’m currently digging through a book on the ins and outs of Model Railroad Operations Design (and I’m sure you’ll all be hanging on for that review). But with nothing in the hopper for this week, I went back and read a shorts story from the anthology The Best Science Fiction of the Year (Vol 2, which I think means 2016). While the first story I know I’d read somewhere, I knew I hadn’t read the second, Extraction Request, because I don’t recall that feeling of sick dread.
Yeah, it was damn creepy.
So let’s go with the time-honored opener: a convict combat squad from some futuristic time are picking through the wreckage of their shuttle which hit some sort of smartmine in the air and came down in a swamp. The crude soldiers (with all sorts of grim reasons they were convicted into this unit) look at one of their number, a fellow with one arm and nothing else, ruined beyond saving but still glugging in pain. On their heads-up vision, they get a request (the “nudge”) to vote his death. Everyone gives a gloomy upvote, the clamp on the back of his neck detonates, and it’s RIP for him.
And he’s the lucky one.
For this cast-away squad (with its morphine-stealing leader and gruntier-than-grunt-grunts) have landed in a swamp that the locals and even the rebels avoid. And as we read, we realize why; because something that makes the infamous Alien look like a house cat is moving through the swamp, under the mud and slime, and there is nothing they can do.
And I’ll give it this – this was a very unique enemy, about as nasty (and imaginative) as they come, something that you’ll need to read to believe (hello, nightmares). Great work by Rich Larson, a very talented author.
So if you want to see what happens when a misfit squad of convicts runs into the most frightening thing alive, find this anthology or look for it online. Great tale.