“There you are!” K looked relieved to see me, and my ears lifted.
“Talcorosax!” My eyes dashed to Joëlle, who’d been talking with K in the hall junction. She was wearing a helmet with a blue tinted T-shaped visor, but I recognized her voice and armour. “K was just about to go looking for you.”
K turned to Waylon. “Who’s this?” I noticed Joëlle raise an eyebrow in confusion through her visor when she recognized the mechanic, and him leaning against me for support.
“I’m Waylon. You’ve gotta be K, but who’re you?” He gestured to Joëlle with his gun. I didn’t think he was trying to be threatening; clearly he’d never learned proper gun protocol. I lowered his gun with my right hand, then winced.
Joëlle was about to speak, but K rushed over to me first. “Osax, you got shot! Are you okay?”
“I- I’m fine, I was only grazed.” The pain was quite intense, and I struggled to keep it together.
Joëlle nodded at Waylon. “My name’s Joëlle Weidman, I’m a Round Table operative.” She was holding her E-rifle, keeping it aimed to the floor.
I jumped. A deep explosion was heard somewhere far above us in the structure, and the ground shook. Lights flickered, despite this hallway being relatively undamaged.
K had a grave expression, looking between all our faces. “Well, now that we’ve all gotten friendly, let’s stop wasting time! We have to stop the attack!”
Joëlle turned to me, breathing quickly. “Talcorosax, you probably already guessed this, but we were right; it was a valicorr vessel! And it’s here, at the station!”
A rush of adrenaline hit me. Even a small valicorr ship would have been a serious threat.
“K’s right,” I said, “we have to stop the attack, and that ship if possible.” I looked to K’s desperate expression. “We’ll fix this.”
The elevators were offline, so K, Waylon, Joëlle and I made our way up the winding stairs. The glass wall let me stare out into the black night, but there wasn’t much to see. The ground rumbled as we ran, and I stopped to grab onto the railing, and Waylon, so neither of us tumbled back down the steps. K turned to me to make sure I was alright, and then we continued. We were running as fast as we could.
A yellow laser bolt shot past us, and I tried to duck to the side. Before I could see what happened, Joëlle whipped her rifle to the target, and a smouldering space pirate collapsed to the floor across the hall. She signaled for us to keep going, and continued leading the way.
We turned a corner, and saw two valicorr; one of them was dragging the corpse of a third into a doorway leading to a landing pad. Valicorr never left their dead at the scene, if they could help it. No one knew exactly why, but most assumed it was to intimidate anyone who might arrive later at the site, and to hide how many attackers there had been.
When they saw us, they fired on us, and we all ducked back behind the wall, aside from K. I leaned around to get a shot, and managed to hit the one pulling the corpse right between its three eyes, killing it. K charged forward and let out a war cry. She punched her hand into the wall, violently tearing off a metal panel as she ran. Yellow bullets sparked off her chest armour, and my heart stuttered.
But she kept running, unscathed, and slammed the valicorr with the metal plate with so much force that its head broke through the panel, and it crumpled to the floor. K was breathing heavily, and clearly just getting started.
As we rounded the corner once more to follow her, she turned and sprinted toward the landing pad. When we got to the doorway and looked outside, I saw a purple valicorr dropship, hovering just above the platform. It was starting to take off, and K drew her pistol and began firing at it, non-stop. I leaned Waylon on the wall, and stepped onto the platform, shooting the dropship as it took off. Neither K’s nor my blasts were effective, and K hurled her pistol after the ship in rage.
Joëlle stepped forward, and as she aimed her rifle at the ship, the sheets of metal shifted and it transformed into a shorter, wider shape. The gun lit up with red and blue lights, and began charging. The drop ship was getting smaller in the distance, but Joëlle knelt and braced her gun. I noticed behind her visor a tiny holographic targeting display lit up.
“Shoot it!” K pointed with so much force, I almost thought her finger would destroy the ship.
A second later, Joëlle fired the gun, and blue and red energy beams coiled around each other, piercing a hole through the ship. It exploded in flashes of fire, and tumbled down the cliffside.
K rocketed her fists up into the air. “Woohoo! Yes!” I heard Waylon cheering from the doorway.
Without pause, Joëlle lifted her hand to the side of her head, and began responding to some communications coming through her helmet. “Yes- The eastern tower, top floor? Can you climb down? They’re at the doorway. I see. I’m headed there right now; we’re going to try to regain control of the base and restore power. I’ll send someone over. Hang in there, okay? Remember your training!” She paused. “Hold your ground, I’ll get you out of there.”
We were all staring at Joëlle, who stood, and led us back inside the base.
“What was that about?” I asked. I grabbed Waylon, and we began moving as fast as we could.
“The rest of my squad, they’re under fire at the top of the eastern tower. They’ve got twenty valicorr coming up the stairs, and the elevators are down.”
My ears peeled back in shock. “What are they doing up there? How badly are they outnumbered?”
“It’s me and five other RTs, but one of them’s badly hurt. Too hurt to fight. They were going to man the anti-aircraft battery positioned on the tower, try to take down the mothership which is flying high in the sky right now.” She shook her head. “Problem is, the AA guns run off the station’s power, and that’s down right now, so they can’t even use it.” She skidded to a halt as we met yet another junction. The four of us exchanged glances. “If you take this right, the hallway should lead toward the eastern tower.”
The stations shook again from another explosion. I blinked, and stared at Joëlle. “What are you saying?”
She took off her helmet, purple locks spilling out, and looked me in the eye. “You’re clearly trained in combat, Talcorosax. I need you to head over there, buy them some time. K and I will head to the control room, and bring back the power.”
My body was full of adrenaline, and I nodded.
K glared at Joëlle. “Who said you were the one in charge?”
“You’re a mercenary. It’s your job to follow orders. We can’t reach the Active Director, so I’m the highest rank here.”
“But you don’t even work here!” K spat.
“Stop complaining! I know what I’m doing, and if you want to save the station, then you should help!”
“You shouldn’t order Osax around! Just because he’s a skyther-”
“It’s not because he’s a skyther!” Joëlle shot back.
I stepped between them. “It’s okay, I agree with the plan.” I can do this.
“What about me?” asked Waylon, his eyes full of fear. K rolled her eyes, and marched over to us.
“I can carry you; you’ll be just as safe with us.” She wrapped an arm around him and hefted him up to her side with ease. Waylon cried in surprise.
I turned to him. “Don’t worry. K will keep you safe.” I turned to K, and looked her in the eye. “Right, K?”
She snorted, and gave me a smirk.
Joëlle shot K a glance. “You will be careful with him, right?”
K raised an eyebrow at her. “Yes sir.” She saluted her lazily with one hand.
“Don’t listen to her,” I said to Waylon, gesturing to K. “Joëlle, I’ll see what I can do for your squad. You can count on me.”
She smiled as she fitted her helmet back in place with a pressurizing hiss. “Good. They’re my family, Talcorosax. Take care of them.”
“I will. And, call me Osax.”
“If I’m still around, I’d like that.” She winked, and I quickly bowed a skyther farewell, which she mirrored. She continued running down the hall. K began to follow, before stopping and looking back once more.
“Osax?” she said.
“Yes?” She was gazing into my eyes. Her expression was stern, and she opened her mouth to speak, before shutting it. She blinked. At last she spoke.
“...See ya.” She waved, and with that, she bounded after Joëlle.
Heart pounding and mind racing, I sprinted down the other hall, my furred ears trailing behind me as I ran. Pain flared up in my right shoulder, but I tried to shake it off, tightening my mandibles.
I dashed through the dim halls, lit only by emergency lights. Blast marks covered the walls, and a few bodies of TAU marines were strewn across the hall. I took one look at my E-pistol and holstered it at my side, bending down to take a carbine from one of the fallen soldiers. His faceplate was broken, revealing one startled eye, and blood trailing down the side of his nose. I’m sorry, I thought, but with this, perhaps I can avenge you. I activated the gun and it buzzed to life.
I kept running, until I heard the sound of valicorr speaking to each other around the next bend. Instinctively I froze, and stopped just before the corner. Their voices were raspy, and they spoke in a language I couldn’t understand.
The voices were coming closer, and if I didn’t act soon, they’d get the drop on me, instead of the other way around. I started charging a volley of bolts and felt my breathing constrict in fear with each second. I could feel the blood pumping through my veins.
I waited several seconds until the red sparks began spewing out the barrel of my gun, and then ducked out from the corner and fired my weapon across the room. Three valicorr were in the hall, none of them had seen me, and the red energy darts shot across the hall horizontally. I’d hit all of them, and each one fell.
I noticed I’d been holding my breath, exhaled, and began running past their bodies in the hall.
Suddenly, blistering pain shot up through my right leg, and I saw my own reflection in the floor speed toward me. My carbine clattered to the ground as I slammed my face on the floor. I spun around, prone, to see the third raider lying on the ground with his arm outstretched and a plasma sword extended toward me. He snarled and hissed as he rose, and began limping to me.
I almost couldn’t think from the pain in my shoulder and leg, and my face was aching as well. The pirate stepped closer, using the wall for support, and pointed his shimmering energy sword at my face as he approached. His mouth opened, revealing his needle-like teeth, as he snarled. The emergency lights flashed across the hall illuminating him in a nightmarish red.
I began crawling backwards, and tried drawing the pistol with my right hand, but I couldn’t close my fingers tightly enough around the handle without hitting a wall of pain. The valicorr’s wrist cannon smoked, damaged from one of the bolts I had fired earlier. He was almost upon me.
I grabbed the pistol with my left hand, and with a whir it lit up and I aimed it at the valicorr. But to my horror, I realized if I shot him now, he might fall onto me, and his sword would pierce deep into the floor, straight through my chest. I hesitated, and all I could hear was my heartbeat. My heartbeat, which in a second, would be silenced forever.
I altered my aim just slightly, and sparks burst from his sword emitter as my bolt collided with his wrist. The plasma sword dissipated, and he cried out. I readjusted, and fired multiple times into his body, and he collapsed on top of me.
I shoved him off, panting, and began to stand. My right leg was cut, I wasn’t sure how badly, but it hurt too much to stand on, so I limped along the wall as fast as I could toward the eastern tower. I decided I needed both hands for this, so I left the carbine behind. Another explosion shook the floor, and the lights flickered.
I was beginning to doubt I’d be much help to Joëlle’s squad, as I struggled to get across the hallway. No, I thought, they’re counting on you. They’re trapped, and they need your support!
Flickering orange light emanated from the next bend in the hall, and I heard the sound of crying, and fire crackling. As I clamoured around the corner, I saw fires burning in the hall, and several bodies of soldiers. The outer side of the hall was entirely made of glass, overlooking the cliffside. I could see the eastern tower from here through the window. The fog was beginning to clear up, but snowfall replaced it, swirling around outside the windows. I was very close.
On the outer edge of the hall was what looked like a door to a glass elevator shaft. Standing in front of the closed door was a woman wearing a lab coat, her eyes welling with tears. When she saw me, she jumped back in fear and exclaimed.
“I won’t hurt you, I’m here to help!” I tried to sound as confident as possible. She stared at me as though she couldn’t believe it, and continued crying. I limped my way closer to her, and she didn’t back away.
Through sobs, she started talking. “He- He’s stuck! He’s stuck in the elevator!”
I reached the elevator doors, and tried peering down the side of the shaft through the window. I saw the elevator car, suspended motionless about thirty meters below us.
“Who’s stuck?” I asked.
“Solomon, my- My husband. He was coming up from the Bio-labs, we were going to meet up here…” she was struggling to pull herself together.
I nodded. “How do you know he’s in the elevator?”
“I-” She sobbed, “We were down in the labs when they came and started shooting. He was close to the elevator, I saw him go inside with some of the others. I tried to tell him I’d meet him up here- I ran up the stairs as fast as I could, but then I heard shooting in the hallway, and I thought they might have found him...” She was having difficulty speaking, losing some balance as she cried. I reached my left hand toward her and she held onto it. “When I thought it was clear I came out, and I saw that he wasn’t here, but the power had gone out and- Oh god, what do I do?”
I looked out the window toward the eastern tower, and my heart skipped a beat. A valicorr gunship swooped in and was now circling the tower. I could see there was a landing pad armed with a defense cannon just a few doors down between here and the tower, but there was no one to operate it. I figured I could get there fast enough...
The woman’s crying pierced my thoughts, and I turned to her. “I’ll help your husband, and whoever else is trapped in there.” I glanced up toward the valicorr gunship, which was hovering, scoping out the tower.
“Thank you so much!” She kept crying, and backed away from the door a little, letting go of my hand.
I tried the door controls, but they weren’t working. I tried prying open the door, but my right arm was almost useless. The woman, seeing this, came over to my side, and with both hands pulled on one of the doors, while I pulled on the other. I saw out of the corner of my eye the gunship had begun firing on the tower in rapid-fire spurts of yellow energy.
The glass elevator doors slid open with a lurch, and I almost fell into the chasm, catching myself with my left hand. Peering down the shaft, I noticed an emergency exit hatch on the top of the elevator, and a metal service ladder on the inside wall of the shaft. The elevator was suspended by six thick cables grouped together in the center of the elevator.
I looked around, and grabbed one of the dead soldier's carbines. I activated it, and passed it to the woman. She looked stunned.
I lowered my ears. “In case any more valicorr show up.”
“Right…” she nodded slowly.
“You’ll be alright. Hide down in that room, I’ll be back up with everyone in a minute.”
She nodded, and backed away, ducking in behind one of the other doors on the inside of the hallway. I turned to the ladder, and began my descent.
I was rather slow climbing, both my right arm and leg feeling weak. I grit my mandibles to try to ignore the pain, and slowly, steadily, lowered myself through the shaft. Halfway down, I looked out the shaft toward the tower; the gunship was flying near the top, still firing. I saw an explosion burst from one of the top windows. I wasn’t going fast enough.
I dropped down onto the elevator, and heard startled noises from the passengers inside as the thing shook. I fell down on my right knee in pain.
My heart was pounding. I twisted open the emergency hatch. Inside were six humans. One of them appeared to be a soldier, wearing TAU armour and carrying a carbine. The others, all scientists.
The soldier aimed his gun up at me, and said “Get back!”
“I’m here to help!” When he lowered his gun, the people started murmuring to each other, and I braced my body with my right arm, reaching down with my left to help someone up. One of the scientists grabbed my hand, and I started pulling them up.
My body quivered, and my breathing was laboured. Once she was high enough, she grabbed onto the roof of the elevator and helped herself up. The two of us helped the next one.
One by one, we worked together to get everyone out of the elevator. The soldier was last, due to the weight of his armour, but with a few of us helping we managed to pull him out.
I ushered everyone to begin climbing, the soldier first. I would go last. They all thanked me as they went, one by one, grabbing hold of the ladder.
Then, yellow bullets began falling from above. I looked up, and two valicorr leaned out the doorway. One of them was aiming its wrist gun at us, and the other had its plasma sword extended, reaching for the elevator cables.
With a shudder, one of the cables was cut. The elevator shifted slightly, and I looked up and saw the cable falling down the shaft toward us. There was one scientist who hadn’t grabbed hold of the ladder yet, and without thinking I pushed him against the wall, shielding him with my body.
The cable struck the roof of the elevator, barely missing my back. Instantly, I stepped away from the wall and drew my pistol. The soldier, who was climbing the ladder, fumbled with his rifle, trying to get a clear shot.
I shot the valicorr who was slicing the cables, and he rolled forward, past the ladder, careening into the elevator’s roof. It shuddered from the impact.
The soldier fired at the remaining valicorr. It retaliated, hitting the soldier once in the shoulder, though his armour absorbed the impact. A second later, and it was tumbling down the chasm from the marine’s energy rifle.
The last scientist started the climb as the soldier continued to lead it, and the valicorr’s corpse hit the elevator, causing it to shake once more. I glanced outside toward the eastern tower, clutching my shoulder. The tower shook from the gunship’s laser blasts, and I noticed just how much I was sweating.
I looked up, hearing a shrill cry from above. Another valicorr came into view, peering outside the doorway, and in one horrible motion, melted through the five remaining cables with its sword.
I jumped. The elevator lurched downward, cables trailing behind it, as it began to screech and spark down the chasm. I was suspended in midair, gasping. I dropped the pistol in my hand and reached for the ladder as I began to fall. My fingers traced past a rung, then two, before finally finding their grip. My body slammed against the ladder.
Gasping for air, I looked up, and saw the soldier fire at the valicorr, hitting it directly. The space pirate collapsed forward, and began falling into the chasm, but it was still alive. With one flailing hand, it clawed one of the scientists as it fell past, and he lost his grip with a scream.
The valicorr flew past me, chasing the elevator car to the depths of the shaft.
I felt my heart nearly stop as the scientist fell from the ladder. I reached out my hand toward him, trying to grab onto anything. I needed to save him. What if this was her husband?
My hand felt contact, and I clutched his arm with all my might. The weight of his falling body jerked me down. Then my right arm exploded with pain, and I realized I’d grabbed onto him with my right hand. For a second I held on, and he swung back toward the ladder, but my grip was so weak with pain; a moment later, he slipped from my grasp.
My eyes widened in horror as I saw the man fall deeper into the shaft, until he was engulfed in darkness.
I felt my chest collapse. He was dead.
I had to keep climbing.
I made it to the top of the ladder, and everyone was in shock. The woman was stepping out of her hiding place, and the soldier was calming everyone down. She looked frantically around at the faces. But she didn’t smile, and her eyes welled with tears. Our eyes met, and I felt something break within me.
I sprinted for the landing pad without looking back. Stepping into the frigid air I heard the wind whistling and the hum of the gunship’s engine. I saw the defense cannon, and made a break for it.
Missiles flew from the gunship. Blinding light flashed from the base of the eastern tower, as massive explosions sent chunks of metal and debris flying in all directions. I stood motionless, stunned by the spectacle. Heat waves crashed into me as I stared unblinking, my ears peeled back, and I collapsed on my wounded leg. The massive tower, slowly, terrifyingly, tilted away from the cliff, and began tumbling to the base of the mountain, with Joëlle’s team still inside.
I couldn’t look away.
I had failed.