Best Laid Plans
A ball of orange fire shot through the space I’d have been occupying a moment before and impacted against a pine tree. The tree erupted into a blistering torch. I huddled against the boulder I’d have taken refuge behind and tried to think.
“You really...” my partner began.
“Shut up!” I flung an icy glare at him and adjusted my position. Crackling noises dragged my attention back to the tree. It reminded me of a fireplace log, except it was standing on end. The way it was beginning to lean, however, made me suspicious that it wouldn’t be standing much longer.
“We gotta get out of here before...” The rest of my sentence was wiped out by a loud explosion from somewhere on the other side of the boulder. My partner and I exchanged glances, then cautiously peeked over the top of the boulder.
“Mechs.” Relief hung heavy in my partner’s voice. “That should wipe those...”
“Yeah? Maybe. It’ll distract ’em at least, let’s get out of here!” I stood up carefully, my eyes glued to the small army of wizards facing down three mechs. Fireballs, lightning bolts and weird spinning globs of color sizzled through the air, bathing the closest of the giant robotic monstrosities in a rainbow of light.
Bullets, rockets and laser blasts erupted from the mechs, chewing holes in the ground and disintegrating a couple of wizards. As my partner stood up, the lead mech toppled over and melted into slag. I spun away from the battlefield, glanced at the blazing tree and sprinted for the forest in the opposite direction from which it was about to fall. I hoped my partner was following my lead, but I wasn’t about to turn around and see.
* * *
Nightfall and impossible colors lit the sky.
I tried to concentrate on erecting the homing beacon, but the explosions from the battle, now almost twenty-four hours old, made it difficult. The fact that I was alone, my partner lost in the woods or dead under the burning tree, added to my difficulty. My hands shook, sweat ran down my back in streams and a silent string of never ending curses spun through my mind.
Everything had been going so well. Jake had gotten word through the usual channels of an imperial invasion, and a quick once-over of their target had made it seem like easy pickings. It should have been a routine job. Get in, snatch what would be valuable on the open market from the huts and homes of inhabitants too busy with the imperial fleet to notice us, and get out. Piece of cake, and we’d pulled it off a hundred times. But this time...
I jumped at a screeching whine as something shot past me. A second later, the forest turned to ice as the temperature plummeted. I snatched the homing beacon from the ground and scrabbled for purchase on the slick surface that the forest litter had become. Another whining noise filled my ears as something brushed the hair on top of my head and I dropped. My nose met the ground an instant before a wave of force lifted me into the air and slammed me into a tree.
* * *
The pounding in my head told me something was wrong. The queasiness that greeted me as I moved confirmed the fact that I wasn’t in the best shape. I stopped moving, pried open an eyelid and squinted up at the bright blue sky. Blue is a lovely color, but something seemed wrong about it. It took me several minutes to remember that there were supposed to be trees overhead. I winced at the memory, and cautiously turned my head.
There were trees, or what used to be trees anyway. Broken trunks jutted from the ground around me on all sides. Something had snapped them like matchsticks. I shuddered, and tried to sit up. On the fourth attempt, I succeeded.
The blast area didn’t look any better from a higher perspective. I stood up carefully, gained my feet without further discomfort, and said a silent prayer of thanks to whatever deity had been watching. There wasn’t any answer, but I figured, better safe than sorry. From the looks of the trees, I should have been a small puddle of goo. I wasn’t, and I wanted to stay that way.
The absence of noise finally penetrated my brain and I realized what was missing. The explosions, the blasts, the battle... nothing. I wondered which side had won and slowly began picking my way out of what used to be a forest.
I succeeded after several minutes, and stood staring across a large meadow. Pools of slag dotted it, craters decorated its surface and dead bodies littered the ground. I counted six pools of slag, and shook my head. No hope of the imperialists then. Not with an entire phalanx of mechs reduced to scrap metal.
The reason for the absence of noise and battle was painfully clear. Without my partner to fly our scout, and the imperial army fled back to the stars, I had no way to get home. I winced. Beggars can’t be choosers on any world, and I was stuck with that solution for the time.
I sighed, shook my head at my own stupidity, and set off for the village we’d been planning to rob. Maybe I could keep from starving by spinning fanciful tales of far off places that people wouldn’t believe in, until the imperials came back. If they ever did.
Copyright © 2008 by Crystalwizard