A Tale of the Ringbearers, by Brother Grimace
I hate the desert. I really do.
Courtney sighed as she looked across the seemingly endless waves of sand that made up the landscape of the lonely world she stood upon.
A planet one and one-half times the size of Earth, about the same distance from its sun as Earth is from Sol – and covered in a planetary desert. I hate this place.
The young Ringbearer wiped sweat from her face with a thick towel made of omnicloth, and once again went over her mission orders in her head. Why they didn't just send a couple of Earth Hunters to give this dump the once-over is beyond me...
Do a standard recon of the western hemisphere of the planet below the equator, using standardized sector grids. Assess colonization viability of your assigned sectors. Run standard life-detection tests and collect samples of genetic material for further study. If you discover intelligent life forms on the planet, do not reveal yourself. Finish your survey and return to Mobile Base Claremont for evaluation.
As she stood atop the flattened plateau of a sand dune the size of the Sears Tower, Courtney took a moment to enjoy the sunset – the only decent thing about being stuck in a planetary litter box, she groused. At least they could have sent somebody with me. Any of the Robert Nelsons would have been nice company, and that Frank Rydell could have been fun out here... I'd even have settled for Beavis!
She thought about why she had pulled this assignment. Oh, yeah. 'It's a way of keeping you out of trouble'
At least Valkryie looked remorseful as she pushed me off the plank. 'You seem to have the habit of – attracting attention; it seems that everywhere you go, you happen to find the worst possible kind of trouble. Courtney – you've run into Zombie Legionnaires three times-!'
Archangel had some good advice, too: 'Any time that you're sent off on what's supposed to be an easy, trouble-free assignment – practice simulated tactical nuclear detonations with your Ring before you leave."
Courtney looked about the area, and turned away from the edge.
Well, at least I'm almost done, she thought, transmuting a large patch of sand into a giant circular basin – one made of diamond – that was thirty feet across, fifty feet long, and seven feet deep. I'll cool off in my own personal pool for a bit, then get some sleep, and finish up the remainder of the survey tomorrow.
Finish mapping the extreme southern region of the planet, including the South Pole. Jeez. Can't do the 'polar bear' joke here.
Courtney held her Ring hand out and slow, steady streams of sand began to flow upwards from the surface and into the basin, transmuting into crystal-clear water in mid-air. That looks so nice...all I need now is a floating lounge, cool drinks, cute boys – and backup singers, all so I can sing 'Fabulous'. I hated that move. It insulted my bottom to sit through it.
She walked around the edge of the pool, then stopped and began to undo the simple, yet sturdy blue jumpsuit she wore – the closest thing to a standard uniform that Ringbearers wore, she recalled, remembering the response when she asked about clothing – and let a smile cross her face.
"I'm the only person on this dumb rock," she said, as her outfit disappeared in a flash of blue light. "Might as well not even bother with a swimsuit."
Raising herself into the air on a column of sand, Courtney leaped out over her pool, doing a perfect dive into the pool as she entered with barely any splash. "YEAH!" she exclaimed as she emerged from the water. "Nailed it!"
Courtney swam several laps, and then let herself float along underneath the beautiful sunset sky, marveling at the colors.
Far off in the distance, a brilliant flash of light caught Courtney's attention. "What the heck was that?"
Holding her hand out as she levitated herself out of the pool, she transmuted sand into a huge, fluffy towel that she ran over herself as she watched another, and yet another heavy flash of light explode far off in the distance... light so bright that it could only be the flashes of nuclear detonations...
Something isn't right about this, Courtney thought. With that many nukes - where is the sound of the explosions? Why isn't there a freaking firestorm from hell burning out there, lighting up everything from here to the horizon – and why would anyone want to start popping off nukes on a sandpit like this?
What the hell is going on out there? It's –wait. That's lightning...
Courtney watched as the area she observed was suddenly awash light – the light of immeasurable jagged, powerful bolts, so powerful that they distorted light around them, because the ground where they struck shook madly-
The young Ringbearer gasped as her HST Ring-shields suddenly engaged; inside, Courtney saw her Ring's head's-up display engage:
==ALERT! Active HST infestation zone
==Classification: Reanimate/UNKNOWN FORM
==Infestation Intensity Level Status: CLASS FOUR
==ALERT COMMAND IMMEDIATELY
==ENGAGE EMERGENCY BEACON IMMEDIATELY
==HST shields deployed
==ALERT! Active reanimation agent in area
==Method of reanimation: biochemical
==Reanimate saturation level:
==Recalibration in progress...
==Zone One (0-5 kilometers): 0000
==Zone Two (5-10 kilometers): 0000
==Zone Three (10-25 kilometers): 368208
==Zone Four (25-40 kilometers): 5849064
==CONFIRMED CHAIN SWARM IN PROGRESS
==Reanimates converging on this location
==EVACUATE CURRENT LOCATION IMMEDIATELY
With a thought, Courtney brought up a view screen on her heads'-up display; the screen zoomed in and then widened to show the Ringbearer a scene from beyond Hell – a landscape covered with gigantic, hulking creatures that could only be called worms... if worms were thirty to eighty stories tall, hundreds of feet long, and generated blinding bursts of electricity as them moved along at high speed...
...As she watched her screen, she saw that each and every one of the creatures was a sickening, pasty-white in color.
As a flood of undead flesh poured across the landscape towards the single living being on the world in a thundering mass tens of miles across, the scent of ozone overwhelming as the zombie sandworms homed in on her, Courtney shook her head and sighed.
I really hate the desert.