Written for Finish That Thought 2-21. The prompt is the first line of the story.
All may be fair in love and war, but Kayleigh just stepped way over the line. And considering that our original plan started with “nuke ’em ’til they glow,” that says a lot. But that civilian, Mr. Spitzel, joined us at Fort Rigel and sparked some crazy ideas in Kayleigh’s brain.
Officially, Mr. Spitzel was a teacher. He turned our mess hall (which he called the cafeteria) into his personal classroom, crammed us together with the infantry, and taught us everything Earth science knew about the Qatzu. Anatomy, physiology, strengths and weaknesses, while we ate lunch.
Afterward, the infantry discussed the intel in the locker room, brainstorming ways to kill Qatzu. Aim for the mouth, not the tentacles. Burn their skin with phosphorus bullets. Slash their carapace with a bayonet. Grotesque stuff.
War with the Qatzu obeyed Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: it was strangely distant, yet also brutally personal. Wherever the 135th Orbital Engineering Regiment went, we opened with a volley of nukes, cratering their strongholds. Yet this was insufficient. Within a few days, a lone surviving Qatzu could lay its clutch of eggs. Within a month, its new brood would be combat ready. A dozen Earth colony ships, thousands of civilians, had been killed by forces from Qatzu planets we’d already bombed back to the stone age.
So wherever the 135th went, infantry followed, to track the Qatzu survivors through the radioactive ruins and claustrophobic tunnels. The stories those infantrymen told were haunting… I was just glad to be an Orbital Engineer. Our official motto was Fiat Lux, but our unofficial Ka-Boom! worked, too.
Kayleigh was quite the firecracker, herself; everyone in Bravo Company called it the Irish in her. Funny how we carry our stereotypes with us, no matter how many hundreds of parsecs we go from Earth. Halfway to Alnilam, she got one of her bright ideas, and locked herself in the lab.
Whatever she told the muckety-mucks must’ve wowed them. Gossip started spreading the day after orbital insertion. Instead of following protocol, carpeting Planetoid Alnilam/3/35A with a 500 gigaton kiss of death, we simply launched Kayleigh’s mystery superweapon… and waited.
For weeks we circled the planet.
We broke orbit.
The infantry never dropped.
Though the infantrymen were dying to know our secret, I never told any of them what Kayleigh told me about our miraculous superweapon.
“Mr. Spitzel’s seminar made me realize how similar the Qatzu are to us, biochemically,” she told me that first night in orbit. “DNA. Proteins. Cellular structure. So I created a mutagen to make them even more like us.”
Her explanation took a while to sink in. “So… any surviving Qatzu on the planet will lay their eggs…”
“…which will hatch and quickly grow up to become humans,” Kayleigh affirmed cheerfully. “If it works, we’ll deploy against their home planet. War over, and instant human colonies.”
I didn’t get much sleep after that. All may be fair in love and war, but Kayleigh just stepped way over the line.