It was pitch black and Officer Smith could faintly hear explosions off in the distance. They grew louder as Smith opened his eyes and things began to come into focus. As he stared through a cracked visor he saw the dark sky light up with red and orange flames. Fighter planes from both sides raged in battle above him; it had a weird kind of beauty to it.
He would’ve spent the rest of his short life there if it wasn’t for his fellow Officer, O’Brien, grabbing one of his outspread arms and lifting him off the ground. Once O’Brien had Smith’s arm around his neck, he retreated and looked for cover. All around them the war was in full swing with many battles going on at once.
It was hard for them to make any ground weaving in-between all of the scrimmages going on around them. They could hardly hear the pinging in their helmets through the ringing in their ears. The pinging was an alert built into their helmets signaling that there was a nearby trench that hadn’t been destroyed yet. As they neared the trench they got caught in a hail of crossfire.
Needing to jump out of the way of an oncoming claymore separating the two of them, their armor took the brunt of the impact. They landed hard inside the base of the trench. The ground shook as they lay on the floor. The explosions all around them sent tremors racing throughout the battlefield. There wasn’t much time for rest before the trench began to take damage.
O’Brien gave Smith a tap on the top of his helmet to get his attention. “There is a ship getting ready to take the injured back to base. I need you on it. I already sent you coordinates to get there. I’m going to head back out and see if I can find any of our boys that need help.” And then he was up and out of the trench running back into battle.
Checking the readout on his right gauntlet, Smith learned he has about 30 minutes to make it to the med ship. It was now or never; if he was going to make it off this moon alive he had to go immediately.
He hadn’t noticed with all the chaos going on around him, but part of his exo-suit had been damaged by the claymore, making this new mission all the more precarious. There are a wide variety of exo-suits available depending on where you fit in the force. With Smith being near the bottom, he was lucky to get a working suit at all. It was basically a hardshell design for heavy punishment that was mostly given to those on the frontlines.
Most of the damage was done to the left hip of the suit. It had broken at the seam leaving the area around the hip exposed. This inconvenience already set Smith back by making it extremely difficult to climb out of the trench. Thinking fast, Smith used what was left of the fuel in his thrusters, giving him the boost needed to make it to the lip of the trench.
As he was about to pull himself over the lip, the thrusters cut off, leaving him hanging from the chest down over the edge. The added weight of the busted suit threatened to drag him back down. If it weren’t for all of those pushups Smith had to do back in basic, he would’ve been screwed. But he was able to muster enough strength to pull himself free of the trench.
Once Smith got back to his feet, he slowly made his way toward the location of the med ship. “Run diagnostics.”
After a few moments, a voice spoke in his ear, “Massive damage to the mid-left quadrant. Unable to repair.” This left Smith with a decision to make.
He could continue at his current slower pace, fully protected, or detach the damaged part of his suit exposing at least a quarter of his body to the chaos unfolding around him. With a tight window to make it to the med ship, he had no choice but to remove part of his suit.
Unfortunately for Smith, he needed to bring the damaged leg with him for fear of what might happen if he left it behind. The military was limited on exo-suit parts and soldiers were often punished harshly if they had the opportunity to salvage damaged pieces but chose not to. Luckily, the damage was only done to the outer hard shell of the suit which meant he didn’t have to carry the whole segment. This also left the underneath covering intact which protected his bare skin from being exposed to the cold.
His superiors had such a strict watch on the military budget that Smith would rather get shot in action than show up with part of his suit missing. The ones in charge had no idea what it was like to move around in one of the suits, let alone in an old run-down one that barely worked. But that is why they were up there watching and he was down here fighting for his life.
Placing the bend of the suit’s knee over the back of his neck, Smith carried the leg as he picked up speed on the way to the med ship. His gauntlet showed three miles to the ship; not too far. This gave him hope that he would make it in time. Then he heard it.
Looking down, a harmless looking ball rolled to Smith’s feet. Two of the three lights that wrapped around the grenade blinked green. Once the third one lit up, boom!
Whether it was out of instinct or quick thinking, he couldn’t say. But in one fluid motion, Smith took the broken suit leg he had been carrying and whacked the grenade like a golf ball. It sailed through the air with a faint whistle.
Smith turned and looked around for cover. A few yards away was what was left of a battle plane wedged between a burnt tank and the ground. Making a beeline toward the plane, the familiar hum of the grenade grew louder. He had thrown many plasma grenades in training and could pick out that sound anywhere. It was about to blow.
With only a split-second left, Smith dove behind the plane. His exo-suit added a bit of bulk which caused him to land awkwardly and scramble for coverage. A blinding flash erupted in the distance followed by a concussive blast. Globs of heated plasma and countless shards of shrapnel assaulted the plane, leaving it a mangled mass.
Slowly, Smith got back to his feet and looked toward the direction of the explosion. The initial shock of the blast had sent him flying. He wasn’t sure what was there beforehand, but where the grenade had exploded was now a massive crater. The fighting around him had paused momentarily, but it didn’t take long for the battle to start up again.
That’s when he realized he no longer had the leg of his suit. Looking around, he noticed a hunk of metal sticking out from under a pile of rubble.
When he walked closer to the pile, he realized just how bad the leg was pinned down. The rubble was too heavy to pick up and the leg hardly moved when he tried to pull it free.
“You have to be kidding me,” Smith lamented.
A sudden beeping emanated from his gauntlet; it was an alarm indicating that he only had 15 minutes left to make it to the med ship. With half of his time already gone, Smith feared that he would have to leave the leg behind and accept the harsh punishment coming to him. But he would give it one more try.
The foot end of the leg was sticking out from the rubble, making a good handhold for his last attempt to pull it loose. This time, he squatted low to the ground to better distribute his weight. Placing his left hand around the foot and his right around the ankle, he leaned back and let what was left of the exo-suit do most of the pulling. He pressed his exposed leg into the dirt and the equipped leg against a solid piece of the rubble. Smith needed to put everything he had into this one pull.
Tugging with all his might, the exo-suit groaned from the effort. His legs stiffened and his whole body grew tight. But no matter how hard he pulled the metal piece wouldn’t budge. Right as he was about to give up and accept his fate, there was a sign of hope; the leg wiggled a bit.
With renewed vigor, Smith cranked on the leg and propped both of his feet against the rubble for maximum leverage. Without warning, the suit leg shot loose from the rubble sending Smith sprawling backward onto the hard ground.
“Oh, thank God.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, he hoisted the leg up in victory. But his jubilation didn’t last long as he looked at his gauntlet. There were only 12 minutes left.
Scrambling to his feet, Smith sprinted off hoping he could make up some of his lost time.
“Come on now. You got this,” he reassured himself.
The rest of his mission went unhindered with the exception of a few little obstacles he came across. But those he easily avoided by traveling the outskirts of the fighting. He knew he was close, but he still couldn’t see the med ship anywhere.
Checking his gauntlet again, it showed he was down to five minutes remaining. He checked the lines of the map to see where he should go next. There was a ridge about quarter of a mile out that looked like it could be the rendezvous spot, but for some reason, the ship hadn’t sent out exact coordinates and he couldn’t see a beacon in the distance. Though, Smith figured it would make sense for the med ship to hide behind the ridge until it was time to take off. The ship’s commander probably felt it was safest to remain off the map’s grid in case the enemy stole access to it.
Without a better plan, Smith took to running faster than he ever thought possible with a busted exo-suit. He prayed the med ship would be on the other side of the ridge.