art by Seth Alan Bareiss
This is the Way the World Begins
by C.L. Holland
On the observation deck of the terraforming ship Lifebringer, Commander Therro watches the surface of the planet below burn on the screens before him. Flames writhe and smoke boils, and sometimes he catches a glimpse of tall, thin figures moving through the destruction without concern. They're the cause of it, after all.
He flicks a switch to change his view. Abruptly, he sees one of the twenty-foot tall humanoids walking stiff-legged across the screen. This one is apparently female: breasts and hips are visible beneath the thin blue fabric that shrouds her, although having seen the creatures in the flesh, she's too towering and sinewy for him to think of her as a "her."
"Are we interrupting, Commander?"
The voice from the doorway is unfamiliar, but Therro recognizes the man from his picture. Prefector Kissef, the man for whom all of this is being done. Every prefector aspires to a planet of his own, after all.
Therro salutes, even though the man isn't military. Better safe than sorry when it comes to the men with the power to sanction this kind of destruction. "Not at all, Prefector."
"I've just been to visit the handlers," Kissef says. "Fascinating how those people keep your automatons under control. They let me touch one, you know. The 'female.' Cold as a dead fish, her skin. I don't think she liked me."
He shoots Therro a wink and moves to the screen to consult the records. "Helter has an ecosystem similar to Kefferru before that world was terraformed. Interesting. I wonder if it reminds them of home." He grins at Therro, who returns a weak smile. "No plague this time? Don't they usually wipe out the life before they burn it?"