“Three and a half ricatos (7 months)!” San shouted, “It took you guys that long to find a cure‽”
Flan couldn’t resist such an opportunity, especially since it was San. “Actually, we figured out a cure a couple of rictos (4 days) after you were put in cryo-stasis but it was so nice without your constant mindless yakking that we only just now decided that it would have been immoral to keep you frozen any longer, despite our desires.” San whipped around, staring at Flan with wide, hurt eyes. Flan could hardly contain his laughter
+The moron actually believes me!+
“Shut up Flan.” Snapped Xan. “Of course we didn’t leave you in there for the fun of it, San. Flan was taken out a mere ric (30 minutes) ago.” San, oddly enough, was correct in one respect. Three and a half ricatos (7 months) was a ridiculous amount of time to spend on a cure for a single disease, especially with the equipment of a category 10 medical station at one’s disposal. It made more sense when she reminded herself that it had not actually been just one disease. The crew had in fact displayed the symptoms of five different contagions, and that wasn’t mentioning the dormant antigens which had been discovered upon a more thorough examination of the first crewmembers thought to have been cured. Such “sleeper” diseases had numbered in the dozens, and taken the longest to completely eradicate.
To ensure that absolutely nothing harmful remained, the entire station and the cargo ship had undergone a full sanitation. In total, the time required to undo what Cqcq’trtr had unwittingly managed in a mere rictos (2 days) had required a full three and half ricatos (7 months). In that entire time, Xan had not contracted a single disease, purely out of good luck it seemed. That only meant she had had to bide her time through the entire ordeal with nothing to distract her from her anger.
Even now, after time had quenched the initial inferno, it still flared to life every time her eyes lit upon Dr. Triv. That lying, manipulative, two faced, Cinerean bastard! He had been able to communicate with Cqcq’trtr and had intentionally remained silent regarding his ability so that he would have no inconvenient moral or legal obstacles while studying Cqcq’trtr’s physiology without his consent. Worse yet, she had caught him. She’d heard Cqcq’trtr speaking intelligible clicks, seen him speaking to Dr. Triv, and the Cinerean scum had the nerve to tell her that she had been imagining things! Of course the surveillance footage from that room just happened to have been corrupted.
Worse yet, Dr. Triv had somehow convinced Cqcq’trtr of some Robalin resurgence, sending him off to who knew where, never to be seen or heard from again. Of course, the Cinerean had shown her the surveillance records which appeared rather convincing, but she didn’t intend to trust this wart of a creature any farther than she could throw him. Admittedly, given the doctors stature and her current feelings toward him, that distance might be somewhat greater than she would have anticipated, if she had a mind to find out. She still hadn’t decided whether or not she did. San had to choose that very moment to speak. He always seemed to have the worst timing with the worst questions.
“Hey, where’s Cqcq’trtr? He’s the one who put me in here, the least he could have done was be here to apologize, or I guess in his case look sorry.”
“He left.” Xan whispered. She didn’t really believe Cqcq’trtr had been fooled by the Cinerean. He had been intelligent – she still hated how long it had taken her to realize – but more surprisingly, he had truly cared for her and the rest of the crew. She suspected he had left in an effort protect the crew, not realizing his worlds deadly microbes had been contained. What confirmed this theory in her mind was the vial of blood he had left. He hadn’t been willing to give so much as a drop to anyone during his entire stay, but when he had known he was leaving, he had left the key to creating the cure.
She knew in her mind Cqcq’trtr was most likely dead, either from starvation or some twisted ploy, but despite her cynicism she still hoped that wherever Cqcq’trtr was, he was safe and happy.
Lieutenant Colonel Blatvec ducked. The anti-tank kinetic-pulse narrowly missed his head, flashing by close enough to ruffle the fur on his head and back. It was a good thing he had, too. He didn’t think his personal shield would be able to take another shot. His momentary union with the ground gave his mind a few precious moments to consider the battle around him. It wasn’t good. He’d never seen a fight with so many vehicles, and that was saying something, coming from him. He was one of the most experienced of the 74th, and had been to hell and back several times. Now, hell apparently had tiers, and he was several levels lower than he’d ever been before.
Major Cliip slid down the short declivity next to where Blatvec was taking a momentary rest. “We can’t stay here long sir,” he panted, “The moment they decide they don’t want to bother trying to shoot us out of cover they’re going to point the nearest tank squad in our direction, and I don’t think the guys can take on another one.” Blatvec snorted humorlessly. Another tank squadron. Before today his squad had only ever taken on two or three tanks at a time. It spoke to the superb skill of his men that they had managed to defeat such odds with only minor casualties, but now they had far out-stripped any previous record they may have set. Today they’d managed to survive not one, nor two, but three attacks by full tank squadrons, and miraculously emerged alive and victorious.
Well, a few of them were alive. Casualties had never been so heavy, but neither had the odds been so heavily against them. The 74th may have contained the finest soldier in the Dominion, and his men arguably the greatest among them, but when the enemy has as many armored squadrons as the 74th did of infantry, there was little they could do, finest soldiers of not. If the heads hadn’t had the foresight to send the 32nd and 13th armored divisions to provide support, this battle would have already been over.
Even though he already knew the answer, Blatvec decided to ask Cliip, hoping his gut was wrong for the first time. “How are the 32nd and 13th holding up?”
Cliip grimaced, “Poorly, maybe even worse than us. At least we can dive into holes when it gets too hot. Those poor bastards are stuck in big hunks of metal with the colors of the Dominion painted all over their sides. They’re impossible to miss, even in this mess.” A coil-shot narrowly missed their position, it’s sickly red light replacing the ashen cast of the battlefield for a split second before it impacted a short distance to the left of their hiding place, turning a hill into a hole. Blatvec whipped his head around, searching for the source of the disturbance. A burning husk sat where a rover had once hovered. Just a shot fired in the brief moment before extinction.
Breathing a sigh of relief that they weren’t under attack just yet, Blatvec consulted his gut. It was the main reason he was still alive. He had a sense about the battlefield. He could feel when a turning point was at hand, even though nothing seemed to have changed. His ability had led his men out of more than one tough scrape, but now he felt the current situation was one even his gut couldn’t help him out of. It seemed to be sobbing in despair, which did nothing to bolster his flagging internal morale. It was only his internal morale which was affected, however. He never let his fear show on his face. That would have admitted true defeat. He had to help his men. He had to give them something to fight so that, when the time came, they could die like men, standing up, rather than frightened prey, hiding in their holes, hoping the predator wouldn’t find them.
Searching about the battlefield with his eyes, he calmly and calculatingly scanned for anything he could exploit, anything that would give him and his men more opportunities, if not for survival, then at least for a more meaningful death. It was as he looked that the predator decided to show up. It just wasn’t the predator he would have expected.
“Sir, get down!” Cliip shouted in warning, but he didn’t need it. He’d sensed the approaching danger, although, as always, he couldn’t explain how, especially through all the mayhem of the fighting around him. To his right a small group of enemy rovers were powering towards his position. Their trajectory suggested they had nearly come from behind his position.
+Have we been beaten back so far already?+
Shouldering his anti-tank pulse-guns with his first four arms and his Fusion spears in the other two, he prepared to engage the approaching onslaught. A figure on top of one of the rovers caught his eye at the last moment. Holding two fusion scythes and caterwauling like a [banshee], a small creature Blatvec had never seen before rode atop the foremost rover as though it were a steed, howling in a language that, for some reason, his translator didn’t understand. It was covered in blood from various species, completely obscuring the colors of allegiance on its harness. He was still staring at the odd little biped when the rovers whipped past their position without giving his squad a second glance. Cliip snapped him from his reverie.
“Are those drivers wearing some of our combat-harnesses?” Blatvec hadn’t even realized, so engrossed he had been with the odd spectacle above the hover-craft, but Cliip was right. Ensconced within the rovers as they were, it was impossible to see unless one was as close as he was, but Blatvec could clearly see the colors of the Dominion on the harnesses of the soldiers in the rovers. At first he was repulsed by such a sight. How could they? They were ignoring the rules of honorable combat! They were blatantly lying about their allegiance so as to avoid notice by the enemy! It was despicable, deplorable . . . ingenious! Even as he stared in shock the duplicitous convoy approached the position of the troops that were keeping his unit pinned down. Not a shot was fired upon them. After all, to the Celzi down the range, they were on the same team. Then their own team opened fire on them.
The first volley was devastating, each craft firing every cannon simultaneously, bathing the entrenchment in a deadly light. There wasn’t much left after that first volley, except a deeper hole. Blatvec knew he should feel outraged by the blatant disregard of the rules of honorable combat, but at the moment, the only one he was furious with was himself for allowing those idiotic “laws” to make him completely disregard such an plainly effective idea. Cursing himself for his slow wits, he turned to Cliip.
“I want you to find any in the area. Tell them to get into an enemy vehicle at all costs. We’re going to win this battle one way or the other; propriety can go bother dusty men from wars long over.”
“Wait, you want to emulate them?” cried Cliip, “They’re ignoring every principle of the very foundation of civilized war!”
“And they’re kicking some serious ass because of it,” retorted Blatvec, gesturing to the small group as it approached a squad of tanks from behind. They opened fire in much the same manner as they had against the enemy infantry entrenchment, to much the same effect. Any other Celzi units around them were embroiled in their own conflicts, and were far too busy to notice that a few of their number were acting in a decidedly unpatriotic manner.
His point proven, Blatvec returned his attention to Cliip, who appeared quite impressed despite himself. “And don’t start spouting that drivel about ‘civilized war’. If you can see what’s right in front of you and still talk such nonsense you’ve got dung for brains. Now find anyone you can in the immediate area and tell them to hijack enemy vehicles at all costs. If they don’t they’ll die anyway.”
Turning his back on a spluttering Cliip, Blatvec dashed to the nearest hole which housed a cluster of his few remaining men. As a smile spread across his face, he realized just how much he had hated those imbecilic rules.
I’m a military genius.
I guess that just comes naturally with being a strategic genius.
Really, outer-space does a lot for a guy’s self-image.
I’d never felt so terribly alive before. Riding my glorious metal steed, I raised my lava scimitars above my head, shouting in pure exhilaration. That was about all I was doing. Really, my squadmates were doing all the work. First time for everything I guess. If only they wouldn’t shoot from so far away. I had to shout it. I had to.
“Drive me closer, I want to hit them with my swords!”
They didn’t oblige. I poked my head through a window which no longer contained glass, preparing an inappropriate and exasperating quip to throw at Manthlel, upon whose hover-hummer I was riding. That’s when I noticed his expression. His face held the unmistakable expression of one who could not believe what he was doing.
Judging by his driving, I couldn’t believe he had managed to keep us out a nasty wreck so far either, but that didn’t explain why Cresh in the next vehicle over had the same shocked look on his face. That guy handled his hover-hummer like a pro, yet he still looked like he’d just let out an involuntary laugh during the scene where old yeller dies. In fact, now that I was looking for it, every single one of my squad looked disturbed by their actions. Maybe they were just surprised they were still alive. Frankly, I was. I hadn’t thought our little tactic of hijacking enemy hover-hummers would have been so effective, but it was like we were invisible to the enemy.
Every time we approached an opposing squadron I was sure someone would notice our odd behavior and open fire, but each time we would manage to get into firing range, destroying them before they even had a chance to retaliate. Our unnaturally good luck couldn’t last us through the entire battle, could it?
Yeah, I actually let my mind conceive such a traitorous thought. I need to see those before they happen and nip them in the bud, because one of these days I’m going to think myself to death. Right on cue, as though it had sensed a being who dared conceive a hopeful thought, a dragon pierced through the veil that had been protecting us thus far. I don’t know what was up with the dragons in this battle, but they were full out flying through the air.
Through my other encounters with these overgrown lizards I’d eventually realized that their wings were more or less just for show than actual use. Sure, they provided another appendage with which to attack me, and made coming at them from the side a downright pain, but the most flying I had ever seen them use their wings for was a short gliding extension to their jumps. Their wings were about as affective as a “flying” squirrel’s.
Not these dragons, though. Apparently they had found the same source of leprechaun farts and pixie tears that planes used, because they were taking to sky with great sweeps of their wings. Well, now that I looked at them they seemed to be working pretty hard to stay up for long, but they were up none the less. One of the devils had noticed our little convoy from above. Folding its wings, the drake rolled into a dive. With the low gravity of this planet, its rate of decent seemed slowed enough to appear comical, but it would still have enough momentum to be deadly when it reached us. Just to sweeten the deal, it was heading straight for my hover-hummer.
As it approached I found myself, rather than frightened, excited.
+Finally some action!+
Wait, had I really just thought that? Where had that come from? I’ve got a damn dragon barreling down on me and I’m excited? Am I insane‽ The dragon was fast approaching, so I stowed this newest development for later. How was I going to deal with this thing coming down on me? My mind, demonstrating more of my newfound madness, presented me with a course of action straight out of Die Hard. Well, close enough. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I groaned, but I couldn’t think of any other way. Let’s just say I’m not a clever man. I waited a single moment more, allowing the beast to close within a mere twenty meters of our craft. Then I jumped.
Blatvec knew he shouldn’t enjoy something as grisly as war, but he couldn’t help himself, he was actually having fun. Careening about the battle field in his recently acquired tank, he and a sizable group of other stolen vehicles were, for the first time that day, making headway against the seemingly endless tide of enemies. Perhaps that small convoy of rovers had been able to hide underneath their assumed colors undetected, but a group as large as the one which followed Blatvec, which was still growing as more vehicles changed hands, hadn’t been able to run rampant for long before they had started being noticed.
Blatvec could feel the rage of the Celzi as they realized the treachery the Dominion had committed in the name of victory. Blatvec had come up with a new moto, however, which perfectly characterized his feelings since bucking the old ways: “All is fair in war.” Maybe he’d become famous for it. He had to admit, as brilliant as the plan had been, he didn’t think any other division would have been able to pull it off. Nowhere else would you find a group with so many soldiers able to fight against vehicles and win, albeit with difficulty. You probably wouldn’t have found so many infantrymen who knew how to drive the vehicles either.
This was the 74th, though, and now that they had a fighting chance, they were demonstrating why they were the only division left from the original Dominion army. Turing to Gicerpt, who was manning the main cannon, Blatvec shouted over the tumultuous roar inside the tank. “How are our little upstarts doing?”
“Still up and kicking,” the heavy replied with a grin. “They’re going to have to turn back to us soon though. The Celzi will eventually get everyone on the same page and then they won’t have their surprise factor anymore, which is the only reason they’ve made it so far. They’re a little ways away, though. I don’t know if they’ll be able – shit,” Blatvec’s heart sank at the defeated tone of Gicerpt’s explicative. It was a tone he’d heard far too often today. The tone of one who is about to see another die and knows there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Gicerpt continued, “A Vulza just spotted them and is diving to interce-SHIT!”
That wasn’t a tone he’d been expecting. Blatvec took his eyes off the road ahead and looked in the general direction of where he had last seen the inspiration for the current operating orders. He was just in time to see the little creature that had been standing on top of one of the rovers jump off of the corpse of a Vulza, which seemed to have died mid-flight, and hit the ground with a roll, leaving the dragon to slam into the ground behind it. The small creature didn’t even look impressed with its handiwork, neglecting to even glance at the downed monster it had just slain in an impossible manner.
+Oh my god it worked!+
I couldn’t believe it, I’d actually managed to jump on its head, stab it in the skull, then jump off it and roll to safety before it could drag me into a collision I doubted I’d survive. I wanted to jump up and down and squeal like a little girl while flapping my arms, but I had an audience. The occupants of hover-hummer three were watching with a shocked expression I hadn’t seen in months. Hunching my shoulders, I set my entire will to forcing myself to avoid looking back at my kill, reminding myself of the first law of any action movie.
+Cool guys don’t look at explosions. Cool guys don’t look at explosions.+
I couldn’t help it. I looked. I was glad I did. The dragon’s momentum coupled with its weight had left streak marks 10 meters long in the dirt. The impact hadn’t been kind to the corpse either. Crumpled and broken, shafts of white bone stuck from the wings, which were nearly fractured beyond distinction. Its neck had folded over itself and under its body, nearly decapitating it.
Seeing the carnage, the reality of what I had just done came crashing back to me. I sat down for a moment, rethinking what I had just done. I hadn’t even been scared, even though I’d known I could have died. Was that normal? My introspections were interrupted when I got a face full of dirt from an anti-tank pulse striking the ground right in front of me. Choking on earth I dropped to the ground. Apparently my squad hadn’t been the only ones in my audience. I guess jumping eight meters into the air and killing a dragon tends to draw crowd. Too bad this new crowd sympathized with the dragon rather than me.
Three tanks charged my position, death ray guns charging, red light spilling from the cannon’s open maws. They never had the chance to fire. Three dragons fell from the sky like bolts from the hand of a dragon slinging Zeus. Bearing their full weight against the tops of the offending tanks, the seemingly sturdy armor folded under the drakes as if they were no more than aluminum cans. I couldn’t understand the sudden change of amicability the dragons were showing me until another four landed behind me. I got a look into the eyes of one of the first three. I had killed one of their own. I was their kill.
You know how, in action movies, when the protagonist is up against impossible odds, the bad guys play it fair and let him fight them one at a time while the rest just kind of swing their weapons around in the background? Apparently the dragons didn’t subscribe to that playbook. Three attacked at once, two in front, one just peeking out from my blindside. There might have been more coming from behind me, so I jumped the only direction I could: up.
I wish I could say that they all comically smashed into each other, where they promptly lay dazed upon the ground while stars swirled about their heads. These buggers had reflexes though. Eight meters up is a long way, but they could jump farther. Following like scaled homing missiles, my three attackers jumped to meet me. They didn’t make it. Midflight the two charging from the front exposed in bursts of red light, as the third was thrown off course by a hailstorm of anti-tank ray pulses. My squad had arrived. Our small fight exploded into chaos.
Rie was beside himself with frustration. The battle had been progressing flawlessly, but now the Alliance’s advance had stalled when they were so close to victory. Command was gibbering about some sort of cowardice in so many garbled transmissions it was impossible to understand what they were upset about, units were being lost all over the field, and now the Vulza were out of control. Only seconds ago three tanks had broken formation, their crews screaming unintelligibly through the comms about the Dominion scum and a façade, when a pod of Vulza came roaring from the sky to flatten the three deviants.
Rie had been unable to believe his eyes. This had never happened before! Sure, in their excitement the Vulza were known to kill an Alliance infantry squad or two who were foolish enough to get too close, but they had never attacked Celzi vehicles before. That was trained into them from birth! More Vulza landed in the clearing created by their brothers, and Rie noticed the figure of the reptiles’ interest.
+A single soldier? They’ve attacked their masters to kill a single soldier?+
The soldier wasn’t a species he recognized.
+A mercenary at that? What could have possessed them t-+
The little creature powered up a personal anti-gravity device. He must have. The alien mercenary shot into the air, followed by three Vulza. Thinking to take advantage of their distraction, a group of nearby rovers decided to eliminate the defective Vulza. There weren’t enough of them to eliminate the entire pod in one volley, and, presented with a new target, the remaining Vulza leapt upon those foolish enough to attack them. Rie couldn’t abandon loyal men to a fate as grim as being torn apart by a Vulza.
“Fleezl!” Rie snapped to his communications officer, “Tell the squad to attack the Vulza rampaging at our [4 o’clock]. I’m not leaving men to those monsters.” A few clipped words was all it required to divert Rie’s squadron of tanks to the fight, where they charged the monsters, coilguns blazing. The situation deteriorated from there.
I couldn’t believe it. They were helping us! The enemy was firing on their own monsters! I’d thought I was screwed with the rest of my squad. The four dragons that hadn’t attacked me had scattered our hover-hummers, but I hadn’t been able to see what happened afterwards. My attention was distracted by the only one of my three attackers still alive. Enraged at the not-so-gentle-push that denied him his vengeance, the dragon leapt at me. Classic dragon opening move, that. I’d seen it a hundred times before – maybe more like four – and I was ready for it. I needn’t have been. Unlucky lizard attacker number three exploded in between point A and point B. Whipping around, I saw an entire squadron of enemy tanks descending upon our melee. I prepared to attack, but then I noticed they weren’t attacking me or my squad. They were helping us.
I wasn’t going to complain though, and neither was my squad from the look of things. I don’t know how much longer they would have lasted. They had managed to stay in their hover-hummers, which was good since I doubted the magical confusion field that seemed to make the enemy completely ignore our actions wouldn’t last if they got a look at the people inside the crafts. Aside from staying in the hummers, though, they hadn’t accomplished much else. Two were disabled thanks to dragons that had shredded their engine blocks or whatever it was that drove the whole “hover” component.
Aside from the fact that we were surrounded by apparently friendly enemies, things were going pretty well. So well in fact that it was just about time for fate to throw another fast ball our way, which arrived in the form of another clutch of drakes. Pandemonium reigned once more. I was, as per usual, a popular attraction as far as targets were concerned. Two dived for me. What the heck, it had worked once before. Jumping at the first one when it was a mere 7 meters above the ground I jumped forward and under it’s fall, slicing it’s neck and chest as I passed. That was the intent at least. I think I led a little too early with my scimitars and ended up getting it’s jaw and cheek, but I still cut far enough into its head.
Plowing into the ground the unfortunate lizard was hit in the back by the second dragon which had been coming at me from behind, crashing into the ground in a jumbled heap. It’s companion’s body cushioned it’s fall, if metal hard scales can really said to be able to “cushion” anything, and it regained its feet, although unsteadily, and attacked me with quick swipes of its claws.
Crap, I prefer it when they’re charging me. I jumped away from the first few swings, but wouldn’t be able to manage it for long. The air on this planet was ridiculously thin, and while it was thick enough for me to keep my head clear, I couldn’t keep up any kind of large physical exertion for long. I was already slowing. So was the dragon. In fact, he was having significantly more trouble than I was. Breathing great hefts of air, it didn’t seem to be able to get enough. I knew the feeling; I was starting to experience it as well. Wanting to end this fight before both of us ended up passed out on the ground to be run over by a tank, I aimed a swing at his arm on its next pass. The dragon tried to avoid my attack, but couldn’t, and it’s appendage came off at the elbow.
Roaring in pain, it exploded with new vigor. Frightened by its roaring right in my ear, so did I. Adrenaline fueled and angry (or frightened in my case) we spent the next few minutes playing cat and mouse around the corpse of a tank. Guess which one was the mouse. Then he spoiled the sport by flipping the tank out of the way and throwing himself towards me, intending to knock me from my feet with a sweeping blow to my knees with his remaining foreleg. I blocked it with the edge of my lava scimitar.
It turns out lava swards aren’t actually all that great at blocking. They tend to burn or cut off anything that touches their blade. T-rex the dragon only succeeded in loping off his other foreleg. Lucky for me too, since I doubted I would have taken too well to being smashed by the momentum of his attack. As it was I was still thrown off my feet as his arm, newly detached at the bicep, flew into legs, sweeping them out from under me and carrying me a good 50 centimeters back. Apparently dragons don’t take well to becoming wyverns, and T-rex, lacking the balance of his name-sake, flopped on the ground, attempting to balance on the forelegs that, in proportion to his body, appeared stubbier than a corgi’s.
The exertion had pushed me very nearly to the limit of my lungs, already straining to find more oxygen in this accursedly thin atmosphere, and I think I blacked out for a few seconds. When I regained full awareness, a tank had put Big T out of his misery, and several more clutches of dragons and squadrons of tanks had entered the fray around me.