Heroes of the Hydra
by Scott D. Coon
“One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.” Wait, thought Hank, why am I counting?
“Don’t stop counting!” screamed an unfamiliar woman in an equally unfamiliar uniform. While Hank sat on the floor, the woman stood beside him at a shattered window in a shattered room. Her name tag read Menden. Looking down, Hank realized that he wore a uniform just like hers.
“One, two, three! One, two, three!” she demanded before firing a barrage of bullets out the window. “Don’t stop counting, Hank!”
“Hank?” he asked. “Is that my name?”
Another barrage came back. Menden ducked. The gunfire tapered off and something small but heavy landed just outside.
“Huh?” replied Hank.
Menden tackled him, carefully cradling his head as they fell. A grenade exploded. The wall buckled. Hank’s head rang like an iron bell. He couldn’t think or even see straight. All he could do was hang on while the reverberations gradually dimmed.
Finally able to open his eyes again, Hank found that someone new was in the room. It was a man in a different kind of uniform and he was wrestling with that Menden woman.
“One, two, three!” screamed Menden as she struggled to take a knife from the man in the other kind of uniform.
“Why am I counting?” he asked as he reached up to scratch his itchy, achy head.
“No! Hank! Don’t touch tha—”
He touched it.
The world went white and warm. All was pleasant and good. As the glaring tide receded to the corners of his eyes, he heard someone say, “Hank? Can you hear me, Hank?”
Hank found himself sitting on the floor of a shattered room, staring into a woman’s face; it was a pleasant, caring face but one he had never seen before. She wore a uniform. Maybe she was there to help him?
“Who am I?” asked Hank.
The woman smiled but a tear lingered in her eye for some reason. As she gently took his hands, Hank realized that there was a man on the floor with blood pouring from his neck. Horrified, Hank turned to the unfamiliar woman only to find that she, too, was covered in blood. He yanked his hands away and screamed, “Who are you?! Why did you kill him?!”
“Shush, shush,” said Menden as she trapped his hands. “We are stuck on a colony called Rallis. Your name is Hank. I am Izzy.” She smiled a sad, warm smile. “I am your wife and I am going to take care of you.”
Though he couldn’t take his eyes off the dying man, Hank tried to believe her. Your name is Hank felt right but I am your wife felt a little wrong. Why? His head hurt... and itched... bad!
Izzy quickly found a stone and pressed it into Hank’s palm. “If your head itches,” explained Izzy, “squeeze the rock, okay? Do not touch your head, okay?”
“What’s happening?” sobbed Hank.
Izzy stood and slowly backed away. “I’ll show you but I need you to not touch your head. Okay?”
It was hard but Hank obeyed. Izzy stepped into a side hall and returned with a shard of mirror. “Okay,” she said as she crouched down again. “This is going to be scary so... Are you ready?”
Hank nodded and a hundred marbles rumbled across his brain. He’d have to remember not to nod again.
Izzy held up the mirror.
“Don’t touch it!” screamed Izzy, smacking his hands away. The mirror fell and shattered.
“There’s some kind of metal spider-squid on my head!”
“Don’t touch it!” Izzy grabbed his hands. “It’s keeping you alive, Hank. You have a wound and that med-bot is keeping you alive until I can get you off Rallis. If you touch it, you’ll blank your memory again. If you don’t touch it, you’ll start remembering stuff... a little at a time... eventually.” She stood up. “So don’t touch the spider-squid, okay?”
“Okay,” sobbed Hank, lost and confused... and itchy.
Izzy grabbed her gun and checked the windows. “We gotta get out of here before there are more of them.”
“Of him?” asked Hank, still horrified by the fresh corpse.
“Yes,” she said as she glanced back at the body, “of him. Damn Goryuns. They’re clearing a path for their Hydra to come in and destroy everything.” Izzy sighed grimly. “They don’t want us coming back if they lose the colony. It’s scorched earth, just like Borrain... just like Everett...”
* * *
It had been nearly six years since the Goryuns invaded Everett. First came the bombardment, pounding whole towns into nothing. Then came the Hydras, laying waste to anything left standing. Izzy was only sixteen. She and her dad hid in their basement for weeks.
When their food ran out, Dad went searching for help or news or anything. “Stay here,” he told Izzy before he left. “Stay safe. I need you to. You’re all I have left.”
Izzy stayed in that dank basement, her stomach clenched, throat dry, waiting and waiting until it was clear that Dad was never coming back. Frightened and alone, she was sure she was going to die forgotten, as if she had never even existed, as if her Dad had never existed either. Then the basement door opened and out of the blazing daylight stepped a Federal Trooper.
* * *
Izzy shook her head, throwing her memories of Everett back into the shadows. She was the Federal Trooper now and she had to get them off of Rallis, her and Hank. Izzy strapped on her rucksack and checked her gun. She needed both ammunition and batteries. As she checked the Goryun for supplies, the ground shook, raining dust from the cracks crawling across the ceiling.
“What was that?” asked Hank, the fear of a child filling his voice.
“That was a Hydra,” explained Izzy, checking the window again.
She couldn’t see the Hydra but she knew it wasn’t far. There was no way she could take it down alone. She was supposed to be Hank’s apprentice. Even if she got past the Hydra’s ground troops and got all the way to the giant’s central server, Izzy wasn’t sure she could successfully deploy the virus. What could she possibly do?
“We have to get out of here,” she told Hank, “but first I have to find some place to go. Wait here and do not touch that spider-squid. Okay?”
While Izzy crept out into the rubble of the fallen colonial capital, Hank sat alone in silence. The smell of burnt cement filled the air as drywall dust settled over the dead man. The man’s name tag was in some strange language full of accents and backwards letters. Hank looked at his own tag. It read Corley. “Hank Corley,” he said aloud. That was his name! He remembered!
But why did he remember his name but not that other thing that Izzy said? What was it? Wife? Yeah, wife. A realization hit him and he immediately looked at his hand. There it was, his wedding ring. Why did he remember his wedding ring but not his wife?
“Izzy,” he said aloud as he played with his ring, “Izzy Corley?” Nothing. It sounded wrong, upsettingly wrong. His heart hurt. His head hurt and itched. He squeezed his rock tight.
Izzy came jogging through the door and Hank immediately looked at her nametag. Menden.
“I found a place,” she said, “a tunnel. I don’t know where it goes but...”
“If we’re married,” asked Hank, cutting her off, “why is your last name different?”
Izzy winced at the question. Hank kept staring at her, expecting an answer. She had to give him one. “Because,” she said firmly, “that’s the kind of girl I am. Now, we need to get to that tunnel.”
Hank held up his left hand and pointed at the gold band, “Why don’t you have one?”
“We don’t have time for this, Hank.”
“Why?” he insisted.
Exasperated, she said, “I lost it, okay?!” She grabbed Hank by the hand and jerked him to his feet. “We gotta get out of here.”
Outside, they ran in a squat, following the random maze defined by the dunes of debris. Izzy led them to the tunnel, a storm sewer ripped open by a bunker-buster that had missed its mark months before. As they traveled deep into the man-made cave, the long fingers of the descending sun stretched thinner and thinner until they vanished into black. Hank couldn’t tell if his eyes were opened or closed.
As Izzy dragged him along, Hank tried to remember something, anything. Izzy had said he’d get his memory back a little at a time, but how little and how much time? Hank wanted to remember something now. He focused hard on the lost ring. Was he mad when she lost it? Was it gold like his? Did he have it engraved?
Engraving! He had one on his ring. There was no way he could read it in this darkness. What did it say? What?! He’d have to remember to read it after they got out of this tunnel. He tried to hold that thought in his head but all it did was make him ache and itch even worse than before.
As Hank struggled to remember, Izzy tried to forget. That man she’d killed, what it felt like... It didn’t feel like justice or vengeance; it just felt horrible. This wasn’t what she imagined it would be like to be a Federal Trooper. She wanted to be that Federal Trooper; she wanted to step out of the blazing sunlight; she wanted to save people. Instead, she couldn’t even save herself and she still felt frightened, alone, and forgotten.
Copyright © 2012 by Scott D. Coon