Heroes of the Hydra
by Scott D. Coon
Hank’s world vanished in a blaze of white. As the flash dimmed, a strange but oddly familiar room came into focus. He sat on the floor while, above him, a woman checked her rifle. She wore a uniform just like the one he had had on. Maybe she could help him?
“Excuse me,” asked Hank, “who are you?”
The woman knelt down in front of him. Her eyes were red and swollen as if she’d been crying. She held his hands close to her and said, “My name is Izzy. I am someone who loves you very, very much, which is why I’m going to get you safely home to your wife.”
A lot of that didn’t make any sense but, before Hank could ask another question, something grabbed the earth and shook it. “What the hell was that?!”
Izzy looked out the window. Bright lights peered over the jagged cityscape, heading their way. She was the Federal Trooper now, she told herself, and it was time she started acting like it. “That’s why we’re here,” explained Izzy, “and that’s what I have to go and do.”
Izzy dug her tactical computer out of her pack and strapped it to her forearm. Then she found a rock and pressed it into Hank’s hand. “I need you to sit there and squeeze this and count to three over and over again until I get back,” she implored him. “The rock will help when your head itches and counting will keep you grounded until you start remembering things again. You need to sit there, squeeze this rock, and be very quiet... And do not touch your head. Can you do that for me, Hank?”
“Hank! My name is Hank!”
“Very good, Hank,” said Izzy, a tear clinging to the corner of her eye. “Can you keep squeezing and counting for me, Hank?”
Hank stared at her, confused. But something told him that there was a good reason for all of this. He nodded. It hurt... a lot... like an avalanche inside his head; he’d have to remember to not do that again.
Izzy stood up and turned to leave.
“Where are you going?” asked Hank.
Izzy paused. “I’m going to save you the only way I can,” she promised even though she knew he didn’t understand. “I’m going to save you by completing this mission.” She kissed his forehead then headed out into the moonlit streets teaming with Goryun patrols.
Hank sat alone, the ground rumbling beneath him. He squeezed the rock and started to count. “One, two, three... one, two, three...” It only helped a little but at least it helped. The rumbling kept getting louder and other things were happening out there, mechanical things, people things. He wanted to get up and look but that woman had asked him to sit and count and squeeze and it seemed really important that he do that. She also told him to not touch his head... but it itched so bad! So Hank sat on his hands, rock and all, and kept counting.
Just outside the cottage, a massive foot slammed the earth. The tiny structure shook. A crack ripped across the ceiling. Dust fell. Something reached out of the sky and clenched the small house between massive, metal fingers. Windows popped into shards. A rift opened along the base of every wall. Moonlight poured in. Hank dropped his rock and shielded his eyes as the house lifted away, crumbling like gingerbread as it ascended into the sky.
Hank found himself suddenly out in the open. Above him, a massive metal box hung in the air, suspended by a myriad of titanium tentacles, some with hands, some with eyes, others with giant feet that clomped across the landscape. From its steel hooves to its shining eyes, it stood as tall as a mountain with a body as big as a grand hotel lying on its side.
“A Hydra,” gasped Hank. He remembered something! Suddenly, what Izzy had said made sense; she was going up there to disable the Hydra. Then Hank remembered something else; he was supposed to be going up there too. Just yesterday, he and Izzy were going up there but they didn’t make it; a Goryun patrol found them first. There was a fight and one of the Goryuns clubbed Hank with the flat of a shovel. Then Izzy put the med-bot on his head and got him out of there.
Whoever Izzy was, she’d saved him once and now she was saving him again. The urge to help her pulsed through his being but pain thundered through his skull. He could barely focus, let alone fight. What could he possibly do?
As he stood there staring at the massive, metal monster, Hank suddenly realized that he was surrounded by Goryun soldiers. Izzy couldn’t possibly save him from this so Hank just closed his eyes and waited to die. As the Goryuns leveled their guns at him, a bizarre grinding noise drew all eyes upward. The massive Hydra shuddered and staggered sideways, demolishing several cottages. The Goryuns scattered but not fast enough. The Hydra’s lasers cut them down.
The Goryuns retreated toward the city with the Hydra right behind them, spewing missiles, lasers, and gunfire. Hank just stood there watching in awe until a noise behind him drew his attention. He turned sharply, accidentally unleashing a fresh stampede of pain that dropped him to his knees. Two black boots appeared on the ground before him. He didn’t need to look up to know it was a Goryun. The Goryun was about to kill him but all Hank could do was kneel there, holding his skull together.
Shots rang out but Hank wasn’t dead. Peering through his pain, Hank found the Goryun soldier on his back, his uniform soaked with blood.
Izzy appeared and wrapped herself around Hank. “It worked,” she whispered. “The new virus worked. I did it... I actually did it. I got them...”
As she collapsed into his arms, Hank realized that the back of her uniform was wet with blood. “Izzy? Are you okay? Say something, Izzy.”
Izzy was dying and somewhere inside his brain Hank had the knowledge to save her; he could feel it in there but he just couldn’t get it out. The harder he tried, the worse his brain burned. Feeling Izzy’s fading heartbeat, Hank started to panic. He couldn’t breathe. Blackness ate away at the corners of his vision. Hank was blacking out. He sank backwards, cradling Izzy as they fell together.
Above them, against the pale glow of the moons of Rallis, Hank saw a tiny cluster of specks. They quickly grew into a fleet of brigade ships. Hank wasn’t sure who they were but something deep within him knew that the ships were coming because Izzy had taken out the Hydra. She’d saved them... if they lived long enough to be saved.
The blackness swallowed the last of Hank’s vision and he was gone.
Days passed before a pair of weary eyes opened in a small, private room. The ceiling was powder blue. Machines beeped and breathed. The sheets felt like stiff paper and the blankets were an itchy green. This was definitely a hospital ship, probably still hovering over Rallis. What happened on Rallis? Did they complete the mission?
The eyes swung around the sterile room until they found a dim, red button hovering in the air; it was a hologram projected from the bedside table, alerting the waking patient that she had a message waiting. Izzy clicked the button and Hank’s head appeared above her hospital bed. His image smiled at her.
“Good Morning, Hero,” said Hank’s holographic head with a newer, cleaner med-bot clinging to his skull. “By the time you get this, I should be back on Mars getting the Humpty-Dumpty treatment. Before they put me in stasis, I just had to tell you that I remember everything, all of it. Especially how you saved me... twice.
“Yeah, I saved you too, but I still owe you one, at least one. I’m sorry I freaked out when you kissed me. I wasn’t exactly in my right mind. You didn’t have to apologize for blanking my memory when you did. It was the right thing to do. You don’t have to apologize for anything. In war... Things happen in war. But not for us anymore. I’m never seeing combat again after this.” He pointed to his new spider-squid. “And you, well, you’re the Hero of Rallis now. I guess I’ll never get to pay you back, so I’ll just say thank you.”
Someone outside of the hologram said something. Hank nodded in response and regretted it immediately. “I have to remember not to do that,” winced Hank. “They’re telling me to wrap this up. My pod is waiting. Thank you, Izzy. Thank you for saving the mission, thank you for saving me.”
The image vanished and Izzy was alone in the dark again. She felt lost, isolated in the universe. She’d saved Hank, she’d saved the mission, but she was as alone as ever and the only person she’d had any connection with was gone from her life, probably forever.
The door opened, flooding the room with light. “You’re awake,” said the orderly, his face beaming. “How are you feeling there, hero?”
“My back hurts,” said Izzy, trying to bury her loneliness. “My legs feel like overcooked noodles. Where am I? Who are you?”
“You’re on the Nightingale and I’m John,” said the beefy guy in green scrubs. “I’ll be your therapist. I can’t tell you how honored I am to meet you.”
Staring at him in confusion, Izzy realized that he was beaming at her like a schoolboy with a crush. “Honored? To meet me?”
“You don’t know?”
“You’re the Hero of Rallis!” explained John, delighted to be the one to tell her. “You may have turned the course of the whole war. I practically had to wrestle every other therapist on the ship to get to work with you.” He clicked a few buttons on her bedside table and a news story appeared above her bed, along with Izzy’s military ID photo.
“You’re a real hero,” explained John, a little giddy and a little nervous. “It’s a real honor to get to work with you, Sergeant Menden.”
Izzy laid there a moment, reading and rereading the first paragraph of the article. It was over. She was going home; the army was already planning some kind of PR tour for her. No more war. And she was a hero? She no longer felt alone, and it looked like she wouldn’t be forgotten any time soon. Izzy thought of the last thing her dad said to her and, for the first time since, she smiled.
Looking into John’s admiring eyes, she told him, “Call me Izzy.”
Copyright © 2012 by Scott D. Coon