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.
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.”
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.
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!