I slowly struggled back into consciousness. I had been knocked flat on my back. The smoke was gone and the sky was empty. It was dead silent, I thought at first. Looking up at the sky everything seemed tranquil.
I was mistaken, I got up and looked for the Captain but could not see him. I crawled over the rim of our vegetable wall trying to get a look at what was left. I immediately saw five Chezbah E-Suits standing guard and the tanks doors had been opened. There were several men in a strange uniform walking around with white hair and pale skin executing the wounded. There were two of the armored Chezbah Warriors standing by passively and another white haired man in a brown robe approving. This robed man I recognized from our intelligence briefings to be a Priest of Loc the Chezbah deity.
The horizon was obscured by wreckage of what once was the Cruiser. Bahnienie’s missile was successful! I almost shouted in triumph but quickly reminded myself that I should not draw attention.
I crawled toward the tank. If I could get inside, I might be able to take it over. I got my pistol ready. I realized that it was not calm and quiet as I had thought, I could not hear anything. This would make things more difficult.
The Chezbah E-Suits were stony sentinels, I could not tell if they were paying attention or not so I charged the door. I expected to find someone inside guarding but after waving my pistol around the cabin of the tank for a few moments I realized that no one was in it besides me. Several terminals were arrayed along the sides of the vehicle. I sat at one of them and tried to activate it. Nothing worked, I tried another terminal on the other side. Still nothing happened. I tried everything I could think of to activate the terminal. I wondered if the bomb that killed Bahnienie also killed this monster. I walked to the back of the pilot’s cabin where I imagined the engines would be. I couldn’t hear so I tried feeling the engine compartment. There were no lights on in the vehicle so I fumbled around trying to feel for engine vibration. Then I felt something hit the floor.
I turned around and saw a human form laying on the ground by the entrance. I moved closer and saw a battered figure of a girl laying on the floor trying to get up. I got a little closer and saw that it was Osulo!
I leaned over her, her lips moved but I could not make out what she was saying. I wanted to pick her up and put her someplace safe but I could not think of a safe place to go.
Instantly the lights came on in the tank. I looked over and saw the robed priest walking up into the vehicle. There was little room to hide and I couldn’t fire my gun or I would draw the Warrior’s attention. I climbed into a space just over the door. The Priest walked up into the vehicle.
Very faintly I could hear him say in Scimrahn “You’re not much, but in the absence of my harem you’ll have to do.” as he began to unfasten his robes.
I dropped out of my hiding place on top of him and swung my pistol’s handle at his head. I hit him once and felt a crunch through my arm of his skull buckling. We fell over Osulo and I raised my arm to strike again but I suddenly felt the sensation of fire burning through me. Somehow he was electrocuting me. My muscles locked up and I could not move. Osulo then appeared from behind me and began viciously kicking the Priest in the head with a surprising amount of strength. Soon the electrocution stopped.
As the electrocution stopped I noticed the priest’s left hand on my stomach and a tiny black needle protruding from his index finger and into me. I pushed his hand away.
The lights went out again. The machine recognized that it’s master was no longer here.
Osulo collapsed on the floor next to the priest. She was bloodied and bruised. One eye was swollen shut. There was blood in her hair. Her legs were full of cuts. I sat over her for a moment, wishing I knew what to do.
The lights came back on. I looked up and saw one of the white haired men starring at me with dull grey eyes. He seemed stunned. In that moment I realized he was not an old man, his face was young, instead he and the others seemed to have some kind of albinism.
He suddenly yelled something to the effect of “Kel pay!” and pulled his pistol from it’s holster. My hearing was returning but it was hard to make out.
My gun was already in my hand, I flipped it around and fired several shots to make sure. More would be coming now. The Chezbah man’s pistol lay on the floor. I had never seen anything like it even among the Scimrahn. I grabbed it. The lights went out again.
I started to hear a commotion from outside. I considered moving Osulo further back in the cabin of the tank but I wasn’t sure how much time I had. I instead moved closer to the door and looked out. The other five Chezbah men were running for the tank in a panic. I couldn’t tell what the noises outside were but my hearing was still not recovered. I looked around, there was no way I could hide myself and Osulo, not to mention the priest’s and the man’s bodies. I could have fired on them before they got to the door. It was no less than they had been doing to my comrades. I apparently needed them alive to get this vehicle working but I technically only needed one.
They ran up to the door and started piling in. The lights came on again. I stood to the back with my pistol in my right hand and the Chezbah pistol in my left hand. One of the Chezbah already had his pistol out and raised it to fire, but I was already pulling the trigger. The bark of the gun made my ears ring. Now there were four. This was not how I wanted it. Things were happening so fast that I couldn’t think of a safe way to handle the situation. I was positive that on the sight of Osulo they would have killed us.
Two more reached for their pistols. I wanted to warn them but I didn’t know how to tell them I wouldn’t fire if they put down their guns. I fired the Chezbah weapon. Plasma burned into one of their shoulders. I tried to fire again, but the weapon wouldn’t fire. I pointed my pistol at the other Chezbah who tried to draw I fired my pistol again. He didn’t go down so I fired again. Now there were two.
They were so quick to attack, either thinking that they could out draw me or that they were willing to take the chance of dying. Maybe they didn’t expect me to give them a chance to live.
I felt the Chezbah pistol wobble in my hand. It must have required time to charge and this was the signal that it was ready to fire. I pointed one pistol at each of the remaining Chezbah.
I tried speaking Scimrahn to them. “Drop your weapons.” They pointed to their pistols in their holsters and I answered “Yes.” in Scimrahn. I didn’t know how they would interpret a head nod. Scimrahn is similar to Chezbah so I was hoping that either they knew some Scimrahn or there would be a few crossover words it seems to have worked. They removed their holsters and dropped them on the floor.
I motioned with the guns to the consoles. “Sit down” I tried Scimrahn again. Again they confirmed with pointing to the seats by the consoles. “Yes” I repeated.
They sat down and the consoles came to life one showed the tank and it’s surroundings in a strange hybrid view. There were warnings popping up on the screen but I couldn’t read them because the Chezbah use more letter characters than the Scimrahn do.
The second console had targeting information, laying out all the bodies it could detect and assigning a threat level to each. I had a hard time reading the names that it gave to each target.
“Don’t touch!” I commanded in Scimrahn “Close the doors!” I pointed at the door of the tank.
The Chezbah sitting at the piloting seat raised his arm in an exaggerated way and looked at me to make sure I was following his movement. He said “lo aiz kan aen sh” which I didn’t follow.
“ahensh, close” I said. I don’t know why I threw an english word in there, it probably just confused him more.
His fingers touched the console as he seemed to type out a command on tiny metal contacts that register the action like a keyboard but without any moving parts. The doors closed slowly.
“Fly!” I tried.
He pointed to the warning. “Ma tor pak pid.” The order of the word parts were strange, but he said something about being hit. He may have been referring to the explosive than Bahnienie had placed. I wanted to just leave but that didn’t seem likely if the tank couldn’t fly.
I looked over the shoulder of the Chezbah at the gunnery console. There was fighting going on out there but I was having trouble following who or what it was that was fighting because the targeting system kept following something and obscuring it with a graphic that I didn’t understand. This was a way of detaching the shooter from his victims, it made them nothing but graphics on a screen, not real breathing creatures.
“What is that?” I asked in Scimrahn, pointing to the targeted object. The Chezbah replied that it was an enemy but said nothing else. “I want to see it” I tried again in Scimrahn.
The Chezbah raised his hands to the console. “No shooting.” I stated, menacing him with the gun. He typed in a command and the camera zoomed toward the target. The graphic stayed, but remained the same size on the screen while the actual target in the camera took up most of the screen. This allowed me to see it was Takoog fighting the Chezbah E-Suits! I watched for a moment struck dumb by the speed of his movement and that he seemed to be damaging the armored E-Suits. He had already been hurt, I could see burns through his fur and dark patches that looked like blood.
“Help him!” I demanded.
The Chezbah replied “Gob?” which is like saying “What?”
“Shoot the E-Suits!” speaking Scimrahn.
The Chezbah replied something about family and he would not fire. It seemed that he would not harm his own people. He looked directly into the gun’s barrel as if to say he was ready to die for disobeying.
“Shoot the ground near the E-Suits and tell them to stop.” I tried, pointing at the E-Suits in the display.
His brow furrowed and I brought the gun closer to him to emphasize the command. He tried to restate the command in Chezbah but I didn’t follow what he said.
I said “Pid!” which means hit or strike, while pointing at the ground near the E-Suit.
The Chezbah squinted in reluctance, he must have been trying to weigh his own morals and how far he could go before he had crossed some ideological line. In the end he hesitatingly raised his hands to the controls and entered a command. I could hear the plasma supply system and the sound of expanding gas and then fiery plasma shrieked out of the cannons on top of the tank. It sprayed over the ground and the E-Suit that was near it stopped and turned. The pilot may have been confused, because the machine stood motionless for a moment.
This was not my real goal however. I leaned over the console and repeated the actions that the Chezbah had used to point at Takoog but this time I was pointed at the E-Suit. Then I repeated the sequence he used to fire. Nothing happened. The Chezbah’s eyes were wide with disbelief. I tried again and this time it worked! The same cannon fired and the E-Suit was set ablaze.
There were several cannons on top of the tank, the sequence must have been for only one of them. I pointed at another E-Suit but the Chezbah pushed me out of the way. He shouted something, I imagine it had something to do with not letting me fire on the E-suits. He stood up from the console and it turned off. He faced the pistol again defiantly. At least now there were only four for Takoog to fight.
“Open the door!” I shouted in Scimrahn to the other Chezbah.
The one seated complied and touched the metal rings that opened the door. The front of the tank began to open but the E-Suits, still thinking that we were a threat started firing at us.
“You, out!” I indicated to the standing Chebah.
Searing Heat from the plasma and brilliant light from the lasers filled the cockpit. The ion cascade shields absorbed most of the energy of the attacks but they were beginning to buckle. At the very least they weren’t aimed at Takoog for now.
The Chezbah raised his hands and said “Sh! Sh!” which means “No! No!”.
The Chezbah at the pilot controls reached up and shut the doors. I was loosing control of the situation. I needed at least one of them so that I didn’t get locked in this thing. We couldn’t leave Takoog and apparently couldn’t fly away anyway. I couldn’t fire on the E-Suits and my ability to command the Chezbah was failing. I had one last hope.
“I want to talk to the E-Suits.” I explained in Scimrahn.
The Chezbah men looked at each other. The one standing gestured that it was okay. He sat down at a different console and a string of words scrolled by on the screen. He raised his hands and said what I think was “Talk.” and then entered a command. He then pointed to me and the door and said “Talk.” again.
“Turn off your vehicles and exit them. You have little time to do it!” It was difficult to form the sentence in Scimrahn because I couldn’t figure out how to use their time.
The standing Chezbah drew a concealed knife and made a move to attack while I was speaking but his hand was intercepted by plasma from another gun. He doubled over clutching his scorched stump of a hand. The knife, or what was left of it fell to the floor. Osulo had crawled over to the fallen Chezbah and taken their weapons and had been quietly watching.
“Sit down!” she ordered. Even though the Chezbah was in excruciating pain, he stood defiantly. The other pistol spit out white hot gas and struck his knee. This time he buckled and fell to the floor shrieking in pain. Osulo stood up with difficulty. Her ferocity made me uneasy. None of this was to my liking.
“Osulo, I’ll handle this” I tried.
She didn’t seem to recognize that I was talking to her. She walked over and made several attempts to lift and pull the Chezbah into the seat but was unsuccessful.
“Help!” She glared through a sweat and blood caked eyes.
I pointed at the still seated Chezbah. “Watch him.”
I lifted the man to the seat, he was barely breathing at this point but it was enough to activate the console. The “Enemy” label was still floating on the screen. I scanned around and found the Chezbah E-Suit pilots did not listen. They were running away which was fine with me.
“We’re leaving. Open the doors again.” I said to the Chezbah.
He complied and the cool air outside rushed in. I helped Osulo down the ramp. Thats when I saw Takoog, laying motionless on the ground. I ran to his side.
“Are you. . . hurt badly?” I asked but I could tell from his wounds he was not going to make it.
I heard the sound of a plasma gun behind me and I spun around. Inside the tank I saw another plasma gun fire and the hiss and crackle of the hot gas. Osulo emerged from the dark inside of the tank. She had gone back and murdered the Chezbah men. I had been too distracted by Takoog’s condition to notice her go back.
In a voice that was deep and melodic Takoog drew my attention again. “You got me excited Onix Concade, I have spent most of my life hiding in the shadows in fear of Loc. I watched you, a normal man, fight and win against him and wondered why I had been so fearful.”
“No, we nearly lost everything here! We fought because we would have lost anyway.” I protested.
“Everything was lost to my people before I was born. I have nothing and so should fear nothing.”
I began to protest again but he raised his hand to quiet me and continued. “I have told my people about you, that you are my friend. If you can find them they will help you. You will live to learn about my world. Before I die, tell me of yours.”
He was still strong enough to hang on for an hour. Sitting next to the hulking mass of rubble that was once a flying death machine, I started from modern times and went backwards in time through Earth’s history. I wasn’t sure exactly when he passed away. His breathing grew shallower and shallower and he asked fewer and fewer questions until he was silent.