I don’t expect Mouse will be able to run all the way back to the shuttle, so I hoist him onto my shoulder in a fireman’s carry. In my left hand is Gogrundudel’s head, which I’m holding by the jaw. I still have two large holes dug into my torso, and the head occasionally slapping against my thigh is repulsive.
Mouse reaches down to touch my chest again, prompting me to use my power. He’s confused, basically. I guess he didn’t think about what would happen after the captain’s death.
It’s hard to focus on this while running and keeping up a barrier around us both, so I give him vague feelings of safety and contentment. He calms down and doesn’t question anything else, but I hear him humming a little tune as I work.
The sprint back to the landing zone goes quicker than before, but it’s more annoying. I don’t want to damage my head, Gogrundudel’s head, or Mouse’s head, so my offensive options are limited to just my legs. I kick people, jump over them, run along the walls, and a few times I’m able to hook the back of my knee around soldiers and toss them around. Despite the gurant’s best efforts, they can’t shoot past my barrier. If my barrier falls then Mouse will die and I, once again, will be deprived of a husband.
Bullets bounce off the barrier and fly off everywhere, digging into walls and occasionally other soldier. Mouse, who can’t see the red winds of vaalige, is probably very confused about how we’re not dying. I wonder if he sees me as some sort of god. That wouldn’t be bad, having my husband worship me.
Nevertheless, I run all the way back down to the ship and kill nobody as I pass. My blue and grey armor is drenched from the blood leaking out of my shoulder and hip, I’m starting to run out of stamina, and the shaking of my head is really agitating the lose bone fragments of my skull. I have to really focus and use vaalige just to keep myself from dying. If I so much as rub socks on a fluffy carpet, the static electricity would cancel my control of vaalige and I’d die instantly.
With only a five minutes left, we make it to the Protectorate defense line. It’s brutal. The Gurant Empire is laying siege, throwing hundreds of their human slaves against our line while the gurant sit back and observe how it’s going. There are bodies everywhere, and the power is out so the only light comes from muzzle flashes and flashlights. All the walls and ceilings have been knocked down or ripped out, leaving our landing zone sort of like a large, multi-story atrium with piles of rubble everywhere.
The peldaks, in my absence, have used a lot of the rubble to erect strong barricades. Piles of sheet metal and steel beams arranged as a strong wall to protect the shuttles and men behind them. The bullets from the enemy soldiers get lost in the mess of rubble, but it’s easy for the peldaks to find a small gap in the wall to shoot out of.
I run past the gurant forces, barreling through a few dozen soldiers on my way. I switch the vaalige barrier to my back and heroically leap over the barricades, jumping just high enough to clear the rubble without bashing my face against the exterior wall. We’re back at the Protectorate lines, Mouse and I are safe.
“That’s five sayran, keep fighting!”
I set down the head, and Mouse, then collapse to my butt. “Haaaa… we leaving?”
“Not yet.” The peldak commander says as he uses white tape to wrap up a bloody tear on his arm, re-sealing the black magnet suit. “There’s four minutes left to go.”
“I doubt anybody else is coming.”
“Doesn’t matter.” He grabs his rifle. “Even if they don’t, the plan is to stay one hour before we leave. It hasn’t been an hour.”
“…” I look up at him, then struggle to my feet. “Then there’s nothing for it.” I take a deep breath. “We can hold for four minutes.”
“Especially if we have another sayran!” He climbs up the barrier and rests his rifle down to fire across the large room.
I drag Mouse across the floor and toss him in one of the shuttles, along with the head. I get a glance inside and I see a few wounded peldaks as well as a dozen rescued slaves. Seems we’ve collected a nice haul. I want them all to find better lives in the Protectorate, but they have to make it there first. I turn and continue the battle.
Standing on the barricade just enough to peek out, I see a few sayran amongst the enemy lines. They’re beaten and bloody and struggling, each in far worse shape than I, but they’re still fighting. One’s dueling a gurant to a stalemate, another is in an exposed room on the second floor and fighting off soldiers, and I’m sure the other two are somewhere out there. I grab a large pipe from the barricade, fill it with vaalige, then run out to join the defense. The pipe will serve as a nice club, basically the same as a sword so long as I swing it hard enough.
I sprint across the battlefield then jump into the fray. Swinging my pipe, deflecting the soldiers trying to bash me with their guns, and raising a barrier of vaalige when they try to shoot me at close range. I can easily dent rifles and crack armor, at one point I raise a vaalige barrier inside the barrel of a rifle and the whole thing explodes in the soldiers hands.
It’s going well. The lines are protected, the wounded are getting pulled back, and my fiancé is well defended behind the barricade. Just a few minutes to go.
The fighting continues and I lose myself in the haze of conflict. The only thing that pulls me back is the peldak commander screaming “It’s time to go! Fall back, fall back!”
I disengage immediately and sprint back to the line. The other sayran have the same idea as I, we put up barriers so the gurant’s shots deflect outwards and away from us.
I set one foot through the hole that leads to the shuttle and watch as my comrades begin to dive in theirs. There’s still a few soldiers spending the last of their ammunition to cover one sayran who’s making a fighting retreat. I glance past our barricade, to one hallway that leads from the war-torn shell space, and I see a gurant rev his wrist-mounted chaingun.
I’ve seen what three of those did to a wall back at the elevator. If he’s firing that in our direction, even if it’s deflected… what’s that going to do to the hull of the ship?
“Everyone!” I scream, “hold onto-!” I’m drowned out by the ferocious roar of the chaingun. All those huge bullets rip out of the barrels and pound against our angled barrier. I feel the weight of each impact, the pound of every bullet, but I grit my teeth and keep it together. The hot lead skips upwards off the barrier, then embeds into the thick steel wall above us. Thick dents, like a fist indentation, but hundreds all at once. I use my power to throw soldiers into the shuttles, then the outside wall finally gives way and rips, opening a hole to the vacuum of space that grows bigger and bigger.
A tempest of wind flies past me, I’m sucked closer to the first hole alongside much of the debris that lined the floor and was part of the barricade. The gurant doesn’t stop firing so another hole is ripped open, then another. Deep cracks tear along the metal hull and, since the structural integrity has already collapsed so much from the fighting, the entire wall is ripped out into space.
The gurant are fine in their power armor, their boots stick to their ship and the lack of atmosphere isn’t an issue. Their slaves aren’t so fortunate, they’re sucked into the void along with us and, without sealed armor like the peldaks have, will die within seconds.
Some shuttles hatches are open, and there’s rescued slaves inside. Mouse is inside. I, similarly, do not have a helmet on, and even if I did there’s two large holes in my torso so it’s not a clean seal.
Mustering all the strength I have in that instant, I collect the vaalige around us and capture what atmosphere I can. Given the situation, I obviously prioritize keeping air around the shuttles, but I extend it to as many enemy soldiers as possible. No matter what propaganda the gurant fed them, no human is suicidal enough to reject my offer of continued life. They’re floating around, panicking, they’ve dropped their weapons and are screaming something in their alien tongue.
My head throbs from multi-tasking. The air bubble is excruciating, we still have a barrier to deflect shots, and I need to keep my wounds non-fatal. It’s a combination most sayran could only dream of, but I can do it. Our debris field is pulled away from the warship, and luckily the flak cannons don’t bother to shoot at what seems like harmless garbage. I see the bus-sized guns on the warship fire away at our allied fleet, but the gurant’s shields were damaged from our raid, but only some of our return fire bashes against the hull. None of it makes a sound. All I hear is what occurs inside this bubble. My own breathing, the men coordinating, and the shuttle engines rev up.
The peldak’s armor may be sealed from the vacuum of space, but there isn’t a propulsion method. They wait for the other sayran to pull them to the shuttles. Everyone’s on the same page with the now-former gurant soldiers. They don’t pose a threat, not bringing them would be a death sentence. Honor and morality dictate we must bring them home, even if they’re frantically trying to figure out how they’re still alive out here.
I’m the last pulled into a shuttle. Once the door closes, I drop control of vaalige and breathe a heavy sigh.
The peldaks set me down in a seat, and I collapse, holding my stomach as my head aches. “Uuugh… I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“Eugh!” The peldaks playfully taunt. “Not in here, go outside and do that!” Everyone laughs, and I get a chuckle out of it too.
When the laughter dies, they buckle me in. The pilots then detach from the former wall, and we speed off for home. I glance outside and see the rest of the fleet disengage as well. The gurant warship looks fine, really. Not even the missing section damages the shape once we pull back enough. It’s the inside where all the damage was, but since the shields are mostly fine and the guns can still fire, I’m not sure how successful we were. Then again, I have the captain’s head, and he was the real target. So I supposed I saved the mission!
On the ride back I hear the casualties. My earpiece broke when Gogrundudel stomped on my head, so I hear it all secondhand.
Of the eight sayran, five made it back in time.
Of the 100 peldaks, 39 ‘died’ in battle. When a peldaks dies, if their bodies are recovered in the right circumstances and given treatment, they can be revived. Of the dead, 26 are in a recoverable state, we just need to return to the ship fast enough. Of the 13 permanently deaths, all were lost in space during the panic.
Five sayran made it back, 19 slaves were rescued, including Mouse.
We don’t know how many gurant soldiers were sucked into space, but we saved 11 of them. From what I hear over the radio, they’re in shock, terrified, and had to be restrained for now.
While we don’t know how many gurant the three dead sayrans killed, it seems I killed the most at 14. The most anyone else killed was three. This is the sheer difference in strength between a sayran with a curse and one without. All my missions go like this, it almost makes being cursed worth it.
Of course, now that I have Mouse, I don’t need to worry about some silly curse anymore!