Every Man Builds A World In His Image

Here's what I came up with for the Terribleminds.com Flash Fiction Challenge: The Subgenre Tango. It's kind of "military sci-fi," but it's very much not at the same time, and the mythology aspect of it is very modern and very obvious. It's not my best work, but it does have the virtue of being genuinely "flash" in that I wrote it in one sitting and it's actually under the assigned word count for a change. 

I was in a bad mood when I wrote this one.


Sergey M'tume's tour of duty in Zone M was less than a week from complete when the distress call came in. If things had just stayed quiet for another seven standard days, he'd have entered the entangler/detangler device, watched the think suck a hellish amount of power from God knows what source, maybe geothermal but probably a pair of nuclear fission reactors, and wake up the next morning next to a similar EDD close enough to one of Earth's Lagrange points to start thinking about being home with his family.

Sergey M'tume really, really wanted to be home with his family. 

Tours were long because, although long distances could be traversed at speeds that still felt magical to Corporal M'tume, the energy costs were so high that they were largely restricted to military usage and even then, they were used judiciously. A common joke among troops was that every time they were deployed, you could see the sun grow dimmer. 

M'tume was, of course, the only troop in the area. Early warriors used weapons which would require to several blows to incapacitate a single opponent. By the twentieth century, it was possible for an individual to carry a device which would reduce a city to rubble. The continuation of this trend meant that Corporal M'tume had at his disposal the capability to wipe out all life on a planet if he needed to. Several times, in fact, although you had to have a seriously twisted imagination to think of reasons why you'd ever need that kind of ordinance.

The signal came from Dalt 3. "Of course it did," thought M'tume. Getting a call this late into your rotation was bad enough, but the folks on Dalt would only ask for help when things got really bad. Don Dalt was a legendary individualist, rugged and charismatic. When the overcrowding on Earth finally reached the point where borders became unenforceable and people had to live face to face with their neighbors. Dalt bristled at having to restrict himself in any way, feeling it was a moral failing to submit in any ways to the will of a "society." Dalt and like minded unique individualists, fed up with accommodating proximity to other people, packed up and left. 

The Daltian exodus was unique in human history. Instead of rag tag refugees carrying whatever possessions they had on their backs, these were some of the wealthiest individuals on the planet. They had connections, both civil and military, which allowed them to bring a substantial portion of their goods with them. 

Recent surveys had found an Earthlike world in a system which didn't even have a proper name yet. The Earth government spent a small fortune setting up an EDD station nearby. Dalt and his crew claimed the planet, which would become known as Dalt 3, and sailed their enormous yachts to the Lagrange EDD station. No one is certain how they received clearance to move so many massive vessels. The energy cost would have bankrupted even men as wealthy as Dalt. Rumor had it that they'd managed a subsidy from the Earth government, but this was never proven.

They'd been the best, the brightest, and certainly the most confident individuals on the planet. They were leaving behind a world that did not appreciate their contributions. When they left, both the standard of living and productivity of the planet spiked in a way which was hard to explain, but Dalt and his people suspected that the government was cooking the books. What else could it be?

Corporal M'tume's ship suddenly started picking up....he wasn't sure exactly what. There was signal, but there was so much noise that he was reasonably sure his vessel didn't have the ability to pick out any specific communications. He frowned. He had no great love for the people of Dalt 3, who complained about the presence of even a single troop in their sector, but the electromagnetic cacophony M'tume was receiving boded very, very ill for the Daltians.

Dalt 3 was a marvelous beautiful world. The surface was approximately ninety percent water, but the land poking out of the seas was uniformly magnificent. The terrain was rugged, mountainous, lush, green, and warm year round. The large amounts of ocean allowed the Daltians to keep a good distance from each other. No doubt this was a good thing as the Daltians were fanatical about their individualism and protected it fiercely. Weapons which had been outlawed on the surface of the Earth, similar to some of the ones carried by Sergey M'tume and his ship, were commonplace on Dalt 3. Most Daltians would look at your suspiciously if you didn't have one with you. Of course, most Daltians would look at you suspiciously anyway.

As Corporal M'tume began the long process of matching orbits with Dalt 3, he finally was able to get some definition on his telescope. The early images had been fuzzy and out of focus. Sergey pulled a stock image of the planet up and compared the new visuals he was getting. There was no more green on Dalt 3.

There were no ships in orbit.

There were no cities.

There were no buildings.

Corporal M'tume suddenly became conscious of the complete lack of anything resembling communications on any band. Later, in his report, he would say that he was overcome with grief at the realization that Dalt 3 was now completely free of human life or, as surveyors would later learn, all life of any sort. In truth, his next thought was "How the hell am I going to write a report on this?"

Over the next three days, Corporal M'tume deployed all of his communications buoys in low orbit and took as much detailed footage of the surface as he could. Dalt 3 was now a world of lifeless rocks and apparently lifeless water.  He used the time to try to piece together how it had happened.

The military electronics on his ship did a better job of picking needles out of the haystack of noise than Sergey had expected. His machines identified no fewer than six deployed devices which had the ability to wipe out a substantial portion of the planet.  Right before the first one, there was a serious of communications between the Dalt Ranch estate fisherman Clem Monday and his family.

Dalt Ranch: "Unidentified fishing boat. You are in Dalt Ranch waters. Please remove your vessels to outside of the Dalt Ranch beacons."

Clem Monday Fishing Vessel: "Dalt Ranch, this is the Clem Monday Fishing Vessel. These are open waters outside your legal claim. That makes them ours. We will not comply."

DR: "Monday Vessel, under the Treaty of Mount Atlas, these waters are recognized as Dalt Ranch property. If you do not remove your vessel, we will do so for you."

CM: "We do not recognize this claim. We have fished these waters for decades and we will continue to do so."

DR: "Monday Vessel, drones are now en route to your location. Prepare to be boarded. Your vessel well be remotely piloted out of our drones outside of our waters."

CM: "Dalt Ranch, we will not permit the boarding of our vessel by your drones. We are prepared to resist if necessary. Please recall your drones."

DR: "Monday Vessel, this is your final warning. As you have made no attempt to comply with your legal obligation to remove your vessel, our drones will now take control of your vessel."

CM: "Stand your ground!"

And after that, noise. Far too much noise for even the advanced military devices on M'tume's vessel to parse. It was enough, though. Corporal M'tume was going to make his rendezvous at the EDD after all. He spent the next couple of days reading up on the history of the Daltians and was struck by how ridiculously inevitable this conclusion was. 


Two weeks later, when Corporal Sergey M'tume's report reached one of the more secret branches of Earth government intelligence. A bureaucrat whose name didn't matter and probably didn't match the one on his badge carefully read the report. He looked up the agency's files on Dalt 3, grimaced a little, filed M'tume's report along with the rest of the material and then closed the file on Dalt 3 as "Status: Inactive." He added a small note: "Situation resolved itself as anticipated. No further updates expected."