P.U.C.K.

Some time ago, I mentioned a contest that John Scalzi was running and that I had entered it.  Well, the results are back, and I did not win.  Obviously, having not read any of the winning entries, I’m unable to tell you whether they were better stories or not.  But, since I didn’t win, I’m going to post the story here.

So, I leave you with P.U.C.K.

Wil pulled back on the reins of Tiger, his P.U.C.K. Squadron mount.  The genetics behind a Pegasus Unicorn Centaur Kitten caused them to be a little over zealous in battle, and a P.U.C.K. rider learned early to keep them restrained or quickly end up rolling in the rocks.  The ScalzOrc saw him coming, just barely in time to avoid the spear that Wil had thrust at him.  Damn ScalzOrc, Wil thought.  The ScalzOrc’s were a special breed of genetically engineered Orc warriors designed for one thing only; battle.  A perversion of natural laws, perhaps, but damned efficient.  Hell of a lot easier than breeding replacement armies.  Besides, Wil chuckled at the thought, who’d want to breed with an Orc anyways.  Not that they didn’t breed.  Someone had told him a story he’d heard about the breeding rituals of the Orc clans.  His disclaimer from then on has been strictly no explicit sex.  Unless it’s with his wife; in which case, he was all for it.  The ScalzOrc brought his shield around and blocked the spear.  The force brought to bear on the spear with a P.U.C.K. behind it knocked the ScalzOrc to the ground.  It rolled, then sprang up, already bringing it’s battle axe around in a high arc aimed at Tiger.
The P.U.C.K. darted to the side to avoid it, almost unseating Wil in the process.  Wil hadn’t had time to tighten his restraints to his saddle before taking off to answer the alarm.  He was still wearing the clown sweater and blue shorts that he’d gone to bed in.  Hadn’t had time to change either.  Normally, the alarms would have been sounded much earlier, but the unseasonal volcanic activity was disrupting the sensors.  If he had to guess, Wil would say the ScalzOrcs had something to do with that.  The momentum from the missed swing carried the ScalzOrc low and under the wing of Tiger.  It swung it’s shield up and the sharpened edge of it cut several of the feathers from Tigers wing.  Wil winced.  The P.U.C.K. had no feeling in the feathers, so there would be no pain, but it took months to grow the feathers back.  And P.U.C.K.s were notoriously vain.  Tiger screamed at the ScalzOrc and lunged after it.  The effort ripped the reins out of Wil’s hands.  An unrestrained P.U.C.K. was a bad situation.  It was as much of a threat to its rider and itself as it was to the enemy in most cases. Luckily, the clipped feathers gave Tiger a focus for all that power.  Tiger advanced quickly on the ScalzOrc, batting at it as it retreated.  It was forced to stop and stand its ground when it’s retreat was blocked by a lava flow.  It knelt to the ground and placed it’s axe at Tigers paws.
Tiger tossed his head, and the reins slid back down it’s neck where Wil could reach them.  With Tiger back under control, Wil gave him the command to hold.  Wil stepped down off of Tiger and moved up to stand beside the P.U.C.K.s enormous kitten head.  “Do you surrender, ScalzOrc?”  It was an insult to the ScalzOrc to even suggest surrender, which is why Wil asked.  The ScalzOrc glared at Wil, but didn’t answer.  Wil continued.  “Very well, then.  I don’t suppose you’d like to gamble for your life?  Doesn’t matter.  We’re going to do it anyways.”  Wil pulled a small black velvet pouch from his saddle bag.  It was a matter of pride that each of the P.U.C.K. riders carried their own dice.  His were an heirloom that was handed down from his grandfather to his father and then on to him.  He loosened the tie and dumped the dice into his palm.  They had twenty sides, and were crafted from crystal clear, and thus very rare, Dilithium crystals.  “There are 20 sides to each die, ScalzOrc.  If I roll two twenties, I’ll let you live.  Anything less, and I’m letting tiger finish what he started.”  Wil closed his palm loosely over the dice and began to shake it back and forth.  The dice lightly chimed against each other.  “Wait!” the ScalzOrc took a step forward and was about to take another when Tiger reminded him that he was there.  Wil stopped shaking the dice.  “Just wait.” The ScalzOrc stepped back to where he had been standing. “If I am to die, I want to die honorably;  Not at the hand of fate.  And certainly not by whatever means that genetic mess you call Tiger has in mind.”  Wil put a hand on Tigers shoulder to help stay him.  Calling a vain animal a genetic mess was nearly as bad as clipping a few of it’s feathers.  “You shouldn’t be calling anything a genetic mess, ScalzOrc.  You aren’t exactly a pure genome yourself.”  The ScalzOrcs were known to be a bit sensitive about the means in which they are created, and Wil didn’t mind putting a thumb in that wound.  “Allright, I’ll give you your honorable death.”  The ScalzOrc looked surprised that Wil had agreed to change his plans.  “Thank you.  My people, for what we lack in a personal history, have come to associate with the Volcanos that come and go on this planet.  I would like to be dropped into the volcano.”

The air above the volcano cone was hot.  Wil was already sweating heavily under the clown sweater that he hadn’t had a chance to take off, and they’d only been above the volcano for a few minutes.  He wanted to get as close to the center of the cone before he dropped the ScalzOrc in.  Less chance of any tricky business on the way down.  He’d tied the ScalzOrcs arms and legs before mounting Tiger and having the P.U.C.K. pick him up in his claws.  As they reached the center of the cone, Wil nudged Tiger, giving him the sign to drop his cargo into the volcano.  The ScalzOrc fell, twisting in the air as he went.  Wil had to admit that it was admirable that the ScalzOrc didn’t even scream as he dropped to his death.  The ScalzOrc dropped into the Lava at the center of the volcano.  A brief flame burst up and quickly died out.  Wil pulled Tiger into a turn and pointed him towards home.  The lights of the compound glimmered in the distance.  A second flame burst caught Wils eye.  He looked down just as lava flowed away from something rising from its depths.  A door opened on the device, and the ScalzOrc rose up from the lava and entered it.  Before he ducked into the door, he turned and gave a short wave to Wil.  The door closed behind him and the device sunk back into the volcano’s depths.

Wil recorded to memory everything he’d seen.  He’d have to give a full report to his commander when he returned.  It seemed the ScalzOrcs had figured out how to modify their genetic structure to be highly heat resistant.  And the theory that they may have something to do with the volcano eruptions might have more truth to it than many had thought.  Wil gave Tiger a bit of a nudge and the P.U.C.K.s wings beat a little bit faster.  It was already a long night, and it was about to get much longer.

I hope you like it.

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