In the previous installment, Briggs had a surprise rendezvous with an old friend among the Sargasso extraction team. A night of celebratory Wiki Wackers served as a successful departure from the seriousness of war, but the spell of normalcy is unfortunately short-lived. Interrupted by a surprise Chosen attack, an enormous Drop Pod enters the fray. The Accord excavation will just have to wait.
At over three meters in height, the Chosen monstrosity towers over the pod from which it spawned. Bearing the weight of an enormous Gatling-style machine gun, its jagged crimson armor exudes an audible strain with each movement. The enemy scans the meager encampment with intimidating conviction before raising the heavy weapon to its side; the cumbrous rotating barrels catch the morning light, casting a blinding glint.
Two men beside me freeze in tentative horror, “My god, what is that thing?”
“Get down!” I tumble to the ground pressing my face firmly against the grass. In one sweeping motion, the Chosen colossus fires the enormous weapon in a horizontal line. Lying as flat as I can muster, the pressure on my chest makes it difficult to breathe. I glance up as a streak of red slices through the air, cleaving a man in two. Another petrified soldier is hit by the bullet rain, his body slumps to the ground with immense force.
The operators out of harm’s way lay down a barrage of cover fire, granting the closest squaddies the opportunity to fall back.
“Now’s our chance.” I nudge the comrade to my right. He looks up at me with tears in his eyes, hands clutching his abdomen in desperation. “Damnit, give me your hand.” With barely enough strength to lift himself, I help to hoist the man to his feet. Groans of agony bellow from the operator as we cross the ravaged battleground. Loose dirt and shallow holes dot the landscape while lasers pepper the sky. Parking the injured operative behind a stack of cargo crates, I duck down to shield myself from the flying debris of an explosion.
The blast knocks me to the ground, sucking every ounce of oxygen from my lungs. I peek through a hole in between the tattered boxes and the scene pulsates with intensity. Dark lines from jumpjet exhaust color the sky as swarms of soldiers target the invader. Accord Engineers perched high in the trees shower the giant from afar with deployable turrets, Firecat pilots bathe the titan in smoldering flames and dreadnaught operators shield their comrades behind defensive energy domes. The assault is swift; combining the combative might of a company of soldiers into a single collective unit. Yet the Chosen bears the brunt of the attacks without a scratch.
“Alexis!” Cole darts from a crumbling fortification to my position. He scans my face with subtle urgency, gripping my hand firmly. “I’m glad that you’re okay.”
“I’m fine, but we won’t be if we don’t stop that thing.” The Chosen sprays rapidly from cover to cover at any sign of movement. “This is no ordinary Chosen, it’s an executioner.”
“It’s your lucky day Lieutenant Colonel Briggs, I come bearing gifts,” he says motioning to the strap over his shoulder.
“A bolt-action sniper rifle?”
“I figure it would be more use to you than me. If anyone has a shot at saving the day, it’s you.” He stares into my eyes for a long time before sliding the rifle off his back. “There’s only one bullet left, make it count.”
“I’ll do my best not to let you down. Watch my six.”
Scrambling to the top of the stacked containers, I acquire the hulking target only 90 meters away. Equipped with heavy armor from head to toe, the Chosen Executioner has only one exposed spot, the crown of its head.
Glaring through the scope, the reticle shifts back and forth, as my arms tremble in adrenaline-induced instability. Each pounding heartbeat and quick, shallow breath adds to the erratic flow of the rifle’s aim. I close my eyes, harnessing whatever concentration I have left. The pace of my heart begins to slow and my diaphragm moves with less rigidity. It’s now or never.
Three, two, one, exhale…and squeeze. The round fires from the gun at speeds surpassing 1000 meters per second. It cuts through the sky as a vibrant blur, riding the air currents until it enters into the back of the Chosen’s skull. Still on its feet, the beast’s head slumps forward and the gun falls to the ground.
The atmosphere is still for a moment as the fragile crux of victory settles tentatively on the battlefield. “You did it!” Cole nearly jumps for joy at the sight of the bullet making its mark.
“Is it over?” I query while scanning the destruction.
“Of course it is you hit him square in the head. Nothing could survive that.”
As if reactivated by the sentiment itself, the Executioner jolts to life. Merely stunned by the bullet wound, the Chosen’s face creases in anger as it raises the heavy machine gun from the ground and trudges toward my direction. Disregarding the oncoming ARES Operators, its slow march quickly escalates into a fluid stride; trampling through everything in its path.
“A-Alexis, it’s coming right at us.”
“What should we do? We don’t stand a chance going toe-to-toe with that thing.”
Cole’s exclamation jars me to my senses, “Get out of here, and rally the troops. I’ll buy everyone some time.”
“But, you can’t…”
He reaches out, securing me in a tight embrace. Leaning toward my ear he whispers, “I’m sorry for disobeying orders, just live.” He loosens the hug and bolts from behind the crumbling stacks of boxes, raising a lit flare into the air. Waving wildly from side to side, the flare illuminates the area with red smoke.
“Don’t do this Cole.” He glances back at me and then darts off to distract the Executioner.
As quickly as the thought of victory rekindled our spirits, the harshness of reality shattered its revival. Is this how it will all end: countless injured, a failed mission, and the loss of a close friend? No, it can’t be. I won’t let it.
I look down at my hands. Tarnished by dirt and fatigue, they tremble with fragility. I’ve faced countless battles but I now know fear. Not the fear of death, but the fear of losing it all. Clenching my hands into tightly wound fists, I yield to a faint voice in my head; a call to action that surfaces from my core.
The thunderous rhythm of an ominous clock plays in my mind, each tick counting down to Cole’s inevitable death. I reach for the sniper rifle but it’s useless without any bullets. My eyes dart back and forth until they rest upon the makeshift barrier of dilapidated cargo crates. “It’s been right in front of me the entire time, the scan hammers!”
Pilfering through the wreckage I pull on a jutting handle, successfully retrieving the hammer from a splintered box. Without hesitation, I discard the false perceptions of safety and charge the Chosen Executioner. Gripped over my shoulder with both hands, the mallet’s weight makes it difficult to run, causing bolts of pain to surge down my back with each gait. But I continue to push forward, sprinting as fast as my legs will carry me.
I spot Cole’s flare beside an Accord tent, but no Cole. Pooled beside the light, drops of red stain the ground and trail off toward the manufacturing sector of the encampment.
I follow the blood trail as it weaves in between masses of freight and heavy machinery, stopping at the sound of heavy breathing nearby.
Glancing down the footpath I finally find Cole, but he can’t see me. Riddled with bullet holes, he positioned himself behind one of the Mag Lifts in an attempt to hide from the Executioner. The attempt failed.
“You finally caught up to me, “A weak cough interject as Cole stands face-to-face with the massive villain. The Chosen approaches, visibly relishing the prospect of catching its prey. “You may kill me, but do you really think that you can stop us? Humanity will crush the Chosen, you are nothing!” The mini-gun engines begin to hum as cylinders prepare to fire.
I grip the hammer at the ready. With one final burst of adrenaline, I activate the upward propulsion of the battleframe’s thrusters. Climbing higher and higher into the sky, the Chosen’s overwhelming size is an illusory memory from this altitude. Traveling beyond than the trees, the clouds, I soar upward until the jumpjet energy reserves reach their limit. For moment I am weightless, the pit of my stomach lodged deep within my throat as my equilibrium shifts to free fall. Gravity counters the atmospheric buoyancy and my body begins its descent. With the click of a switch, the battleframe grows shimmering sapphire wings and I succumb to the descendant force, gliding back toward the earth with immense speed.
Racing through the sky, the collections of amorphous colors quickly gain clarity. Although blurred by the wind’s relentless assault, my eyes lock on the Executioner. Each second propels my body with even greater ferocity until there is barely any distance between us.
“Arrrrrrrggh!” I liberate a thunderous battle cry from the depths of my lungs as I swing the scan hammer into the bloodied spot on the Executioner’s skull. Upon impact, a flash of light engulfs Sargasso followed by a flood of wind. The Chosen Executioner crashes to the ground in a crumpled mess and I relinquish the hammer still wedged deeply in its corpse. The bittersweet fragrance of triumph envelopes my senses as I collapse, returning again to the land of dreams.
– – – – –
The head-to-head duel with the Chosen Executioner undeniably took its toll on me. I awoke at the Accord’s Sargasso medical bay three days after the battle feeling like hell. From what I’ve been told, the rampaging Chosen was of an elite breed, a sect of powerful warriors that often serve as the commanders of Chosen death squads. The one we fought must have been the cream of the crop to attack us alone.
Several of the Mag Lifts sustained heavy damage during the assault and will need repairs before fully exhuming the sunken Darkslip. Through its partial retrieval, Accord scientists were able to deduce that the contents inside the Darkslip are not only intact, but untouched, increasing the excavation’s importance greatly. To prevent another attack, I’ve created a contingency plan for the future operation of the Sargasso base including an intact chain of command, enhanced defensive ordnance, and heightened operator presence. If the Chosen return, we won’t be caught by surprise.
On a more uplifting note, I was able to meet with Cole Marston before departing from Sargasso. He suffered several bullet wounds during the fray, but nothing a skilled Biotech can’t fix. He’ll be holed up in a hospital bed for a few weeks but at least he will live to fight another day, as will I. Before heading back to New Eden, he quite bluntly asked if there was anything between us. With the transient nature of life in this era of human history, I can understand that it’s best to never leave things unsaid. But I know in my heart, that I will never be able to live a normal life until we win our planet back. My white picket fence will just have to wait.
– Lieutenant Colonel Briggs
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Originally written for Red 5 Studios during my time working there as Web Content Editor.