Copyright © 2020
Nathan M. Hurst
He was not the same. He was reborn.
Mud caked his hands as the driving rain lashed his face. He frantically scrambled over the dark cratered landscape in a desperate effort to escape the exploding violence around him.
His body had been changed. He had little memory of anything but the last few minutes and a distant past—he remembered that. But nothing was as he expected. He should be on the UTS Endeavour. He should be under interrogation for crimes against the fleet. He should be, but he wasn’t.
Born into terror, his body and hands were thinner, nails like razors in chrome, muscles stretched and wound tight with power, face gaunt and predatory behind a mirrored visor. He wore an armour he did not recognise: silver, skin-tight interlocking hexagonal platelets shimmering with a translucent liquidity. A pack on his back crackled and howled as it wound down a spray of hinged rods folding flat like the skeletal wings of a bird, the purpose of which being seemingly to pull him into existence in the centre of a battle.
Plasma beams lanced across the sky above him and sonic booms followed missile strikes and artillery shells, which took tonnes of rock and earth and threw it indiscriminately into the air along with shredded metal and evaporated alien forms. Life struggled for meaning. Every breath hard and ragged was another second of minor success, while his eyes scanned the horizon for an escape route from the carnage.
From his peripheral vision, another figure matched his stride and pointed past him, gesticulating that he should change direction and follow a gully to his right. It took them both off the horizon and would give them a chance to orient themselves.
An intense florescent light struck the ground behind him and the energy lifted his surroundings and launched him through the air. The visual information through his visor was blurred and useless, the horizon was spinning, and his mind unthinking, reacting. The ground came up to meet him hard, and with the momentum of the blast he slid the last four metres into the gully, coming to rest with an abrupt crunch.
Alerts flashed in icons across the inside of his visor, red and orange indicators to the failings of his suit and his body. There was a dense spider web crack across his vision which obscured his view, and his display flickered with static as it too began to die.
Moving himself back he slumped against the gully wall, his left leg dragging as he went, it was completely unresponsive, mangled. Oddly, he felt no pain. A frustration grew inside him built from the unknown in the situation, from the violence without explanation. What was he even doing here? He took hold of his visor and ripped it from his helmet; throwing it in a roaring rage at the wall opposite, it embedded itself in the mud.
Without his visor the gully became more real, with death and decay invading his nostrils and the strobing of laser fire lighting shapes and forms like so much garbage and debris discarded on the ground. The body of the soldier who had indicated the gully to him lay broken, hanging inverted down the opposite trench wall, face open to the night with shards of a destroyed visor spiking wickedly from its features. His features.
He had been in this situation before, on the Endeavour. His team had been of differing ages, but all him. His DNA, his mind and seed consciousness. But now, this wasn’t any part of that place—he was planetside and, from what he could make of the stars above, the constellations were all wrong, the moon too large in the sky. This was not Earth, or Hayford b, the Earth analogue they had planned to colonise. Where was he?
Another violent explosion shook his soul. Clods of earth fell like rain, then his other self slid from the trench wall, coming to rest awkwardly across him, gore spilling out of a gaping wound in its abdomen and covering him up to his waist in snakes of gruesome intestines. He felt bile rise in his mouth and slid to the floor trying to fight his way out from under the lifeless body sprawled across him.
As he struggled, a pattern of laser fire streaked across the trench casting an unnatural shadow, and something base and animal in him made him freeze. His breath stopped, the only movement a slow sideways glance down the gully and towards a huge form, slowly making its way in practiced fashion amongst the corpses, checking for life and snuffing out any it found. It was tall and humanoid with a muscular build. He could see no features, only its outline in the flickering light. The torso supported four arms, which it utilised to dispatch the dying with swift powerful manipulations—no need for weapons when you had that kind of grappling strength.
His eyes began to widen as the Xannix got closer, his heart beginning to pound in his ears as panic set in. Looking down at his free arm, he realised his pulse sidearm was free, set into a gauntlet in his armour; he pointed it at the threat and fired. The silhouette was momentarily illuminated; bolts of light sprayed across the short distance between them. Falling into obliterated parts, the Xannix died instantly.
Letting out a sigh of anxious relief, his breath turned to mist in the chill air. His eyes followed the wisps rising up the trench as he slumped back to the ground, his body complaining, his mind overloaded with tension. The world around him stopped in the next instant, his eyes finding those of another, poised aggressively at the lip of the trench wall. Black opal eyes squinted back with malice. He had lost the initiative—there was no way he could respond to the new threat in time. His mind seemed to explode with scenarios, running each in milliseconds but each reaching the same hopeless conclusion. There was no fight to win. He looked up at the stars; they were wrong. Everything was wrong.
He let out a final relenting breath as the Xannix fired. The stars flashed to black.