Author : J.D. Rice
I twist my ankle as I land in the ditch. Mud spatters over my uniform, filthy water pooling in my socks. I ignore the stench, the reek of the jungle, the pain stabbing up my leg, and press on. If I can only make it another ten minutes, I’ll be free. Ten minutes… That’s wishful thinking.
I need to get out of this muck. It slows me down, sucking at my feet, making my ankle burn with agony. To my left the slope is muddy, but not high. It’ll have to do. On my hands and knees, I pull myself out of the ditch and crawl back into the brush of the jungle. Out of breath, I turn over onto my back and stare at the canopy of leaves high above me. Beautiful, but all too deadly.
Then I hear the guttery screech of my pursuer.
Exhausted, I force myself to my feet. My weapons are gone. The energy grenades I used; The rifle I lost in the deepness of the woods. My team? Dead. I watched the Quorrics, those off-world monstrosities, slit Johannes’ throat. Smith? Wilcox? Gervais? All charred to a crisp by the plasma weapons. I can’t stand alone, unarmed and injured, against these alien hunters. My only choice is to run. I glance at the chronometer on my wrist. Seven minutes.
Half running, half limping through the jungle, I hear my pursuer rushing up behind. Low vines and branches hem me in, obstructing my path. As I hear the creature gaining on me, I know: I will never make it seven minutes. I will die today.
I fall. With my face in the mud, I hear the Quorric saunter up behind me. He lets out a few unintelligible croaks, which passes for laughter on his world. He seems to be waiting for me to roll over. Mustering what’s left of my dignity, I turn onto my back, looking up at the disgusting creature. My eyes are watery from some combination of the mud, humidity, and my own desperation. I cannot make out its features, for which I am thankful. They are disgusting creatures.
And now the moment has come, with only five minutes remaining. Five minutes more, and I wouldn’t have to face death in the mud and the muck. It’s just not my day.
He could use the plasma rifle hangin from his side, but that’s not good enough for him. The blade jutting from his arm, that gives him more pleasure. Pleasure in the tactile nature of the kill. Pleasure in humiliating me. The assault on my reputation hurts more than the blade passing through my chest. It strikes not through the heart, but through a lung. A few more croaks from the Quorric. He finds this hilarious.
Running out of air and unable to speak, I curse the creature in my mind. Then my body starts to go numb. Vision fades. Muscles still. Darkness creeps into all five senses, into my very soul. This is the worst part.
I awake in the infirmary. The cellular regenerator has just finished reconstructing my internal organs. My eyes watch as the skin of my chest slowly reseals itself. I won’t even have a scar, come morning. Johannes is already up and about. As my lungs fill with air, I choke out just one question.
“What was the score?”
Johannes sighs heavily. “20-18,” he says, “Quorric victory.”
I swear loudly.
“We’ll get them next season.”