The Alphabet Challenge: “E” Story No. 3 of 3 — “Embroiled”

This is the fifth round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For these submissions, it’s the letter “E”.

Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.

In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.

Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.

Here we go. Presented anonymously, the third of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “E” as submitted by its author.

Embroiled

Copyright 2020 — E. J. D’Alise

(2,540  words – approx. reading time: about 10 minutes based on 265 WPM)

Many dream of a life’s tapestry that’s rich, bold, and memorable. Me? I want plain vanilla. Of course, that’s not always under my control.

Take the other day . . .

~ 0 ~ 0 ~

I’m walking at the refuge, camera hanging to my side, eyes peeled for any movements. Unlike in my back yard, forest birds are skittish and distrusting of large apex predators.

I rely more on vision because I lost my high-frequency hearing, and I no longer hear most birds. But, my low-frequency hearing has compensated, so when I hear a significant crash to the side of the path, I’m on alert.

Other than humans, there are no large and dangerous animals in the area, but I still clear my shirt for a fast draw as I focus on the direction of the sound.

I don’t see anything but a faint trace of smoke rising from a spot sixty feet away. I can’t make out anything through the trees, but I’m not too alarmed about a possible fire because it’s been a wet spring.

I leave the marked path and make my way toward the spot, senses on alert.

At first, I’m thinking someone is playing a prank. I mean, it’s difficult to cut a perfectly round clearing in the middle of a forest, especially one that extends up through the canopy. But, that’s not even the half of it.

At the center, on the ground, there’s a figure. Its shape is vaguely bipedal and symmetrical but not human, and it’s covered with what looks to be a form-fitting and shiny material. The head is bare, hence why I know it’s not human.

Do you know how they often describe aliens? Large head, huge eyes, no hair, and a short, thin body? Nope! This one is somewhat humanoid; the body’s proportions are slightly off, with longer muscular legs and arms than I’m used to seeing in humans, but that could be an optical illusion because the torso is broad at the shoulders, and the distance from the shoulders to the hips looks off. I mean, close, but off.

The head is something else. Angular features but somehow soft; elegant, even. Short fine hair covers the top, sides, and neck area but leaving the face clear.

You’re thinking I’m just sitting there, examining this . . . this . . . alien. Yup! It’s on the ground, unconscious, and looking like it might have fainted in place.

And, no, I’m not stupid enough to touch it. I say “it” because I have no idea of the gender, or if it even has a gender because there are no familiar markers to indicate one way or another.

When it opens its eyes, I step back, hand on my holstered gun. I figure a distance of eight feet is safe enough, but I add another eight feet when it gets up much faster than I thought it might.

It looks around with shiny eyes. I can’t tell for sure from that far away, but they look like there are circuits on them. At least, that’s what the fine patterns of gold and silver remind me of.

It focuses on me, and it says something. It sounds like a voice, but I don’t recognize the language. It then speaks again, this time in English.

“21st Century, North America,” it says in what sounds like a vaguely feminine voice.

“Uh . . . is that a question?” I ask.

It straightens from what looked like a tense pose to a more relaxed stance, or so it appears; my hand remains on my gun, and I back up a few more steps, but I’m still within the clearing.

“Female, 50s, 70 kilograms,” it says, and I figure out it’s taking inventory of its situation.

I do a quick conversion, and I’m pissed.

“Hey! I’ll cop to the age, but I’m closer to 60 kilograms than 70!”

There’s an edge in my voice; I mean, OK, I’m probably somewhere in between, but 155 pounds I’m not, honest.

“We need to move,” it says as it steps toward me, but stops when I draw my gun.

“You’re welcome to go anywhere I’m not,” I say as I take a defensive stance.

It looks around.

“They’re following me, and they’ll take you out without asking questions,” it says. “I’ve programmed a jump point four-hundred meters that way to try and shake them off. I assume that’s a weapon,” it points at my gun, “so it’s your choice; come with me, or stay here and take your chances.”

It’s barely done talking when we hear multiple crashes to our right; at least six, but it could be more because they blended with each other.

It doesn’t wait; it takes off running right past me as I back up and keep the gun aimed at the ground but following the alien’s movement.

Before I lose sight of it, I hear the sound of a group of somethings heading toward my position. I make my mind up quickly, and I take off after my new friend.

I catch up to it when it stops and does something to the back of her wrist.

“Stay close,” my new friend says, “and close your eyes.”

It looks over and adds, “You might want to holster the weapon.”

I hesitate, but then I comply as light shines from above us. I pass out before I have a chance to look up.

~ 0 ~ 0 ~

I wake to the sound of the same strange language I’d heard from my new friend when it first spoke, only now there are more speakers. I’m lying on some type of bench, and someone is messing with my ear.

“My name is (?), but you may call me Sam,” my new friend says in English as it fits a couple of pliable earbuds to my ears. “These will help you understand our language.”

And, sure enough, the spoken noises resolve into understandable words.

“… don’t need the distraction …”

“…not be here …”

“… they’re coming around for another pass …”

“… prepare (?) for launch and execute evasive maneuvers …”

Sam gets up and heads toward a free-standing console as it gives me more instructions.

“Stay away from any equipment and don’t interfere with anyone,” Sam says as it points toward an opening in the wall.

“There’s an observation area to your right. That’s probably a safe place for you to stay.”

I get up and take in the frenzy of aliens running around what looks to be a control room of some kind. Actually, more like the bridge of a ship. As I head to the observation area, I nearly get knocked over by one of the aliens rushing by. It says something my earbuds don’t translate, so I assume it’s a swearword unique to their kind.

I make my way to the observation area. Did I say ship? I meant spaceship. I’m looking out at a gas giant complete with a system of rings and two visible moons. It’s not one I recognize. I mean, I’m not an astronomy buff, but I know what the planets of the solar system look like, and this ain’t one of them.

“Hello,” a voice says, intruding on me trying to pick my jaw off the floor.

I look over to a child-size version of the aliens in the other room.

“I’m (?), but you may call me Mia,” it says before turning to the view outside.

Keeping an eye on the view, I make my way to where Mia’s standing. I almost get there when a large being stops me. I hadn’t noticed it standing in the background.

“It’s alright, (?),” Mia says. “She’s not going to harm me.”

The large alien seems reluctant but bows and steps back, letting me get near Mia.

“That’s my bodyguard,” Mia says. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Edwina, but you may call me Ed,” I answer.

“Where are we?” I ask as I feel a slight jolt and watch projectiles leave the ship and arc toward a ship cresting over the edge of the outer ring. “What’s going on?”

“Well,” Mia answers, “Sam completed her mission, and we’re trying to get back to our system with the information from our spies.”

Mia continues, pointing to the ship that now deployed its own projectiles, “That’s a cruiser of the Empire trying to stop us from getting to our jump point.”

“Let me guess,” I say, “you’re the rightful ruler, leader of the resistance fighting against the evil empire, and the information Sam stole will help the revolution.”

“Yes,” Mia answers. “I wasn’t aware that Sam had briefed you!”

I look at it, my smile going stale on my lips.

“. . . I was only joking,” I mumble by way of explanation as I pay attention to silent explosions halfway between our ship and the evil Empire’s cruiser.

“Should we be somewhere safer?” I ask in alarm as more massive explosions go off in most of the visible space around us.

“It doesn’t matter,” Mia answers matter-of-fact-like. “If one of those hit us, we’d be obliterated. But, they’re not shooting at us; they are knocking down our missiles because they want to board us.”

“Let me guess,” I say, “you can’t just transmit the information because they’re jamming the communications.”

“Are you a communication officer where you come from?” Mia asks.

“No. I just watch a lot of movies.”

We stand in silence as more explosions blanket our field of view, some getting close enough that we have to shield our eyes from the light despite the observation port surface dimming.

“I’m not going to make it back home, am I?”

“Depends on how the fight goes,” Mia answers. “We’re pretty evenly matched unless . . .”

I waited, but Mia didn’t finish, so I asked.

“Unless what?”

“That’s one of Lord (?) cruisers,” Mia said. “If (?) leads the attack, our chances go down significantly.”

I couldn’t make out the name, but it all sounded awfully familiar to me.

The explosions stop, and the cruiser is now much closer. I can’t judge its size, but it’s not much bigger than our ship, at least based on what I can see out the port.

I feel the jolt as the cruiser docks, and Sam comes into the observation area, followed by four other aliens, all armed with some kind of long arms.

“They’ve attached to the command center’s emergency lock,” Sam informs us. “We have to make a stand here and hope reinforcements get to us before we’re overrun.”

I look out to the control room and see six more aliens in defensive positions in the control room. Sam and the others who came into the observation area put on glassy-looking headgear and set up by the entrance, waiting for what comes next.

I feel the change in pressure as the lock opens and I risk a look. Dressed in what must be military garb, troops start shooting from the opening as Sam and her companions return fire. I say fire, but they’re using some type of laser guns. You can’t see the beams at first, but you can see the burn marks left by the beam, small trails of smoke rising from the impact point. You occasionally see flashes as smoke crosses the beam’s paths.

Now I make sense of what the aliens are wearing. The uniforms are made of refractive material to minimize the energy transfer of the lasers by dissipating the beam over a large surface area.

Other than trading shots, neither side gains an advantage. Sam mentions more of the Empire’s troops are pouring out of the airlock and are heading the other way, presumably setting up defensive positions to keep reinforcements at bay.

I look back, and Mia is now standing behind her bodyguard.

“Lord (?)!” someone shouts.

Sam and the others start putting down continuous fire while I wonder about the capacity of their weapons. Lasers use a lot of energy, and I imagine they won’t be able to keep it up for long.

My curiosity gets the better of me, and I risk a quick look, hoping to be spared a neat laser hole in the forehead.

It’s not like the movies, but nearly so. An imposing figure wearing a mirror-finish uniform is making its way toward our position as our six troops outside draw back toward a bulkhead. Two are wounded, and the remaining four take refuge behind the bulkhead, dragging the wounded with them.

Despite the continuous fire, Lord Whatever-Its-Name advances, laser beams reflecting off its armor and shooting off in all directions. That’s probably why the Empire troops were holding back; to avoid getting hit by the reflected beams.

Lord WIN gets to the entryway and stands there as Sam and the others hold their fire lest the reflected beams hit us.

“Surrender, and I’ll spare The Heir,” a booming and shockingly clear voice says.

As it speaks, Lord WIN draws what looks to be a sword, but thin and buzzing with electricity. Some sort of plasma weapon, judging by the wires going back to the backpack it carries.

Lord WIN lifts its arm and makes to strike at Sam, who holds its rifle up in the hope of blocking the white-hot blade.

My reaction is automatic. I draw my Sig Sauer 365 XL and empty half of my 12-rounds magazine into Lord WIN; three in the chest, three in the head. The V-Crown 9mm JHP rounds go right through the glassy armor and do their thing, dropping Lord WIN like a sack of potatoes. Or, maybe a sack of cumquats, I’m not sure.

I slide over and empty the remaining six rounds at the Empire troops making their way toward the observation area. The slide locks open, I hit the magazine release as I grab my spare 15-rounds extended magazine, leaving my remaining 12-round magazine for last. I double-tap any troop raising their rifle, and by then, Sam and company resume firing.

What can I say; the fight is short, and the Imperial cruiser disengages and speeds off as the remaining Empire troops surrender.

~ 0 ~ 0 ~

Mia wanted a fancy ceremony and to bestow accolades and medals upon me, but I explained I needed to get back home and feed the cats because they get cranky if they miss a meal.

I’m not sure if they understood my concern, but before departing for their system, Sam opened up what I presumed was a wormhole and dropped me back to the forest.

I woke up in the middle of a clearing, the sky a wonderful red tint from the setting sun. I instinctively reached for my gun before I remembered leaving it with Sam. I assume they plan on replicating both the technology and the ammunition, and I felt a bit apprehensive about potentially changing the outcome of a galactic war somewhere out there. Plus, I now have to replace the gun.

Then again, Mia and Sam both seemed nice.

I got up and took stock; no broken bones, no headache or other aches, my phone and camera intact . . .

. . . Dang it, and double dang it! I’d not remembered to snap even one photo!

Anyway, as I said, I prefer a plain vanilla life. Of course, that’s not always under my control.

The End

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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