Greeting The Corridor

Greeting The Corridor

A Story by Stephen Mayo
"

This is a short story I am working on in relation to New Horizon (http://www.newhorizonrpg.com)

"

Three days, three very long days, that’s exactly how long Harken had been sitting in this turret staring out at endless plains as he waited for something to happen. Command said that Animus activity spiked in this area yesterday, but so far their unit had come across exactly zero activity, and about twelve stew pots worth of grassilope. Patrolling the outer edges of the combat zone made for long days when nothing happened. Mile after mile, he was blessed with visions of yet another grass covered hill. His unit hadn’t even seen combat in over a month. Perhaps someone up top was giving them these assignments for their own twisted pleasure.

Harken shifted in his seat, and, for the third time today, went over the standard checks for his turret. He wasn’t the best shot, but he was the smallest one in his unit, which earned him a seat as gunner in one of their three tanks. Of course these were barely tanks by any stretch of the term, cobbled together from whatever Avalon had handy when the war started. These things ran on hope and fairy farts and only did that about every other day. Harken hated his seat, his torso felt too open, too exposed, but he fit the best in the snug space which left his legs overheated and squeezed together like a plump lady trying to fit into her kid jeans again.

He checked his available ammo, barely depleted from where it had started earlier this week, then went about testing all the moving parts. Instinct and practice saw him done in less than a minute, as he once again was sure that everything was in working order.

“Jake, toss me a drink” His voice echoed slightly in the cramped interior, and was answered a short time later as a small frontal hatch opened to reveal a glistening fresh canteen as Jake landed it perfectly in Harken’s lap.

“Thanks.” The cap popped off easily enough, and cool life flowed down his throat, taking the dust and grime with it and leaving a refreshed feeling that was rarer and rarer these days.

“You guys getting anything in there?”

“Nothing, All I can see is another stretch of road and a couple more miles until dinner.”

The voice was too muddled to make pick out the speaker, but the general nature of the comment would have put it square out of Terry’s lips. He always thought with his stomach. Not that Harken blamed the man. MRE’s were great for keeping up strength, but there was nothing like a nice ravager steak waiting for them back at the barracks. Sad to think that before joining the military Harken would have turned his nose up even at a meal such as that. He smiled and laughed weakly thinking about his life before this. War changed everything, made everyone stand up and pay attention. Harken was a painter before this whole deal with the Animus. Now his most common color was red, and those were hardly masterpieces.

Lost in thought, Harken almost missed the warning as the sound of gravel grating under tread was replaced by a distinct metallic click. Everything slowed down as the tank shook slightly. For a second, Harken thanked whoever was watching over him that the IED was a dud, and then the entire vehicle lifted into the air. He felt the lower half of the tank lurch up before the upper half even began to move. In that split second, he knew he was never going to see his friends again. Two lives ended in an instant, snuffed between unforgiving pieces of metal.

The explosion broke the gunner’s seat loose inside what was left of the compartment. As the tank came back down to earth, the seatbelt pulled into his hip. The unmistakable pop and sudden pain told Harken that his right hip was dislocated. The tank rolled to its side, tossing the chair free as the seatbelt finally gave way from the strain. He hit the dirt rolling, trying to ignore the pain lancing from his hip, down his leg, and up his side. If he didn’t get out of the way, the tank would crush him when it came to a stop.

He barely missed what was left of the front hatch, as the twisted metal hit the dirt next him. His brief moment of grace was cut short by a now unrecognizable piece of metal that caught him in the chest. The impact crushed into his ribs, forcing the air from his lungs, but his armor held. His arm didn’t fare as well, as a deep gash opened along his right forearm.

As the dust from the explosion cleared, Harken could hear the sound of shouts and gunfire. Someone had missed their warning; someone had driven their convoy directly into an ambush. Luckily for Terry, he wasn’t going to be around to see the aftermath. Had it been Terry? Harken’s mind was so fuzzy at the moment he couldn’t even remember which tank had taken point this morning. Maybe it was Denvers, or Claudia today. Either way, men around him were screaming and dying.

Harken tried to silence the screaming pain in his hip and arm as he crawled back to the wreckage of his tank. He had to get into this fight, had to do something. He desperately searched for a weapon as fire burned around him and twisted metal threatened to cut him open. His knife was still on his hip, and a couple grenades as well, but he needed something with range. The weapons compartment was still mostly intact, and Harken thanked his luck again. At least this time it was going right.

The door grated against the twisted framework, but eventually pulled open enough for Harken to grab a rifle. He checked the weapon over as fast as he could, and then set about determining where the enemy was. His tank lay in the middle of the field, Claudia’s in front and Denvers' behind. None of them were moving, but his was the only one that looked completely down for the count.

Alexis and Samuel were already dead; apparently the gunners were the first targets on the working tanks. He was bruised, bloody, and limping, but at least he was still alive. Bullets hit the dirt around him as he made his way toward what remained of his unit. He couldn’t cross the gap between the tanks, not without being picked off. There was an explosion nearby, and a piece of shrapnel scored a large gash across his left cheek, and he dove back behind the wreckage of his own vehicle. Taking cover behind what was left of the driver’s compartment, he said a silent prayer when he saw the unmistakable crimson leaking from beneath the hatch. Terry was never going to get that dinner.

A larger explosion, probably a rocket round, sent up a plume of dirt and rocks littering the battlefield and leaving a ten foot crater just behind where Harken had taken cover. He still couldn’t see the enemy, but he knew what direction they were coming from. He scooted as far out as he dared, and tried to see anything through the dirt and glare. He wasn’t sure, but it looked as if they had dug into a hillside just past the road and then disguised it to cover their presence. Gunfire exploded around him again. In the confusion he couldn't tell if it was from his own weapon, or his enemies'. He may have fired, but at the moment he couldn’t remember.

He squeezed the trigger and felt the familiar jolt as his rifle went into action. He didn’t see any individual Animus, but at least he knew their position. Round after round sped down his barrel and toward the hill, jolt after jolt reminded him that his right arm was bleeding from earlier, and his hip was still out of place. He must have hit something, because he heard a guttural howl and saw what looked to be a crimson mist in the dust. Taking aim toward the sound, he had a brief moment to register what sounded like gyrocopter blades before the ground in front of him disappeared and he went blind in a flash of light and pain.

Slowly, Harken regained his senses enough to take stock of his surroundings. He couldn't tell how long it had been since the explosion. Had it been only a few minutes, or had he lost hours? He was flat on his back, shielded by what remained of his tank, and still listening to the sounds of gunfire. Something was different though. The weapons fire sounded wrong, and he could hear what sounded like swords striking one another.

Sure that there were no enemies immediately around him, he grabbed his rifle and posted at the corner of the wreckage once again. Through the dust in the air, he could see two gyrocopters between the tanks and the hillside, and four heavily armored combatants pressing the attack against the Animus. Before he could even pick out an enemy combatant, the fighting stopped. Three of the figures began searching through the hillside, while the fourth turned and made his way toward the tanks.

The warrior was wearing crimson armor with silver and gold tracings along the edges of plates and in decorative motif across larger sections of the body. When the figure cleared the dust of battle, Harken could clearly make out the number thirteen engraved on his shoulder in gold traced roman numerals. Harken’s breath caught in his lungs. Corridor thirteen was recently established, but had already garnered a reputation surpassing that of the Animus. They were commissioned as part of Animus Stalkers, but were often known by the more colorful slang term of core stealers. It was said that they could read a wafan’s mind simply by looking into his eyes. Some even claimed they could steal one’s wave form.

Though the figure was heavily armored, Harken could tell that he was a vanir. He was much too big to be an aesir, and jotuns were rarely so close to human in form. The man made his way past Claudia’s tank, stopping to examine a body that Harken couldn’t recognize from this distance, and then headed straight for Harken’s position. Even though the Stalkers had saved his life, he felt like hiding; like curling up in a ball and disappearing beneath the wreckage.

His heart raced as the man approached. Aware that we was clutching his rifle like a club, Harken slowly eased it to the ground beside him, just in time for a hand larger than his face to grasp him around the throat and lift him into the air. A brief moment of panic, and his eyes locked with the brilliant orange oculars of his would be savior. In that instant, he felt his body freeze. His muscles refused to work, his heart refused to beat, and he would have sworn that his wave form stopped functioning. There was an odd sensation from his idpulse that could only be described as a pull, and the vanir relaxed his grip. A strong voice barely released the word “clean”, and Harken knew that the individual wasn’t talking to him.

“Aesir, what is your assignment, and what happened here?” As if he finally recognized that he held another wafan before him, the Animus Stalker spoke, and slowly lowered Harken back down to the ground.

“I’m a tank gunner assigned to perimeter patrol duty out of the Hesper unit. We were conducting routine patrols when we were hit by IEDs and ambushed by Animus.” He winced as weight once again assaulted his hip. “Did anyone else make it?”

The Stalker’s eyes sank slightly, and he shook his head slowly. “You’re the only one we found. The Animus have a base dug in about a kilometer down the road and we were sweeping in to try and take them out when we came across your wreckage. You’re lucky we got here when we did. Help will be along shortly, but my unit and I have to join the strike force. We will leave some supplies for you.”

He was the only one? Claudia, Denvers, Terry, and all the rest silenced in a few moments of panic and explosions. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t glorious, and most of all, it wasn’t right. Something stirred in Harken’s chest, his strength finally seeming to inch its way back. “I’m coming with you. These were my friends here, my family. If you’re going after the main group I want in.”

His strength ebbed again as the vanir placed a hand on his shoulder and barely pushed, dropping Harken back into the dirt, sending a jolt of pain through his hip. “You are injured. You can’t walk, and from the look of your arm you won’t be able to hold a rifle worth a darn until you get some medical attention. You would be more of a liability than a help. Stay here and wait for the med crew to come and pick you up in a few minutes. You can come back for the next fight.”

Harken started to protest, but the large vanir raised a halting hand. “Enough. I will make sure you stay here if I have to.” With that he turned and headed back toward the gyrocopter to regroup with the rest of his squad that was leaving the hillside. The craft rose steadily, forcing Harken to squint against the wind and dirt as it hovered overhead. A light thud next to him was the first hint he had that they had dropped a pack of supplies before they flew off toward the next fight.

The pack was fairly standard, essential medkit and some MREs mostly. The canteen opened with a soft pop, and liquid relief flowed down Harken’s throat. It was only water, but at the moment it tasted better than wine. With his head beginning to clear, he began to assess his situation. He wrapped his arm in bandages as he thought. Waiting around for the med crew was the obvious option, but something in the back of his mind had snapped. Something in the deepest recesses of his core was telling him to push forward. The animus had hurt him, had stolen the lives of his friends, and would simply continue to do so if unchecked.

His immediate need was mobility. No matter how much he wanted to take the fight to the enemy, he wasn’t going anywhere until his hip stopped screaming every time he put weight on it. With as much carefulness as he could muster, he slowly dragged himself back to the wreckage of his tank. Wedging his foot in between what was left of the treads and the ground; he placed the strap of his pack in his mouth, and pulled. The entire process took maybe two seconds, but it was an exquisite moment of agony. With a sound halfway between the pop of bubble wrap and the crack of a stick, his hip angrily slid back into place. Tears were streaming from his eyes, and he had bitten clean through the strap, but at least one problem was looking up.

He tried to stand, and eventually managed to get enough weight onto his hip to take a few steps, but the pain threatened to put him down before he ever reached his destination. He set about digging through the wreckage, carefully avoiding the areas he knew his friends were. After a few minutes, he came up with a steel rod just the right length. The remainder of the strap, plus a bit of bandage, and he had a makeshift crutch. Now that his arm had stopped bleeding, he had just enough strength to keep ahold of the crutch as he walked.

He grabbed a couple more grenades and a few extra clips of ammo before heading out. Determination and anger kept him going at first, until a dead numb set into his body and the pain from his multiple injuries slowly disappeared to a point in the back of his mind that he had nearly forgotten about after being away from his paintings for so long. This was the place where he put things that were inconsequential and unimportant to the piece at hand. In the days before the war, this had allowed him to focus on the minute details of a painting, picking out all of the little points that most people would never even care about when looking at the picture as a whole. Now, it allowed him to focus on his goal, treating the pain as simply another form of inspiration for the masterpiece swirling just underneath his surface thoughts.

Each step was a new brush stroke setting the base for what would be his greatest work. Each passing minute was another color in his palette. By the time he saw the smoke and heard the gunfire, his mind was filled with color and design. The piece was planned out, the supplies set, now it was time to start painting.

He stayed as low as his hip would let him, thankful that the numbness which now pervaded most of his body allowed him to move without completely relying on the crutch. Staying to the ditch, he rounded the last hill before the sound of battle. The nearest plume of smoke and fire was coming from a gyrocopter that was engulfed in flames just past the edge of the animus base. He wasn’t sure, but it looked like the one the stalkers had been in. There were several bodies around, mostly animus, but one stalker hadn’t made it. This one was a jotun, and from the looks of his size and armor he would still be standing if he hadn’t taken a rocket round directly to the chest. Most of the animus nearby apparently met their ends at the tip of his sword.

The battle had moved inward, leaving the perimeter near the downed copter unguarded. Thankful for a moment of respite, Harken made his way into the compound as quickly as his body would allow. The few animus he met as he went were all heading toward the center of the compound, most of them not even noticing Harken before a bullet went through their core. Apparently the stalkers were providing a large enough distraction that the animus didn’t believe there were any more enemy combatants this far out. Each squeeze of the trigger was a fresh brushstroke for Harken’s masterpiece, torn metal and shattered cores were highlights and accents, adding depth to the piece.

The sound of metal striking metal caught his attention, and he turned down an alley between buildings, heading for a nearby courtyard. Red armor flew past in his vision as he neared the edge of the alley. Crouching down despite the protestations of his hip, he carefully looked around the corner. The stalker that had addressed him earlier was currently engaged in combat with an animus three times Harken’s size. His crimson armor was torn like paper in several places, and dented where it was still whole. The stalker didn’t appear to be faring well.

As harken watched, the jotun picked up the smaller vanir and began deconstructing a nearby cement wall with the stalker’s head. Strike after strike sent pieces of cement flying, and slowly drained away the fight from the stalker. His helmet was holding for now, but Harken could tell that he wouldn’t last long.

The jotun’s armor was too thick for Harken’s rifle to make a real dent, but it could provide a distraction. The animus took a step to knock another section out of the wall, and lost his footing as a bullet connected with the back end of his knee. As he dropped to his knees in the dirt, he had to drop the stalker to keep from slamming his own face into the wall. That face immediately turned to search for his new assailant. Harken didn’t have time to duck back into the alley before he was spotted. The jotun crossed the courtyard in three steps, and picked up the smaller aesir by the throat.

“You’re interrupting my fun little fly. No one interrupts my fun.”

Harken lost his grip on the rifle and his breath fled from his lungs as the larger man slammed him into the wall hard enough to crack several ribs. As black spots began to swirl in his vision once again, his hands franticly searched for anything they could grasp. His right hand landed on the handle of his knife the same time his left hand managed to fish a grenade from the pouch on his hip.

Mustering what strength he had, Harken stabbed the knife toward the visor of the jotun’s helmet. Glass shattered, but the blade didn’t go much deeper. He felt a brief moment of vertigo before colliding with another wall where the jotun had thrown him. The animus turned to face his smaller foe once again, just in time to be taken off his feet by the grenade wedged in at his hip.

Harken barely made it back across the courtyard toward his adversary who was now missing most of his right side. On his way, he picked up the stalker’s sword. Placing the point at the jotun’s throat, he pushed. The weight of his exhausted body put more behind the blade than any remaining strength he had, but it was enough. The sword struck dirt, and the animus stopped moving.

He stopped for a moment to admire his masterpiece before a low moan brought him back to reality. He limped back over to the stalker from earlier and rolled the larger man onto his back.

“Get up. We have a lot more fights ahead of us.”

© 2012 Stephen Mayo


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Added on November 25, 2012
Last Updated on December 10, 2012
Tags: New Horizon, Aesir, Animus, Vanir
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Author

Stephen Mayo
Stephen Mayo

Billings, MT



About
Been a while since I updated this. At the moment I'm writing for the New Horizon RPG (http://www.newhorizonrpg.com) I'm also working on a few personal projects whenever I get time. more..

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A Chapter by Stephen Mayo


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A Chapter by Stephen Mayo