The crimson sun, heavy and swollen in the sky, painted the landscape red as she drifted above the sea of poisoned clouds. It was serene; harsh in contrast to the battle raging above.
She plummeted earthwards, red warning lights flashing in her cockpit coupled with a blaring, beeping alert. Gritting her teeth she kicked open a bolted panel below the main flight controls and ripped out a handful of cables. The noise ceased instantly. She resumed her firm grip on the controls and pulled upward with all her might, forcing the machine out of the spiralling dive.
There had been twelve of them to begin with. Now, only four were left. High above her, Raymond and the twins circled, desperately trying to destroy the three demons that had made such light work of the rest of their unit.
Demons. They were hard to describe. Nimble, organic-looking things that vaguely mirrored the design of their own ABUs, and that danced across the sky with a terrible agility that no machine should possess. Not many soldiers survived encounters with them, and no-one had ever recovered one of them or their pilots.
“SHIT,” Raymond’s gruff voice crackled through her headset. Disregarding her monitor displays, Indy turned her keen eyes skywards and banked sharply to the left. Time seemed to slow as the demon dive-bombed past her, barely a foot away. It was devastatingly beautiful, iridescent panels bending the light, pulsing with life it should not have. It took her breath away.
She spiralled, caught in the slipstream, and grappled to regain control. Succeeding, she had barely a split second to bank again as the Demon returned from the opposite direction. This time, she grit her teeth and jerked one of her machine’s bladed arms into the belly of her opponent. There was an ear-splitting shriek as the metal tore through the Demon’s flesh, part of her equipment being wrenched violently from the ABU in the process. The pilot’s head rattled violently against her seat, sending stars crackling across her vision. Her enemy rose a few more metres above, and after what seemed like an eternity of it hanging in the air, began to fall. She was still dazed as it dropped towards her and this time could not pull completely out of the way before it clipped her. The Demon was near enough shorn in half, trailing a stream of dark, viscous fluid as it fell.
Not for the first time that day, the pilot just managed to save herself from crashing through the clouds. She smiled grimly as even more warning messages and system failures clocked up on her HUD. The mechanics back home were going to murder her after this.
The blood curdling scream sent her blood running cold. She pulled her gaze back up towards her companions and watched as, decimated by one of the Demons, one of the smaller Hornet ABUs fell. Spewing smoke, the craft dived past her. Still screaming, the pilot of the second Hornet sped in reckless pursuit.
“Fiddle!” she screamed, but there was no getting through to him. Cursing under her breath, she spat into her mic, “HQ this is ABU unit E-002, I repeat, this is unit E-002. Units H-065 and H-064 are out of action, I repeat-“
She froze. That was the second time, she realised, that Raymond had said her name. His voice had become calm, and had stopped swearing - that fact alone struck more terror into her heart than any battle ever could.
It seemed as though there was nothing in her ears but her own breathing as she tore her headpiece off, cancelling out any HUD warnings and leaving her relying solely on her eyes. High, high above, Raymond’s modified Elite ABU was locked in a deadly, flashing dance with one of the two remaining Demons. His machine was clunkier than hers, built less for speed and more for heavy artillery. The Demon that had destroyed her companion just moments before was now heading for her as well. Employing the same strategy as before, with nary a millisecond to spare, she banked and thrust her other bladed arm into her enemy as it passed. This time she adjusted her thrusters powered her up and through the Demon rather than the momentum sending her out of control. She did not flinch her gaze from Raymond as the arm was ripped from it’s mechanical socket. There was no way she would make it in time, but she had to…
The Demon threw itself at him again, only this time he did not shoot in retaliation or attempt to evade it’s strike. Instead, he allowed it to collide with him head on. He clamped the arms of his ABU around the Demon as if it were a toy, locking it in place as they both lost control. Indy’s voice choked in her throat as she saw the light of the cannon blast from the ABU’s belly at point-blank range. It was like a dagger of blue cutting through the Demon, with as little effort as a knife through butter. Just as the blast grew from the centre of impact, consuming both the craft, her panicked gaze spotted a body leaping from the cockpit of the ABU.
The shockwave hit her almost instantaneously. She lost her bearings, her eyes streaming and her ears aching, but she battled onwards all the same. There was shrapnel flying everywhere. It was impossible to avoid it all. Impact after impact rattled her ABU, debris repeatedly glancing off of her hide. She didn’t see the body until he was already falling past her.
“No… you… DON’T,” Indy growled fiercely, throwing all the remaining power she had left into a dive towards him. As she pulled up alongside him she allowed the machine to free fall and unclipped herself from the pilot seat. With no regards for her own safety, her hand smacked the button to open the cockpit. The air rushing past the opening created a vacuum that almost sucked her from the craft, but she managed to brace herself against it. She had a grand total of five seconds before the emergency systems would close it automatically - whether she was hanging out or not.
Somehow, she mustered the strength in her tiny frame to stand against the buffeting wind as her arms reached for the unconscious man. She managed to hook her fingers into the folds of his smouldering flight suit and began to pull him towards her.
3, 2, 1…
Indy crashed back into her seat, Raymond limp on top of her, just as the cockpit slid closed. She gasped for air that was not there until, after what seemed like an eternity, the space flooded with oxygen. Her vision was narrowing, the entire machine rattling in free fall. The display was a flood of warning lights and system failure. Battling against her fading consciousness, she reached past Raymond’s body and began to count. None of her digital instruments remained; it was just her own ability that could save them now. She frantically prepared to deploy what little landing gear she had left, her breath coming short and fast with his weight on top of her. Vision obscured, she could just barely see the dial counting down the distance to impact. Her hand hovered over a button on the dashboard, ready to redirect the tiny amount of thrust they had left at the last possible second.
400m to go. 300, 200, 100…
Just before the blackness consumed her, she brought her hand down hard on that button; and then she knew no more.