“Wild Dog Squadron, stand by to deploy!”
Boots, slippers and bare feet slapped across the Serengeti’s flight deck as crews emptied from their elemental dojos, meditation cells and communal baths into the waiting combat modules.
“Is this a drill?” Pilots, gunners and astrogators stripped to their underwear, while harried talismechanics daubed them with sigils for accuracy, loyalty and luck, and chantrysts began the warsongs that would help them enter their battle trance states.
“No drill! The Scutos are back!” Commander Tay Burne deepened their trance, murmuring a quiet mantra of Extreme Calm to their crew of five as they waited for the last of their squad mates to signal readiness. When the final Wild Dog flashed an illusory image of bared teeth across its carbon fibre hull, Burne gave the launch command. The Wild Dogs slipped into the airless night, ready to meet the advancing enemy.
On the Serengeti‘s bridge, Captain Bijoux D’Orsay examined the wave of red triangles advancing across her scrying grid. “Situational analysis, Lieutenants Torres.”
“The Scutocoxi are categorised as a Class-2 threat, Captain,” replied Lieutenant Aurora Torres, conjuring an illusion of a rotund, heavily-plated insect the size of a groundcar. “They were first observed on the Venusian timber-moon of Eryx.”
“Their existence is usually attributed to an unlicensed genetic sorcerer called Carl Gunderssen, circa 2280,” added Aurora’s twin brother, Lieutenant Martim Torres. “Unconfirmed because when the Scutocoxi broke free from his binding spells and began to consume the Walking Forests, Gunderssen encased himself and his mirror clones in a stasis crystal. It’s not due to recalibrate to this universe’s vibrational frequency for another four hundred years.”
“Let me guess,” said Captain D’Orsay dryly. “He thought he could wait out his uncontrolled experiment while they starved to death?”
Martim said, “Yes, sir. But he imprinted them with way too many cognition charms.”
Aurora nodded. “Highly illegal. They’re twice as smart as elephants and fifty times as destructive on vegetation.”
“And they’re headed for the Green Belt of Africa,” observed the Captain, tracing her finger across the thick band of vegetation spanning the central third of the African continent. “Unless we can stop them, they’ll reverse two hundred years of reforestation efforts in a matter of weeks.”
The Portuguese officers both coughed at the same time. Captain D’Orsay raised one elegantly grey eyebrow at them.
“It could be worse than that, sir,” said Martim. “Some archeomancers theorise that the Green Belt project’s act of altruistic cooperation on a continental scale was a catalyst for the First Arcane Uprising in 2073.”
“If the Scutocoxi deforest Africa, Earth’s entire geomantic fabric could potentially unravel. Everything could return to premagical conditions in an instant.” Aurora waved her arms at the monitor screens, where Earth circled slowly beneath them. “The good news is Serengeti wouldn’t fall out of orbit and burn up on re-entry.”
“No, because we’d be instantly annihilated by a thermo-talismanic feedback pulse.”
Captain D’Orsay scowled. “Not on my watch. Scramble fighter squadrons and instruct Gunnery Chief Nagoya to begin the targeting rituals.”
The Serengeti manoeuvred to a higher orbit, clearing the way for ground-based artillery batteries to launch lightning webs and fireball clusters into the upper atmosphere. They would provide precious little protection against the armoured marauders if the Serengeti failed, but every moment might count.
The Wild Dog Squadron spread like dandelion seeds before the Serengeti, forming a screen against the incoming alien horde. Each combat module resembled a train car made from petrified wood and banded with beaten metal, golden machinery and rose thorns. A closer inspection would reveal military-grade enchantments against hard vacuum, acceleration and most known forms of elemental attacks. They were the finest war machines the modern arcano-industrial complex could assemble.
The Scutocoxi swarm, bristling with armour and impervious to the hostile rigours of space, was so thick it blotted out the stars.
Commander Burne sang mantras of Denial and Interdiction. At their soothing command, the squadron launched missiles packed with discouraging pheromones and plasma explosions bottled inside temporary force fields. Explosions filled the darkness, enveloping some of the Scutocoxi and disorienting others. The swarm bristled but dd not break.
“Kettle them, please,” ordered the Serengeti, and the Wild Dogs obeyed. They scattered to the outer fringes of the swarm, where they fired millions of rounds of conjured hardwood toward a designated point of convergence. The Scutocoxi, too starved by the ravages of their interplanetary leap for caution, took the bait. They followed the timber volley into the path of the Serengeti’s main gun.
The outer ionosphere rippled with untethered magic as a stream of arcane disruption plunged into the swarm’s centre. The Scutocoxi howled with psychic rage as they realised all at once that their stomachs were empty and they were cooking inside their impermeable shells. Most perished in an instant, mad with hunger and roasted like ground nuts.
“Assume Sentinel Hounds form and engage the stragglers!” Commander Burne projected slave commands at their nearest squad mates. A dozen clusters of combat modules formed, each aligned with a designated Head. Within each cluster, ships snapped together like jigsaw pieces, secured by electromagnetic fields and binding invocations.
Their transformations completed with blinding flashes of blue light, which cleared to reveal giant, space-borne dogforms.
“We are Wild Dog Terrier!” declared Burne, showing their teeth as the same expression flashed across the face of their transformed combat ships. “We protect Earth!”
Beside them, a second team declared, “We are Wild Dog Shepherd!”
Then “Mastiff” and “Setter” and “Pinscher” added their voices to the pack. “Wild Dogs!”
The Wild Dogs of the Serengeti fell upon their prey, crunching the aliens’ shells with armoured jaws.
Those terrified Scutocoxi who remained broke and fled for the stars, their meals forgotten.
At last Captain D’Orsay ordered the planetary defence networks to stand down and recalled the Wild Dogs to the ship. “Convey my thanks to your teams, Commander Burne. This may go down as history’s greatest pest inspection.”
“Aye, sir. Termite-free once again.”
Sky Bastion Serengeti resumed its watch over Earth.
Okay, I admit this one is less of a story and more of a highlights sequence from an early episode of the most kickarse late-90’s anime series nobody ever made.
In my head Sky Bastion Serengeti ran for eight seasons and spawned at least two spinoff series, and of course it is better viewed in the original Japanese than the terrible dubbed version, even if some of the captions are badly translated and none of the jokes land.
Apart from a number of formative cartoons dimly remembered from my distant youth, this story mainly arose from a conversation I had awhile back about how science-fantasy has become a slightly neglected subgenre. I quite enjoy overtly magic-infested science fiction, though I often forget it when I’m writing.
The only remotely true thing in the story is the African Great Green Wall, which is a real decades-long reforestation project to drive the Sahara Desert back from Central Africa by planting a wide band of trees spanning the continent. The project is working to rebuild microclimates, restore topsoil and create conditions favourable for small agricultural projects.
The project has its critics and limitations, and it’s drifted somewhat from the original conceit. But it’s still a massive act of international cooperation almost indistinguishable from magic, so of course I like it.