Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

It stands there, black branches against a steel-grey sky, lord of all it surveys from on top of the escarpment above where I’m digging what could be my own grave.
The snow is piled deep here. With a last effort, I hope to make a capsule where the low temperatures can help my life support pack keep me from dying. It’s been doing a fine job for the last week, but the injuries from the battle, plus those from the crash, plus those from trekking through this charmingly picturesque frozen hell have it down to reserve power.
Which is not quite as bad as it sounds. There’s emergency power under that, but it means I have to choose between the life support and the rescue beacon. It’s a hell of a choice: hope to live long enough to be found by luck, or settle for being certain they’ll retrieve my corpse.
Right now, I’ll just be glad to get the improvised splints off my leg. They may have let me hobble, but the edges of the metal cut me as I went. As a bonus, I think at least one of those cuts is infected.
I wonder if we won?
There’s a thought. If we haven’t or didn’t, I can pretty much choose the ‘find my body’ option, because the locals might rescue me, but they’ll cheerfully finish the job their poxy, insane pilots started with their delta-winged toys.
Toys. They lie down to pilot them, with drives above and below, fuel to the left, and weapons to the right. Silver triangles barely four metres long, piloted by people who have nothing to lose. They shoot us down, ram us down, and keep punching holes in anything they can’t bring down in one until it finally falls from the sky.
We fail when up against them, because we want to live. They want their people to live, and accept they will probably have to die to achieve that goal. It doesn’t mean they’re suicidal, but it does mean they have no limits, and that’s where we fall down… Literally.
I was in a dogfight with six of them. Got two, two peeled off to chase my partner, then I got the fifth and shouted in triumph. A shout which ended when the sixth went out in a blaze of glory, taking my starboard wing with them.
The flat spin that sent me into took some inspired use of the remaining angled thrusters to cancel. Then I overcooked it, flipped over and went into a dive I knew the end of.
Inverted ejector capsule use is red-letter not recommended in the manual. I slammed everything into a braking/lift thrust, then hit the eject button as things started breaking about me. So, technically, I wasn’t completely upside-down.
Didn’t stop me landing at overspeed. The capsule fragmented, absorbing the impact, but the snowbank it hit at the end is what saved me.
Save me. Nice idea.
Time to crawl inside and take the gamble we all hope to avoid. It’ll be a change to just lie still and listen to my heartbeat for a while. Wait. That’s an idea. I can work on it until I pass out.
Here goes. Watch over me, winter tree.
“It’s been three days since last signal. We have to accep-”
“Captain! Captain!”
“Yes, Comms?”
“We’ve got a signal, sir. Right zone, low-power, steady. Sounds like they switched the beacon to broadcast their life monitor pulse, conserving power.”
“Clever. Best go rescue them, then.”