Belated posting of ROW 80 – Round 1, Week 4, Wednesday, January 23, 2018 – Flash Fiction Prompt using the pic (credit: Zajcsik at Pixabay) below + “a burnt metal box”. 700 words or less.
I awoke to an eye-searing flash of light followed by the boom of thunder while the consistent pounding of rain hit against my helmet and my uniformed body. “What the . . .?” My voice was drowned out by the raging storm. I shook my head and checked my monitors, desperate to get my bearings. I read the display, blinked a few times, and tried again. How the heck I was on my back in the middle of a hellacious rainstorm on Athena VIII?
Pushing up into a seated position, I looked around. A vague feeling of deja vu descended as I stared at the horizon as it was lit by another lightning flash. My muzzy-headedness wasn’t a good sign, but worse was the idea I was alone. That wasn’t how the Galactic Space Squadrons functioned. Everyone was always paired up. Where was my partner?
“Unit seven-oh-one-beta. . .” Crap. What was my ID? I searched my screen again and exhaled in relief. “Unit seven-oh-one-beta-beta-nine to Command.”
No response. No caustic joke from Tali, my partner. No automated response from the Command ship.
Double crap. Oh well. Not like I hadn’t been trained for a situation like this.
Never one to choose sitting overdoing, I stumbled up to my feet and took another look around as my surroundings weaved in and out of focus. I took a first wobbly step forward. Then another. And another more solid step. Then my foot collided with something hard and solid and I took a header to the scruffy, yet squishy ground. It took me a minute before I sat up. I could see nothing. Using my gloves and I wiped at the gunk covering my visor, but the tarry substance stuck.
Hell. My heart rate sped in time to the pelting rain.
Every soldier knows never to take your helmet off in a questionable situation. But sometimes you have little choice, and this was one of those shitty, shitty times when making a bad decision might be the difference between life and death. However, with no partner and no response from Command, shitty was the best of my options.
The helmet released with a hiss. I pulled it off, careful to keep the opening facing the ground to limit the possible damage to the internal electrical components. Squinting into the torrent to find what I’d tripped over, I recognized my toolbox, or at least the burnt metal box that used to contain my tools. I squatted next to the smoking cube, held my helmet between my thighs and reached for it. The scent of melting plastic hit me. I pulled my gloves off as the searing pain registered.
Now gloveless and helmetless, I collapsed onto my arse and cradled my helmet against within arms while my fingers stood straight out letting the rain sooth their pain. I allowed myself a few deep breaths before I rose to my feet again. I clicked my helmet in to verify which direction I should travel, then pulled it off again and headed in the correct direction.
I struggled through the stubby underbrush, crouched low to avoid low hanging branches of the nearby trees. Thorns and burrs poked through my thick utility uniform, the space-age layers not enough to dissuade Athena VIII’s more persistent weeds and plants from taking their pint of blood one drop at a time.
Every hundred paces or so, I checked the helmet until I only had a few clicks left to go. In the lightening lit sky, a humanoid silhouette stood on the hill that was my destination. My heartbeat stuttered. Friend or foe?
Dropping to my knees and hopefully out of sight, I checked the display again. My shoulders relaxed and I took in a ragged breath, perhaps the first real breath I’d taken since waking. Finally, some good news: Tali.
Within in minutes I was good-naturedly punched in the shoulder for going offline, then we were ascending to the ship. To safety. To home.