I hate you, Zoltar. God, how I hate you. You've ruined everything.
I'm staring down at the remains of my own shattered corpse, mangled and twisted amidst the charred and blackened girders that used to be the roof of our beachside base. Part of me still can't believe it's happened. The other part can't deny what I see directly at my feet.
I think it's been several hours now, but smoke's still rising from the debris. It probably stinks, too, but I can't smell anything; you need a nose for that. I think there are flies buzzing around, and maybe some feral pigs, but I can't hear them, either. Christ, it all happened so fast.
It was a normal, boring day, just like the three hundred and fifty other days before it. I was going on my rounds: cleaning this, dusting that, updating databases with progress reports, the usual. We'd been in operation for almost a year and G-Force hadn't noticed us yet. Or so we thought.
The latest attack mecha was up and running, and it was a thing of beauty to an engineer's eye. She was long and sinuous, almost ninety feet long and thirty feet wide, with a top speed of 1105 kph, and gorgeous, camo-capable armor. Even though Zoltar called it an adder, it reminded me more of a cobra because of the way the jets around the head's control center flared outwards when she maneuvered. I could see them working on her in the launch bay from my terminal, and often paused in my duties to take in the sight. I would have liked to fly aboard her, just once. Just once.
The adder had barely gotten out of the launch bay and began heading for Kauai proper when G-Force struck. The speed with which they attacked, I remember Zoltar screaming, could only mean that someone on the inside had betrayed us. I couldn't believe it. Who would have -- ?
Then it clicked. Nostras. I'd once caught him scribbling a message onto some bulletin board late at night; he'd looked very guilty and told me he'd subscribed to some dating service. He'd shut the illegal web browser he was using on his workstation before I saw what he'd typed. Naturally. He looked and acted very nervous for a week afterwards, but when I asked him about it, he said it was because he'd written some cute girl with some personal information and his picture, and was waiting for her to write back. Like a fool, I believed him. Why, oh why didn't I report him to Sub-Commander Tela'as?
Oh God, is that a maggot I see crawling into my ear? I can't tell. I'd throw up if I had a stomach and food to barf. I don't want to look at the thing while it eats me, and yet I just can't seem to look away. I'm trying. I can't. Oh God, let me look away. Please.
The caked, seared blood splattered on the beam where my head used to be reminds me of the red lights that suddenly lit up the base when the first G-Force missile hit. The resulting concussion threw me -- and half the people around me -- to the ground. I got to my feet and ran for my post; damage control was where I'd been assigned, and I was in charge of coordinating the repair drones. I got there to find my station mostly destroyed by a section of metal-and-rock wall that had caved in from the missile's impact, but the one next to it was still functioning, so I logged onto that one. I couldn't believe what the readouts were telling me: a single missile had hit, by some stupid coincidence, the geothermal supply center, which powered the main defense battery. It also meant only our half of the base, powered by regular gas lines, was actually functioning; we hadn't yet finished converting the entire base to the geothermal energy method. By every procedure in the book, a working capacity of less than 51% -- and no defensive capability to boot -- dictated we had to evacuate unless otherwise ordered.
And that order came. "Stay and do what you can!" shouted Sub-Commander Tela'as over the noise into my ringing ear when he paused by my commandeered station en-route to someplace else. "Zoltar's ordered everyone to give G-Force the worst greeting possible when they storm the base!" He then shoved a slightly-battered rifle into my hands and ran in the general direction of the launch bay.
I watch as a feral pig appears within my line of sight from somewhere nearby, trots leisurely up to my corpse, then begins to snuffle and chew on what's left of my ear, eating the bug in the process. I can't help but stare. Another pig appears and follows suit; now there are two of them. Two. The second one's starting on my fingers. Why can't I look away?
My fingers. They were working frantically at the keyboard, trying to coordinate the handful of repair drones we had left, when the hallway leading to my section and the launch bay erupted in flames. I jumped out of my chair and behind a portion of fallen wall, and instantly began shooting down the hall. I only had basic training in using the thing: I'm a repair tech, not a soldier.
Was a repair tech. I could almost forget I'm dead, except for the shredded mess before me and the gold ring I always wore, set with one of the obsidian pieces from my sister's rock collection, still sitting on my uncrushed, flame-broiled ring finger. Oh God, my sister. Dessanla will never know what happened to me.
I recall now: someone shot back at me. I couldn't see who it was for the roiling black clouds that engulfed my station, but the shots landed too close for comfort. I ducked behind my cover just as something went zing over my head and turned the ceiling above me into a mosaic of incendiary reds and oranges. More shots followed up the explosive's work. I was pinned down. There was nowhere to run, nowhere else to hide, and no way I could get out without being killed the second I moved.
That's it, I remember now -- I'd been looking for a way out. That's when I saw it. Goddamn him, that was it. I caught a flash of purple out of the corner of my eye, streaking towards the launch bay while I was looking for some means of escape. Only one person wears purple of that shade, and he was running. Goddammit, he was running! He was leaving us! He was leaving us all -- me -- to die!
Fucking Zoltar! Didn't he care? Didn't he care at all? I was only a few meters away from the entrance to the launch bay! There was no way he couldn't have seen me on the way there because the entire area was almost completely wide open! He could have taken me with him!
In my shock and anger, I'd forgotten about the ceiling. I certainly didn't see it come down. I barely remember the hot rush of wind that accompanied the flaming wreckage as it mulched my head beneath its weight. There was no pain, just what I can only describe as an exclamation mark: I knew something had happened, but I didn't know until afterwards. Funny, that. It'll probably look very amusing in a speech bubble on some two-bit cartoonist's page.
I only know what hit me because I'm standing here looking at it. I've been standing here since it happened, actually. I just can't seem to move from this spot. In my peripheral vision, I watched Zoltar's ship take off from the launch bay, watched four blurs of color -- two light, two dark -- dash past my corpse and scatter throughout the area, watched the entire base quickly burn, ignite and burn some more, watched until the flames burned themselves down to smoldering cinders. I watched it all. Now there's nothing left. Not even my life.
My life. I had a life; Zoltar might as well have taken it himself when he left me to die. I had a sister; oh, Dessanla, can you ever forgive me for not coming home? I had a future; I was going to be promoted in less than a week to the head position of my own repair crew, which would have been at the main base in the Himalayas. I had something to look forward to no matter where I was or who I was with.
Now all I have left is a rotting, pig-gnawed corpse I can't stop looking at, and a base full of ashes.
Goddamn you, Zoltar. Goddamn you for running away and leaving me to die. Goddamn you for making me abandon my sister. Goddamn you for ruining my life by ordering me to stay. Goddamn you for everything.
Jason grimly surveyed what was left of the Hawaiian installation. The insider's information had been sketchy at best; it was sheer chance the one missile left over from their sky battle with the giant snake robot had hit the main power supply. Someone almost as lucky as they had nearly taken his head off with a spray of blaster fire when the team stormed the main staging area; if it wasn't for Keyop tackling him in the legs at the last possible instant, he'd be dead now.
He'd been ordered to see if there was anything left they could make use of: databases, plans, anything. The section he was in displayed nothing but what appeared to be computer terminals that had melted in the fire's intense heat, and the view hadn't changed for the last fifteen minutes. What Jason was really looking for now was the Spectran who'd almost punched his ticket. He doubted the guy had gotten away -- nobody had come out of the base after Zoltar had escaped -- but it didn't hurt to look. The last thing they needed was some elite marksman running loose, picking them off while they did recon.
He came to an area that was strewn with chunks of rock and metal beams that had once comprised the ceiling. It looked vaguely familiar, so he checked his bearings -- yes, there were the pockmarks in the wall left by the sniper's fire. This was indeed the area they'd come through just as Zoltar was getting away. The shots had come from near a terminal by the wall --
The reek of burnt flesh suddenly assailed his nostrils. Jason paused and scrutinized the still-smoking rubble before him. There -- was that blood on one of the girders? It was, and a slight shifting of his position brought the source into full view.
He couldn't reach it because of all the junk in the way, but he could see most of it. Some poor bastard had been crushed beneath tons of metal when the ceiling had given way, and what was left of him was mostly barbecued. A pair of feral pigs was silently rooting through and tearing at the split, leaking and charred flesh; one of them looked up briefly and grunted possessively in his direction. No help there. Jason was about to move on when a glint of something metallic caught his eye.
He blinked at the sight of the rifle, barrel twisted and warped from extreme heat, lying next to the scorched remains of what appeared to have been a lab coat. A scientist? He'd almost been taken out by a fucking *scientist*? It had to be him; there were no other bodies in the area, and he'd covered the whole place. Of all the screwy things to happen today --
Abruptly, Jason stared hard. Was it his imagination, or was there something -- someone -- standing by the corpse? For the barest instant, it looked as if there was the faintest, dusty image of a gaunt-cheeked, rail-thin man standing amidst the still-smoking debris, colorless eyes fixed on the gory sight before him. A gust of wind from an approaching hurricane blew from the shore into the destroyed room, shredding the smoke, and the image was gone.
Jason blinked twice and shook his head. He couldn't have seen --
Mark touched his shoulder, causing him to twitch. "Hey, are you -- " A pause, then, "Yuck. I hope it was quick for him. Did you find anything?"
Jason pushed Mark's hand away. "No." With effort, he looked away from the scientist's body. "Let's get out of here."