Survival Syndrome

The sun shone down on the rocky plain, relentlessly beating all living beings on it into submission. The plants looked withered and dry and even the lizards had taken refuge in whatever shadows they could find. In a small section of the rocky terrain, two plumes of black smoke rose to the sky, snaking in the wind, occasionally partially obscuring the merciless sun.

Steven was lying in a patch of short brown grass, feeling the brittle stems breaks under his weight. <Emergency pack gone in the crash, water container shattered, left leg crushed, hips broken, a thirst you wouldn't believe and a sun that's only just started its journey across the sky. Face it, Steve: unless you find yourself some shade and soon, you're a goner.>

Moving ever so slowly, Steven started to scan the horizon. <Well, scratch one Alpha. At least I got the son-of-a-bitch traitor that was piloting the Invid mecha... And looks like he got me, too.> The sky was free of clouds except for the occasional contrail that had been left there during the dogfight. But even those wispy tufts of condensation were starting to break apart. Finally, about a hundred meters from where he was lying, Steven spotted a small outcropping of rocks. The stony surface rose like a stylised wave and on one side of it was an overhang which promised some relief from the battering heat.

<One hundred meters with a busted hip and leg - in full sun. That's gonna be tough.> Gathering his courage, Steven started to crawl towards shelter.

"Hey, Steven! What've they got you doing today?"

"I lucked out, Harry. I'm patrolling the North East Sector. Nothing much can hide on that plain, so I guess I'll have a quiet day."

<Hah. Quiet day. Famous last words, Steve.>

"QTB-12 to base. Nothing here so far. This plain is as empty as Harry's little black book."

"I heard that." came the reply over the 'net. "Just for that, you're buying me lunch when we come back from dawn patrol."

"Cut the chatter! This is supposed to be a secured line."

The impact shook his plane as shrapnel flew from the nose of the Alpha. The canopy developed cracks and warning buzzers filled the air. "What the...?" Steven looked about and saw a humanoid-looking mecha flying towards him, its missile bays still open. "Son of a b-" Banking right, Steven dove and turned, bringing his weapons to bear. "QTB-12 to base. Do you read me?" The headphones answered back with absolute silence. The absence of static could only mean that his radio had been a casualty of that first strike. <Damnit, why didn't I pick him up on radar?> The answer was obvious as soon as he had asked the question - the mecha had been flying NoE and Steven had been too busy admiring the flawless sky.

<And now this flawless sky is going to kill me if I don't get to that shade.> From where he was, Steven could now see the patch of darkness. It was not big, it would probably barely hide him from the sun. But between the lack of water and the severe blood-loss he had already endured, Steven knew he would not survive to see the end of the day if he remained in the light.

Movement attracted his attention to his right. Focusing his bleary eyes, Steven gazed towards the movement and gasped. Barely twenty meters from him, having just cleared a dip in the terrain, was the enemy pilot.

His missiles had almost all completely missed their mark, but Steven could tell from the plumes of smoke rising from the enemy mecha that at least a few of them had hit true. He nudged his Battloid further away from the ground, trying to get the advantage of height over his enemy.

The enemy Battloid opened its missile bays and paused for a moment before closing them again. <Good. So you're out of missiles too.> Steven dove at the mecha before its pilot could react and grabbed its left arm, wrenching hard. With a sickening sound, the entire limb came away from the Battloid and Steven brought it back up, then down onto the mecha's head, pummelling his enemy with its own arm.

From this close, Steven could see right into the cockpit of the Invid mecha and see the pilot inside. <I thought those reports of human pilots were just rumours. I guess I was wrong.> Anger filled him at the thought of Humans turning traitor and serving the Invid, killing their fellow Humans. He dropped the Invid's arm and brought up his GU-XX to bear, emptying the rest of the clip into the enemy's main torso.

The Invid mecha pitched backwards and started to fall. "Say hello to your pals in Hell, buddy." snarled Steven. The snarl was cut short as pillars of white smoke streamed away from the falling Invid towards his own Battloid. Steven's face went pale. <I guess he wasn't out of missiles after all.>

In unspoken unison, both pilot had started crawling towards one another. <There's only room in that shade for one of us. Looks like Benedict Arnold over here figured that one out, too.> Steven stopped for a moment to take a better look at his opponent. The pilot was wearing some sort of yellow and brown skin-tight outfit. It seemed to be favouring its left side, Steven could see bones protruding from its rib-cage and left leg. <Damn. How can it keep moving like that?> Steven squinted and gasped, finally noticing the blood on the pilot's outfit. <Green blood? Same colour as that stuff their mecha spurt out when we shoot them. That's what the Invid look like?>

The Invid pilot had stopped too, trying to catch its breath. Its <his?> breathing was shallow and quick as it tried to nurse its savaged torso. It took a look in th outcrop's direction before continuing towards Steven.

<Dedicated son of a bitch, aren't you?> Steven resumed his crawling towards the Invid, picking up a rock along the way. Progress was slow on both side, like two snails charging one another. Only from this charge, only one survivor could emerge.

Eventually, both pilots came face to face, looking in each other's eyes. The Invid swung its right fist up to hit Steven who countered by thrusting his left fist into the Invid's rib-cage. The Invid doubled over in pain, its movement all but forgotten. Steven raised his own right hand, the one with the rock in it and brought it down upon the Invid's skull. There was a sharp crack and the Invid shuddered once before laying still.

Steven let out a sigh of relief and brushed the sweat away from his brow with his hand. In an effort to conserve water, he brought his hand up to his mouth and sucked on the moisture there. This done, he dipped his finger into the green pool of blood, put it on his tongue warily. Immediately he spat. The Invid's blood was burning on his tongue and in his cheek. <No help there.> Feeling more tired than ever, Steven turned back towards the outcrop and stopped suddenly. "NO!". He turned back to look at the dead body. "You bastard!" he cried, bringing the rock down on the Invid's skull over and over. "You knew. You knew!"

At the foot of the outcrop, following its daily cycle, the patch of shadow had disappeared.

The sun shone down on the rocky plain, relentlessly beating all living beings on it into submission. The plants looked withered and dry and even the lizards had taken refuge in whatever shadows they could find.

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