This was actually the first story I released “Indie.” It’s set in the same world as most of my near future SF. It’s a little Mil-SF piece:
The nightmares of the past become the terrors of today.
Staff Sergeant Mike Yamada is the only prisoner of war every recovered from the Eres. Although afflicted with debilitating PTSD he is the only source of knowledge on the real fate of prisoners of the Eres. When the hospital ship Mercy comes under fire from an Eres task force, Yamada must face his worst nightmares brought to life and must somehow find the strength to rise above his fears lest that dread fate befall not only him but the remaining crew of the Mercy.
STAFF SERGEANT MIKE Yamada saluted as he stood in front of the Captain’s desk.
“You wanted to see me, Sergeant?” The Captain returned the salute. “Well, here I am.”
Yamada winced inwardly at the tone of the Captain’s voice, a wince that he was careful to avoid showing as he stood at attention before the Captain’s desk. He could understand why the Captain was upset, but that did not make what he had to do any easier.
“Well? In case nobody’s told you there’s an Eres task force on our tail and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get away. The crew of this ship, including me, is about to get very busy.”
“Yes, sir.” Yamada paused a moment. Despite the Captain’s sarcastic comments, he could not have avoided hearing the announcement. The hospital ship Mercy and her two escorting destroyers were currently running for the system’s jump limit at the maximum acceleration the Mercy could sustain. And although there had been no general announcement of the assessment of the Eres fleet’s capabilities, he had also heard the scuttlebutt that gave the Eres longer legs–enough longer that the Mercy could not possibly reach the jump limit before being overhauled. The destroyers could probably get away, but they would not both leave the Mercy. The more seriously sick and wounded were being moved to the Soyokaze, the newer, and faster, of the two destroyers in the hopes that they, at least, could get out. “First off, Sir, I’m sorry about what happened….”
Since his rescue, Yamada had gone into screaming fits whenever anyone approached him. One corpsman had tried to restrain him and received a dislocated shoulder for his pains.
“The corpsman’ll be fine.” The Captain sighed. “At ease, Sergeant. Post Traumatic Stress. I’ve seen a lot of it in this billet. You’re not at fault here although I’m glad to see you’re finally getting past those panic attacks. But I don’t think that’s all you wanted to see me about, was it.”
“No, sir. Uh, sir–” Yamada shrugged– “whatever happens, you can’t surrender this ship.”
“Can’t I?” The Captain leaned back in his chair. “And since when do you tell a ship’s Captain what he can and can’t do?”
“Sir, I’m sorry, but you just don’t understand what will happen if you do.”
“The Eres are good about taking prisoners. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t be here.”
“That’s just it, sir. It’s better… better not to be taken prisoner. Anything… anything at all is better than to be taken prisoner.”
The Captain nodded. “I’m sure you’ve had a bad time, but you’re here, now, in reasonably good health, when you wouldn’t be if you’d followed the advice you’re giving me now.”
“And a lot of the time I wish I wasn’t, Captain. You have no idea, none at all, what it’s like.”
“Look, Sergeant, I haven’t got time for this.”
“Please, Captain. Please listen to me. You may have heard of an old story ‘The Most Dangerous Game’?”
“Can’t say that I have, but….”
“Well, I don’t suppose it matters. Look, after Defender was captured and we were taken to a POW camp, or what we thought was a POW camp, we were treated well–good food, clean housing, exercise yards, excellent medical care. It was only later that we found out why.”
“Move your ass, Lieutenant!” Yamada punctuated his statement with a shove.
Lieutenant Thompson responded by sinking to the carpet of leaves on the ground. His right leg bulged purple above the remains of his boot. “I’m done, Sergeant.”
Yamada squatted next to Thompson and grabbed his shoulder. “Done, hell! On your feet and get shagging… sir.”
Thompson shook his head. “Not going to happen. You’d better clear out before they catch up to us. They can’t be too far behind.”
“That’s an order, Sergeant. If you stay, they’ll just get both of us.”
“Move your ass, Sergeant. That’s an order.”
With a groan, Yamada scooped up the sharpened stick that served him as a crude spear and dashed into the underbrush. Once through the nearest thicket, he hesitated, then turned and crouched behind a tree. He could just see Lieutenant Thompson straightening his injured leg on the ground in front of him.
A noise from the far side of the clearing drew Yamada’s attention. Two Eres appeared almost as if by magic from the shadows under the trees. Instead of the standard issue magnetic slugthrowers, they carried long spears, the shafts of a local plant similar to Earthly bamboo and tipped with flaked stone.
Yamada’s grip tightened on his own, cruder, spear as he watched Thompson wait for the approaching Eres.
Adult Eres stood just under 2 1/2 meters tall. Their smooth skin varied from a pale olive green to a straw-amber to a deep russet brown. Their heads, perched on the ends of half-meter long flexible necks, had rounded skulls that stretched forward into blunt snouts, giving them an egg-shaped appearance. Tall, narrow ridges, the crests whose height was the only visible different to Yamada’s eyes between male and female Eres, ran from just over the eyes back across the skulls to join just above the back of the neck.
A lipless mouth bisected the snout horizontally where knife-edged serrated teeth were constantly exposed in a mirthless grin. The upper and lower teeth overlapped, producing a shearing action to cut through flesh or the Eres could thrust forward their lower jaws, turning upper and lower teeth into pairs of saws that could carve the stoutest bones.
The Eres bodies were rounded, almost bulbous, with arms that seemed short in comparison to their full size but were, in fact, about the same size as humans and no human could match the strength of an average Eres arm. The legs were about a meter long, with elongated, clawed feet. Eres walked on their toes, with a spine from their heels pointing backward. The hips had a second, locking joint that allowed the Eres to either stand and walk fully upright like humans or to shift into a forward-leaning position where the weight of their heads and bodies were counter balanced by a thick, muscular tail. In this position they could run at great speeds for seemingly unlimited distances.
One of the two Eres–a female by the crests above its eyes–stopped. The other took two more steps then stopped as well. He–the smaller crests indicated a male–raised the arm that held his spear. The arm whipped forward and the spear flew in a near invisible blur to bury itself in Thompson’s chest, just to the left of his sternum.
Yamada screamed. Without conscious thought, he charged from his own place of concealment straight at the Eres who had killed the lieutenant. The Eres turned to face him, the male who had cast his spear blocking a clear throw from the female.
In another instant, Yamada reached the Eres. His own spear, driven by the full momentum of his charge, caught the Eres in mid-torso. Yamada found himself tangled with the Eres’ body as it fell.
“I thought I was dead then,” Yamada told the Captain. “An adult Eres masses more than 200 kilos and that world had a little bit more than one standard gravity. I was pinned as the female walked up to me. I expected her to spit me just like they had the Lieutenant. But all she did was club me unconscious so that I woke up back in the camp.”
The worst part of that episode had been learning that the Eres he had struck had survived. His spear had pierced one of the Eres’ hearts, but while that was a serious debilitating injury it was not necessarily fatal. Given time, an Eres would recover and the heart heal, weakened perhaps, but not fatally so.
The Captain leaned back in his chair. “You made an escape attempt on a planet held by the Eres? That took guts.”
“You don’t understand. It wasn’t an escape attempt.”
“They let us out so they could hunt us. That’s what they do with prisoners–feed and care for them so they’re at the peak of health and strength, then hunt them down and kill them.”
“My God,” the Captain whispered.
“They love a challenge,” Yamada continued, “I came to learn that if you’re good enough, or lucky enough, if you wound or kill one of the hunting Eres, or avoid being caught long enough, they often won’t kill you. Instead they’ll bring you back in, nurse you back to health, and send you out there again for another hunt.
“We weren’t prisoners, we were livestock. I think this whole war is just a great hunt to them.”
“Thank… thank you for your report. Now, if you will return to your quarters, I have a ship to run.”
Yamada saluted and left.