The smoldering metal husk sat in the darkness of the violet, alien forest. Smoke billowed around the man in the cockpit as he woke with a gasp, struggling to free himself from his wounded battlemech. His coughs and cursing broke the silence of a wood stuck in an endless twilight.
“Son of a…” the pilot muttered, looking at the System-Health panel on the console. It displayed a report chronicling the damage the mech had sustained from its brush with the surface-to-air EMPs that riddled the enemy planet. By now, the turrets would have been neutralized by the rest of the mech unit, for all the good it did him.
Coupling motivator offline. Reroute power from rear linear converter.
“No problem,” The man muttered with self-doubt. His rusted dog tag twisted about showing the name “Captain Joven Miles” as his hands fumbled to release his safety harness. With a click, he crawled free of the cockpit and onto one of the mech’s glider wings.
“Hang tight, Bertha ol’ girl, I’ll get you patched up,” he said, grabbing his emergency tool kit and sidearm from behind the cockpit. “If we can get off the ground, it’ll be a straight jump back to Earth. If not, I’m sure the Brides will give us a warm welcome.” The word sent a chill down his spine. The man-made, cyborg horrors that had long ago taken this planet would have heard his crash landing. He knew they were coming for him.
In his camouflage suit, the pilot vanished as he jumped from the mech and into the sea of glowing underbrush. As he hit the soft forest floor, he glanced to the flowery analog watch on his wrist that his little girl had given him years ago before he’d been shipped out with the draft.
“Sunday,” Joven read the date, looking to the rising moon that peered through the trees. “Night. That’s just fucking great.” He knew Monday morning would be here soon. At 0600 the fleet would make the jump back to Earth, and with them would be his only hopes of escaping this losing war. But getting left behind would be the least of his problems if the Brides found him.
Joven tried to push those thoughts from his mind and began working on the small energy bay at the towering mech’s ankles. As the the night ticked by in a series of analog beeps, his nerves rattled as the sound of the Brides approaching grew louder. The sound of their claws sharpening against each other filled the night air, and their shrieks as they coordinated their search for him were ever present.
The moon was sinking fast, dipping into the eastern sky. Bertha’s repairs were nearly complete. But Joven hesitated at the final step of the rewiring that he had not yet mastered. He pondered the last two red and blue cables that hung tangled at the back of the colossus’ leg. His attempts to recall his training were stifled as a snap sounded in the distance. Time was running out.
With shaky hands, Joven clipped the red cable and flicked the reboot switch. Soon after, the roar of Bertha coming to life reached his ears. Joven’s spirits soared. But then the rending of gears took over and the smell of smoke filled the air.
“No! ” Joven cried. He stumbled to the front of the mech and fell to his knees before the ten ton pile of flaming scrap. His wiring mistake was clear now, but it was too late. As Bertha went up in flames, his chances of rejoining the fleet and seeing his daughter again went with her. He threw his beloved mech a final salute before fleeing to the safety of the looming forest. Moments after he had taken cover behind a wall of purple trees, the deep boom of Bertha’s explosion rattled the woods. “Yeah. They definitely heard that one,” he muttered to himself.
In the sudden first light of morning, Joven watched as the violet world around him came alive with Brides. He always thought what the troopers had named the enemy was stupid. Now that he saw their clawed, female bionic forms veiled in magenta alien plant-life, he hated it even more.
“Come on then, you shits!” Joven barked. He fired off round after round of his blaster into the growing horde. The countless bullets stopped with a squish as they met the Brides’ ballistic-gel flesh.
As the machines closed in on him, Joven remembered his training – don’t let them take you alive. He laughed at the angered looks on their pale, sunken faces as he brought his blaster to his temple. But the Brides laughed back when the dull click of Joven’s empty gun echoed through the trees. Then they descended on him.
As the pod door flew open, Joven sat up with a gasp. The sensory deprivation pod seemed to be equal parts optic gel and sweat as the memories of all the training failures came rushing back to him. The Moderator came on over the intercom, as the nodes on Joven’s body faded.
Simulation failed. EMP Neutralization Mission deployment in two hours. Likelihood of mission success: 1%
“Motherfucker,” Joven grumbled, eyeing the empty pods to either side of him. With a quick glance at the countdown on his daughter’s watch, he let out another curse before laying back and closing the pod door one more time.
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