Chapter 1

Deep set hazel eyes settled on the black gaping barrel of a revolver situated not two feet away.  On the other end stood a man in blue armor. The two gold bars on his shoulders shining in the sunlight.  Jake McGraw shifted cold unfeeling eyes to the steely gaze of the other. For several seconds they stood there neither one daring to blink.  Slowly Jake slipped a trembling, nerve wracked hand to the revolver on his hip. Deep in his mind a plan started to form. A stretch of the neck sent loud pops echoing in the tension filled air between them.  With each ragged breath he took a new vision of certain death filled his mind.

“Now just drop that rifle boy,” said the Captain with a twitching grin on his unlined face.

WIthout a gun you might as well be dead.  It was his training sergeants voice.  One he hadn’t heard in going on four years.  Standing in that forest, staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, Jake found it hard to disagree.  

The rifle in his hands felt like a hundred pounds of useless plastic covered metal as he rotated it up to point at the chest of the Captain.  The laser beam that burned beside his head felt like a hundred suns all focused as one on his cheek. Jake tapped the firing nub of his rifle faster than he ever thought possible.  Slow well aimed shots.  It worked fine in training.  After a hundred different battles on just as many dead lined fields he knew better.

The Captain stumbled beneath the onslaught of red lasers searing into his thick armor.  Rushing towards the surrounding trees, Jake kept firing. More than a few missed their target entirely while the rest merely managed to scar the thick plates with shallow craters.  All around him the Captain’s return fire burned. His back against the hard trunk of an Ironwood tree, Jake looked down at the round count illuminated on the magwell of the rifle. Ten rounds left.  A laser beam scored the tree beside his head.  Jake knelt and spun around bringing the rifle to bear.  Two taps of the trigger. Neither even close to hitting a vulnerable spot.  

A frustrated growl before two more shots leapt from an already smoking barrel.  Still only enough to send the man scrambling for cover behind a tree on the other side of the narrow road they’d met on.  With only six shots left in the rifle, Jake knew the stalemate had to end. Before he ran out of ammo or more of the Captain’s men showed up to make a bad day worse.  

With a battlecry echoing from his parched lips, Jake started out from behind the tree only to catch a laser beam to his chest.  He stumbled back. The rifle in his hands bucked furiously as he returned fire. Jake cringed when the trigger clicked without a red beam lancing out from the barrel.  

In the distance hoverbikes roared as they drew closer.  Another laser beam burned into his chestplate. Any chance of winning faded before his eyes as the Captain emerged from behind cover.  The annoying grin still plastered on his face. Jake threw the rifle away while the Captain levelled the pistol on his head. Less than three feet away there was no way to miss.  Jake flinched when the hammer of the revolver slammed home. Jake opened his eyes to see the Captain staring dumbfounded at the revolver.

“Guess your dry,” said Jake snarling as he reached for the pistol on his thigh.

“You hear that?  Those are my men… and it sounds like they are getting closer.  You really think you have the time to shoot me and still get away?” said Captain motioning to further up the road where the sound of hoverbike thrusters grew louder.

“Sweet dreams,” said Jake slamming a hard left fist into the Captain’s head just behind the ear.  

Injuring is sometimes preferable to killing.  Takes more to move a wounded man than to bury a dead one.  The sergeant had been right.  Without waiting for the Captain’s unconscious body to hit the ground, Jake sprinted towards the man’s hoverbike.   With the flip of a switch it fired to life. No security passcode, or even a lockout. Unions were never hailed as being all that bright.  This was one case where he was glad they weren’t. A laser beam hissed through the air missing the bike and rider by more than a few feet. Jake rotated the throttle controls.  Another beam sizzled past. He released the brake. LIke an angry arrow shot from a bow the bike thundered down what amounted to little more than a well used game trail. Men shouted and raged behind him.  He looked over his shoulder. Two were stopped tending the Captain, while the other three continued on his trail.

“I should have shot the bastard,” said Jake drawing the pistol from his thigh.  

A roar thundered overhead.  Transports too?  These guys don’t stop.  Jake urged the bike to go faster.  At least the ones behind him weren’t in range to use the heavy lasers mounted between the handlebars of their armored bikes.  He lowered his body to rest on the bikes. After two years of constant war he’d learned to make himself as small a target as possible.  Lucky shots happened, but thankfully they were few and far between. Looking to the sky, he just caught the tail end of the transport as it raced past.  

No use running headlong into a trap.  Jake spun the bike around nearly throwing himself clear of the machine as he did.  Swerving first left, then right he fought to get control of the bike. Heavy lasers raced to meet him.  He cringed as the powerful beams bit deep into the bike’s thick armor. Can’t take any more of that.  With the flick of a thumb he brought rockets online.  The depression of a glowing green button sent the entire payload of six rockets racing down the road towards his pursuers.

“Well shit!” said Jake not meaning to expend all the rounds at one time.  

Adjusting his course, Jake set the bike in line with the first of the oncoming riders.  A roar in the air overhead let him know the transport hadn’t been content with merely dropping off its cargo of soldiers.  In front of him the rockets exploded in a cloud of dense black smoke. Screamed filled the air as now flaming bikes tumbled riderless through the air.  Flames licked at his armor as he rode headlong into the wall of black. Air recyclers sprang into action as oxygen levels within the cloud reached critical levels.  

The transports large bore cannons opened fire sending green beams lancing into the smoke.  Unable to see Jake kept the bike heading straight for the other side. It only took a moment for him to clear the cloud only to see the remains of a smoldering bike laying on its side blocking the road.  

Their wasn’t even time to cuss before Jake found himself soaring over the handlebars.  A fiery explosion behind him sent more smoke pouring into the air. Panic and dread vied for control of his mind as the hard packed ground raced up to meet his speeding form.  Jake closed his eyes as first his head then the rest of him collided with the ground. Twenty feet passed before he finally came to rest at the foot of a tall tree. Overhead the transport hovered, its cannons locked on his unmoving body.  Despite the thick padding inside his armor a concussion was quickly beginning to take hold.

Jake groaned but otherwise remained still.  There was no escaping while the transport remained locked in place above him.  His head hurt as did ribs and arms. Each breath came in a painful gasp. At least one rib was broken.  Probably more. Everything else seemed to work well enough.

“Damn fine mess ya got yourself into this time,” said Jake blinking rapidly just to remain conscious.

All it would take was a stray move to get the transports guns to firing.  If survival was to be had, he needed to be away. Which meant getting rid of that damned ship.  Each second that passed brought a new level of pain as more bruises began to make themselves known.  

I could run… and probably get shot down before I reached the treeline.  What other choice is there? If I stay here the Unions will take me. I can’t let them get the data scrimp back.  Got to get this damn thing to command. God help me….

Slowly he inched protesting arms forward until they rested beside his chest.  Nervous sweat beaded on his forehead. His heart thundered like a cannon in his ears blotting out all other sounds.  A deep, ragged, pain filled breath taken to ease too taut nerves. 3… damn I hope this works, 2… 1… NOW!  Jake pushed himself to his feet only to nearly collapse from the pain the sudden move caused.  RUN!  A strange voice screamed in his mind.  Trembling legs struggled to half run, half limp towards the treeline.  Something screeched from the ship. He didn’t look to see what it was, only lowered an already aching head determined to reach the safety of tightly packed trees.  

He didn’t hear the explosion only felt himself being lifted off the ground only to be sent soaring into the forest.  Snapped branches and knocked loose pine needles rained down on him as he came to rest. What wasn’t aching before now throbbed along with the rest of his body.  Jake rolled against a rough barked tree. Through tightly clenched teeth, he groaned while forcing his legs to push him up. Trapped in battered armor, he couldn’t see the blood dripping from a dozen wounds.  Only its slow dripping alerted him to its presence. Grunting through the debilitating agony, he forced himself to walk through tightly knit branches and clinging shrubs. If the Unions don’t kill me, this damn forest sure will.  The grim sudden thought brought forth a gasping chuckle.  Every step brought a new pain. Still, it was progress. Soon the cuts would clot.  Just not quick enough for his comfort.

Lost in thought he continued on until a slip a loose stone slipped out from under foot.  He tumbled down a shallow rise. It had taken all his strength to merely make it that far.  Lying once more against the side of a giant oak, he closed his eyes. Get up!  The voice was getting insistent.  Jake tried to move. His torn and broken body refused to budge.   

Through the pounding in his ears, he could barely make out the rush of a speeding river.  It wasn’t even close to a good mode of transportation yet his will to complete the mission refused to let him quit.  Digging deep into his soul he found the strength to crawl the few feet to where the hill dropped off into the river. I’m an idiot.  Jake rolled off the side of the hill.  What only took half a second felt like an hour as he fell the ten feet into the rushing white capped waves.  Water instantly rushed over him. Beneath the surface a strong current drug him deeper into the dark depths. Weak, bloody arms flailed uselessly against the river’s pull.  No matter how he fought, nothing freed him. Oxygen recyclers hissed and sizzled from where they’d been riddled by shrapnel. He sank deeper into the muddy depths. Cold, near freezing temperatures, sapped what power he had left.  Too long held breaths burned his lungs.

The rushing current battered him against unyielding stones.  Darkness spread from the edge of his vision. Must breathe…  Jake rolled onto his back.  A sudden drop of the river and he was thrust into the air.  Greedily he gulped the hot afternoon air only to be plunged beneath the surface a moment later.  There had been time to only take a single breath. Not near enough by far. Once more the current dragged him under the crashing waves.   There was to be no victory. No glorious return to Merikaar a hero. Only a cold watery grave awaited him now. Wanting to just end it, he started to open his mouth.  

From the surface a hand shot down to grabbed ahold of his flailing arm.  Held tight against the current, he soon felt himself being drug to the surface.  Above the unrelenting river he drank in huge gulps of wonderful lifesaving air. A second later he felt himself being dragged onto a rock covered shore.  Opening his eyes was more than he could do. He wanted to thank his savior yet the words refused to be spoken.

“Rest mister.  From the look of ya, its been a rough time,” said a man’s voice.  Without a reply Jake let himself fall into unconsciousness.         



Published by gunfighterfiction

Veteran and all around good ole cowboy

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