Title: The Minesweeper
Sunday, May 3, 2015
First 5 Pages May Workshop - Pacelli
Name: Atesa Pacelli
Genre: Young Adult
Title: The Minesweeper
Title: The Minesweeper
ONE: ON TENEBRIS
The hand hit Aden so hard it knocked him to the ground.
Aden swerved and thrust his hand out in a futile attempt at balance as the projectile slammed into him, his mac flailing wildly in the air like a flower knocked over by a strong wind. But it was no use. He went down, hard, hitting the ground with the unmistakable crunch of something shattering.
He froze. He didn’t notice the pain, but slowly, slowly, he did notice that he was still alive. He had narrowly avoided falling directly atop of a Sunn mine. Deep breath. Yes. He was still alive. He wiggled his fingers and toes. All still there, or so it seemed. He gripped his mac harder. Paused to catch his breath. He was out in the open and he would have to get out of here – fast.
But he dare not move.
His eyes darted about, alert, analyzing the ramshackle mud and brick huts that made up this village high up on the Sunn-Karal border: the open doors, gaping like newly-blasted faces, the mounds of dirt, the rusted-down machines, the flies buzzing around the dead animals everywhere. The ground underneath this village was riddled with mines in every direction: microscopic bits of coiled death that lay just inches under the innocent-looking soil, their vibrations visible to no one but him. To Aden’s eyes, the air was different directly above each mine. It moved: darkened and swirled like an angry eddy. That’s what he looked for. The gift meant that he was alive four years after being sold by his father to the Karali rebels as a minesweeper, graduating from minefield meat to an actual soldier in the cause of the Karali Liberation Movement.
All around him, the ground darkened and swirled, darkened and swirled. He looked around, annoyed. The first round of minesweeper boys were supposed to clear this village in advance of the soldiers. Where were all the bodies? The exploded mines? The discarded heaps of shrapnel and mounds of body parts? They’d done a miserable job, for sure.
But he had no time to formulate a plan before the real fighting started. All around him, target-locked bullets whizzed by and high-powered lasers crisped the earth, exploding mines and Karali rebel soldiers along with them. He needed to get up and fight, but he lay there, on a heap of something, still frozen, still trying to figure out what to do.
And then the strangest sensation. Something was moving underneath him.
He peered under himself as gingerly as he could and let out a strangled cry of surprise: it was one of the new recruits, crying and shivering in a turtle-like ball. The minesweeper boys went into the battlefield in pairs, chained to each other.
This one’s chain-mate was missing.
The kid was clutching his paradise key and crying for his mommy. Aden rolled his eyes and curled his lips in disgust. This little shit was going to get them both killed. If this kid so much as moved, they would each be in a hundred pieces spread out over the plains of southern Karal. Aden took a deep breath, grabbed a handful of the matted black hair underneath him, and locked eyes with the scrawny boy, who was no more than ten.
“Don’t move!” he screamed over the din.
The boy nodded and ducked his head back under Aden. Four years ago, Aden had been like this kid, paralyzed by fear. A twelve-year-old destined to be no more than battle meat, to walk across minefields and explode the bombs before the valuable laser guided artillery and troops advanced. But Aden had the gift. He could see the mines before they saw him. It saved him. Now, he was a master of the chief lesson of minesweeping:
Do whatever it takes to stay alive.
Aden closed his eyes for a second, running a finger along the raised tattoo of an exploding sphere on his inner elbow. Then, as always, he offered a feverish prayer to whatever it was that was going to get him the hell out of here.
As his eyes snapped open he spied the projectile that had knocked him over: a hand still attached to an arm.
A small arm.
The hand was frozen in a death grip, still clutching the paradise key. Cheap plasticene that the commander had passed out to the boys. The keys to the paradise ruled by the God of Spirits. The Karali rebels worshipped the five old prophets, who sang flowery praises to their one God and promised afterlife. Entry to this afterlife was summarily granted to any boy who died in the cause, sweeping a minefield.
“What will you do for the God of Spirits to let you into paradise?” The soldiers would chant to the boys as they lined them up, chained to each other, minutes away from death.
The Soldier is the most beloved hand of God.
Except the boys were not soldiers. They were only boys. And there was no God.
Aden looked up. The commander had given the order to advance despite the fact that the village had not been cleared. He watched as mines exploded and men and boys alike screamed – out of pain, out of fear, out of a mental anguish that seared their brains as severely as any mac. Aden looked down at the kid crouched beneath him. He remembered this kid from the lineup this morning. He was the smallest one. This skirmish was the kid’s first battle as a minesweeper. Having the dumb luck to have Aden fall on him probably meant it wouldn’t be his last. The vast majority of the boys died at their first sweep, to say nothing of the second or third. The Sunn mines were just too sophisticated for the KLM’s meager rebellion.
The Karali Liberation Movement. It sounded noble. Freedom fighters that mostly wanted to liberate the lucrative Carabalt mines along the disputed border, along with the Machavell Protectorate’s tax structure that cut deeply into profits for the Union’s most precious energy source.
And now the so-called freedom fighters were all dying. Aden looked around to see the Karali battalion routed, dead soldiers in their shabby red and black in every variety of death, their uniforms flapping in the wind like warning flags. He watched the commander, the man who had bought him from his father those four years ago, sustain a round of laser fire and go down hard.
Aden rubbed the smoke out of his eyes with a grubby hand and grabbed the severed arm that had knocked him to the ground. He threw it as hard as he could to the spot where he knew another mine sat, the tiny charge ready to strike.
The arm landed with a thud. Second later, a huge explosion blew it to bits.
The paradise key hit Aden in the face.
“Move!” He yelled. He grabbed the kid and they both scurried across the newly exploded area, making it as far as the back of another hut. They crouched down behind a pile of farm equipment. Aden peered around the edge. They were not more than thirty steps away from a tree line. Behind the trees was a thick forest that would provide cover until Aden could figure out what to do next. Aden looked closely. Something was moving. Flitting in and out of visibility behind the trees was the hindquarters of an enormous, heavily-antlered bracken deer.