Pillar of Fire

By the time the squad reached the launch pad, more cyborg troops started breaking through accesses that were barricaded earlier.

Deuce’s annoyance, sparked with the realization his unit might have made a cleaner escape if they hadn’t come back to rescue him, flared with renewed resolve.  Since they took it upon themselves to get him to the shuttle hidden within a larger, incomplete ship, he might as well do everything in his power to insure they made takeoff.

“Load everybody up!” he barked to Quint.  “I’ll hold them at bay!”

“Don’t take too long!”  The colonel tossed his own blaster to him and drew a sidearm instead.

Utilizing both blasters, Deuce sprinted in spurts toward the main bulk of the unfinished interstellar ship.  To his consternation, he no longer drew the brunt of enemy fire.  IMP2 must have decided stopping their escape took precedent over the satisfaction of killing him….

The com patch near his ear continued to chatter with updates on the dozen completed ships.  Most had launched, but he’d lost track of which ones they were.  He glanced back toward the shuttle and regretted at least two more soldiers had fallen.  But the hatch door closed, securing the rest of them behind solid steel that repelled blaster fire.

“The ship is down!” crackled from the com patch just before a searing punch thrust into his chest.

The jolt knocked him against the frame of the doorway where he’d been taking cover.  Then he dropped to one knee.  No more reports issued from the com patch.

He also couldn’t breathe.

Deuce surged to his feet and staggered into the armory room, one element of this decoy ship that was complete.  His body armor had managed to keep the buster round to penetrating only partially into his chest.  But he was mostly grateful it didn’t set off the bomb implanted only a decimeter above the wound.

IMP2 had brought out the big artillery, and that was probably who shot him before refocusing on the shuttle….

He lurched toward the turret controls and fumbled with the com patch near his ear.  It remained silent, and upon lowering his hand realized it wasn’t only his chest that was bleeding.

What ship had gone down?  His throat tightened at the possibility Ita could have been on board that doomed vessel.  No, he couldn’t allow dread to overtake him….

Breathe.  Only his genetically-engineered athletic superiority permitted him to suck in wisps of air, and that was still only with concentration.  He had to keep breathing.  Every breath, however meager, bought him a few more seconds.  And every second he gained allowed him to help the shuttle succeed in launching.

The four cannons could be programmed to fire in a predetermined pattern, and Deuce activated three of them.  He took the controls on the fourth, however, and first targeted the battalion that directed more potent buster rounds at the shuttle.

Steam was hissing from its launch boosters, but it wouldn’t be able to take off and fire upon enemy troops at the same time.  Then again, it wouldn’t need to – anybody in the vicinity of the launch pad would be reduced to a pile of ash from the flaming rocket engines.  That included him.

Breathe.

He bombarded several charges into IMP2’s battalion while the other cannons fired into the supporting flanks.  The booms and explosions muffled other sound, and it was only when he spied boulders and dirt and support beams falling around them he realized the ceiling was caving in just like it was supposed to.

The descent of the debris was controlled, opening up the ground above them so the shuttle could blast off.  He also appreciated how it added to the chaos the enemy had to contend with.

Concern surfaced in his mind about the ship that had gone down.  Was Ita on board?

The view screen of the control panel showed steam and smoke and dust, but he couldn’t detect any more activity.  No movement.  No shooting.  Had IMP2’s forces been crippled that much, or were they only regrouping?  The roar of engines firing up confirmed the shuttle should lift off soon, so nobody had much time left here.

Then this was it.  His vision grew blurry and fatigue seemed to seep down to his bones.  If he allowed unconsciousness to overtake him, he would stop breathing.  And maybe being unconscious or already dead might be merciful when the shuttle took off and engulfed the launch pad in flame.

The revolution that had endured for decades was finally going to end … at least as far as he was concerned.

But what about the other ships?  There was no guarantee they would be safe upon breaching the stratosphere.  If his prayer that Ita was on board another vessel proved true, she and all the others could still be in danger.

Dying now would be too … convenient   He could almost hear Ita’s voice, tinged with droll sarcasm, telling him “Don’t think you’re getting out of this that easily.”

Breathe.

He stumbled off the platform and staggered in the direction of the shuttle.  It was just as well he experienced difficulty breathing – the air was thick with particulates.  And this attempt could turn out to be an exercise in futility.  His enemies might drop him with another shot.  His comrades might not be able to see his approach, and he’d be incinerated while trying to reach the vessel.

He almost tripped over the ramp that led to the hatch, and nearly crawled up it.  He reached out and felt the smooth metal pitted slightly from buster hits.  Was any of the structure compromised?  Would he trade suffocating here to suffocating in a vacuum otherwise sprinkled with colliding asteroids and lethal radiation?

The metal retracted from his fingertips and at least two pairs of hands grabbed his arms and yanked him forward.

Breathe.

The voices around him were muffled by more than the roar of engines.  With two soldiers supporting him, and a wall nearby, Deuce managed to stagger to his feet.  Despite his dimming vision he locked his attention on the view screen beside the hatch.

The lurch of takeoff added to his wooziness, but through the haze both outside and in his head, he caught sight of movement where IMP2’s battalion had been.  From the familiarity of the motion, he figured it was IMP2 himself.

And then flame filled the vicinity.

“Get a stint for him!” Quint’s voice sounded oddly distant.

His vision darkened more as a remorse he hadn’t anticipated swelled through him.  In a way, he was glad IMP2 perished this way.  Most likely his former comrade would have been executed by the Elite for failing to quash the evacuation.  And although they found death by cremation efficient, they were also known to take hours turning up the heat when especially displeased with the condemned.

When the physical pain subsided as he faded from this world, Deuce couldn’t decide whether or not to welcome that release….

###

When the word this month for #BlogBattle came out, I nearly laughed out loud:  It was Revolution.  Considering this is the next to last installment for this novella, I’m glad such an appropriate word for the story arc came out before it got finished….  You can find the earlier installments on my Blog Battle Short Stories page.

And with such a great word, don’t miss out on the contributions from other writers this month!

19 thoughts on “Pillar of Fire

  1. Wow! That’s intense. I’m glad this is nearing the end because it’s hard to sustain this kind of thing. You always have to top it somehow. I wrote a novel set in ancient Greece with a bunch of battle scenes, and I always had to keep one-upping myself.

    I found using the mental command to breathe to be very effective structurally. The whole piece was very clean and flowed well. About the only thing I could have done without were the italics early on for annoyance. It knocked me out, wondering why you needed italics there, which for me usually means you don’t. But, as always, your mileage may vary.

    And I’m glad you liked the prompt word. In my case I was considering skipping the battle altogether this month until I figured a way to work it into a memoir WIP. (Okay, only kind of. I couldn’t make revolution work no matter how hard I tried, but hopefully, revolt was close enough.)

    Can’t wait to see how you wrap your story up. : )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, and yes, one challenge with fight scenes is keeping the intensity up. Your comment on my italics for annoyance was interesting because I did debate about that a little. The reason I chose to italicize was because annoyance wasn’t quite the right word, but the subtlety doesn’t exist in English. This is no self-defense, you have a good point, but I find it interesting how people tick. And I think you managed to work Revolution quite well into your story!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh, here we are drawing to the end then Abe. Good flow of pace, but an I overthinking Deuce might merely think he’s fading from the world? I thought I heard a shout of get a stint through the melee. Besides I “need” to know what would happen if he meets Ita again haha.

    Or… does he wake up rebooted in a core deep within the Elites stronghold? Not his physical self as such, but his AI code… hmm, more questions and I hear the overthink charge being levied!

    Couple of suggestions though. Up at the top you say to “insure” I think you mean “ensure”. Least ways I don’t ensure my car…as it were. Also “armoury room”. That’s a word redundancy. No need to add “room” to armoury as that’s what it actually is.

    I’m liking this turn of events though. Maybe Deuce is genuine after all. But just one more to go? I think I’ve seen you say that… I feel rather sad really. This tale has become a long standing friend now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, and good catch on ‘armory room.’ Sometimes I enter into the Redundant Department of Redundancy and fall down when true facts interfere with the end result…. 🙂 And insure/ensure is just one of those headache causers!
      Glad you’ve been enjoying this serialization, but, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end … except this isn’t really the end. The novella, which will include a bonus chapter, will be available in a couple of months. And the novel I’ll write after my current WIP is … not a sequel, but it is because of the actions of Deuce and company, the characters in that story are … where and what they are.
      Hopefully the final installment won’t be too sad…!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Staying political with a shade of Monty Python…The Ministry of Redundancies. Complete with funny walks and bowler hats…obviously that will mean nothing at all if you’ve not seen the sketch haha.

        I feel the insure part is always a headache at this time of year for me as it’s car insurance month 🤕

        I mentioned to Joshua recently that larger word counts and a shorter deadline can help us spot things better as writers who read. Short stories by default have no spare room for redundancies. Remove the cap and longer pieces can start finding them appear. If I do see any then I’m hoping it’s taken in good faith. Definitely not a criticism of the writing!

        Sadly that’s true. All good things do end, but on a positive note…if they didn’t how could new good things appear? Thing with many stories like this there is always scope to go forwards or backwards. How did the Elite form? What scenario occurred back in time that created the possibility? Who were the heroes and villains then? Going forwards it’s Deuce and Ita. If a few escape then down the line can they form a rebellion to take the world back or move elsewhere? Shoot, think like that and you end up with an epic haha.

        Looking forward to the conclusion though. It’s been a great ride and generated many discussions!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Your comment about more mistakes in longer pieces is so true. My novels go through several rewrites, and I swear sometimes that’s one of the reasons I (and beta readers) find so many mistakes when I thought I was getting it wrapped up!
        I liked your observation about how if some things don’t end, how could new good things appear? And your questions about what happened in the past with Elite and company amused me because, ahem, that bonus chapter I keep mentioning does cast a little light on that. Hope that intrigues you as much as your insinuation about next month’s prompt has intrigued me! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • My misfortune is experience in editing and proofing PhD theses. It translates into an eye for detail that I apply to most things. My own work self edits to a large extent when writing. Obviously it’s not infallible and prone to silly mistakes. I also know it’s hard to spot things yourself because you’re so close to the words eyes often skim rather than take in each line in the edit. I’ve often thought I should market those skills haha.

        Trouble with good stories is theirs mileage in both directions. Consider history as the prime example. If you go to a past event, something always predates it that gives rise to the new opportunity. I think that’s why George Martin hits prequels so often to avoid finishing GOT. For my own foibles it’s why I have 100k of backstory in prompts for a WIP I’ve not started 🙄

        Always intrigued by good stories Abe. I’m actually thinking the next word will fit more and more now!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved the repetition of ‘breathe’, it added a unique flavour to the mayhem. A bit like the slowdown scenes from the Matrix, if you know what I mean? Brilliant as usual. Flawlessly written. I can’t wait to read the last bit of this tale, having been on this journey from the start! Although I must admit, I’m a little sad to think I won’t get the monthly doses of my favourite IMP!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, and I was quite happy to keep repeating Breathe. I don’t know if you’ve seen my comments to Gary, but after the final installment I’m going to make an e-book available (free, of course) with the posted material and a bonus chapter, which is more like 4000 words. On purpose, I kind of put the ‘heart’ of the story line in the bonus. So although there won’t be any more monthly doses, there will be a little bit more available after next month. Naturally I’ll post when it becomes available! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As the others have mentioned, the use of “breathe” was very appropriate in this piece.

    Like Cathleen, I also wondered why you put annoyance in italics. Up until you use the word revolution, I was worried that you messed up the prompt and thought ‘annoyance’ was the word of the month.

    You have a great ability to write action scenes that pull us in.

    If next month’s installment will be last, what do you plan to do in April and afterward? Is there something else in the works or do you plan on going with the flow?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, although it does seem putting the word ‘annoyance’ in italics only seems to annoy people…. 🙂 After next month, I figure on just playing around with whatever the prompt word is that month, although much of it will probably be backstory stuff from other ideas rattling around in my head. After a year and a half of serialization, it sounds like a nice change of pace!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, great question! It really kind of falls into another bit of jargon in the writing realm known as world building. I might use secondary characters who are in another place or time in regard to the main event. Or the main characters could be in an earlier life phase. This serialization takes place generations before the novel I’ll write next, but it helped me clarify a premise that will be used in that book. Hope that helped!

        Liked by 1 person

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