The Red Hammer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Firryans are known across space for two things: Their unnatural beauty, and the brutality of their warriors. When three Firryans are captured by pirates who intend to sell them on the black market, two warriors of the Firryan Liberation Front travel to the jungle planet of Quintara to rescue them.

Art by VioMonRia

Year of the Protectorate: 1,042

“So, got any plans after we’re done here?” My companion asks as he hops from root to root, avoiding the deep jungle mud I’ve decided to slog through.

Despite the effort required for every step, my endurance holds and my breathing is steady. “I would prefer to focus on the task at hand before planning any further.”

“Pfft.” He looks around for another exposed root, but there is none. He jumps to a nearby tree trunk and clings to the bark. “Why? We’re just dealing a bunch of dime a dozen, scum bag slave traders. You’ve done this kind of stuff before, haven’t you?”

“Of course.” I’m so hot and sweaty, I tug at my collar. “However, I’ve never been to this world and I know not what tricks it has in store for us.” There’s a certain grace with which he jumps from tree trunk to tree trunk. “Have you visited this world before?”

“Oh yeah, me and Quintara go way back. The whole world’s a jungle, save for a few oceans and seas here and there. I trained on this world a couple years back and it was… it was pretty awful, but it made me into the man I am today! The constant assault of jungle diseases trained my immune system, the vicious beasts got me good at running away, and I really don’t like getting my feet wet, so I got pretty good at climbing.” He shows off his strength by digging his fingers into the bark and holding his body perfectly horizontal. “What about you? Where’d you train?”

Is it alright to get so personal with a stranger? Well, I guess if I’ve been paired up with him it must be okay. “Foregone.”

His eyes open wide and he whistles. “The home world? Nice! I’ve never been myself, but I’ve always wanted to check it out. Is it really just as red as we-“

There’s a noise off to the north. A dull drone that we’ve only just entered the range of. Machinery? It can’t be an animal. Could it be a tool, or perhaps an industrial strength dehumidifier to keep the inside of a building comfortable? Quintara is worthless in the eyes of most, which makes it the perfect place to set up a hideaway.

I lower my voice. “What do you think?”

He raises his head slightly and closes his eyes for a long sniff.

“I only smell flowers.” He climbs higher up the hundred-meter-tall tree and pokes his head around the sides of the thick trunk. “Jungle is too dense to see anything.” He slides down and presses his ear against the trunk. “...Hm. Slight rumbling? It’s constant, and these trees are good at carrying vibration. I’d say the slaver base is just up ahead. It can’t be too big either.” He looks down at me with a smile. “C’mon up. With those slavers around the beasts will have learned to stead clear, should be safe to move along the higher branches.”

I nod and follow him up as best I can. The thick layer of moss covering the tree is slippery and I’m not as adept at climbing as he is. He pushes vines and branches out of my path, and as I get close to one of the higher branches, he offers his hand to pull me up.

“My name’s Miramita, by the way.” He says as he pulls me up. His hand is calloused and I’ve no doubt he could crush my hand if he had the mind to.

Miramita. Hmm.

“Wanopplo.”

He flashes me a smile. “What a cute name.”

Interesting. Now that I take a closer look, he’s decently handsome. Red skin, nicely done black tattoos, hair well maintained, based on his exposed left arm I can tell he has a strong build... I suppose I do know what I’m doing after this mission.

“I’ll head out first, follow behind and do what I do, okay?”

I nod and gesture to the sound. “Lead the way.”

 

 

Miramita takes his time as he jumps from branch to branch. He’s quite considerate and ensures the vines are secure enough to swing on, the branches aren’t too slippery, and that it’s safe for me to follow. The scent of the pink flowers is thick up here, and as the jungle canopy is still far above us, there isn’t much light to use.

Before long we arrive at the source of the noise, our target.

It’s a large, stone, moss covered structure, shaped like a ziggurat with steep staircases and doorways on all three levels. It’s long since been taken over by the forest, with moss and roots coiling around the fallen spires and slopes. One of the massive Quintaran trees had fallen long ago and now rests atop the center. By each of the entrances are large, semi-rusted machines pumping humidity out of the structure, and there’s a small hole in the jungle canopy, just large enough for a shuttle to pass through.

I narrow my brow. “What an old building. The slavers must have stumbled upon this place.”

“Yeah, there’s ruins like this all over the planet.” Miramita sits on the branch and scans the exterior for patrols. “Looks like they’re all inside. The layout of these things is pretty simple, so it isn’t that hard to navigate.” He wipes the sweat from his brow. “Let’s get in there already!”

He tries to jump off the branch, but I reach out and grab his arm, swinging him closer to me. My back is pressed against the large tree trunk and he’s leaning over me. “Whoa, hold on there, Mister! what’s the plan? Just march in and kill everyone?”

He pulls away just enough to look me in the eyes. “...Basically, yeah. Maybe you go in from the right and I go in from the left?”

I purse my lips. “Could you at least tell me what the inside will look like? I’ve never seen one of these ruins before.”

He rolls his eyes. “Alright, alright. The ruins have three main floors, spaced apart so the structures looks bigger on the outside. In the heart of the ruins is a central chamber, a rotunda where each floor connects, so if you’re on the third floor you can look past these balconies and see the second and first floor beneath you. Besides that, each floor has dozens of hallways and side rooms, but those vary from ruin to ruin so we won’t know the specifics until we get in there and explore. Because the structure is a pyramid shape, each floor has exits on all four sides, and it’s easy to run down the outside staircases and flee if things go bad. Makes sense?”

I release him. “Very well. Let’s start from the top and work our way down. If they want to run they can die in the jungle, and it will be harder for them to flank us if they have to climb those stairs.”

He nods.

We circle around the small clearing until we’re at the fallen tree, then we quickly make our way along the trunk until we reach the top of the structure. Security cameras or motion sensors would be too difficult to implement on this world. The entire jungle is thick with motion, and the wires for most electronics tend to get gnawed on by rodents over Quintara’s long nights. We jump down onto the stone dome of the central rotunda, then nod to each other.

I run to the far side and jump down onto the third floor, taking a silent, deep breath in.

“Please,” I whisper, my hands clasped together, “Charada, champion of the road, guide my legs so that I might be silent as I infiltrate this den of evil and rescue your decedents.” I pray to our ancestors, it helps me calm down and focus on the task ahead.

Now is the time for stealth and reconnaissance. We have no idea how many slavers there are and I saw no shuttle on our approach, which means there are more slavers elsewhere. It would be best to-

BANG BANG! Gunshots. Either Miramita was spotted, or he stole a gun and has already begun his attack.

Ah, well… I guess there is wisdom in getting in and out as quickly as possible.

 

 

I rush into the base, only limiting my speed to avoid puddles and the sloshing of my wet shoes. The hallways are warm, damp, and dark. I don’t think the dehumidifiers are working, it’s just as bad in here as it is outside.

From a side room, footsteps grow louder and louder until, finally, someone pokes their head out.

“What the hell is wrong with you?! Do your target practice outside, asshole!”

Fortunately, the rank and file slavers tend to be pretty dull. They’ve captured our Firryan brothers and sisters so they have to know the FLF will come and rescue them, why is their security so lax?

No matter.

The gruff, greasy, smelly alien notices me run closer and his eyes shoot open in fear. He tries to scream for help, but I’m too fast! I jump quickly and send my knee into his face. I feel the hardness of his teeth and skull give way beneath my attack, and that satisfying crunch is always a joy.

“Gyugh!”

Letting the momentum carry me, I land on his chest and steal the pistol from his waistband. As I ready the gun, my eyes scan the room in an instant.

A small stone room with a generator, a table in the center, and three more slavers playing a game. They’re so stunned by my sudden appearance that they haven’t even set down their cards, let alone stand or pull their guns.

BAM BAM BAM!

All three bullets impact their heads and they slump over where they sat. As I leave the room, I casually put a bullet in the head of the slaver with the broken teeth.

I could not be more happy with how that went.

At some point, someone will stumble upon this place and try to figure out how these slavers died. It’s good to leave the corpses like that, clean and efficient. It will let the legendary skills of the FLF grow even more, sink even further into the hearts of the criminal underworld.

But that’s for the future. I need to focus on now. The room has no sign of the captives and as such, it’s time for me to leave. I place the gun in a strap on my waist and take off down the hallway.

By now, the slavers must have realized they are under attack. I burst into room after room, and while most are empty, I do jump into one and catch the occupants as they try to get their gear in order. There’s three in the room and it looks like they just woke up. I kill two with the gun but it clicks as I point to the third. He tries to point his sub rifle my way, but I reel back and launch the pistol at his hand, squashing his fingers and forcing him to drop the rifle.

Before he can pick it up I run over and crush his windpipe with a punch.

Disgusting slavers. You can’t drop your weapon when faced against a proud agent of the Firryan Liberation Front and expect to survive. Not even a novice on her first mission would give you a chance to recover.

I grab the sub rifle and sling it over my back. While my martial arts are more than enough for anyone in this base, save perhaps Miramita, guns are the great equalizer against numbers and distance. I’ll need one of my own in a pinch, and stealing weapons on-site is far more intimidating. It creates a kind of illusion of invincibility, that we don’t need expensive gadgets or equipment, just our skills are enough.

With this room cleared and my weapon secured, I continue forth. There are no rooms remaining on my path to the main chamber of the structure, the rotunda. When I arrive I see Miramita on the far side, effortlessly tossing a slaver over the balcony and savoring the sounds of his screams as he falls towards his demise.

He glances over and gives me a wave.

A slaver screams from below. “Up there!”

Miramita ducks below the rim of the balcony seconds before a hail of gunfire blasts through the air.

Slavers aren’t known for their military prowess. They prey on the weak and defenseless, sticking to lightly defended, remote outposts on the fringes of civilized space, or simple transport ships as they travel the void between stars. Most of the shots are wildly off target, kicking up dust far above and below his cover. Similarly, they fire shot after shot, emptying magazine after magazine even after Miramita had long since circled around and made his way towards me.

He whispers just loud enough for me to hear him over the gunfire. “So, how many have you killed so far?”

“Seven.”

He gives such a warm, innocent smile. “Better hurry up! I’m already at twelve.”

“…” I frown. “It’s not a competition.” I turn towards the nearest staircase and cock the sub rifle.

“Okay, sure then. Stay here as I totally lap you in numbers.” He charges forward and slaps my butt as he passes.

“H-hey! Wait!” I stomp my foot and head after him.

On Foregone, that slap would be considered a purely platonic ‘let’s do our best, pal!’ But he’s not from Foregone. It’s so frustrating, what does that mean where he’s from?

No, this is a problem for later.

I chase Miramita down the stairs and we get to work clearing out the rest of the base.

The slavers on the bottom floor finally wised up and stopped pouring gunfire into the balcony. “Clear out! Clear out! Find them and bring me their skin!” The distinct red skin of we FLF agents is the only way to prove you’ve killed one.

Miramita turns his head to me as he bounces down the steps. “They’re splitting up? Haha! This’ll be easier than I thought!”

“Please don’t get cocky and die to a stray bullet.”

“Oh pish-posh,” he waves his arm dismissively, “I wouldn’t even die to someone who knows how to aim, let alone one of these jokers.”

His way of speaking is odd.

With two FLF warriors working as one, the slavers don’t stand a chance. Room by room, hallway by hallway, we clear all threats to the Firryan people.

If the slavers are close, we dispatch them with our martial arts. Miramita uses a form of grappling, utilizing his incredible grip strength to grab their clothes, or even their flesh, and tossing them around. A man of his skill has no difficulty throwing them on the hard stone with enough force to break their necks. The martial art I mastered, on the other hand, utilizes lightning strikes to weak points. The solar plexus, the throat, the bridge of the nose, I can even hit joints hard enough to sever the ligaments inside.

If the slavers are too far for melee combat, we dispatch them with their own weaponry. Covering fire, flushing out the enemy with grenades, we tear a bloody path through the compound.

“S-stop, you monsters!” A fat sounding man on the lowest level screams. “Or-or-or... or I’ll kill your friends here!”

We came to this world to prevent our fellows from being sold into slavery. As sad as it would be, the FLF has a reputation to uphold. We will not stop, we will not falter, all threats to the Firryans will die. If the hostages die in the process, then at least they won’t be pawned off to the highest bidder. At least their death will serve as a warning to others. ‘Kidnap a Firryan and it won’t end well. You won’t get a prize or a sale, the only thing that awaits you is death’.

We continue to the bottom floor of the structure, unwavering in our goal yet with an increased ferocity after that threat. Miramita’s throws seem more brutal, I feel like bones break easier against my fists.

We stop just before a turn to the central chamber, our backs pressed against the warm, damp stone wall.

I close my eyes and lower my voice to a whisper. “I sense… fifteen at most. Fifteen individuals in the main room.” It’s a natural hunting skill all FLF agents are taught. There’s just certain… disturbances in the air that are hard to explain.

Miramita places his ear against the wall and focuses for a moment. “I think most are tied up. We’re here to rescue three Firryans but I’m positive these slavers have kidnapped other aliens as well.” He closes his eyes. “I’d say three Firryans, three other slaves, and five enemies. Six tops.” I’ve never been good with my sixth sense, I’m surprised how close I was.

I pat his shoulder and sneak away. “You go out and distract them, I shall return to the second floor and ambush them from above.”

He nods, seemingly unaware that I pawned the more dangerous job off on him. I had expected him to put up more of a fuss, or perhaps make a comment about it, but he does not. It seems he’s quite a capable man.

I hurry back to the second floor while Miramita calls into the chamber, his voices echo throughout the structure. “Hey in there! You said you have hostages, yes?”

“Y-y-yeah, that’s right, we do!” The slaver’s voice sounds greasy and rough, like he’s spent a long life barking orders at his captives, and a long time living in this disease riddled jungle.

“I see.” Miramita keeps his cool to give me time to get into place. “So how about this. Send the Firryans out and we’ll leave. You can keep doing whatever you’re doing, you can do whatever you want to the non-Firryans, but let our people go and I promise I won’t bury you in the first mud pit I find outside.”

I’ve tried using this tactic before, but for some reason everyone is able to see through it. I guess I’m not a very good liar.

I reach my position on the balcony above. Miramita is projecting his voice well so all the slavers are looking down his hallway, unable to see far into the darkness. I see five slavers. Four cowering behind fallen stones and boxes, aiming down the hallway, and the leader of their ragtag group in the center. A disgusting man by every consideration, he has a poor Firryan in a headlock, pointing a pistol at her neck. She makes for a poor shield, considering how thin she is and how fat he is.

“I… I can’t do that.” The man yells. “For a lot of reasons, that’s out of the question.”

“Ah, that’s too bad. I was hoping we could come to a peaceful conclusion.”

“P-peaceful?! You run in here, slaughter my men, threaten my life, demand MY prisoners, and you thought it could end peacefully? If you wanted them back so badly you should have waited until they went on the market like everyone-“

I can’t listen to any more of this. I bring my sub rifle up, aim it carefully at the side of his head opposite to the Firryan, then pull the trigger.

I pull the trigger and the sub rifle kicks back into my shoulder. The small bullet flies through the air at speeds impossible for even trained warriors like us to react to, and impacts the slavers skull with a deafening crunch. The bullet ricochets off his hard skull and hits the floor next to him. Sub rifles aren’t terribly strong, if my angle was bad it’s entirely possible he survived that.

Regardless, his body goes stiff and he falls forward into a moss filled puddle with a plop. The Firryan still trapped in his arm goes with him, and now she’s trapped under his body. Uncomfortable as I’m sure it is, using his fat body as a meat shield isn’t a bad choice.

For the rest of the slavers, there’s a brief moment of confusion, but less than half a second later, as a reflex most likely, they all begin to lay down fire down the hallway. They actually think it was Miramita who shot him. No wonder they’re all so afraid, no wonder their screams and curses can be heard even over the ringing of gunfire. They think only one man has done so much damage to their organization.

Idiots.

There are four slavers left, tucked under the balcony and cowering behind their cover. It’s hard for me to get a good angle.

Oddly enough, they’re not trying to kill their hostages. Slavers are vindictive, evil creatures. Why would they not use their last moments to act spitefully and deny us the rescue? Do they think they have a chance to survive, or are they just in such a state of panic that they can’t think straight?

Or maybe there’s something more going on. It never hurts to be paranoid.

Despite my bad angle, I lean over the balcony and open up on the slavers below, firing as fast as I can. My bullets ricochet off the pillar and only work to keep the slaver pinned.

“Gygh, what?!” One of the slavers huddles behind her fallen stone pillar. “There’s more!? Up above! Shoot! Shoot!”

I dive out of the way before they can. Bullets fly past the balcony with the same inaccuracy as before. I poke my head over the rim for moments at a time and take pot shots when I can.

Utilizing my distraction, Miramita charges into the main room. The slavers are disoriented, scared, untrained criminals. They can’t focus on both of us at once, so Miramita closes the distance without a fuss and uses his martial arts to flip the nearest one like a pinwheel. While spinning, the slavers head connects with the edge of the stone pillar she used as cover. It’s a disgusting mess, how her head reacts to such force. I’d feel bad for her, if she was anyone else.

The noise of the crash explodes in the room, and the remaining three slavers whip their heads around in shock. I can tell by the silence how terrified they are. Guess they should have chosen a different career path.

One tries to flee but runs into my line of sight and I easily take him down. Miramita charges at a second, jumps over the cover, and uses his momentum to toss the man through the air, where he eventually lands on his neck. I can’t see the last but I hear running, so Miramita draws his gun take takes him out.

It’s done.

 

 

I hop off the balcony of the second floor and land skillfully with a thud.

The first floor is larger than the others. Off on the sides, deeper under the balconies, are a series of slave cages, tables, ledgers and computers. The small hum of a generator is drowned out by the louder drum of a dehumidifier. Large cables with thick wrapping that can’t be nibbled through by rodents line the floor, connecting all the electronics in the makeshift headquarters. The computer monitors shine a bright blue, and there are a few lanterns and lamps strewn about.

“Well that went well, I think.” Miramita rolls his shoulders then walks closer to me. He elbows my arm and wiggles his eyebrow suggestively. “So how many did you kill?” He waits expectantly with a wide, smug smile.

“22.”

“Ha!” He smiles. “What a shame, I got the same. Guess we’ll have to find some other way to settle this later.” He winks.

I pull back in surprise and quickly study his face. He’s smiling, but he looks so innocent. How am I supposed to take that? How would we ‘settle’ it? That’s a flirt. That has to be a flirt. He’s flirting with me. He has to be referencing us ‘fighting’ in bed later.

“m-gh… ughhh…”

The slaver boss moans and shifts slightly. Before Miramita has the chance to react, I point the rifle and put another in the back of his head. Guess he survived the first shot. “23. It appears I win.”

Miramita pouts and puts his hands on his hips. “Aww. That sucks. Glad we didn’t bet on it.” He shrugs. “Oh well, we’re still not done here anyway.”

I counted the slave boss as a kill when I first shot him, and I counted him as a second kill just now. I’m glad Miramita didn’t call me out on it.

But I notice something odd. “Why hasn’t she pushed him off yet?” The poor Firryan girl he used as a hostage. I thought she was smart to use his fat body as a meat shield during the shooting, but why hasn’t she gotten up?

Oh no, did I accidentally shoot her? I thought I was as careful as possible, but did I do something irreversible?

I quickly step forward and kick the fat man off her, and we realize the true reason. The reason why the slaver said the kidnapped Firryans couldn’t be released.

Her skin is a dark grey, blending in with the stone around her, and her pure black tattoos swirl around her limbs like candy canes. Firryan skin will natural change color to blend in with the background, with FLF agents like Miramita and I permanently dying our skin red in order to stand out.

Her clothes are filthy and damp, with dirt and blood crusted into the fabric. She’s so thin and frail, her lips are cracked. Had they given her anything to eat or drink? How long ago was she captured? The worst is the bruising on her wrists and ankles, and the terrible way her hands and feet are bent. The four joints are shattered, her hands and feet dangling limp off her limbs.

A familiar burn wells up inside my chest. I can’t stand the sight, no matter how often I see it.

I get down on one knee and carefully check to make sure she’s still alive. “She’s not doing good, but she’ll live.”

Miramita runs to the corner of the room, where a number of tall metal cages sit. There’s about a dozen, packed closely together. While two have Firryans inside, another three have various aliens who were caught up with the slavers.

He crouches down to inspect our comrades, then shakes his head. “They’re the same. Now we know why the slavers wouldn’t let them free even after all we’d done. They physically could not run towards us.”

“Must have been to keep them from escaping, not that there’s anywhere they could flee to on this world...”

It’s disgusting, but not surprising. I scoot closer to the young woman on the floor and carefully cradle her head against my thigh. “Hey,” I make my kindest voice possible, “can you hear me? My name is Wanopplo, I’m going to get you out of here, alright?”

Her eyes lazily turn towards me. It takes a moment, but she finally notices my red skin and her pupils dilate. The corners of her mouth tremble, and small tears run down her cheeks. She seems to mouth something, but no sound escapes her lips.

It’s most likely a prayer. I brush my hair behind my ears and press my forehead against hers, careful to support her neck and not hurt her in any way. I quickly look at her tattoos and I get an idea of who she prays to. “By the Hero Tabalita, I will return you to the red sands of Foregone...”

She sighs weakly, then closes her eyes to rest. Not much longer until she can put this whole ordeal behind her. Or, of course, she might hold onto her anger and choose to join the FLF.

Meanwhile, Miramita is fiddling with the locks on the cages. Obviously he went for the Firryan cages first, and has been whispering sweet words to our comrades.

But one of the aliens keeps jumping in. “H-hey, you’re here to get all of us, right?” He’s a normal human from some planet out there. All I know is that he isn’t a Firryan, so he’s an alien.

Miramita switches to an even tone when talking to the alien. “We won’t abandon you on this planet, if that’s what you’re asking.” Back to the gentle whisper that barely overpowers the machinery and clicks of the lock. “Regrettably I spent my training learning how to kill rather than pick locks, haha! But don’t worry, I’ll have this open soon.”

“Shouldn’t one of them have a key?” The alien man interrupts once more.

“Doubtful. Keys can be stolen by people trying to do exactly what we’re doing. There’s no ship to get these slavers off-world, which means they’re part of a larger organization. These guys stay here to protect their ‘merchandise’, another group goes out with their ship to capture more slaves, and a third group will come by periodically to collect their gains and sell them on the black market. It’s all fragmented to keep raids like this from destroying the whole organization, and the sell group will probably be the one that has the key to these cages.  The cages, of course, auto-lock when the door is closed, that way the sell group isn’t needed when the capture groups bring more.”

Wait, but if the key is with someone else, how did they manage to get one of our comrades out to use as a shield?

I take off my over-shirt and gently lay my comrade down, supporting her head like a pillow. On a hunch, I walk over to the fat slaver I shot. He seemed to be the boss of this base, would he have a key?

I root through his pockets and in his jacket, thankful of the fact I didn’t take off my suit like Miramita did. He’s just so foul and gross, I know there’s no running water here but is there honestly no soap?

Before long, I find a small keychain.

This doesn’t make sense.

“Miramita!” I toss the keys over and he looks just in time to catch it.

“Huh?” He raises an eyebrow. “Where’d you find this?” He slots it in and the cage door unlocks. “Why is..?”

I walk closer. “There’s thousands of slaver groups out there, maybe this one does things differently.”

“Yeah...” Miramita rubs his chin. “Maybe.”

There’s a thick sense of unease in the air. Something is wrong.

Miramita opens the remaining cages, including the ones housing aliens., while I’m left to think. Why would the slavers here have the key? We didn’t detect an enemy ship when I approached Quintara on a shuttle… No, there’s a thousand different reasons there could be a key here. I’m over thinking things.

Miramita gently pulls the Firryan captives out of the cages and rests them on the warm, damp, stone floor. The other aliens run from their cages and give their thanks to the two of us. In total, there are three Firryans and three aliens. Two Firryan women and one boy, as well as two alien women and one male.

With his task complete, Miramita walks over to me, his voice nothing more than a whisper. “Something doesn’t feel right. What do you think?”

“…It could be anything. I say we focus on getting everyone to the shuttle for now, focus on any problems as they arrive.

Then a computer begins ringing. We look to the opposite side of the room, its faint blue screen glows brighter, and there’s a flashing red light on the top.

At the same time my earpiece rings.

That alien man gulps and rattles his cage. “Wh-wh-what does that mean?”

Miramita crosses his arms. “Trouble, most likely.” He flashes the man a smile. “We did come prepared though.”

I press a finger to my ear and Miramita walks towards me.

“Wanopplo!” The man from the shuttle that dropped me off yells. “A frigate has broken atmosphere and is inbound on your location!”

“A frigate? Where did it come from?”

“It was hidden in the asteroid field around the planet, sir. It was only running on basic power so it didn’t give off any signatures.”

“Can you pick us up?”

“Negative, sir. I can’t make it in time and that ship will blow me out of the sky if I get too close. You’ll have to get out of there, or chase it off somehow.”

“Chase off a frigate? Fine. I’ll call you when we have a plan.” I tap my earbud and turn to Miramita.

He leans in closer and whispers. “I heard the word ‘frigate’ and a lot of panic.”

“These aren’t all of the slavers. They have a ship and it’s coming towards us.”

“A trap then.” Miramita grabs his chin and looks around while the alien man goes off into a panic with the other two slaves, screaming about how we need to get them out of there.

I grab the key from Miramita and look it over. My guess? Unlocking all the cages set off some sort of alarm that alerted the ship. Maybe it really would have been better to leave the aliens… No. That would be evil, I shouldn’t think like that. “I wouldn’t recommend running into the jungle. If you want to get off this planet you’ll need to stick with us.”

“W-we’re getting out of here soon, right?”

“You said a frigate is coming!? We can’t outrun that, what do we do?”

“Tell me you have a plan!”

I glance between the three of them and I don’t know what to say. I’m no good with aliens. With Firryans all I need to do is show them my red skin and they’ll be reassured, but aliens? They just don’t get it.

-beep-

“Hello?”

I whip my head around, almost slapping one of the aliens with my hair, and there I see Miramita. He’s in front of the computer, hands on his hips.

“What are you doing!?” I silently scream.

He turns to me and shrugs. “Might as well see.”

I circle around to the side of the monitor, just enough to see the screen but so the man on the other side can’t see me.

There’s an alien. Young, fit, covered in scars and piercings with blonde, dirty matted hair.

“Ah,” his voice comes through a subtle layer of static, “so you did arrive. I take it my men are all-“

“Dead.” Miramita pats his chest. “Wasn’t that hard.”

I stand behind the screen so he can see me shake my head and mouth the words ‘don’t provoke him’.

“Yes, yes.” The man says. “The reputation of the Firryan Liberation Front is well deserved. But no matter!”

Miramita begins to suppress his giggles. I peak my head around the side of the computer, and I see the man waving his arms about in a series of grand gestures.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Miramita has no sense of urgency or tension. Though, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a man like him.

“I am Belemon Ducarcas, captain of the Invincible, leader of the Quintara Raiders and hero of the Endarn Massacre! Your kind may have a few legends under your belt, but I’m eager to see how I fare.”

“You’ll fare all the same.” Miramita smiles and waves a hand dismissively. “You won’t capture us. There are four Firryans here, either we all escape or we all die, you will not have your prize. Really, the only question here is how many of your men will die pointlessly.”

Belemon frowns. “First, there are five Firryans there. You, your partner, and the three slaves we captured. Wait, did you mess up and kill one of my hostages?” He rolls his eyes. “Good job.” Miramita’s eyes twitch from being called out on his lie. “Second, sorry, pal, but there’s been a bit of a paradigm shift in the market. A looooot of people are willing to pay for the corpses of you FLF types. Dare I say, to the right bidder, two bodies of FLF members are far more valuable than three live Firryans.”

Miramita’s face reflects my own. Horror. It’s gotten so bad that people even want our lifeless bodies? Is it a simple revenge aspect, because we’ve caused the criminal underworld such trouble, or something worse?

“Regrettably this means I can’t just blow your little structure to hell, but I have more than enough men to flush you out. A few bullet wounds wont be an issue.” He rubs the stubble on his chin. “Actually, a few new holes might be profitable… Oh well, that’s something to consider for later. Have a nice remain of your life, we will not speak again.”

The screen turns a dull blue and all that remains is a low buzz.

I silently press a button to turn it off.

I glance to Miramita and he returns my gaze.

It gets demoralizing after a while, the sheer dehumanization on display. Our willingness to fight to the death had been a deterrent for so long, but now there’s an incentive to expend manpower and resources to kill us? There are dark days ahead for Firryan kind.

I move closer to Miramita. I cross my arms, our shoulders are touching, our faces are close enough that we can whisper to each other. “What do you think?”

“…” His hands are on his hips and he taps his foot. “We could stand and fight, but this place has too many opening for just the two of us to cover. Even if we can fight back the tide of men they can easily stay out in the forest and starve us out… And there’s no shuttle in the base so we can’t use that to escape.”

“Do these places have secret passages or tunnels?”

He shakes his head. “The only way out is through the main passages. We could try to run through the jungle, but there’s only two of us and there’s three wounded Firryans. Can you carry two?”

“Not easily.”

“Well, nuts.” He runs his hands through his long, sweaty hair, pushing it back. “We could get the aliens to move the last one but I’m not confident in them at all.”

“Because they’re aliens, or because they’re untrained?”

“Both.” He glances over at the three aliens panicking and shouting. “We’re the only ones with the Firryans best interests in mind. We can’t count on them to not cut and run.”

I purse my lips as I know he’s right. So much as asking them to carry one of our comrades is likely to be met with a response of ‘just leave them’. I tap my earpiece once more.

“Yes sir?” The man in the shuttle asks.

“The ship we came to this system on, the Red Harvest. Where is it?”

“It should still be orbiting a moon on the far side of the system, investigating an old abandoned pirate base.”

“That’s far… alright, raise communications with the Red Harvest and route it to me when you can.”

“Yes sir!” A small bzzt signals the end of our chat.

Miramita walks around the room and collects more ammo for his sub rifle. “So we just have to hold out for this ‘Red Harvest’ to come and blow up that ship? Alright, we can wait that long.”

“No…” I take a deep breath, everyone waits silently. “The Red Harvest… is a corvette.”

The man cries. “Well that can’t blow up a frigate!”

A woman stomps her foot. “Can’t it board the other ship or something?”

The third alien woman puts her hands on her face and sobs. “We should just go back in the cages and hope they don’t kill us!”

I grip the bridge of my nose. “Quiet! Here’s what we’re doing. It’ll take 20 minutes at least for that frigate to get close enough to drop off their troops, that means we have 20 minutes to get as far away from here as possible so my shuttle can pick us up. I’m grabbing a Firryan, Miramita will grab a Firryan, and one of you will grab the remaining Firryan.” I walk over and grab the poor girl who was crushed under the slaver boss. “We’re leaving now.”

The loudmouthed alien man stutters and stammers but finally gets his words together. “Th-this is insane! You want us to bring them all? Just leave them, it’s not our fault they’re legs were broken!”

Another alien speaks up. “Y-yeah, isn’t this a trap?”

The third does as well. “They probably broke their legs so the rest of us would be slower and easier to catch!”

Miramita puts a young Firryan boy in a piggyback ride. “Then go by yourself, there’s four exits around here. We saved you from being sold for free, but if you want a ride on our shuttle this is the payment.”

I nod and hurry towards one of the exit hallways. On my way out I grab some ammo and a rifle from one of the dead slavers, using it as a small platform for the Firryan girl to sit on. Miramita does the same, and thankfully the aliens aren’t so forward thinking as to grab weapons they could use to betray us.

The aliens discuss amongst themselves who’s strong enough to carry the remaining girl, and it’s the loudmouth man who decides to do it.

The pleased look on his face as he picks her up… disgusting. Even with her so malnourished and injured, he can still find enjoyment with a Firryan’s body. People like him are why the FLF are so needed.

No matter. For the sake of our survival, we need to leave.

 

 

Miramita and I stop just as the stone hallway transitions to the wet, jungle floor.

I take a deep breath and he does the same, there’s slight grumbling from the three aliens. 18 minutes at most until the frigate arrives, but this is important. As we talk, the Firryans we rescued silently mouth along.

“Wallafacc, master of escape, Cannagi, king of the forests, Firipi of the hunt, please watch over your descendants as we flee those who will stop at nothing to steal us from our friends and family. We ask for your guidance so we may follow in your footsteps, and perhaps one day our own names and deeds will be remembered like yours.”

We open our eyes and I feel power surge throughout the black tattoos that line my skin. I feel like I can move faster, more accurately, like I won’t even make a footprints in the mud, like none of these savages will be able to find me in such a thick jungle.

Whether our prayers actually reach our ancestors, or if praying just calms me down and helps me focus, like a placebo, I’m not sure.

What’s undeniable is that we open our eyes and I feel power surge throughout the black tattoos that line my skin. I feel like I can move faster, more accurately, like I won’t even make a footprints in the mud, like none of these savages will be able to find me in such a thick jungle.

With that necessary preparation completed, we lead the former slaves across the small clearing and into the jungle proper. As I know where the shuttle is, I lead everyone in the general direction. As Miramita knows all the ins and outs of traversing Quintara, he leads us on the finer path. Navigating around mud pits, kicking over small trees and bushes to aid the rest of us, keeping us from having to climb up and down hills that are too steep and slipper, Miramita is a master at this.

We make good progress in the time allotted, but it isn’t long before the frigate’s engines blast throughout the jungle, overpowering the sounds of nature.

“That sounds closer than it should be.” I say.

“Here.” Miramita walks closer to one of the aliens and passes the Firryan boy to her. “Go on ahead, I’ll go take a look real quick.” Miramita uses his expert climbing skills and impeccable grip to disappear above the low branches.

I look at the girl carrying our comrade, and she’s just as disgusting. Such a gross look on her face, so excited to be carrying a Firryan.

We continue walking, slower without Miramita but we’re still making progress. I hear the roar of fighters swooping by, I think two or three are strafing, looking for us. They’ll have a hard time in a jungle this thick but that doesn’t mean we’re safe by a long shot. Firryans secrete a certain pheromone that’s easy to track with the right equipment.

Suddenly, Miramita is upside down and he swings right in front of me, almost head butting me in the face. I recoil and almost strike him in surprise.

“Oops! Sorry.” His long hair hangs down, as does his undone sleeve. I glance up and see that his legs are wrapped around a branch overhead. “That frigate is a lot closer than it should be, it’s not hovering over the ruins at all! It’s even angled closer towards us.”

I turn to the aliens. “When you were captured, did they do anything to you? Give you a shot, attach something on or in your skin?”

“N-no...”

“Not that I remember.”

The loudmouth shakes his head. “Why do you ask?”

“Because we’re being chased by a frigate.” I gesture for them to stay put while I walk behind a large tree. “Check your clothes,” I call out, “and check your skin for any bumps, see if they put a tracking device on you.” I’ve never know a slaver to willingly hunt down an FLF agent, usually they just take the loss and move on. It didn’t occur to me that, because this is a trap, they could be tracking us.

I can’t see them, but I hear the aliens rummaging around. The blare of engines swooping overhead gets closer and closer, my hands shake from the tension. I hear Miramita grab the other Firryan girl and take her behind a tree, following my lead.

I set the Firryan I’m carrying down against a damp rock. She hisses as her feet and hands drag against the soft ground.

“I’m sorry for this but I need to hurry.”

She clenches her teeth and nods weakly.

As carefully as I can, I strip off articles of clothing and check for sores, cuts and incision points, anything that could tell me if a tracking device was put inside her. I check her spine, I part her hair to see if it was lost there, her limbs, everywhere. She whimpers and curses under her breath, but she’s a trooper and handles it well.

Thanks to my extensive search, I see that she has no such device on her.

vrrrRRRROOOOOooooommm!!

The fighters are getting closer with their passes. This has been such a time sink but I need to check the third Firryan.

I hurry back to the group, who have since taken cover under a large, thick branch covered with vines and leaves, and grab the third Firryan to bring him around the tree. I set him against the other side of the rock and he, regrettably, has a harder time suppressing his pain. He is significantly younger than the previous Firryan, so it is understandable.

I wonder if he’s ever prepared for something like this, or is he still young enough to think that nothing bad could ever happen? I remember when I thought like that.

“I’m sorry, I promise this won’t take long.” He nods as best he can, but he isn’t looking forward to it.

Just as before, I take off pieces of clothing, check his now greenish-brown skin for bumps, then slip his clothes back on. The poor boy tries his best to hush his cries, but I can still hear them clearly and it only angers my heart. They’ll pay. They’ll all pay for what they’ve done to us.

Again, no bumps. No bruises besides his ankles, no cuts or scrapes. I checked his body thoroughly so I know I didn’t just miss anything. I have a feeling that Miramita found the same by checking the third Firryan, which means one of a few choices.

I grab the boy and bring him back to the aliens so one of them can carry him. Following that I go back for the girl and carry her myself. Miramita comes out of a bush with the last girl soon after.

“Anything?” I ask as I turn to leave.

“Nothing.”

That one man pipes up. “S-so that was just a waste of time?”

“Not exactly.”

Miramita nods.

The man looks confused and concerned but follows behind us nevertheless.

I shoot Miramita a look and he returns with a knowing glance.

If there’s no bug or sensor, then the slaver ship being so close means one of three things:

1. It’s just happenstance. Maybe there was some kind of sensor in the base and they knew we approached from the east and left that way too, or maybe they just so happened to choose the correct direction to search for us.

2. One of the aliens lied when they said the slavers didn’t bug them. This will be impossible to prove without stripping them... but neither Miramita and I are going to touch them.

3. One of them is a spy, or maybe a plant who’s somehow reporting our position to their friends.

The wording might be a bit different, but I can tell by his eyes that he’s thinking the same. There’s a very good possibility that one of them is a traitor.

Be-be-be-beep!

My earpiece.

Without disturbing the poor girl on my back, I tap it.

“Go ahead.”

“Boss! I’ve made contact with the Red Harvest, patching you in now.”

There’s a heavy layer of static but the voice comes through loud enough to hear it. Captain Pictuan of the UPM Red Harvest. A Firryan woman and a proud member of the FLF. She’s worked her way high in the military of the Peldak Protectorate and quietly takes advantage of her authority to help the FLF out when our missions line up with her orders.

There are many roles in the Firryan Liberation Front. Miramita and I are for direct combat missions, Pictuan has worked her way high in the military, and other members go for positions of wealth, status or influence. Not all problems that assail Firryan-kind involve slavers. A business taking advantage of a Firryan worker requires a lawyer, not an agent. A natural disaster on Foregone requires money, or a sympathetic ear in the Protectorate senate, or influencers who can set up a charity.

“Wanopplo? Is that you? What are you doing, why are you calling me?” I’m technically a stowaway on her ship and I technically steal her shuttle and pilot every so often.

I speak in the traditional Firryan language, to keep the aliens and any spies from understanding me. I talk loud enough for Miramita to hear. “[Captain Pictuan, hey… We’ve run into trouble down here and we need help.]”

“…[What kind of trouble could there be for two FLF agents?]”

“[A frigate. We’re moving to the shuttle but it’s just overhead and we might not be able to take off.]”

“[How did you end up messing with a frigate? You told me this would just be a routine thing! Land on the world, grab the hostages, get out, we’ll ferry you back to allied space. What happened?]”

“[A trap, basically.]”

“[Uh-huh. So why are you telling me this?]”

“[I was hoping that you’d bring your ship in to distract the frigate while we escape in the shuttle…]”

“[What?!]” There’s a slamming sound and her voice goes to static for a moment. “[-t’s a frigate, Wano! It doesn’t matter what kind of dirty pirates or slavers are inside, a corvette can’t stand up to a frigate!]”

“[You don’t need to ‘stand up’ to it, just distract it. Maybe come in atmosphere and fire off a round or two before getting out? We just need a moment for our shuttle to escape.]”

“[Putting my ship at risk is a big ask. How many are with you?]”

“[Three aliens, myself, another agent, and we’ve rescued three Firryans from slavery. The latter three are hurt bad and most likely won’t survive long.]” A slight embellishment on my part, but I know how Pic thinks.

VVVVVRRRR-BBBBBBRRRRRRRR!!!

Somewhere off to the north, one of the fighters preforms a strafing run. The machine guns rip through the jungle, tearing apart trees and branches and rocks, and the engines scream as it pulls up at the last second. A frightening noise. They’ve almost determined our position.

I’m sure the noise was captured through my earpiece as Pic’s voice becomes slightly softer. “[Fine. We’ll clean your mess. We’re on the far side of the star now but we have a good helmsman. Expect us within twenty minutes and please don’t die.]”

“[Thank you, Captain Pictuan.]”

She sighs. “[Shut up, Wano.]” She presses a button and I’m left with only static.

“Hm.” I say, turning to Miramita. “That went well.”

“Uh, g-great!” He scoots closer to me, leaning in. “What was that all about?”

I take a wide step to clear a root poking out of the mud. “Do you not know our own language?”

“Everyone I’ve ever spoke too, including you, speaks Cirathan Standard. Why would I know it?””

“A sense of pride in-“

The alien man pipes up. “H-hey! None of this matters, what’s the plan?”

I sneer in disgust, but no. He’s right. That’s a conversation for later. “My shuttle isn’t far from here. We continue on and then leave this jungle behind. Now keep quiet and follow us.”

 

 

We continue our slow, silent march through the jungle. The strafing runs have become more common, VVVVVRRRRRRR-BBBBBBRRRRRRRRR, at least once a minute. The splintering sound of mighty trees crashing, engines zooming by overhead, that constant noise of the frigate hovering in the distance. Every so often the branches overhead or the bushes at our side rustle as a scared animal flees.

Despite the heat and the pressure, I remain calm and collected. Just keep moving, there’s nothing we can do about the planes, just keep moving to the shuttle and we’ll get everyone home safe.

Miramita still leads us, stomping down bushes and holding aside low branches for us to pass. His brow is narrowed as he focuses on leading us, and his jaw is clenches as a few branches require effort to get out of our way. Is he even worried? I can’t tell what’s going on in his mind, but it intrigues me

“How much longer?” That man asks in his whiney, shrill voice.

Obviously, I’m not going to answer a potential traitor with any information that could be used to determine the position of my shuttle. “Not too much longer.”

He hops to readjust the girl on his back, and she hisses from the sudden jolt. “Can we get an estimate?”

Miramita hears the hiss and whips his head around, fire in his eyes. “We’re 50% of the way there, now walk steadier or somebody will need to carry you the rest of the way.”

The man shuts his mouth tight and I can’t help but smile.

Our shoes slosh in the mud, but I feel something! Danger. Sudden, immediate danger. What’s the cause? A plane? A beast? Falling tree?

“Take cover!” Miramita screams as he dives down into the mud.

My body throws itself against a tree and I cry an apology to the Firryan girl in my head.

The aliens have slower reaction times, but thanks to Miramita’s quick trust of his instincts, they get down just in time.

B-A-BA-BANG-BANG-BA-BANG!

Bullets rip through bushes and scrape against tree bark. Small arms fire, rifles or maybe pistols, coming from 8 o’clock.

“Sorry!” I drop the Firryan off my back and she lands on a root with a painful thud.

Taking the rifle I used to help carry her, I sling it in my hands and jump around the wide tree trunk. I see three slavers, but there are probably far more given how thick the jungle is. Tight black jumpsuits with slapped together bits of armor from a variety of sources. Much of it is damaged or burnt, a common sight with slavers and pirates who’ve had a long ‘career’. They kill, they raid, they steal, and they take equipment to use against the good people of the galaxy. Based on how heavily armored they are, they seem to have some amount of skill and survival instinct.

I aim and fire, one bullet per pull of the trigger. Three shots ring out and the butt of the rifle digs into my shoulder.

They take cover, but the shoddy slaver gun isn’t effective over these distances and the shots go wide. Miramita appears over my shoulder.

His rifle is the same as mine. Three more shorts, same result. No death or screaming.

The slavers turn their backs and run, carefully not to expose themselves. I fire again, but nothing comes of it.

“Ha!” Miramita yells. “Run you cowards!” He blindly shoots into the thick jungle before us.

“There’s more out there.”

He takes a deep breath in, then exhales silently. “Of course, but it’s important to act like everything is fine to keep up morale.”

As I turn to go back to the others, I wipe my hand across his face, smearing the sweat and mud left over from where he dove earlier. “Clear your eyes so you can shoot better.”

“Pfft!” Some mud got on his lips and he spits to the side. “I didn’t see you do any better…”

I crawl around the tree trunk and jump down from the roots with a squelch. The aliens are cowering and I see the three Firryans try to steady their breathing in order to not scream. It pains my heart that they must go through this.

I’m not sure how to proceed from here.

I grab Miramita’s firm bicep and pull him closer, just close enough for a whisper. “What do we do? Pick them up for a few feet and throw them back down whenever the shooting starts?”

His eyes glance around, then down at my feet, then up to the treetops. “It… Well, if you think about it, there are three aliens… And, well… Three Firryans.”

I furrow my brow. “You don’t mean…”

“Listen. The three aliens carry our three comrades. I’ll jump to the branches and have a clear view of everything, you stay down here and direct them to the shuttle. So long as we keep an eye over them as we hold off the slavers, I doubt there’s much they can do to disappoint us.

“They’ll find a way.”

He presses his forehead against mine. “And this is the only way to get off this planet.” More gunshots off to the south. It seems another squad of slavers thought they saw us and opened fire. “There’s nothing for it, just don’t let them out of your sight!”

I take a deep breath. “Oh Clodant, the watch tower, please don’t let them stray from my sight!”

Miramita holds the rifle under his arm and begins to climb up the tree. “Here’s the plan! You two, pick up our comrades, it’s your job to bring them to the shuttle. Wanopplo and I will keep them off us and keep you on course. Now go! They know where we are and I’m sure there are more on our tail.”

VVVVVRRRRRRR-BBBBBRRRRR!

That run’s so close the ground shakes.

The aliens are scared, they’re nervous and shaking, but thanks to how close that strafing run was, they do as he says.

Miramita disappears above the branches.

“You heard him!” I yell as I sling the rifle over my shoulder. “The shuttle is that way, hurry up, I’ll keep them at bay!”

“O-o-okay, boss!” That man is the first hurry along. He’s no doubt looking for his opportunity to escape.

But that’s a problem for later. Focus on now.

I keep a wide berth from the group and stay in cover. I hide in bushes, poke my head around trees, I’m constantly on the lookout for enemies while always keeping the aliens in sight.

“4 o’clock!” Miramita yells before opening fire from up above. Shots ring out and I jump to a better position.

They’re so focused on taking cover and taking pot shots at Miramita, that they don’t notice me circling around to their side. I take cover behind a fallen tree and glance back to get the barest look at the aliens as they continue their hurried, panicked march. Back to business, I set up the rifle and fire. One pull of the trigger for one bullet, and I get a few shots against their flanks before they can react and pull back.

None of my shots were even closer.

“Poorly made trash!” I rattle the rifle and smack the side of it, then run back to the group.

Miramita’s voice echoes from up above. “Hey! Wipe the mud out of your eyes!” He says with a mocking, playful tone.

“Shut up and stay focused! We’ve no time for your jokes!” The group is veering slightly to the right. It seems that had to get past a steep hill and didn’t adjust correctly. I go the correct way and whistle for them to follow.

“We-we’re on our way…” The man is breathing heavy. The stress and the heat must be getting to him.

More gunshots cause them to jump, and I notice small plinks of bark and leaves rain down from above. Miramita returns fire, and I jump off that way to assist in driving off the slavers.

About 10 or 12 minutes left until the corvette arrives, and I believe we’ll make it to the shuttle by then, at this rate.

 

 

Running this way and that, taking pot shots at villains, dodging behind rocks and trees and under the lips of hills. This is a mess. There’s so many groups and the most I’ve been able to do is graze the shoulder of one. I’m running low on ammo, I’m tired, I’m drenched in sweat, my nose is overloaded with the putrid mixture of mud, flowers, and gunpowder.

The slavers have become more coordinated, dipping in and out of combat to never give us a moments rest. If their weapons were any more accurate, they would have taken my head off by now. There’s just so many of them, from all directions! Even from the sky! Those fighters won’t let up and they’re getting more accurate with each run.

They have me pinned on the far side of a tree and a grenade falls by my feet. Without a moment of hesitation, I punt the grenade far into the distance where it explodes harmlessly. There’s a small break in the fire, as the slavers are waiting to shoot me as I try and flee, but Miramita gets into position on the treetops and fires until they pull back.

I poke out of cover to see if I can take one down, but all my rifle does is click.

There’s rustling in a bush next to me. Fortune smiles on our mission today as a lone slaver walks out. He looks confused. Lost. It takes him a moment to realize I’m here, but by the time he does I’ve already cleared the distance and slammed the top of my foot against the outside of his knee. He buckles under the blow and I grab my rifle by the barrel with both hands, swinging it in a wide arc and crashing it against the side of his face.

The rifle shatters and the barrel bends, so I toss it aside and grab his shotgun. I’m quick to rife through his pockets for any extra ammo.

Gunshots ring out to the north, I feel a lump in my throat as I slot shells into the chamber. “Crap, crap… Why’d he bring a shotgun? If one of those aliens try to run off with our comrade I won’t be able to aim at all!” It’s full, I stand up and cock it. “Still, blasting away both of them is better than letting them be sold into slavery.”

With how much running and fighting there’s been, there can’t be any more than 6 minutes left till the corvette arrives.

vrrrrRRRRROOOOOOOoooommm.

“And the fighters are back…” I steady my breath and run off towards the group. Corvettes can shoot down fighters, yeah?

A shotgun of this make, model, and quality is going to have an effective range of about 20 meters, maybe less. Anything beyond that I can’t reliably hit.

I charge forward, jumping over rocks, kicking off exposed roots, I grab a few hanging vines and swing across mud pits. It’s surprising how tiring it can be, slogging through mud. I may have excellent endurance, but it’s starting to wear out.

In a gap between the trees I see the aliens trudge past. They’re maybe 50 meters away, on a small hill. They’re slightly off course.

“Hey! Further left! Left!” I run through a thornbush to get closer, luckily my thick jumpsuit prevents me from getting cut. Unluckily, I emerge next to a group of five slavers, all shooting up at Miramita. “Hih!” I scream.

They heard my two screams and turn their heads, but I’m too fast. I blast one in the chest and he’s knocked off his feet. The armor does nothing to protect him and I’m sure he dies on the spot.

I can’t cock the shotgun fast enough to kill another, so before they can fire I dive back through the bushes and run as fast as I can.

“Get her!”

“That’s one of them!”

“Surround her!”

I zig zag this way and that, jumping through bushes and ducking around trees as bullets rip apart the jungle around me. If I hear any rustling or detect even a hint that a slaver might be there, I pull the trigger and blast the area apart.

I’m in no position to direct the aliens, I just have to hope they heard me, and that Miramita can keep them straight. But this is good, in a way. If the slavers are focused on me then that takes pressure off the group.

My body is strong and the adrenaline is pumping through my veins. I feel strong. I’m exhausted, but I can keep going.

I run into a small clearing and there’s two slavers lying in wait, but they’re watching the wrong direction. I charge one and quickly slam two knuckles into his windpipe, crushing it. I slam against a tree for cover to avoid the second’s gunfire, and once there’s a break I pop out and blast a nice, deep hole in his sternum.

I’m given just a moment to catch my breath and get a bearing of my surroundings.

VVVVVVRRRR-

My eyes shoot open as I realize that this time, it sounds so direct. The fighter is aiming right at me. I gather all my strength and run as far as I can before throwing myself into the mud.

BBBBBRRRRRRR!!!

Bullets tear apart the jungle around me, splinters flying and cracking everywhere, massive mud pillars explode from thousands of impacts, the entire planet seems to shake and the noise pounds against my eardrums. It just doesn’t stop, it keeps going. I’m trapped in the mud and it’s only a matter of time before I’m killed. But at least the others are safe.

Finally, the shaking stops and I slowly push myself up.

But my arms give out and I fall face first into the mud.

What happened? Was I shot?

My movements are sluggish and numb, I can’t focus enough to pat down my body.

My head is pounding… I can’t think… I want to puke.

I force myself to my feet and look around. I’m in such an open area. Trees around me have all been knocked down. How was I not shot during all that? I guess my prayers earlier worked and my ancestors really are looking after me.

Stumbling in the right direction, slowly making my way up a hill, grabbing vines and rocks so I don’t slip against the loose dirt. My ears are ringing, but I can still tell the direction of where the slavers are shooting at Miramita. It’s just scattered gunfire, a few shots here and there, not constant like a battlefield.

Cresting over the top I continue forward. I don’t know where all my energy went, but every so often I trip and have to brace myself against a rock or a tree.

I think I’m bleeding.

I feel like I’ve lost a lot of blood.

These jumpsuits are supposed to keep pressure on your body to keep that from happening, but I don’t know.

On the edge of my awareness, suddenly, things become sharper. Details I would not have been privy to before now come into view. My body is still numb and feels like it’s falling apart, but I think my brain is working in overdrive to compensate.

Oh dear. I think that means I’m on the verge of death.

Since I’m going to die anyway, I suppose that means I should kill as many slavers as possible, pave the way for the other four to escape. If Miramita is doing his job, they should be close to the shuttle around now.

I continue towards the shuttle and, through the trees and bushes and vines, I sense a slaver. He’s sitting against the tree trunk, fiddling with his gun. I don’t care for his reason. I silently shuffle in behind him and, before he can notice me, press the shotgun against his chest and pull the trigger.

The recoil is hell on my arms and shoulder, and I’m so unsteady that I almost fall back. Despite some swaying I stay on my feet and continue on.

I sense a group of slavers running my way, so I hide on the other side of a tree until they pass. I want to spend my life well, not throw it away on a fight I can’t win.

Slowly, carefully, somehow, I make it to the clearing with the shuttle.

The clearing didn’t exist before we arrived. There was a gab in the canopy overhead because of a fallen tree, so our shuttle came down and hovered over the ground with the engines on a certain mode. The sheer wind pressure uprooted grass, moss, bushes and roots, as such, the ground here is simple dry dirt.

It’s on top of a small hill with a gap in the jungle canopy just large enough for the shuttle to land. The shuttle has four large engines that can rotate like a VTOL, their sound is ear piercing, I can’t believe I didn’t notice how close I was. The top of the shuttle has three small turrets being operated by a co-pilot in the cockpit, which are currently firing into the tree line to suppress the slavers. One of the side doors are open, and I see our comrades and the three aliens inside.

What? How’d they get there? I guess Miramita’s really been picking up the slack since I’ve been gone. I’ll have to thank him later.

“-plo! Wanopplo!”

I shake the worthless thoughts from my head and look around.

“Get going! The corvette is already here, we need to leave now!”

He’s not in the shuttle, I can only guess he’s on some branch.

“-Bzt-“ My earpiece turns on, it’s the shuttle pilot. “Sir, the Red Harvest is here! Patching you through.”

Pictuan’s steely battle voice comes through, loud and clear. “We’re making one pass, Wano. The fighters have fled, the frigate turned its attention to us, see you in a few.”

Crap, there’s so much riding on this, I can’t have them all wait for me!

I toss the shotgun aside and move as fast as I can, but it’s like my lower half is trudging through water. My body won’t move as I want, that boost of awareness is finally dimming and there’s a splitting pain in my left thigh. I think whatever adrenaline I had is just about done.

I stumble and trip a few times, but what little coordination I have left serves me well as I stay up right just long enough to fall into the shuttle, smashing into one of the chairs in the center wall. The shuttle has a sliding door on both sides, and a wall in the middle with seats facing outwards. The door on the other side is closed, and the Firryans are safe and secure. No stray bullet will be a problem for them.

But we’re not done, and we’re not safe!

Despite the color fading from my eyes, I look out of the shuttle door. “Miramita! We’re good, come on!” I strain my voice to scream over the three turrets overhead, the gunfire plinking off the shuttle hull, the shuttle engines, and the explosions of the corvette firing at the frigate somewhere off to the west. I don’t hear the fighters anymore, so I assume they’ve been dealt with.

I look up into the tree line and, in response to my cries, Miramita turns his head and gives me a thumbs up. His exposed skin has cuts and bruises, his clothes are torn, he’s covered in mud and sweat, but he’s still smiling.

Fear strikes my heart as… as I feel what’s about to happen. His prominent red skin is such a striking contrast from the lush green jungle around him.

He jumps from branch to branch, an expert in grabbing vines and bark as he makes his way closer, but the slavers can see him too.

A squad of them sees Miramita make his escape and rain a hail of gunfire his way. Most shots miss, plinking off the nearby branches and leaves, but his luck doesn’t last forever. His face twists in shock and pain as the bullets begin to strike him.

Perhaps the force of the bullet knocks him off course, or maybe he loses his coordination from the sudden pain, but he missteps. He falls and can’t get out of his tumble. I watch him hit a dozen branches on his way down. He lands in an uprooted bush just outside the clearing.

“-Bzt- Sir! The Red Harvest has distracted them but she’s pulling away now! We need to go, we won’t have another chance!”

“N-no! He’s right there, I can make it!” I try to crawl forward but nothing works. That’s my limit. My body is done. My arms collapse under me and the side of my face slams against the cold metal floor of the shuttle. “D-damn it…” I curse through clenched teeth.

I grip the edge of the shuttle and try to pull myself along… but it won’t work. There’s nothing I can do to save him.

There’s a sudden pat on my shoulder.

I look up, and it’s the alien man. His eyes are wide open and he’s crying, his skin is pale. “I-I’ll go get him…”

What? Did I mishear him? He looks scared out of his mind, but… I see determination in his eyes. I can’t think, my mind aches from everything else going on.

Before I can ask questions, he runs out of the shuttle as fast as he can, bullets whizzing around him as he breaks straight for Miramita.

Why? Why would an alien go so far for us? He was already in here, safe. What could possess an alien to run from safety when there’s nothing in it for him?

Shaking the thoughts from my head, I pull one last bit of strength from my core to retrieve a rifle from a rack on the side of the door. A proper rifle built for war. My hands are shaky and my vision wobbles, but I keep watch over the man as he runs to Miramita. Part of me believes it could all be a trick, he’s off to capture Miramita and return him to the slavers, but such thoughts vanish from my mind when I see a slaver poke into view. A large pistol pointed at the man that’s too focused to even notice the danger.

With one pull of the trigger, three bullets fire out and the slaver falls over. The man grabs Miramita in a rough piggyback ride and turns towards us.

The remaining two aliens grab rifles and look out as well. Why? They’d be safer behind the wall… They look so terrified too… They’re not terribly good shots, and they spray at anything that moves behind the man and Miramita, but why risk helping?

Never mind. It doesn’t matter. The man makes it back to the shuttle and one of the girls slams the door shut.

“Go!” I scream into my earpiece.

With a rev of the four engines, we take off from the surface and zoom through the skies.

That’s it.

I’m done.

I have no further input on what happens from this point forward. Reaching the corvette safely is up to the pilots, treating our wounds is up to the medics on the ship.

“H-hey…” A woman asks. I look up at her and she takes out a medkit from the rack. “Y-your leg…”

The other two aliens look down and recoil in surprise and shock.

“Huh?” I finally look down… it’s bad. A large, nasty gash on the outer half. I think I can see bone but it’s hard to see past all the blood and mud. “Ah. That explains why I feel so weak.” I gulp as that’s going to start hurting soon.

The aliens grab me and secure me in one of the seats. The man sets Miramita to my left, and straps him in as well.

“Th-thanks… For saving us.” The woman says as she pulls out a long tube and applies a tourniquet to my upper thigh.

“…No problem.” We didn’t come for them in the first place, but let’s not ruin the mood. “You ended up helping us. Carrying our comrades, I mean.”

The three of them smile proudly, but when the shuttle starts shaking and the sounds of explosions echo through the hull, all three hurry to a seat and lock in. As the danger has passed and my life is no longer at risk for being violently snuffed out, the pain in my leg, the blood loss, and the exhaustion sets in like a wave over my body. My brain shuts down, and my consciousness slowly fades to black.

 

 

I awake in the dedicated medical bay of the ship. A ship of this class will have about 200 crew members, so I know their medbay has enough room for all eight of us. I’m surrounded by magnetic curtains that are pulled towards the magnetic floor, and everything is a sterile white. The cold blackness of space peers through the window behind me, and there are straps to keep me from floating off my bed.

“Ugh...” I hate being in space without a magnet suit. That feeling of floating makes my stomach churn and my head ache. I easily undo the straps on my arm and they float off to the side, locked in place only thanks to the other end being connected to the bed. I peel off the attached covers and raise my gown. A tight, freshly replaced bandage tied a hundred times around my thigh stares back at me, and I finally notice the blood going into my arm via an IV.

“Hm?” It’s Miramita’s voice. There’s slight rustling on the other side of a thick magnetic curtain. “Hey! Wanopplo, you awake?”

His voice makes my head pound, but I’m glad he’s alive. “Ngh, yeah. Is everyone okay?”

“Yep!” I hear footsteps approach and he slings open the curtain. He looks fine, more or less. He’s wearing the tight black magnet suit that lets him walk without floating around. He has a slight limp with his right leg, and he’s hunched over ever so slightly. I can tell he’s in a bit of pain, but he’s doing a great job of hiding it. “Question is, are you? You lost a lot of blood back there.”

“I’m fine.” I grab the bedrails and pull myself down against the mattress. “Everyone escaped safely. My injuries are minor when compared to our resounding success. The only issue left is... that man who ran out to bring you back. Why did he do it?”

“Oh, Douglas? Ha! Yeah, turns out they weren’t spies or anything. It was just a series of unfortunate coincidences and we jumped to them being involved in some conspiracy against us. Funny how life turns out, but yeah, he’s a good guy.”

“I see... could you open the curtain more?”

Miramita complies, revealing a large, empty medical bay with a dozen cubbies for beds. It’s a sort of post op room, for crew to recover after surgery.

I raise an eyebrow. “Where are the other Firryans?”

“Around the corvette, exploring places. Their wrists and ankles were shattered so they won’t be heading to planets any time soon, but with some casts on, they’ll be fine, floating around the hallways.” He folds his arms. “The real threat was how malnourished they were, all the diseases on Quintara would have killed them. But the miracles of modern medicine and all that.”

“That’s good.” I cock my head, my thick hair swinging wherever it wants. “And the medics? Hardly seems proper for them to leave while a patient has yet to recover.”

“Ah, that.” Miramita gets a sly look and sits on the foot of my bed. “It was a bit of work to convince them to clear out, but I finally got them all to leave. It’s just the two of us here.”

“Oh?” I adjust myself in the bed, it’s hard to suppress my smile. “You seem to be a man of many talents. You know how to treat patients?”

“Enough to keep them alive.” He brushes his hair out of his face and climbs closer. “I’ll have you know that I’m an expert at mouth-to-mouth.”

“That’s a horrible line.” I grab the arm rails of the bed and pull myself down. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”

We intended to have our fun for a few hours but, as it turns out, we’re horrifically injured. Miramita has several broken ribs and stitches over his gunshot wounds, while my leg shoots bolts of agony through my body whenever it’s touched or agitated. There’s basically nothing we can do that won’t be incredibly painful, which defeats the whole purpose. We have to wait until we’ve recovered.

So instead, we spend the rest of the trip back to civilized space together. Visiting the Firryans we rescued, talking with the aliens we befriended, and entertaining the crew of the ship that risked their lives to help. Once Captain Pictuan drops us off at a Protectorate space station, we escort the injured Firryans and the aliens to an FLF-aligned travel agency, who quickly set about returning them home. But Miramita and I stay on the station out here on the frontier.

Once our injuries heal and we’re at 100% once more, we part ways amicably and return to our duties as proud agents of the Firryan Liberation Front.

There will always be more slavers to kill and comrades to rescue, after all.


Submitted: March 26, 2021

© Copyright 2021 RichardPercival. All rights reserved.

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