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by Arbon
Rated: 13+ · Serial · Action/Adventure · #2118543
A space explorer is trapped on an alien planet, unwillingly involved with a deadly war.
My name is Freya Savitri, and right now there was only one thing on my mind.

Water.

Something you think about a lot when running.

Su in Turkish, ka wai in Hawaiian, amanzi in Zulu, dwr in Welsh, aqua in Latin, yc in Mongolian, vatn in Icelandic, omi in Yoruba. You think about the water running down your face, become intimate with the feel of salt on skin and a damp aroma from each of your joints. It soaked into the cloth padding and welled up from beneath the cracks in my armor. Wai in Maori, akvo in Esperanto, voda in Croatian, eau in French, wetter in Frisian, tubig in Cebuano.

Above all you acquainted yourself with the desire for water, the need to drink.

“There’s the outpost!” Doth spouted with encouragement and glee. “Just a little bit farther and then you can rest, come on now.”

“Fuck.” Her eyes weren’t anywhere near as good as mine, and these kind words weren’t very appreciative when I’d been saying them to her for the past then minutes. “You.” Less still when I’ve had to say them to myself, and for a time almost didn’t believe them.

All I could picture during this decently lengthy run was finding a nice pool somewhere, tearing off this armor to neat little shreds, and then relaxing with a cool soak. Well, I’d probably be doing something a lot more productive if I managed to escape and make a run for the ocean or for some hot spring down south, but fantasies were nice.

“I can’t believe this, we should have taken six hours to reach the outpost and you’re … my god you’re making it here in less than one!” Doth being so constantly pleased with my progress wasn’t as heartening as she might have believed.

For one I could tell my own calculations were off, both by the time it would take me to travel and the estimated distance. But it was still five miles in forty minutes with an on and off jog. I wasn’t exactly pushing myself, and I’ve maintained decent shape ever since I first went to space. What kept causing problems was this worthless armor.

“How about. Next time. You. Carry me. And I’ll. Pilot. The suit.” I breathed. Don’t even know why I was saying this. Practice with the language?

But the first sun remained high, and the second wasn’t even peaking up over the horizon yet. It would be almost a full twenty or so hours until both set by my count, but I know these measurements are always awkward thanks to irregularities in the planet’s spin and orbit. I’m sure Toris would have been far better at counting the days and predicting when night and sunlight would fall. It didn’t matter much.

We had arrived.

“Ahaha! Galm outpost, and in record time!” Doth all but let out a squeal of joy.

“No we didn’t, you people are just bad at keeping records.” My mumbling didn’t even try to drown out her happy chattering. A thud, a stomp, approaching the base’s foot high outer walls that might have readily protected from a massed Gesshru assault but would do nothing at all to hold a human in or out.

“We’re going to need to turn you’re controls back on okay, so just relax while I’m taking over. Don’t panic, everything will be fine little maneater.” She nuzzled me. I could feel it. She actually nuzzled against the back of my head, just moments before the entire body stiffened. Legs jerked forward with an unnatural rapidity, my head locked straight and narrow. But my eyes she left alone.

That sharp tingle worming its way into my spine serving as a ceaseless reminder of what our relationship actually was, no matter how pleasant she tried to make it seem.

“You try relaxing with this thing hooked up to your spine. I guarantee it’s not as easy as you think it is.” She wouldn’t know it, but I was immensely grateful for at least being allowed this privilege of free examination. I could see young and fresh soldiers scrambling to clear out of the way, I could see makeshift tents out of threaded grass and exotic looking sticks. They must have mounted expeditions into the forests up north for supplies. Desperation or convenience?

“No Twitch, soldiers!” Doth’s voice boomed through the speakers in my collar. Standing tall and proud over an encampment the size of a child’s sandbox. There were barracks I could recognize, an open space lined with boxes of spears where they obviously trained for combat. Their throwing range really wasn’t much, and their higher end weapons amounted to a rubber band flinging a toothpick that had maybe a few meters worth of reach.

“State your name and business!” Another shouted back with a lightly panicked voice.

“Doth Renfi of the Ontal Max Compound, I have arrived delivering weekly supplies of food and ammunition as requested!” No amount of that little guard’s shouting could compare to the electronic speaker at Doth’s beck and call.

“The Gate opens for you, pilot Doth Renfi. No Twitch.” And by which this male meant it literally, however useless the threaded wood barricade around a mud brick enclosure might have been. If one had to judge Doth’s careful movements and actively slow foot placement, it was a struggle for her to not kick down the defenses by accident. The walkways between their tent was only a foot or so at the widest with most less than half that, which for the Gashn soldiers this was more than enough.

“Is the landing bay cleared for deposit?” Doth asked amidst cautious maneuvering.

“This facility is not established with the expectation of Max units.” The man stated back, to which the obvious reply would have most certainly held the word ‘duh’ somewhere in its sentence structure. Three buildings, all of them made from light wood that I couldn’t help but associate with balsa despite its exotic colors. Half a foot tall at the most? They would have made neat little dollhouses despite a rugged design and hasty construction.

“My job is not to listen to excuses, soldier. Give me solutions, not problems, or I can assure you Maneater here is fully capable of clearing her own space.” Gone were Doth’s doting niceties or polite shyness, she spoke from a position of authority and power. Interestingly treating this man the same way she treated Tasgal.

“W-we …” he paused. The entire area was cleared, and I could spot several Gashn soldiers with plastic spears in hand standing at attention. “Place them in the shooting gallery, and then please park you’re unit in the refuse pile out back.”

“Orders confirmed.” Doth’s tone was unexpectedly harsh. She added a hasty. “Sir”

My movements continued, a cautious step directly over the tents, a heavy crunch as my boot deforms the loose sand they’d been practicing with. Robotic motions of my hand lowering into place, less like dropping off a bag of groceries and more like lowering a crane filled with a bag of shipping containers. The bag lowered gently and the objects knocked against each other, boxes rolling onto one side with a shaking clatter and the tinktaks of plastic rocking against the walls.

It was all too slow. I might forgive Doth for trying to keep the boxes intact, but once the tarp was down she then had to be hilariously incompetent in her efforts to untie it. A wrapped loop that might have taken half a moment if I were given free reign. The thick gauntlets making my fingertips slippery, making this harder. The beaded sweat now cooling against my skin, seeping back out of the armors padding. Doth took entirely too long to remove a knot, and there wasn’t much fanfare once the wrapping was pulled away and a discordant array of boxes piled the dirt.

“Out of the way miss Doth, move it! SOLDIERS! On my mark you are to sort and store those supplies, do you hear me?”

“Sir, yes sir!” multiple squeaks shouted back in unison.

“KEPA! Speak louder you starflung grubworm!” My eyes turned to focus as he seemed to point directly to one particular Gesshru.

“Sir, yes sir!” they all said without looking away. Eyes steadfast on the pile.

“Well?” that same guard motioned toward us. Toward my bulk. “Stop just standing around and get out of our way. There’s a clear spot by the north side.”

“Sir, with all due respect.” Doth started. “This would go much faster if I were permitted to assist with unloading.”

“Permission granted Pilot. You, and only you, are to come down here and help carry them indoors. Our buildings do not open wide enough for a max’s hands, our fort is not strong enough to withstand even the least minor accident, and having already gotten the supplies here. We do not have any special need for speed in sorting, only accuracy and proper examination for possible traps or spy devices. So when I say that you’re ‘Maneater’ is going to sit in the only corner we have room to place it, you are GOING TO SIT YOUR MAX IN THAT RUSTED CORNER. Do I make myself clear, pilot?”

“I …” Doth sounded stunned. “Of course sir.”

But she wasn’t stunned for any longer than I was, and unlike her it was all I could do to keep from snickering at the concept of a Gesshru commander playing drill sergeant. These weren’t shouts as a human might recognize them, they were all high pitched squeaks and grinding tooth clacks, all adorable little mouse noises using horn waggles or tailflicks to denote expression. Of course if I were to scream then everyone in this base could be removed from the fight by sound alone …

We moved, or rather my body moved. Standing up strait, stepping clear over a large flat building with an opening hangar designed to fit Gesshru but not much else. Behind the building was various piles of scrapped plastic, bits of shiny metal, bags that I could only assume held mud for some reason. Construction maybe? And large amounts of old wood or dried leaves, things that either didn’t work for the buildings or had blown in from some storm and been collected here.

It was a garbage pile alright.

“Okay Maneater, now I’m going to have to go away for a bit. I’m so very sorry.” Doth whispered. Directly to my ears rather than the loudspeaker, I was the only one able to hear it. Well, if there had been another human nearby they would have heard it too, but Geshru senses were poor. “This won’t take long at all and you’ll get to rest for a bit, alright? But I’m going to have to turn you off completely until I’m done.”

The only response she got from me was a grumbled clicking noise, I could have done with a drink and someone to take the helmet off. It was very difficult to not squeak out some complaint about word usage, if I ever have to inform the folks back home that a tiny little alien mouse could press my buttons and turn me on I’d never hear the end of it.

“Once you’re done, make sure to save the tarp!” that guard who approached shouted above the squeaky scampering of a rodent army. “We’ll want them to take our trash away too, so let’s help things along easier for them.”

My feet folded in, knees grinding into the rubbage coated ground. There was a building to my left and a thin mud wall to my right. And ohgodohgod this felt so wrong, my body rolling backward of its own accord. Normally I’m kneeling into my front, making it easier for those damned Gashn pilots to reach my controls. Why was I placed onto my back?

And more, spread out. My legs extending comfortably, my arms folding up over my stomach and just resting onto those light plates that comprised my armor.

“There you go Maneater, just hold tight and remember I’ll let you run around all you want on the way back. Love you.” Doth’s voice just before a kiss. Well, a lick. Into the back of my hair. But it was their equivalent of a kiss, and creepily affectionate for any scenario save the reality that I’m just a smart pet to her eyes.

A soft hiss, the back panel to my controls opened up part of the way and forcing Doth to squeeze out. Nimble movements and fur rubbing against padding, I heard the click as she snaps it back up.

“I realized this is how you guys sleep.” Doth whispers while moving by my face. “Not like that bow or crouch or whatever, but you don’t seem to do that unless forced. This should give you a nicer rest while I’m away, okay Max?”

“Got it.” I squeaked back. The entire outpost relegated to an awkward silence as my rumbled squeaks shook louder than their speakers. I wasn’t exactly whispering, but then it wouldn’t have helped if I did try.

“That’s my girl, see you in a bit.” And thus my pilot scurried off.

“Took you long enough, what are you going to make out with it too?” an unknown voice filled with Mirth.

“You are welcome to try yourself sir, I cannot promise you’re safety this close to feeding time.” And Doth fired right back.

“Hah, we got a few easterner prisoners if you’re up for taking them off our whiskers.”

“NO! What are you starflung, idiot? We have to get them to tell us where the tribes are first.”

“Tribes?” Doth’s voice was so easy to make out, the rest were a wild mix of male and female, formal and informal, that it took all I had just to keep translating them in my head. They at least sounded distinct to my ears.

“The Mawlith tribes, or at least I think those are the troublemakers.”

“Last I heard they were heading south with some sort of beast army.”

“No, reports I saw kept saying they’re making boats, going east into those island territories.”

“Why would anyone go to those islands, that’s just suicide.”

“Excuse me, where do I put these spears?” Doth questioned.

“Over in the large building, first rack to the left. You’ll see a few throwers in place but, we don’t have much ammo left.”

“Got it, thanks.” Doth once more.

I could hear them clearly, none of them were whispering and none were trying to be quiet. Truth be had, I wasn’t even that far away, the biggest hurdle was simply this helmet wrapped around my face. I could move my tongue, I could move my lips, I could swallow or lather and possibly spit. Not much point with that visor in the way. I could move my eyes, oh glorious me she left me in control of my own eyes! And the biggest benefit here was the fact I could close them, no longer forced to stare up at a much too bright sun. How long until the second one peaks up over the horizon, and would it come from the east or the west?

“You got these here just in time you know.”

“I can see that.” Doth chides, sounding unimpressed. “How could you allow you’re weapon reserves to be so low? There’s a stationed force of ninety men here. And you’re food isn’t that much better.”

“Easier to ration food, and we got to keep a few spoils on the way back.”

“Weapons are low cause we used them all.”

“Yeah! You should have been there, massive raid on some nearby tribe. They were in the middle of whatever meeting with some easterner suits and trying to cut some sort of deal.”

“Scouts saw the parties, informed us of their position, and then we moved to attack in the middle of the night.”

“They had a really strong defensive perimeter and a lot of wooden weapons. But we didn’t bother with the barricades, just climbed up high trees and started slaughtering.”

“Tactically sound.” Doth agreed through a bit of strain. I could tell she was lifting something heavy, or at least cumbersome enough to weigh her down. “It leaves me rather surprised they didn’t utilize similar methods if they had time to fortify.”

“Eh, the whole place was smeared green and rubbed in dirt. They were probably trying to keep hidden, and that’s hard to do when leaping across branches.”

“And yeah, we lost all of our spears raining down death from above. Shooting anything that moves and tearing open holes in their fort.”

“Once all the defenders were dead, we march right inside the main gate and shackle down all the survivors we found. Including those easterner spies.”

“They aren’t spies according to their service number, proper role is … diplomat I think.”

“Wordy guys are all the same, if the scum isn’t actually risking his neck fighting stuff then it might as well be a spy.”

“Yeah I think Diplomat is just some code word or something for the Cavni federation. Good thing we shut down their plans or whatever.”

“Really need to thank the scouts, they did all the hard work.”

“So wait.” Doth chipped in. “If you didn’t take a single casualty and managed to capture prisoners, then why did you simply leave you’re ammunition behind?”

“Wasn’t trying to, but about the same time we were rounding up survivors we saw a few Souleaters flying overhead.”

“We did not! That’s just the general getting paranoid.”

“A Souleater? Here?” Doth actually sounded worried.

“It isn’t paranoia if it’s true, why else would the general just call everyone back?”

“Souleaters only fly around the coast and along islands. They attack sailors and beachgoers, not us.”

“Agreed.” Doth as most definitely worried. “We are much too far inland to worry about those beasts, but I suppose you could simply march back out to collect them now.”

“We did.”

“No-no, we tried see. But once our scouting party got back, all of the well made spears were already taken. Whole place was stripped clean. Food, tools, corpses, everything but the broken junk.”

I saw something flutter overhead. No, I heard something too. A bird? For the moment I couldn’t remember if birds existed on this planet, but I know flying things did. Souleater. That was a slang word for certain. Most of my knowledge came from linguistic discrepancies, the fact that in Gesshru religion their soul returns to the core of the planet to rejoin with all ancient relatives and experience eternity.

To be rejected from the core was to be lost into space, starflung. They believed that stars in the night sky were long lost souls of those who died but were not accepted into the afterlife. And to die inside of another person meant that you’re soul was trapped inside theirs, unable to sink bellow into the core. To be eaten alive was to be denied the afterlife.

Anything that ate Gesshru alive could be called a ‘souleater’ under that definition, but the fact they had some specific term meant that it was either a catchall for any variety of large mouthed predator or it meant that whatever predator they feared was the only thing threatening them to this degree, thus getting a class all its own. Technically humans could be souleaters under this model, though I’ve never actually swallowed a live Gesshru nor am I aware of any crewmates who tried. Honestly Kell would likely be the first, that’s something I wouldn’t put past a hot-head like her.

I’ve eaten Gesshru before, certainly, and a handful of pilots were alive when I started, but I don’t think it counts if you chew. Then again, give me ten seconds alone with Tasgal and I can perform the world’s fastest magic trick, how to make a bully disappear with no evidence and no blood splatter.

“So then you suspect someone else is up north, either surviving tribe members or perhaps another tribe. Maybe even Cavni forces themselves hiding out somehow.” Doth asked aloud, once more straining to move something I couldn’t turn to see. I closed my eyes and listened.

“Lot of trees, lot of brush, it’s pretty easy to hide up there. We were hoping to go on another offensive soon, just need our scouts to come back with something.”

“They should have been back during the last sleep, it’s already light out …”

“Well sometimes scouting takes a while, I’d rather they actually find something than show up empty handed and defeated.”

Flapping. I could hear it more clearly, distant flapping. There was more than one and it was coming closer.

“If you wanted to fight jungle tribes, we do have a Max pilot right here.” Doth sounded far too proud.

“You have heard how noisy those things are, right? Really tall, really loud, they can’t walk without stomping and command always has them covered up in that armor. Anyone is going to hear them coming, see exactly where they are, hide effortlessly by just walking around the nearest tree, and then just laugh at you’re backside as you and you’re little Max walk right on by.”

“This is forest play, you want stealth and awareness and setting up ambushes. Hit and run, not smash all the walls.”

“Doesn’t matter how strong you think that max is, the thing can’t tear down all the trees until it finds something.”

“Okay, okay, fine!” Doth relented. What did I hear making that flappy noise, and why were there so many of them? “I guess you have it all sorted, huh.”

“We’re holding our own. If Cavni push to make it this far inland we’ve got enough men to hold them off. Good walls, solid defenses, we can see in all directions so no ambush is going to get us. Keep the Max for when we need rapid response, don’t want to leave those things vulnerable.”

“Ohcore it would be soooo bad if one of those Easterners managed to steal a Max.”

“I heard command has a clever solution to that, every single Max is given constant training to try and make them associate Easterners with food.”

“Train? Those things are biosculptures with a built in control module, why can’t you just reprogram them?”

“Huh.” Doth blinked. “I … I never thought of that.”

“Because that’d be expensive or something, duh. I don’t know. Shut up, a Cavni can’t get anywhere near the things and wouldn’t know what to do if they did.”

“Well, actually.” Doth sounded so much like a nerd about to correct some trivia. But then there was that flapping again, so much flapping. So close? “The eastern prisoners we’ve put into their holding cells, Max units only seem to devour the corpses of dead ones. They are perfectly harmless to live Gesshru so long as you do not actively threaten them.”

“Hah! Good thing the scumbags across the ocean aren’t really gesshru then. Subraces don’t get special treatment.”

“True that.” I could hear them clasp paws. I could hear the start of a laugh.

And then I heard …

The screams?

“AAHHH! Ohcoreno, NO! NONONONONO!” No idea who that was, but it wasn’t Doth.

“Get the weapons!”

“Where did they come from?!”

“Everyone get inside!”

“Fall back to the tents!”

“No, the tents are suicide they’ll tear right through them!”

“AAAahhh! Someone, save me!”

“Save meeeeeee!”

“Shoot them, throw the spears, now! NOW!”

“Arms, everybody to arms, kill them!”

“Kill them aallmphhmph!”

I opened my eyes, but I couldn’t turn my head. I couldn’t see what was happening, forced to imagine the mad scramble. Head facing up I could see the sky, I could see wings, and I could see yellow fluttering fuzzy things zipping about on bat wings. No, some of them were a light blue, and I think at least one of them was orange. There were only a few in my field of vision, most of them flying down and then one or two rising back up.

Smiles on a fanged maw, angular heads with giant forward facing eyes. They had long tails which were thick at the base and thin at the tip, completely covered in a downy fur with lightly shaded bellies and pawtips. They looked like some cross between an otter, a cat, and a bat. Flying awkwardly but forcefully with a body obviously better designed for swimming than long distance air travel.

Wait, there’s another one. And more screams. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t help, if I even tried to shout for someone to come release my controls, my voice would end up stunning most of the poor soldiers. Aah, and here’s what the cat-otter things were for.

“No, nnnoooo!” I heard the screams as a bright yellow fluttery thing with a thick poofy chest was carrying a Gesshru into the skies. One leg was already down the thing’s mouth, and the rest of him was held secure by soft catlike paws as big around as his whole body. The flying puffy thing seemed very pleased with itself.

Then rose another one, legs and tail kicking out between its lips while two more gesshru were bashing at its fingers. Each held aloft in one hand. The soldiers clearly weren’t heavy enough to distract it’s flight.

“Arm yourselves, everyone fire! Don’t’ let the beasts escape!”

“AAaahhh! Mooomm! MOM!” another voice cried.

“Maneater.” But those cries weren’t as driven to home as a particular nearby whisper. Doth was behind my head. “We need you, we have to fight, so I’m just going to turn you back on.”

I felt the click on the back of my neck, deliberately avoiding a response. And in an act of pure irony I felt the heavy lump on my stomach, a yellow cat-thing landing near my chest and pawing its way across. Smooth and delicate, weightier than one might have expected, and employing that stalking grace one expects from a cold hearted predator.

It looked so cute though!

Daaww, I could see it’s face. It was looking at my face, those stiff pointed ears and wide round eyes. It has just the cutest little pink nose above its maw and these adorable side-swishing whiskers. I wanted to cuddle it and hug it and just scoop the thing up into my arms, it was sooo coooot! How could anyone be terrified of this fuzzy little thing?

The click became a squish and a clack, the sound of Doth struggling to force her head into the ill fitted slot. My head was in the way, that ground was blocking the opening panel, all of this rubbage made any movement she tried obnoxiously noisy.

“Come oon!” Doth scrambled with a frantic desperation. “Just. Gah, open!”

And even if I had taken the time to call for her, it would have been too late. The fluttery bat winged cat thing leapt off my head and behind me. I heard her cries. I heard the sound of claws scraping against plastic, an almost cartoonish ‘nom’ sound by a fuzzy little predator being much too happy.

“Aahh! No,nonono, I’m so close. You can’t eat me now! MANEATER! Aaah, noooo!” her voice became a bit more distant. Then suddenly very close as the cat was back to sitting on my face, half of Doth between its lips with my pilot’s face and arms scrambling to pull herself free. She must have been attacked from behind, jaws closed around her legs, and then dragged away before she could crawl inside my helmet.

The access panel was still open, I could feel …

“Psshhrrruu” the predator sounded, it’s voice all too similar to a purr with clicks on it and the hiss of escaping gas. It’s jaws pulled up and dragged Doth in up to her chest, the terrified pilot pleading for someone to help her, for anything to get her out of this.

I was paralyzed. By her actions.

The only help she got from me was the sad, knowing look of a face a behind plastic screen. She was crying now, I could see. And I really wished I could try for her, but I’d known she was living on borrowed time since the moment she spoke to me. Even if she were saved now she’d die at some point once returning back to Ontal, the only tragedy in this was that she’s going to die in the worst possible way according to her culture.

“P-please …” she pleaded softly, before the cat-thing bounced away and took off looking for more victims. More prey.

I tried to move, but nothing happened. I could breathe, I could blink, I could listen. But it was just screaming and agony, cries and whimpering.

“Company, aim. FIRE!”

Looking up I could see some of the ones in the sky facing tiny slivers of plastic launched in their direction. One missed, another hit a wing, one took a needle directly through the face and flailed wildly, dropping its catch. One took a needle and the plastic simply bounced off, no harm done. Another took a needle to the leg, stabbing all the way through and acting as a nail between its joints. Still more took needles and clearly bled, it clearly hurt, but the plastic just didn’t have enough stopping power to down them consistently.

Considering they were a little over a foot and a half tall compared to the three or four inches on a Gesshru, it makes sense. These were very tiny weapons being used against them.

But then one of the cats made a sound …

“Phsaaah!” it’s arm, now bloodied, waved toward those in the air and pointed downward. “Pshaaah, hssss!”

My eyes narrowed. And then they widened back open, four of the flying otter-cats seeming to glow in the eyes, then glow in the paws, before a burst of brilliant white and blue and yellow came surging down.

I could smell ozone. The scent of burning flesh and charred fur, it was as if bolts of lightning had just graced the earth. I could hear the screams, and the dying moans, soldiers blasted from above as they find they aren’t the only ones with ranged weapons. And frankly the cat’s were more impressive.

Plastic? Yes I could smell that too, melted plastic.

“gnnn, r-reload. RELOAD! Don’t let the damned things cook you, RELOAD AND FIRE!”

The guard shouted up, and I could hear the otter-cats hissing to each other.

“Phsaah hhshs hssss, pshaaa!” one looking to the next, and the other clearly nodding. Two injured ones started to fly away toward the forest, and one with a spear through its wing was held aloft by its friends.

They were coordinating?

I don’t know how many remained, but four in total were leaving. Some more frantic and desperate scrambles of the men at ground level, only to face wild explosions and burning zaps from all directions. I could hear it, there were some on the ground too. Tearing away tents, zapping at random, and one in blue fur that appeared to be leading from above.

Screams, and cries, the Gesshru were losing badly. Their buildings held for a bit against weight and muscle, or at least I didn’t hear wood snapping and collapsing. But I could smell the fire now. Something close was burning. I could smell the blood, hissing and squeaks as these two creatures fought tooth and nail.

One cat-thing scrambled onto my face, this one with a soft orange fur and a plastic needle through its shoulder. But in its maw was a crispy black Gesshru, twitching and moaning. I looked up to see it’s pained, bloodshot eyes. It looked down to see my face, worried and curious and torn on who to root for considering Doth is about the only one I’d actively save.

“H-hee-l- …” the charred rodent started, leaving me with the pang of guilt. And a realization that if I could, I probably would be trying to save him too.

A chomp. A snap. He soon became blackened tail between a purring feline’s maw, and not long after that a lump trailing down it’s throat. The fuzzy cat-otter-bat thing leaned close and slurped a round tongue along my Visor. I stared back, sticking out my own tongue.

It blinks, and sticks out a tongue to mimic me.

I blink back, waggling my tongue left and right.

To my great amusement it waggles back, a tongue with some charred fur stuck in spit, first to the left cheek and then to the right cheek. It bounced away in a twirling spin, purring and hissing and leaping all about. So much heavier than one expects given the cat-like size, ohmygodwhy please stop bouncing little alien!

Neither of us saw the needle coming before it was lodged between that fluttercat’s ear, and in a shriek of alarm it bounced off over the mud wall and took to the skies. I could have almost sworn I saw it’s stomach bulge out, but weapons of the Gesshru did indeed harm these creatures. Eventually. If you shoot them enough at least.

Reload time must have been a nightmare for these soldiers.

“Psstt!” and then of course I heard another soldier right behind me, no. Bellow me? Just behind my skull. “Ohcorewhy. I don’t know how to do this, aaahh. Where even is that panel. Here?”

I could feel someone new, clawing into the back of my helmet. Pulling the door open a little wider and revealing part of the way into a cozy little control room. There were hands reaching inside, I could hear him straining.

“Just … need … uugh, what idiot would do this? Just need to get … the head to … move a little. Oh rusted core what button am I even looking for?”

There was another cat-thing now, crawling atop my legs and then making its way to the face. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it’s steps, feel the way it stalked. Yes, that’s what it was doing. It must have heard whatever Gesshru was trying to take control of my cockpit and now came to investigate. Was he going to suffer the same fate as Doth ?

“So … close … just need a little bit ….”

Well I knew for a fact Doth wasn’t quite dead yet, it’s very hard to suffocate a Gesshru even if she had been swallowed alive. And there’s a fair chance she wasn’t even eaten yet, some of those things in the air were merely carrying the soldiers for later use. Storage? Perhaps to bring live meals home for their families.

And wanting meals that can still move must have been their reason for pouncing first, and only firing bioelectrical pulses once the Gashn forces proved too dangerous to ignore.

“Aahha! This one, it’s got to be this one!”

The cat-thing was at my face now, but looking past me. Down to what was almost certainly a tail and two legs poking out of a thin slot beneath my head. I stuck my tongue out at this fuzzy, but it wasn’t paying attention. I wished all too badly I could just pet it and hold it. Still more strongly I wished that this scene of adorable cuddly things was playing around like puppies and kittens rather than this bleak life or death struggle of soldiers against monsters. That I could simply reach out and hold them until all sides stop fighting.

And then I did?

My hand moved. No, my head moved too.

I moved my hand. I chose to move my head. I … I had control back …
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