Peace is such a wondrous thing,
Especially when forged by your hand,
But, often, bringing forth this gift,
Provokes new terror to the land.
For Aric, the drone of the ship engine was like a lullaby he couldn’t fight. He was asleep—as he had been for most of the trip—when the pilot buzzed in over the intercom.
“Hey, Lieutenant, you’re gonna wanna come see this.”
With the squeaking of leather, Raiden rose from his seat on the other side of the craft. As he moved toward the front, Aric stirred from sleep and rubbed his eyes. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. The pilot called me up, so I guess we’ll see.”
The Fraquian disappeared through the cockpit curtains, and Aric sat up to wait for his return. The waiting lasted for about 10 seconds before he rushed across the cabin to see for himself.
The issue ended up being a column of black smoke rising up from the base in the distance. In fact, there were clearly several smaller fires smoking up the sky as well.
“What do you think, sir?” the pilot asked.
“I don’t know. The Arthians should have withdrawn their forces days ago, and Glaskgow informed me that Brownstein had negotiated a ceasefire with both Arth and Calri.” They were getting closer now, and figures were materializing against the solid brown of the base’s muddy terrain. “The only explanation is that someone’s violated the agreement or—” he paused for a moment as the blatant truth came to him “—or the Greys have finally decided to come out and play.”
“Holy shit,” Aric said. He was looking through the windshield, flinching each time the ship turned to reveal more Greys overrunning the base. “Holy shit!” he said again, this time with a more surprised tenor. “Look at ’em all. What are we gonna do?”
Raiden placed a giant hand upon the pilot’s shoulder. “Shift this puppy into attack mode. We need to lend a hand.”
“Aye aye, sir,” said the pilot, reaching forward to flip a switch that instantly had them feeling the gees of brisk deceleration.
Aric began to smile like an excited child. “We gonna show ’em how the humans play?”
“Absolutely,” Raiden replied. “And we don’t play nice.”
The sudden sound of spinning gears began to clank, followed by the quick zip of something sliding on its track and locking into place.
“What was that?” Aric asked.
“The machine gun turret,” Raiden replied.
“With bomb bullets,” added the pilot, glancing back with a mischievous grin.
“Yes. Bomb bullets,” Raiden said. “Get back there and open the hatch with the black ‘T’ on it. The ammunition strip is preloaded and dips down into the ship’s belly. That’s because it’s long. Really long. Shoot until your trigger finger falls off. You won’t run out of ammo.”
Aric looked eager. “What are you gonna do?”
Raiden turned and grabbed his SWUN from the weapon rack. “My baby here is good for up to 2000 yards. I’ll poke it out the door and snipe me some grey domes.” Aric nodded with a smirk, and Raiden nudged him backward. “Now get to the turret.”
“I’ll man the ship’s machine guns,” the pilot said after them. “The missiles will be too messy since our own men are scattered amongst the enemies, but the guns have computerized targeting so should take care of business.”
“Good,” said Raiden. “But don’t get too distracted. Take us down as soon as you can. We don’t know what kind of anti-aircraft weaponry they have.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
When Raiden broke through the curtains, Aric had already opened the hatch and was taking his seat behind the acrylic glass shield. The thunder of the ship’s guns began to sound, and Aric reached out for the trigger and began to rain metal the same. The first stream of bullets went unseen until stirring up a line of broken mud and bursting in clouds of smoke. Although the spray had hit some yards away from a cluster of crouching Greys, the explosions produced enough force to leave them on their backs unmoving.
“Yeah, you motherfuckers!”
Quickly, Aric let more bullets fly, this time watching flesh tear with direct hits and gawking in awe at the powerful blasts blossoming with each round. Bomb bullets are the shit! The weapon kicked violently, the smell of burnt gunpowder drifting up to him in a haze of white smoke. Like the smoke, he, too, drifted away, stopping in a world where it was nothing but him, the gun, and the unsuspecting targets down below. At such distance, there were no repercussions. It was pull a trigger, end a life, and keep on pulling till there were no more. Maybe it was even fun. He wasn’t thinking of this though.
On the opposite side of the ship, Raiden lay flat with the door open and his rifle propped on its tripod. It was more difficult to snipe while moving since the bullets would retain the forward velocity of the ship while in flight. But Raiden was well-trained. His shots found target after target with ease: a Grey in mid-sprint, one crouched in cover behind a rock, another standing tall with its weapon at full blast. Chest, skull, between the shoulder blades.
The blare of his gunfire blended with the consistent roar of Aric’s turret and the pilot-controlled machine guns. Flying above and devastating the enemy below: it seemed as if they could do so freely all day. Just with the passing of this thought, the ceiling over Raiden’s head began to clang with a short burst of enemy fire. He ducked away from the opening and inched forward to see a group of Greys having shifted their focus to shooting the bothersome ship from the sky. More shots pelted the craft in other areas, and Raiden slid away and shut the door.
The pilot spoke over the intercom, informing that he was landing the ship ASAP. Raiden tapped Aric on the shoulder, ending his incessant gunning to usher him back into the safety of the cabin. In a minute, the craft had lowered down upon the back edge of the airfield, a good distance from the fray. The engines died and took on a deepening hum as the turbines slowed. The pilot rushed through the curtains with a rifle in each hand, tossing one to Aric before moving to the exit and pulling the latch. He was in the midst of saying they needed to move quickly when he slid the door open and took a shot to the face that had the end of his sentence escaping as an incoherent groan. His body fell heavily, and Raiden rushed overtop to pull the door closed and lock it, sealing off more incoming fire. Aric watched, frozen and speechless.
“Break that window out, now!” Raiden screamed.
Aric snapped free from his shock and turned to the elongated rectangle of glass in the wall at his back. He sent a bullet at it, and the slug went straight through but left only a pinhole in its wake. He let a stream fly, freckling the window until he’d emptied half his clip. Meanwhile, the ship door was taking fire and shaking violently, the metal buckling inward like fingers poking from the other side. It took only seconds for bullets to surge through, opening small holes within the door’s face.
“Break it, Aric!”
The panic had rendered Aric too distracted to notice the axe hanging on the wall to his left, but Raiden’s voice coerced him to look. He dropped his rifle and retrieved the axe, spinning with the head outstretched until it struck the glass and burst through in a spray of shards. Two more hits was all it took to break the rest of the glass free from its panel.
“Raiden, I got it!”
Raiden grabbed the pilot’s rifle from the ground and tossed it to Aric, moving away from the door just as an explosion rang out on the other side and blew a large hole through the softened metal. The two of them dove through the open window with the rumble of pursuing gunfire nipping the frame at their heels. Their blind leap brought them to the top of a small ditch, and they rolled wildly down as the faces of their hunters emerged in the window. At the instant of their appearance, orange flames whipped furiously past their swollen heads, exploding from inside with a force that shook the craft.
Raiden and Aric looked back, peeking above the cover of the ditch in which they lay. A Grey now dangled limply from the windowsill of the craft, blood dripping from its head. Smoke billowed up from within the cabin. No more enemies rose to take the places of the deceased.
“Whoa,” Aric said. “What the hell was that?”
“That was my second-to-last frag,” Raiden replied, pointing to his belt where a single grenade was clipped.
“Nice,” Aric said. Impressive.
“Thanks. Let’s move.” Raiden stood and shuffled off with Aric right behind. “We’ll take the forest. The airstrip is more of a straight shot, but we’ll be too exposed.”
The gunshots sounded from afar, and for the first couple hundred yards, they ran quickly with little caution. Upon nearing the base, they slowed to a steady creep, Raiden looking left, Aric straight. Every now and then, a Fraquian would run by and they’d posture up to shoot but stop themselves. Just as often, it would be a Grey, and they’d put a bullet somewhere in it and continue on toward the HQ.
When they approached the edge of the forest—which sat on higher ground than the buildings of the base—they looked straight down the steep slope to where a handful of Greys took cover behind a long stack of fire wood, shooting overtop toward clueless soldiers.
“Cover our backs,” Raiden said, taking aim down toward the band of Greys.
At that same moment, a rustling of hurried feet came from behind, and Aric turned to where yet more assailants were moving toward them from within the forest. He knelt and began firing, and Raiden, at his back, did the same. The Greys behind the woodpile crumpled beneath a spray of bullets, their tiny bodies breaking apart as if made from wet clay. Nearly all were down and bleeding before the unwelcomed click of an empty clip bellowed in Raiden’s ears more forcefully than the gunshots before. The last Grey standing had just figured out where the shooting was coming from and was turning with its weapon raised, moments from firing.
No time to reload.
With weapon in hand, Raiden leapt from the ridge, plummeting down upon the small creature with a well-placed boot breaking its leg in half at the knee. It shrieked in anguish and flailed violently beneath the heavy Fraquian, surprisingly strong for its size. A quick button press brought forth the sword of Raiden’s SWUN, and he lowered it vigorously upon the resisting Grey. The presage of death was enough to make the struggle a difficult one, but the creature’s vigor languished with the passing moments. Slowly, the blade’s point descended toward its tender throat, and upon contact, the black holes of its eyes grew with doom. When the blade had forced its way excruciatingly deeper, the victim finally accepted death and let relax its straining muscles. The skewer disappeared within its throat, burrowing into the mud beneath and resurfacing with a hard yank and a grimy, dark red hue.
Raiden enjoyed a moment of rest upon his back, nestled inconspicuously between the pile of chopped logs and the muddy slope of the forest.
Aric’s head peeped over the incline’s crest. “Hey, you all right, big guy?”
Raiden spoke between breaths. “Yeah . . . I’m all right. I just . . . ran out of ammo.”
“Oh.” Aric jumped down the slope. “That’s no good.”
“Yeah, not at all,” Raiden replied, sitting up and pulling a spare clip from his jacket. “But we should go. We can’t let them breach the HQ.”
The duo dusted themselves off and hustled through the camp, passing by corpses of both good guys and bad, ignoring, reluctantly, the cries of injured soldiers who were too far gone to help. Rounding a wall into the courtyard, they abruptly collided with a trio of Greys that was headed the opposite direction. The three small bodies tumbled to the ground and dropped their weapons upon impact. The Greys stared up with their depthless eyes, catching the men’s attention before they could fill them with lead. Those eyes suddenly grew soft and warm and defenseless. They were pleading for mercy.
Raiden’s trigger finger began to relax, and Aric, for the first time in the past hour, felt as if he’d be a murderer if he followed through. Their guns inadvertently began to lower, and the Greys looked thankful and relieved. That’s when a barrage of bullets whipped across the mud and slashed the little guys to shreds in sprays of red.
Aric jumped, a scream of shock escaping his throat.
From their right, a Fraquian came sprinting, on a mission it seemed. As he passed by, he yelled some words of wisdom and just kept going: “Don’t look into their fucking eyes.”
Raiden and Aric looked to each other, stunned that they had just hesitated in such a way. Embarrassed even. They could have been killed for that softness.
“Note taken,” said Aric.
“I’d say so.”
At the far side of the courtyard, an explosion suddenly bellowed forth, bringing with it a bright flash that illuminated the darkening sky of dusk. As the two looked up, a faction of Greys was rushing into the HQ building through a tuft of smoke swirling about the entrance.
“Shit, they’ve gotten in,” Raiden said, taking off in full sprint. “Hurry up.”
As they ran, gunshots echoed from within the building. They still had a good 100 yards to go, and their angle wasn’t letting them see through the open doorway. Thirty yards away, they ducked behind a statue as a Grey came storming back out with its arms flailing riotously. It was but a second or two before the creature exploded like a popped balloon, a flash of fire quickly fading to smoke as clods of dirt and grey flesh fell with the sound of heavy raindrops. Aric looked to Raiden for some kind of explanation, but the man only looked back with an equally-puzzled expression upon his face.