Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
We’re glaring at each other across a gap that is – as we have repeatedly tested – exactly nine metres wider than either of our best reaches. The ground for kilometres around us is nothing but churned mud and scoured rock. Not a leaf, not a lifeform.
“Hawk Four, what is your status?”
“Central, I’ve got one extant bogey, range zero, in a Limuform Eighteen.”
“Hawk Four, why is the bogey extant if within range?”
“Central, I’m out of everything, including legs. Before you ask, I only have one arm left and it’s a manipulator, not an aggressor.”
“Hawk Four, why have you not been terminated?”
“I took it’s chargebank and tracks with a pulse from my Gadden. Its response was to blow my last combat arm – plus Gadden – off before it toppled onto the launcher it was relying on. So, after we worked out we couldn’t reach with anything, we threw things for a while.”
“Hawk Four, why did you stop throwing things?”
“If you check the manual, you’ll find ‘mud’ listed under ‘stuff that doesn’t go through alien armour’.”
“Hawk Four, stay focused.”
“Central, a Limuform Eighteen is nine times the size of the Dandrif Alpha I trotted out here in. I am very focused. You may regard the inappropriate levity as the equivalent of the steam shooting from the vents of the Limuform.”
“Hawk Four, did you say it’s shooting steam?”
“At what frequency?”
“Central, hold… Once every fifty-five seconds, from alternating vents.”
“You’re in luck. It’s in trouble. That’s not steam, that’s pressurised, overheated coolant blowing off.”
“Central, are you telling me I’m lucky to be sharing the same decare as an eighteen-ton alien war machine with a multi-ton fusion drive about to detonate?”
“That’s a big kill, Hawk Four. Bonus pay and squad credit.”
“Squad’s dead, Central. I’ll be joining them after this nuclear whatever goes off.”
“A muon-catalysed fusion device in an overboundary condition, Hawk Four.”
“Note that for my memorial plaque, would you?”
The Limuform is waving at me.
Across the morass, a turquoise tentacle is pointing to the Gadden. I can reach it, but I don’t have the combat interface in my manipulator to fire it. It could fire it, but thankfully can’t reach it.
I watch the tentacle as I follow the thought: the whatever-it-is in the dying alien war machine keeps pointing to my gun, pointing to the-
What is it pointing to?
I awkwardly roll myself back. Before my Dandrif overbalances and slowly rolls forward again, I see a promontory above me.
“Central, ETA for retrieval prior to detonation?”
“None, Hawk Four. We are evacuating a ten-kilometre radius.”
“Thanks, Central. Hawk Four out.”
The hell with this. I slide the Gadden toward the tentacle. If I’m going, it might as well be now.
The tentacle wraps about the Gadden. In its grip, my energy cannon looks like a toy gun – that’s pointing at me. Charming.
After a pause, it tracks the Gadden carefully upwards, then a fraction to the left. It fires and a baby mountain falls on me.
I’m just realising I’m not crushed when the rocks on one side of me start to glow as everything shakes. Temperature alerts start flashing. My radiation monitor goes clean across the spectrum, then drops back nearly as fast.
The shaking stops and I’m still alive. I activate my rescue beacon.
I wait, pondering the decision it made.
Facing inevitable death, would I have extended the same courtesy?
I’d like to think so.
In all honesty, I hope I never have to find out.