Laser Pack

Copyright © 1983 by Roger M. Wilcox.  All rights reserved.
(writing on this story began November 10, 1983)

Two bearded human figures curiously approached a centuries-old impact site. Their groins were covered with animal skins; the rest of their bodies were covered with dirt. The taller of the two stepped into the clearing, brandishing his bronze-tipped spear as a symbol of dominance.

A pile of twisted metal lay in the crater, metal which showed no sign of its true age. This derelict chaos had once been a space-faring fighter craft from a dying, alien technology. Standing proudly above the ruins, though, was the single piece of hardware that survived the crash: a gray, hot-water-bottle-shaped structure as tall as a man. A mass of metal filaments jutted out some distance beneath its skyward-pointing nozzle, below which stood a sequence of symbols that no man would ever understand but which had once meant, "Laser Pack."

The two nomads stared breathlessly at the altar for half a minute before the taller asked, in his crude native tongue, "Advisor, what is it?"

"I don't know, Organizer. It's nothing the SouthEasterners could have created; they've never ventured this far west."

"Well," decided Organizer, "I didn't get my name by not grabbing every chance that came to me." He advanced and inspected the gray structure more scrupulously. Its surface was smooth and new despite its centuries of neglect. Pulling aside some of the wrinkled wires, he puzzled.

Advisor was worried. "What is it?"

"I don't know. It's red, it's rectangular, and it's the width of my hand. It also feels like it could move inward." He pushed the red panel.

Both men cringed with fear as an orange-red beam of light surged vertically from the nozzle as it shattered the stillness. It was over in the flap of a hawk's wing, but neither man was willing to move for a while.

"L-A-S-E-R P-A-C-K," read Organizer vaguely after about a minute. "I don't know what it means; but I don't care much, either. Advisor, how could we use this?"

"Mmmm . . . we should probably first test its properties as a weapon."

They both grabbed the structure's sides and began to pull it down. It weighed as much as a horse. With its button side up, they slowly moved the relic across the debris pile until its business end faced a nearby oak tree. Organizer pushed the button for the second time, and watched in amazement as the beam tore through the tree and the five behind it as though they didn't exist. This weapon had been designed to go through battle shields and meters of protective armor; trees were mere kindling to it. And it was charged for several months of use.

Organizer's eyes opened wide and sparkled with malevolence. "This is it! The SouthEasterners have finally met their match! Now, not only do we have superior numbers and a moral code that promotes our dominance, but we also have LASER PACK. It's a sign from the gods! Advisor, we must get our troops and a wheel-driven cart to this site and carry LASER PACK to the SouthEasterners' current place. Their end is at last at hand! We're finally going to be the dominant ones!"

Ten kilometers away, Iron Worker strolled away from the blast furnace that everyone held in high reverence. His people — his friends — were SouthEasterners, a nomadic tribe of loving people that were the most technologically advanced group in the world. They were literally millenia ahead of every other civilization on Earth — except for the NorthWesterners who stole their technology — yet could afford to carry only one blast furnace for melting metals. Of course, that was one blast furnace more than the other stone-age civilizations had ever used.

Iron Worker glympsed a woman running toward him. "Ah, my dear Pole Warrior," he thought. "I can still remember our wedding day in vivid detail. We went into my home, I gave you a lump of iron ore, you gave me an old wooden staff, and we were married. I still carry that pole with me in my clothing."

"Hi," Pole Warrior said, and hugged him. "How's your work coming?"

"Better than ever. Iron has to be the biggest advance to humankind since the blast furnace. Twice as stong as bronze for the same weight, and its a lot more common. Besides, there's no need to mix —"

"Lover," she cut him off, "I know you like your work, but try to avoid being so technical. How'd you like it if I started talking about hitting your opponent's sensitive points?"

"Okay, Pole Warrior," he chuckled, "I get the message. Come on, let's go to the border; I want to see how our iron wall slots are doing. Its nice to know that nothing short of a herd of elephants can harm us now."

"I love you," she quietly cooed.

"I love you," he replied. Even after five years of hearing that cliche, it still sounded beautiful.

They walked northward arm-in-arm, Iron Worker surveying their temporary campsite through saddening eyes. Their lives would be full of love and freedom if not for the NorthWesterners. Because of the relentless aggression and hatred they faced, the SouthEasterners had to resort to weapons, metal, and fighting skills. But through the ages, they had always managed to survive, even against the NorthWesterners' increasing numbers and cunning. They were bound to each other by love rather than fear, and that alone, thought Iron Worker, was enough to give them the few breaks they needed to flourish.

"Iron Worker! Iron Worker!" yelled a youth from one of the village's boundaries.

Iron Worker snapped into action. After sprinting to the boundary with Pole Warrior, he demanded, "What is it, Watcher?"

"NorthWesterners are coming! A lot of them!"

Iron worker took no time to think. "Get the iron," he bellowed as he turned to the village. "GET THE IRON!"

Man-and-a-half high dark gray walls popped up at the camp's perimeter, carried by the scrambling hands of half their people. Pole Warrior ran to her comrades.

Iron Worker was more excited than worried. "I'm finally going to get to try this stuff out. They're in for a surprise."

"They're in for a surprise," said Organizer as he led the NorthWest assault. "Hmmm . . . those walls; they're not wood or bronze. Oh, yes! Iron. The new supermetal my spies told me about."

Three dust-worn slaves rolled the stone-wheeled wooden cart into position on the dry yellow grass. Its burden would be the only thing needed in the upcoming battle; the rest of the troops didn't really matter. "Let's see how their 'Iron' stands up against our LASER PACK."

He pushed the red panel, and the front of the structure threw out the first blow of the battle. A shaft of red-orange energy made a thundrous sound and vaporized a half-man-high hole in the SouthEasterners' first line of defense.

Iron Worker's expression melted to disbelief. The beam had slammed on through the hole and incinerated one of their canvas huts. Terror gripped each of the SouthEasterners in turn, for this was the first time the unknown had truly been something to fear.

Before anyone could make a move, or even scream, the beam echoed out again, sweeping a wide arc and removing a section of wall — along with the three people standing behind it. "First blood," thought Iron Worker quickly. "We're dying again."

"Ha ha!" boasted Organizer at full lung. "I have always known your technology was doomed to die, but I never thought I'd live to see it. Your self-love was the one thing that could break my civilization down if it spread to them, but now that's going to be destroyed. Feel the power the gods have given us, SouthEasterners! Feel LASER PACK!" He fired again.

Iron Worker turned as an equally frightened Pole Warrior joined him. ". . . power the gods have given them?" he wondered. "That means they found it! They were just scouting around outside of their camp, and they found that thing. They probably don't even know how it works."

"Iron worker, we have to do something. We can't just let that thing kill us all!"

"What can we do? Iron simply buckles to its might, and flesh falls into dust."

"Giving up isn't the way we work; you know that. We are SouthEasterners, born of love and determination. We have never left a problem unsolved."

"Words of wisdom won't do any good against that. I don't know who or what left it here, but it's given them victory. The worst part is that we fight to stay alive despite them, make the greatest advances in technology that have ever occurred, and continually fill ourselves with life energy, but they get the big break."

"No!" she finally snapped. Before Iron Worker could stop her, she leapt from her protective crouch and rushed up the sidelines, wielding her newly-made iron battle pole.

"Pole Warrior! Wait! You'll be —"

The beam intersected her head-on. The only thing that fell to Earth was a near-molten iron staff.

"— killed." His weak voice trailed off; then he fell down and started crying.

The world buckled around him. He was out of the direct line of fire, but others — so many others — weren't so lucky. They mattered to him, yes; but not nearly as much as they had mattered before his love was destroyed.

"WHY!?!" he cried. "We've lived for life and love, and yet the enemy of all that lives has doomed us! The world is colder than I ever imagined."

His thoughts diminished as the carnage ebbed, replaced by Organizer's spiteful voice. "You are finished, SouthEast! Surrender yourselves, and you will not have to face the terror of LASER PACK, but simply live as the inferior slaves you should be."

"Surrender," Iron Worker thought. "Yes, I surrender." He took the wooden pole from its resting place near his groin, and split the ancient pulp into two pieces, each with a new and sharp tip.

"For you, Pole Warrior," he whispered. He brought the point of one of the rods up to his chest, and reflected briefly on his last moment of life.

And ten thousand years later, the NorthWesterners' descendents would call this singed battlefield "The Black Forest."

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