by A. C. Spahn

2017 Rhysling Award Nominee
This poem was originally published in the July 2016 issue of
Outposts of Beyond.

“Worth it, it is worth it,”
said the sergeant to his wife.
He brushed her lips and kissed their kids
and marched away to die.

Strength and youth, Defender said,
Must first be sacrificed
to gorge me so I can prevent
the Earth’s coming demise.

For duty, honor, loyalty,
the sergeant did report.
They led him to the shrine.
Alone he passed between its doors.

Lights of gold reflected
off metallic walls and dome.
Central sat Defender Prime
on bright transparent throne.

“I’ve come,” the sergeant said to that
which soon would take his life.
With force-stilled heart and fist-clenched hands
he met the eight white eyes.

Defender Prime licked fangs of steel,
clasped claws on armrests clear.
“Human small, your time is terse.
This crisis is severe.”

“Earth needs your shield,” the sergeant said,
his voice high and aquiver.
“The enemy arrives tonight.”
He couldn’t mask his shiver.

“My strength and youth are yours to use,
my life yours to devour.
Just keep the fleet of ships away.
Protect us through these hours.”

“You fear,” Defender Prime observed,
arising from his seat.
“Strength alone won’t form the shield.
It’s courage I must eat.”

The sergeant closed his eyes and thought
of all he had to lose.
“I volunteered,” he whispered, ice.
“This death was mine to choose.

“I’m not too smart and not too brave
and not too good in war.
But I met all your criteria.
Earth will never need me more.”

Predator stared down at prey.
Claws clacked on marble hall.
“I think,” murmured Defender Prime,
“You may do after all.”

Steel teeth flashed toward poor steeled man.
The sergeant flinched, cried ah.
Soul broke flesh and soared into
Defender’s crimson jaws.

Then amber lights in dome flashed
into blinding beams on high.
The sergeant soared through silent black,
glimpsed planets pass him by.

No body now, his soul unchained,
yet not flying alone.
Claws and teeth clung to his core.
Prime had left his throne.

Amidst warm stars the sergeant caught
sheer gleam of azure hulls.
Invaders far now near to put
his homeworld to the cull.

“No,” said fear-free sergeant,
knives of death still in his heart.
He howled and charged with outspread arms
to tear them all apart.

Life power thus devoured,
Man and monster fought the foes.
Explosions lit Earth’s night-fog sky.
Shrieks came from those below.

Dawn’s light broke on empty space.
Cheers rose from every voice.
“Worth it, it was worth it.
We are safe and free. Rejoice!”

In shrine of stone and glimmer glass,
the monster lay to rest.
This meal would sustain him till
his servants fed him next.

Confetti streets and bannered walls,
one woman ghosted past.
Songs and chants, she heard them not.
Her throat had sung its last.

She froze at door of tight-locked shrine,
whispered where the monster slept.
“Worth it, it was worth it,”
and the sergeant’s widow wept.

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