“Thief of Souls”
David A. Gray
We ambushed the aliens as they took a boy’s soul in their Beijing game preserve. The hunters were focused on their prey, certain there were few humans on Earth still sentient, let alone capable of harming them. They were right about the former, very wrong about the latter.
A group of the willowy creatures had surrounded the boy, brushing filth off his skin with their fronds, calming him so they might imprison his essence in the clear rod their leader held. Once, their kind had ripped out souls by the million, like factory farming. Now, they thrilled in the collection of the last few.
We’d tracked their safari across the globe, counted 90 days of hunts and trophies. Today was to be their last. They would gather their captured souls – their age old foes – and extinguish them with great ceremony in front of a rapturous alien audience.
The feral looked to be seven years old, and near body-death from hunger and sickness. He was born after Earth’s fall, to one of the scavengers that scrabbled in the reservations. A flitter bobbed in the air a mile away, toward the wall that marked the end of the ruins and the start of the forest of invasive crystal towers.
The lead hunter lifted the rod to the boy’s head, and there was a flicker in the glass. I erupted from the rubble, loosing a swarm of flechettes from the forearm of my bastardized semi-living armor. The darts ripped through the hunters. One turned, saw me and froze in horror. They know us, now. Know me. And fear me – Rowan-Magenta, the thief of souls.
My six sisters and brothers followed suit, rising like vengeful metal angels. The aliens were shredded into wet confetti.
The boy was gone. He was more fortunate than ten billion other humans. The aliens had said they’d come to free us, and naively, humans had assumed they meant from poverty and war. They had laughed at us, then.
“We will free you from the tyranny of the fugitive parasites that found your mindless ancestors scampering in this planet’s trees. That species melds with vicious non-sentients and makes them self-aware, evolves them, unleashes the symbiote on the universe. They have made you abominations. We will remove them, as we have from a thousand other species.”
They meant our spirits – what we had come to call our souls. A concept humanity had, ironically, not widely or wholeheartedly accepted until then. That changed when nine-point-something billion people were rendered mindless idiots, needing fed and cared for by the aliens’ machines.
All the while, the invaders watched smugly from the glassy towers that were slowly covering the world.
“Incoming,” Shawn-Silver mind-whispered. We shared a link through the armor we’d devised. The blunt spearpoint that was our ship shrugged off camouflaging debris and screamed toward us, whipping up a tornado of stones and dust.
I paused to snatch up the glass rod, and we assumed positions.
As the barbed shape passed overhead, fields seized us. We rose, pointed with free arms at distant silver dots that had risen in pursuit, touching them with invisible lances. Sent them tumbling into their makers’ towers.
Our ship was descended from one of a handful that tough humans had captured as Earth fell. They’d fled along the universe-spanning Wires to the dark, where they studied the alien technology, realized how passive the hunters were, how uninventive. They hid in dead moons and coruscating gas giants. Learned, evolved, built. Looked inward to study their bodies and souls, saw where the two merged, took new names. Pairs of names. One for the boosted bone and muscle bodies, the other for the essence that had lifted each of us from the mud.
And had us – new, strange children – the tools of their revenge.
The ship banked, causing suits to stiffen and bodies to harden inside and out. A field tore through the hunters’ flitter as we passed, shredding all save a cluster of glass rods that were snatched up.
A beam found us, melting struts, taking Cheng-Umber’s legs and half of her torso. I scrambled to her, touched the end of the alien rod to her breast, saw the flicker. Her wrecked body fell away. Six lances speared back, roasting the pursuing aliens in their machines.
Our white-hot escape from the atmosphere was heralded by scores of incandescent explosions below, as we unloaded pinhead antimatter specks and our ship ejected hard metal spears at hypersonic speed. Fear us, we broadcast.
We reached the Wire point, singing in triumph as the big engines kicked in and hauled Cutter out of existence. We had taken 852 stored souls, and would join them with stolen empty cadavers in the center of a burned-out comet. The feral boy would be reborn. Umber would meld again. Body and soul, we would conquer the stars.
David A. Gray is a Scots-born creative director and writer, living in NYC. His shorts have been accepted by Starship Sofa, James Gunn’s Ad Astra, Cosmic Roots, Metaphorosis, Ahoy! Comics and more, and his debut novel, Moonflowers, is a non-best-seller on five continents. Gray would like to be well-known enough to be considered reclusive.