on Earth by both
bloodline and official position and was the architect of their
victory over us." He turned to Rapput. "Sir, these are my sons
Robert and Timothy."

We bowed deeply. "Ocrevennar" meant "Blood
Cousin or Closer to the Emperor".

"An honor to m-meet you, sir," I managed to
stammer out.

He smiled again. "They're even more alike
than I expected. How delightful! Our kind never bears more than a
single offspring at a time."

"Robert and Timmy are no more closely
related genetically than any other pair of brothers," Dad
explained, as he had before to many other curious Artemu. "You see,
there's more than one kind of—"

"Of course!" Rapput interrupted, still
smiling. "But to us, this is wonderful enough. Such strong and tall
young hunters! Their academic scores are excellent as well, and of
course their bloodline is beyond reproach—one of your world's
finest." His smile faded. "No further investigation is necessary.
We'll take them."

Dad's face went tight and dead-cold for an
instant. Then his eyes went even harder. I hadn't seen him like
that since the War. "Of course," he replied eventually, though I
could tell his words were forced. "The American, uh . . . clan is
deeply honored."

Rapput's smile widened. He stepped over and
placed one of his hands on top of each of our heads. "Comenche
egla?" he asked.

"Rart!" I replied, bowing at the neck and
clasping my hands.

"Enning en hammena!" Tim added, adopting the
Posture of Youth Earnestly Seeking Instruction as well.

"Wonderful!" the alien repeated. "You've
even taught them our language, and without much of an accent at
that! Such foresight!" He smiled again. "You humans were indeed
worthy enemies in time of war. I can only dimly imagine what vast
reaches our kinds might someday conquer by working together." He
cupped our skulls again. "I swear to you upon my ancestor's graves
that these two shall be given the opportunity to stand among the
first and foremost and afforded every opportunity to make their
names shine for all eternity in the Hall of Honor. Our success in
this is key to everything that shall come after. Your blood shall
be our blood, and our blood yours. Thus states the Treaty, thus
shall be done." He bowed.

Dad, still pale, returned the bow. "The
Treaty shall be honored," was his only reply.

Rapput smile faded at that, but it was soon
back in place. He turned to face we boys. "We'll leave in the
morning. This will be difficult for you in the short run, I'm fully
aware. Our own offspring aren't so different from human children.
You'll miss your parents, your clan, your whole way of living. In
order to help you along, you'll be permitted the unconditional
privilege of sending and receiving letters from home regularly. You
may also bring along any reasonable amount of luggage and personal
items. Please make sure that you include any and all weapons with
which you're proficient. We recognize that your anatomy and biology
differs from our own, and at least in the beginning and perhaps
beyond you'll be allowed to use that with which you're familiar.
Heaven only knows that your kind create effective weapons!"

BOOK: Early Byrd
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