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 are even close.
“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 they had to get past a steep hill and didn’t adjust correctly. I go the correct way and whistle for them to follow.
“W-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 raining 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 squads, 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 a sharp 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 begins to fall. I follow up by gripping the barrel of my rifle with both hands, then I swing it in a wide, downward arc, 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 forage 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 comrades, 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.
“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 along. 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 hear my 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 little 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.
“That’s one of them!”
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, 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.
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.
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 I can’t get up, I curl into as small a ball as possible, and I hold my ears but, by the ancestors, the noise! The assault on my eardrums just doesn’t stop!
There’s small bits of sharp pain all over my body, but it can’t be from the fighter. Bullets of that caliber, I’d be shredded before I could even register pain.
Finally, the quaking of the world stops, and the fighter breaks off.
My body is trembling, I feel like I was just hit with all my accumulated fatigue but… I need to get up. My ears are ringing, but I know Miramita is still out there, fighting.
There isn’t much longer before we reach the shuttle, I can’t give up now.
The air is thick with woodchips, dust, and mud. I slowly push myself up, only for my arms to give out and my face to get sent right into the mud.
What happened? I couldn’t have been shot, those bullets are enough to knock down trees.
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 crawl to a tree that feel nearby and brace against it, using it to stand. Enough trees were knocked down and splintered that I can see daylight shining down through the branches. There’s a thick dust swirling through the hair. I’m glad no tree fell on me. But Miramita is still fighting, the aliens are carrying my comrades. I grab the shotgun out of the mud and head off.
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 must reach out to a rock or tree to steady myself.
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 numb and I feel like it’s falling apart, but I think my brain is working in overdrive to compensate.
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.
It’s on top of a small hill with a gap in the jungle canopy just large enough for the bulky shuttle to land. The shuttle has four massive engines on the corners that rotate, and their sound is ear-piercing. I can’t believe I didn’t notice how close I was. Between the engines, on both sides of the main hull, are thick metal doors of solid titanium, which have swung up to create an opening to get in. Inside that doorway is a chaingun on a swivel, but nobody’s on it.
I see the aliens and firryans just inside the door, the aliens have set our comrades down in the seats and are buckling them in. In the front cockpit, there’s a turret on top, which is currently firing rounds into the treeline.
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!” Miramita shouts.
I shake the worthless thoughts from my mind and look around.
“Get going! The corvette is already here, we need to leave now!” I don’t see Miramita in the shuttle. He must be in a tree somewhere.
“-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 on the grassy jungle hill, it’s like my lower half is still trudging through mud. 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. I stay upright just long enough to fall into the shuttle, crashing into one of the chairs in the center wall. The shuttle has up-lifting doors 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 turret, 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 see Miramita’s bright red skin. In response to my cries, he 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 hail of gunfire rushes his way, a squad of slavers must have spotted him try to flee. Most shots miss, ripping through leaves, branches, or scraping by tree trunks, but his luck doesn’t last forever. His face twists as the bullets begin to strike him, spurting out red mists that match our skin.
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 a bush just outside the clearing.
“-Bzt- Sir! The Red Harvest has distracted them but now she’s pulling away! 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 a sweating, sobbing, panting mess, and one of the girls pulls 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.
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 says. I look up at her, my eyes lazy and half-closed, 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. It might be a large wood chunk that got stuck inside me like shrapnel “Ah. That explains why I feel so weak.” I gulp. When the numbness wears off, that’ll hurt a lot.
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 outside the hull, all three hurry to a seat and lock in. As the danger has passed and my life is no longer at risk of 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.