"Need a plan, guys!" he exclaimed, ducking his head and wincing every time a bolt of energy blasted over the concrete half wall.
The other three soldiers, just like him, were huddling behind this one patch of cover, this one border between life and death.
It was a battle-torn city like many others Behraan had visited, but this one was different.
In this one, Behraan would lose.
"We're pinned down!" another soldier cried into her armcomm, "please send backup!"
She was right and he knew it. There was a turret placement trained on their position. The moment any one of them ducked left or right of the broken wall segment, they were dead. If so inclined, that turret could have blasted through even that segment and killed them all, if there weren't better targets of opportunity.
There was a back-and-forth banter between two officials on the same frequency. The sounds of war deafened most, but somehow, just barely, he was able to make out some of the words.
<B.N.S.S. Graeh-Sol, Battlefield Control. Clearence denied for rescue operation.>
<Battlefield Control, Graeh-Sol. We're letting them Die!?>
<Sir, they're already dead, it's just a matter of time. Cut your losses and return to low orbit with the Hand's vanguard.>
Silence--at least from the arm-comm. The battle raged on behind them as it always had.
<Graeh-Sol, This is Colonel Alvoa of the Maker One. Need I remind you the consequences of deliberately disobeying a direct order?>
<Then listen to me, Commander. You will break from Franchesca's atmosphere. You will follow the Hand out of this system and you will be very, very lucky that the Imperator does not see to it that you answer for your already apparent incompetence in following a direct order the first time you're told. Am I clear, Bensen?>
<Perfectly, sir. You heard the colonel. Get us out of here.>
The signal then went cold, as did his palms. He knew that the four of them were completely and utterly alone. The other soldiers had already been shot down or found derelict buildings to cower in.
"We're gonna die," she sat up and looked back to the others, that look of complete despair in her eyes, "are--"
Before he could reach to push her head back down, the turret struck her thrice with hot plasma, enough to melt her on the spot.
The other two soldiers, young adolescents drafted into a war they had no business in, were in states of panic beyond what anyone should have ever experienced. The younger of the two had soiled himself while curling up in a ball and crying while ripping at his hair. The older one, was a living zombie. Alive, breathing, but completely disconnected from his surroundings.
Lucky bastard. He didn't even notice the goop on him from his former comrade, he was so far gone.
He could have left them. They were dead anyway, and at least he still had his head on straight. There was an open entryway to a subterranean transport system just thirty meters away. He could dash for it and, if lucky enough that the turret was preoccupied, he could make it. Whatever other dangers there were, they couldn't have been as bad as the turret.
But he wouldn't leave the poor boys to die. He just wouldn't.
He would put them out of their misery instead. As he quickly put a ballistic in each of their heads with a silenced pistol, he surmised that what he had just done could have been seen as murder, treason or the like. But this was an act of kindness.
Once they had peacefully settled into their final destinations, he noticed that the girl's arm, with the armcomm, was still intact--even though she was not.
And it was receiving.
He crouched to a crawl, lunging out with his hand to grab the appendage and pull it closer to himself. Gruesome, perhaps. But he would not be deterred by a little gore. Not after what he had been through.
"He-hello?" he whispered into the receiver.
<By Kabaiila,> said the same reprimanded Commander as was on channel before, <you're still alive down there?>
"You could say that," he peeked around the corner, seeing the battle had progressed away from himself, further east. Towards the forest.
<What's your name, son?>
<Terrance?> a moment of pause, <Terrance Vinfield?>
<Arden Bensen, Graeh-Sol. Is anyone else with you, Vinfield?>
"All--" he looked at the two dead boys, a tear streaking down, "all dead, sir. It's just me."
<Look,> he could be heard sighing, <if you want to get out of there alive, you need to do exactly as I say. Are you wearing that armcomm?>
"No, it was on--"
<Don't want to know, soldier, just put it on.>
Considering it was attached to an arm that was otherwise unattached, unclipping and removing the armcomm was surprisingly easy. It came off like some cheap watch, and clipped around his arm just as easily.
<Now, you're going to put your hands up, slowly, and cross them above your head. No sudden moves.>
"They--they'll shoot me!"
<They won't shoot someone who's using their own hand signage to tell them that you're surrendering. Stand up slowly, turn to them and walk out into the open. They'll approach slowly, probably tell you to throw your weapons away from yourself and get on your knees. They will then apprehend you as a prisoner. But don't worry. You'll be fine. Bensen out.>
And then, just like that, Terrance Vinfield was alone again.
The passage underground still beckoned him, but he couldn't trust he'd get there alive. That turret was still there, swiveling slowly in place, as if scanning for stragglers.
Yet, for some reason, he felt he could trust the man on the other end of the armcomm, and put his hands in the air, walking directly towards the turret, which would surely kill him.
The turret, surely enough, trained its four cannons squarely upon him.
Someone from behind the turret called something out, but he couldn't make out what. It probably wasn't in Behraanese anyway.
Then, from within the skeletal remains of what must have been an apartment building, out came a platoon of twelve Franchescan soldiers. They looked so clean, so organized, so confident as they ran out to him. Then, they broke formation and encircled him, weapons drawn but not aimed.
One, older woman shouted something at him. Of course, he understood nothing.
He stopped, hands still above his head and crossed.
The woman rolled her eyes, saying firmly in accented Behraanese, "Your weapons. Toss them. Slowly. Now."
He did so. It was only his pistol in his holster. He unbuckled the holster and let it drop. Then he put his hands back up.
"No other weapons?" her eyebrows raised, not in doubt but in pity, "Truly?"
He shook his head. There was some strange sense of security in him. You'll be fine, he remembered.
He did so, again slowly. No sudden moves. That was a lot of guns they had.
She then turned her face half-way to the left to issue a quiet order, probably something along the lines of "take him."
But before that order could be followed, the all too familiar thunderous grumbling of an approaching aircraft could be heard.
Seconds later, a lone Behraanese gunship loomed over the platoon and Terrance in the middle, with searchlights blinding the soldiers. It decelerated so quickly it was a wonder the pilot didn't vomit his digestive system.
The gunship's own swiveling turrets swatted the Franchescan ground turret as if it were only a minor nuisance. Then, it trained upon the soldiers as the landing struts extended and the ship rapidly descended.
In a healthy amount of fear, the female officer stepped away and called to the others, likely to fall back. It wasn't worth their lives.
With terrifying precision, as the vertical jets blew debris away, the gunship landed with its port side facing Terrance. There he was, still kneeling, hands still over his head, without the faintest clue as to what was happening.
<You can stand now, son,> said Commander Bensen through his armcomm. Then he did so, as if he knew he could all along.
The side door of the gunship slid open quickly, and from within, another Behraanese soldier, in green and black--navy colours--waved him in.
He didn't need to be told, rushing forth so quickly he almost plowed his shin into the metal stair.
"He's in, close it up!" shouted the pilot from the front.
As the door slammed shut behind him, Terrance quickly got himself strapped into the nearest seat.
It was only then, as the gunship lifted off and climbed the air like a banshee, that he could begin to feel. That he could begin to process.
That he could begin to remember their names.
He unclipped his armcomm and tossed it aside, unable to look at it.
Her name was Laera. Must have been seventeen.
And all that was left of her was that bloody arm and the residue on that armcomm.
"Well!" the soldier next to him slapped him on the back, making him jump and yelp. This only made the other soldier laugh as he continued, "you lucky grahaamut! You're not even crew and Bensen saved your sorry ass!"
The soldier nodded, "big heart, he has! Don't worry, you might not have to kiss his ass for this!"
"Wh-why do you say that?"
The soldier sighed, "Probably gonna get executed if they find out he issued a rescue op against BC's orders!"
"Oh," Terrance bent over. Then, he leaned back, his head thumping on the headrest.
And as the atmosphere thinned with the ever-increasing altitude, the jets became quieter and more lulling. It was more than enough, and he was out....