Dennis & Bruce Adventures (So Far):
PART TWO: (COMING SOON)
It was always a pain understanding Bruce over the radio. “Can you repeat that, Sergeant?”
“I said, the fr—pack’s 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, technological issues, and now a pack of thunder lizards picking up our scent, and we were having a regular summer camp experience. I rubbed my temples, cursing the day I’d ever stepped off Terran soil. It was a comforting habit of mine.
“I’ he—r 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 grumbled and turned to check my rifle sight. Just because we aren’t a military operation, people think they can goof off.
That wasn’t fair, and I knew it; even soldiers need humor to offset the pressures of life-threatening combat situations, not unlike what we were about to face. While Patricia’s outfit wasn’t military, they’d been doing an admirable job surviving out here even before they’d “invited” me and Bruce into the fold. But as much as I’d decided to work with them – for my own survival as much as theirs – it didn’t mean I had to act happy about the situation they’d landed me in. I could be back on Earth right now, free from anything and everything extraterrestrial, instead of bracing for an attack from the depths of an alien nightmare jungle.
Rustling sounds from the blue-leaved trees across the clearing jerked me from my thoughts, and my hand shot up. This time, everyone froze, plunging the camp into eerie silence. Even the alien insects had gone quiet. I quickly glanced to my left and right to double-check our defense squad, and felt an unexpected ripple of pride to see them focused and ready. Not bad for a bunch of civi eggheads.
Which was good, because those crazy lizards came fast.
Purplish-orange gunfire cracked across the field as the horse-sized, black-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 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 a bloody gash in his leg. I turned my barrel and added a few shots to the rain of photon fire and standard bullets that dropped the beast, leaving Evans moaning under its carcass. Flashbacks of blood and graves and six-limbed monsters tore at my focus, and for a moment, I wasn’t shooting at lizards – I was on a dark, muddy field, surrounded by the dead and dying, the screams of pain and rocket fire deadening my ears, blood running down my hands as I knelt over the prostrate form of Corporal Stan, firing blast after blast at the towering beast pounding towards us. The brightening glow of the alien’s weapon pointed towards me, and then Stan was shoving me, pushing his body between mine and the burning blue fire…
I barely heard the scream ripping from my throat as I gunned down two more reptiles. Nobody else is dying on my watch—
Patricia’s scream tore me from one vision to a more present and final one: the sight of a gigantic thunder lizard leaping towards me, its three rows of teeth showing bold and terrible within its gaping maw. Bullets seemed to pepper its chest in slow motion, ineffective as paintballs on a charging rhino.
So this is how it ends. They say your life flashes before your eyes when you’re about to die. But all I could think, staring headfirst into my fate as lizard food, 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 in a blink. I spun to follow the motion and watched as they rolled over each other, the centaur-like alien coming out on top. His burly front legs held the lizard down as his upper arms lifted a massive 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 did 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 violent reaction to metal. I still get a metallic tang on my tongue at the memory of my first encounter with the alien ammo. But that was better than the nightmares.
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 annoyed to find myself still desperately trying to catch my breath; my old field commander would die of shame at that pathetic display. Patricia gently slipped the rifle from my shaking hands as I lay on my back, staring up at the sunset-orange sky.
I wasn’t dead. 724 days. A new record.
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 swirly, plant-based armor. And while part of me loathed to do it, I lifted my hand in a weak wave and panted the deserved words.
“Thanks… for… the help… Bruce…”
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 pr—blem, Sparky. I sh—ld’a kn’own you’d try –to h’ave a’ll the f—n w’ithout m’e.” His too-human 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 sa’ddled me w’ith it. C’an we –please g’et the tech’ies to w—ork on this tr’ansl—tor?”
“I’ll have someone look at it after we clean up,” Patricia chuckled, patting my leg before standing. I could almost see the transition happen: with the fighting over and our soldierly task 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 week.” 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 to look down at me, though, eyes unreadable. “You al’right, C’aptain?” I could hear the deep rumble of his natural voice underneath the translator from this close.
Was I? I lay still, absorbing the events that had just transpired. It was difficult to decide what was more surprising: that I’d escaped the literal jaws of death; that the big alien standing over me, who likely would have shot me on sight two months ago, had been the one to make it happen… or that his saving me didn’t actually surprise me at all. Finally, deciding it wasn’t worth the effort to figure out, I 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—ve of all th’ings non-T’erran, eh, Sparky?”
I let out a dry laugh and took 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 Corporal Stan’s blackened corpse flashed before my eyes.
There was a chuckle, and I looked up to see Bruce dragging a lizard carcass away. I shook my head and jogged off to help with cleanup elsewhere in the camp. But I couldn’t extinguish the tiny flicker of contemplation in the back of my mind.
Maybe… maybe… being on good terms with this one alien wouldn’t be 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.)