It was always a pain understanding Bruce over the radio. “Can you repeat that, Sergeant?”
“I said, there’s a fr—pack com’ing over the h’ill from the –west q’uadrant!” A tapping sound on the other end, accompanied by an irritated growl. “Are you s’ure this –ing rork’s?”
Patricia, lying on the mound next to me, stifled a chuckle. I ground my teeth. “It’s not going to work better if you keep poking it! Look, just join the rest of us. Those monsters will be here any minute, and we could use your firepower.”
That was the fun of traversing the unexplored environs of an alien planet: you got to experience delightful new wildlife every day, a large percentage of which was happy to eat you. Add in the constant supply shortages and technological issues, and we’d been having a regular summer camp experience. I rubbed my temples, cursing the day I’d ever stepped off Earth soil. It was a comforting habit of mine.
“I’ hear ya, Sparky. Over –and o’ut.”
Now Patricia was outright laughing. I glared at her. “Quit it! This is serious!”
“S-sorry! It’s just… Sparky,” she gasped, shaking with giggles. I rolled my eyes and turned to check my rifle sight. Just because we aren’t a military operation, people think they can goof off.
My conscience panged, making me rethink that judgment. Patricia’s outfit wasn’t military, but they’d been doing an admirable job surviving out here even before they’d “invited” me and Bruce into the fold. And it wasn’t their fault I’d made the mistake of coming to this world, even if it was completely their fault I was here with them in this nightmare jungle. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on them. Even soldiers needed humor to keep from exploding under the pressure.
A rustling from the blue-leaved trees across the field jerked me back to the present, and I shot my hand up. This time, everyone froze, plunging the camp into eerie silence. Even the alien insects had gone quiet. I glanced to my left and right quick enough to confirm our defense squad was ready and waiting.
Which was a good thing, because those crazy lizards moved fast.
Purplish-orange gunfire cracked across the field as the horse-sized, purple-mottled reptiles burst out of the dense foliage, freakish squeals pouring from their tooth-lined throats. “Left flank! Watch that one going for the tents!” I roared, and several men and women tilted their guns to cover it. The hollow boom of one of our precious rocket launchers preceded a crater that filled the air with dirt and the smell of burnt flesh. There were way more than we’d planned for.
Hot rage swept through me as one of my men – My men? – screamed, a lizard tearing into his leg. I turned my barrel and added some shots to the rain of photon fire and regular bullets that dropped the beast, leaving Grady Evans moaning under its carcass. Flashbacks of blood and graves and six-limbed monsters tore at my focus, and I barely heard the scream that ripped from my throat as I gunned down two more reptiles. Nobody else is dying on my watch—
I turned at Patricia’s scream, and the gigantic thunder lizard leaping for me filled my vision. Bullets seemed to pepper its chest in slow motion, as ineffective as paintballs on a charging rhino. They say your life flashes before your eyes at the end, but all I could think, as that toothy maw rocketed towards my head, was, I really hate aliens.
A massive, four-legged, two-armed dog-beast barreled into the monster mid-air, both crashing out of my view so fast I would have missed it if I’d blinked. They went rolling, the centaur-like alien coming out on top. His burly front legs held the lizard down as his upper arms lifted a massive sniper-assault rifle, the fuel chamber charging up to a blinding glow. With an animal roar from his too-human face, he pulled the trigger, firing a neon-blue energy shot into the beast’s head.
It died instantly. So do the next three that he sniped in quick succession from his perch on top of the fried carcass. One of the shots caught a fallen pulse rifle, and blue lightning lanced out from it, spearing two more lizards like spitted pigs. My brain resurfaced through the shock of near-death long enough to thank God that none of my men had been too close; gretzi had a strange reaction to metal. I still get a metallic tang on my tongue at the memory of my first encounter with the alien ammo.
Minutes (or years, it was hard to tell) later, as the smell of spent gretzi and pulse bullets wafted on the breeze, the gunfire petered out. I could finally hear again. I was annoying to find myself still desperately trying to catch my breath; my old field commander would die of shame at such a pathetic display. I let Patricia take the gun from my shaking hands as I lay on my back, staring up at the sunset-orange sky. A glance to my left confirmed that the canine-ish centaur still stood by the dead lizard that had almost had my name on it, checking over his gretzi rifle and cleaning blood from his wood-based armor.
I lifted my hand in a weak wave. “Thanks… for… the help… Sergeant…”
Sergeant Bruce T’shano, the name and rank we humans gave him to approximate the real name and rank we couldn’t pronounce, shot me a toothy grin, his rubbery nose twitching. “N’o problem, Sparky. I should’a kn’own you’d try –to have all the fun w’ithout me.” His face twisted into a grimace, and he tapped a furry finger against the device strapped to the side of his head. “But se—riously, Patr, this i’s the wors’t it’s bkin si—nce you s’addled me w’ith it. C’an we –please get the tech’ies to w—ork on this tr’anslator?”
“I’ll have someone look at it after we clean up here,” Patricia chuckled, patting my leg before standing. I could almost see the transition happen: with the fighting over and my job done, this diminutive brunette woman was back in charge. “You can rest a few minutes, Sparky. Looks like we’ve got dinner for the next few nights.” She winked at the big felnim, as unphased by his intimidating alien presence now as she had been the day they’d met. “Freshly cooked, too.” Bruce barked a laugh and shouldered his massive, glowing-blue gun.
Patricia trotted off while Bruce hefted one of the massive lizards by the tail, preparing to drag it towards the mess tent. He paused and looked down at me, though, eyes unreadable as he asked, “You al’right, C’aptain?”
Was I? I lay still, absorbing the events that had just transpired. I couldn’t decide which was more surprising: that I’d escaped the literal jaws of death, that the big alien standing over me had been the one to make it happen… or that his saving me didn’t actually surprise me much at all. Finally, I just nodded.
Bruce grinned, holding a hand out. He had to lean down from his tall horseback-height position to reach me on the ground. “B’et this h—s done w’onders for you’re l’ove of all th’ings non-T’erran, eh, Sparky?”
I barked a laugh and grabbed his furry hand, letting him haul me upright as easily as if he’d picked up a loose blanket. “One or two of them might be growing on me,” I admitted, dusting myself off so I wouldn’t have to look him in the face. A feeling of betrayal warred with my gratitude, and I was momentarily glad to be stuck out here with a bunch of loony scientists and nowhere near the settlements.
There was a chuckle, and I looked up to see him dragging a lizard carcass away. I shook my head and jogged off to help with cleanup elsewhere in the camp.
Maybe being on good terms with one alien wasn’t so bad.
More of Bruce, Dennis, and Patricia to come…
(I have plans in the works to do a series of short stories abut these guys. The felnim (Bruce’s race) have been a favorite of mine for some time now, and the story of Bruce and Dennis was originally intended to be a book. But I think that this will be a fun way to explore their story a bit at a time.)
(If you see any typos, please let me know! You can read all of my posted short stories by clicking “Writing Shorts” in the top Menu. Thanks for reading! – Jenn H.)