Short Story | ‘Melee’ by Martin Hooijmans, Illustration by Lars de Ruyter
Vaccius looked at the blade in his hand, a look of disgust upon his face. “This is what we fight with now?”
Commander Perus walked among his men. “Orders from higher up. Ranged warfare is now considered unhonorable. We are to stare our opponents in the eye.”
“I can see my enemy’s eyes just fine from the scope of my rifle,” Vaccius remarked, triggering a jolt of laughter quickly silenced by a gesture from the commander.
“You can laugh about it,” Perus said, “but the fact remains that this is our new way of waging war.”
Vaccius raised his sword, placing his thumb on a sensor embedded in the grip. At once, the edge lit up and pulsed with a blue energy. A slight vibration communicated power to the soldier, who performed a few practice swings. “Feels good,” he said. “Different than what we trained with.”
“These were prototypes,” Perus remarked. “This is the real thing. Customly balanced, activated only by your DNA, built-in power shield and it packs enough punch to slice through an armored Mech with ease.” He turned to address all men. “Which will be a necessity. Activate your suits. We march.”
“Perus to base, I repeat, Perus to base. We have a breach of international conduct. We are receiving heavy fire. I repeat, we are receiving heavy fire.”
“Damn the French,” Vaccius spat. One of his companions lay still, a smoldering hole in his chest. Chips of stone rained down upon the nine remaining men, as the wall they hid behind received the beating of its lifetime.
“We can’t stay here,” a soldier shouted.
“It’s the only cover we have,” Perus said. “Base just got back to me. They cannot extract us for the next hour.”
Vaccius drew his blade. “So we fight?”
The wall trembled. Greater pieces of stone fell. Perus drew his own blade, inciting the rest of the men to do the same. He nodded at Vaccius. “Has anyone measured the distance to our foes?”
“I’d say a hundred yards,” a voice came, backed by murmurs of approval.
“A hundred yards,” Perus said, pondering aloud. “Good. So here’s the plan.”
Vaccius powered up his shield. Its size was remarkable. He also activated the new SpringStep feature in his boots. Commander Perus’ ideas always filled the man with excitement. He stood facing the wall, as did all other men, shields raised, SpringSteps ready to go. The wall once more shuddered.
“Almost,” Perus shouted. “Be ready, men. Spread out, keep your shields up and be impossible to lock onto. Understood?”
“Yes, commander!” all shouted.
The wall exploded in a magnificent display of energy and dust. At once, the men took off, their boots ensuring mighty leaps. Vaccius roared with laughter as he made at least twenty yards before hitting the ground, his shield deflecting enemy fire with ease. He ran another thirty yards, zigzagging with great prowess, dodging and blocking, before reaching a ledge. His great running speed propelled him high, his bulky shape eclipsed against the sun. Enemies shot, missed, and then the first head was severed. Vaccius took out three more men before his companions arrived to make quick work of the remaining soldiers, whose heavy rifles were no use at such close range.
Vaccius lead the shouts of triumph. Adrenaline rushed through his body. Being up close and personal made him feel different. Better. It did not make him feel like a soldier.
It made him feel like a warrior.
Illustration by: Lars de Ruyter