Corporal Jerry Marris struggled down a sand dune, one hand gripping his gauss rifle, the other gripping PFC Valencia by the carry handle across the back of her shoulders. He dragged his squad mate down the slope, his eyes locked over his shoulder as he struggled to keep her from sliding away, a difficult task even in Ranger power armor and the too-high gravity of Thesius II. Valencia left a trail of congealing blood in the sand.
Distant explosions sounded after them and gauss bullets and laser bolts snapped over sand dunes around them. Jerry checked the compass heading on the inside of his skull-shaped visor. He had a good idea which direction would get him back to Terran lines, and which way led to the Kesaht, but the mounds of sand around them had a bad habit of disorienting him.
“Talk to me, Val,” Jerry said.
“I’m cold,” she said, pain lacing her words.
“Rook rook!” echoed over the battlefield. Jerry looked to the top of the surrounding dunes, but didn’t see any of the alien Rakka.
“Your armor’s not functioning right.” Jerry hauled her up a dune slope, positioning her so her head was angled higher than her heart. Her left foot was a mangle of broken armor and bloody flesh. A bullet strike to her sternum had cracked the armor plate but hadn’t penetrated.
“Get this off…need to breathe.” Valencia pawed at her skull visor but Jerry pushed her hands away and took a spool off her belt.
“Air’s bad,” Jerry said. “Just hold tight while I get a tourniquet on you.”
“You said my leg was fine.” She struggled to sit up but her elbows sank in the sand.
“It will be.” He drew a length of wire from the spool and fed it into an eyehole just below her left knee. As blood oozed from the chewed-up remnants of her foot, Jerry ignored the white bone fragments mingled with the beige armor. Pulling the tip of the wire through the exit hole below her knee, he wrapped the wire over itself then put his thumb against a button on the spool.
“Ready in three…” He pressed the button and the wire tightened against itself, the auto-tourniquet squeezing against her leg and strangling her femoral artery.
Valencia gasped in pain and her left leg reared up. Jerry caught her just below the knee and stopped her from bashing the abused limb into the ground.
“Son of a bitch!” she cried.
“Hurts me too,” Jerry said.
“Rakka.” Valencia slapped a palm against the sand.
“Gonna get you out of here,” Jerry said.
“Rook rook!” sounded again and ice ran down Jerry’ spine. He turned around and found the enemy charging over dunes and right for them, their red eyes bright with murder, their hodgepodge armor rattling against their bodies as sunlight glinted off their crude blades and serrated bayonets at the ends of their laser rifles. He snapped up his weapon and opened fire.
Gauss bullets snapped out and smashed into the Rakka, the rounds hitting with enough force to punch through a Rakka and kill the alien behind it. But the bloodshed only seemed to make them charge faster.
Jerry put himself between Valencia and the enemy.
“Saint Kallen,” he prayed as he dropped an empty magazine and slapped in a fresh one, “witness this.” He shot a Rakka with a severed human hand still in Ranger armor dangling from a necklace. The screaming aliens closed in as he unloaded another magazine.
As Jerry swung his rifle butt into a Rakka’s hairy face, crushing it with the blow, an axe chopped into his shoulder. Although it deflected off his pauldron, the blow still stung and he lost his grip on his rifle.
A Rakka stabbed a bayonet at Valencia but Jerry flung himself toward her and grabbed the blade. As he held it firm, the edge cutting into the thin padding over his palms, he locked eyes with the Rakka and saw his skull-shaped visor reflected in the alien’s eyes.
The Rakka grunted at him like an angry ape then backed off, leaving the weapon in Jerry’ grasp. The rest of the mob pulled away from the two Rangers.
“The Saint heard you,” Valencia slurred.
A shadow passed over Jerry and the whirl of a rotary cannon rose in the air.
A black suit of armor towered over Jerry, a Templar cross emblazoned over the chest and shoulder. The armor held a Mauser rifle in both hands, the wide-bore weapon almost as large as Jerry. The rotary cannon, spinning so fast the barrels were a blur, spat fire and tore through the Rakka.
The aliens broke and fled, some managing to scramble over the dunes before the rotary cannon swept through their ranks, killing dozens within seconds.
As the armor stepped off the dune, its massive foot crushing a dead alien, the rotary cannon snapped back, and an empty ammo can spat off its back and fell smoking into the sand next to Valencia.
The armor’s helm turned to the Rangers.
“Get her out of here,” Roland said, his voice booming through speakers.
“I will never leave a Ranger…” Jerry said, shaking blood from his hand and grabbing Valencia by the carry handle with the other, “to fall into—”
“I know your creed,” Roland said. “Head east.”
The breech on his Mauser snapped open and Roland loaded a magazine the size of Jerry’ helmet. He strode west, crushing dead aliens with each step.
“No!” Jerry yelled, reaching for the armor. “There’s too many! A full-scale counterattack. They tore up our platoon. Sanheel and—”
“I am armor.” Roland beat a fist against his chest and bounded over a dune in two steps.
“I lost too much blood,” Valencia said. “Swear that was the Black Knight.”
“You ain’t dreaming.” Jerry hauled Valencia around the slope.
Read the rest on June 5th!