The War Machine
A short story by Anthony D Redden
A young soldier scurried onto the bridge of the great war machine, with an urgent update for his superiors. All around him were rodent officers hurrying about their work, each one at their station anticipating their next orders. The room was bathed in a dim, smoky light that emanated from two small coal-burning pyres. The smouldering embers gently glowing like two eyes in the darkness. It was uncomfortably humid, even for rats. The eggshell white interior of the bridge had grown moist from the heat. Dribbles of sweat ran down the walls and dripped from the bony canopy above. The bridge crew comprised of many battle-worn soldiers, each commanding their own troops that had embedded themselves within the tight hollowed-out cavities of the great war machine.
“Sir, it’s time.”
The Captain nodded a brief acknowledgement to the young soldier before returning his gaze to the battlefield. A large Persian cat was mercilessly tearing into the third short-tailed battalion. With each swing of its mighty paw, half a dozen rats would be sent tumbling through the air - the razor-sharp claws slicing open furry rodent flesh with ease. Squeals of pain rang across the battlefield like damned sirens. The battle had been brutal from the start, and it had created a field of corpses for as far as the eye could see. Blood of a thousand rats had become the swamp that now lay underfoot. The Captain could not begin to recall all the loved ones he had already lost; no-one could. By the good grace of the God ‘Krauncha’, the rodent hordes of York had converged to take refuge in the Halls of Thornbury Manor. This is where they had found the resources to create their final resistance – the great war machine.
The Captain sighed heavily, a grimace of anger upon his face. Another devastating paw swing to end the lives of more soldiers – brothers.
“Let us begin!” he screamed.
Rats began to race around the bridge passing on messages to their respective teams. The ground started to rumble as the engines fired up deep within the belly of the beast. Some rats left their stations to join their comrades in arms, saluting their commander as they passed and dived into the large central well at the rear of the room. Each furry body disappearing down the bloody chute into the greater workings that were housed below. The Captain remained with his second in command. He turned to his comrade and with a determined snarl gave the order everything had built up to.
“Light up the War Machine, Lieutenant.”
Two bright beams of light appeared within the darkness. It was enough to cease the battle from both sides. The rat ground-troops quickly retreated to leave the cats frozen in fear. A siren screamed out from the darkness to announce the impending advance. Then from between the beams of light, a hundred more tiny lights all came alive to illuminate the true magnitude of the rat’s great war machine.
Sat centrally, many hundreds of paws high, was a human man. A one-time resident at Thornbury Manor, before the rats took refuge in their thousands. The humans had once been formidable foes, even more so than the cats, yet since their own war, they had retreated into their stone burrows deep in the bowels of the Earth. Those that remained above ground were either severely injured, or dead. The old and infirm too, had been left, attached to their life-sustaining machines, but slowly those machines had failed, and they had slowly withered and died. The rats had taken Thornbury Manor with relative ease. Their vastly superior numbers and keen intellect had made harvesting the humans easy. As men and women lay silent in their comatose states, the rats had burrowed into them, through all the passageways natural or otherwise. They had feasted upon the innards of humans, and they had grown strong. Their finest rodent minds had planned the messy yet intricate work of hollowing out the human corpses and working them into great war machines. In life, these humans had been motionless, fleshy remnants of a past civilization, but in their death, they had been reworked and re-sculpted into fine fighting machines. Terrifying machinations that could change the course of this new war. The rat's great weapon towered high above the battlefield. The deceased human was sat, strapped into the motorised wheelchair. The thin mottled flesh of the corpse, undulated and stirred from the rats that pushed their way through the many tunnels within its body. The human male was no more than a skin-coated skeleton, a decayed flesh and bone ‘Trojan Horse’. The ingenious rats had secured the rotten corpse into an upright position with metal braces and hinges, screwed into the bone and the structure of the chair. They had created a monstrous machine-man that the rats wore like a giant exoskeleton – their ‘human tank’. The withered corpse was illuminated by a length of fairy lights that had been wrapped around and around the decayed limbs. And now the metal and flesh armoured behemoth slowly trundled out onto the battlefield. The hideously disfigured human lolled and rocked within its motorised chariot. From out of one of the hollowed eyeholes of the man, the Captain watched as cats panicked and frantically reformed their defensive lines.
From all around the great war machine, many more lights emerged, as more human corpses were illuminated, and their wheelchairs also trundled into life and joined the Captain on the battlefield. Rats sprang from their hiding places amongst the metal and flesh of the machines. They tore through the flesh walls that had hidden them and scrambled to their feet. Rifles were loaded and raised. The crackle of gunfire echoed the grounds of Thornbury Manor, and the cats screamed like cursed banshees. For the first time in many years, the Captain allowed himself a small smile.