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  • Writer's pictureAaron Corcoran

01 : Potential

AC-013 took cover in a crack in the ground. There really was no other way to describe it, the trees and other growth had all been destroyed by years’ worth of fire fights and low-flying craft. Craft similar to the skiff that hung imposingly in the air, a mere hundred meters away. This very same skiff had sent him racing for cover as his ghost screamed in his ear, “Ace! Enemy craft approaching!”


Ace preferred the moniker given to him by his ghost over the serial number etched into the metal chassis of his arm. But when panic struck, he defaulted to the serial. And he was certainly panicking now. There was no way that the skiff could have missed his dive into the rocky cleft. The burnt out stumps were useless as cover and the other brush was laid flat by the wash from the skiff’s in-atmosphere impulse jets. The alien craft was practically on top of him by the time he reached the point highlighted in his visor.


How did the ghost do that?


“Ace, they’re releasing hostiles!” Ghost warned.


“I know,” Ace growled in response.


He didn’t need to check to know that he had a mere eighteen rounds left in his magazine. That was six bursts. Six enemies he could handle from his tiny hole in the ground.


“How many are there?”


“Eight.”


His eyes flicked to the visor area that displayed the radar that Ace’s ghost projected. They appeared to be staying close together, rather than spreading out to surround him. The four-arms were notoriously good with knifework, but Ace felt confident that he could handle one or two.


“Wait,” Ghost’s voice cut through his thoughts, “Another group is dropping.”


Ace checked his magazine.


Still only eighteen rounds.


Ace had seen what happened to other ghosts who exposed themselves on the battlefield; something they seemed incapable of avoiding when their partner fell in a fight. One well aimed shot to stun the poor thing and the four-arms were quick to snatch up the prize. Those ghosts were never seen again and their partners’ bodies never got back up. Ace could not afford this fight. He was not prepared.


“Okay, AC013, how do we get out of this one?” Ace whispered into the stale air of his helmet.


“What was that?” Ghost’s voice, in response to his own choice in volume, took on a whisper.


Ace checked his radar again; the four-arms were still grouped up, but had begun to spread out.


“We need a way out of here. I don’t think I can win this fight.”


Ghost’s silence was heavy. Ace knew that his tiny partner understood the implications of his statement.


An explosion knocked him backwards, slamming him into the rocky wall. Arc energy caused his body to convulse for a moment, threatening his grip on the pulse rifle clutched in his left hand. The four-arms were not interested in giving Ace the time he needed to formulate a plan out of this scenario. The grenade charge was the opening signal. Four-arm rifles began unloading their payloads at the edge of the cover. As dirt flew up into the air all around him, Ace saw that the hostile indicator of his radar began to spread out.


“Ace, there is more cover just 70 meters to the south.”


Bursting from the cover, Ace quickly targeted the southern-most hostile and pulled the trigger. 3 sharp explosions flashed from the muzzle of his rifle. The four-arm’s helmet exploded with a burst of visible vapor in response. The alien dropped to the ground with a cry and its companions immediately crouched down or dove to the ground. The four-arms didn’t have the ability to recover from death and, as such, had a healthy respect for bullets.


Ace capitalized on that respect, sprinting to the south.


A small rise stood between him and whatever cover his ghost detected. Arc energy flashed to the left of his head; a wire rifle blast barely deflected off of his helmet. Dirt went flying as other shots hit the ground around him. Three harrowing seconds later, the longest three seconds of his second life, and Ace could finally see the cover.


A toppled conifer. It must have been massive in life. The roots reached up to the sky in a macabre parody of of a live tree.


Ace dove forward in a roll as he crested the rise. Light-given Arc energy left a silhouette in the place left. Another wire rifle blast punched a hole in the space where his shoulder had been a split-second later. The shot did not come from behind him.


“Look out!” Ghost’s voice shouted inside his helmet.


He already knew. Ace saw the glint of sunlight reflect off the alien scope of a wire rifle. There was at least one pressed up against the roots of the tree. Ace made a sharp right turn right as another rifle fired from the base of the tree. This blast managed to strike his shoulder, Arc power tearing away the energy shield and dissipating before it could actually penetrate the physical armor.


Panting with effort, Ace asked “Can you recharge that?”


“I’ll need a moment. I’ve been focusing on charging up your grenade since our last fight.”


Ace wished that he could summon a grenade charge right now. It would be a quick and effective solution to half of his predicament. Thirty meters to go before he would reach the roots of the tree and his first opponent. “I hope it’s only one right there,” he growled.


“I’m sorry, but I can’t tell,” Ghost answered, “Shields should start powering back up, though.”


Fifteen meters. Fifteen rounds. At least thirteen enemies.


“Here we go,” Ace muttered.


There was only one alien waiting for him in the shadow of the fallen tree’s roots. It had dropped the rifle on the ground and armed itself with four small blades.


Twelve rounds. Ace wasted no time or energy on conserving ammunition when he did not know how many others awaited him around the corner of the mound of roots and dirt. A root exploded inches from his face. He didn’t need to look behind him to know that the others he had evacuated from were now at the crest of the hill and closing in.


Nine rounds. One burst, fired blindly, didn’t hit anything. But Ace prayed that respect would keep the aliens on the other side of the small hill. He didn’t wait to find out and instead rushed around to the other side of the root cluster. Two four-arm riflemen were waiting for him. One shot hit him squarely in the chest. The other missed his face as the force of the first Arc blast knocked him backward a step.


Pain lanced through Ace’s right shoulder and the taste of copper filled his mouth. The smell of ozone and burnt metal filled his nose.


“I am so sorry!” Ghost apologized, “I am trying to recharge your shield, but the generators in this armor are not cooperative.”


Six rounds. Three rounds.


Panting, Ace replied, “Don’t worry about it. Just do what you can. Do I have a grenade yet?”


“Actually, yes! It just finished charging!” Ace could hear the elation in Ghost’s tone, elation at being able to successfully contribute in this moment.


He spared a moment of concentration on the energies that swirled at the edges of his consciousness. A moment later, he felt the tingle of energy coalesce into physical form in the palm of his right hand. Ace threw the physical manifestation of Arc energy at the crest of the hill where a pair of four-arms had begun their approach down.


The grenade hit the ground and burst apart into a handful of smaller Arc charges that immediately homed in on the two hostiles. Even as the two fell in crumpled heaps, three others opened fire on Ace’s position. However, respect for Light-given abilities kept them from charging forward. Respect would not last very long, Ace knew.


Three rounds. And far too much time before he would be able to use any more of his Light-given special abilities.


Ace’s attention fell to the two alien rifles at his feet. “Damn it all. Why can’t I get their ammo to work in my gun?” Ace muttered aloud.


“Wait,” Ghost cut in, “What did you say?”


“Nothing. Just trying to figure out where-“


“No!” Ghost interrupted, “What did you just say?”


“I just wish I could use their ammo. I’ve tried firing these damn things and I cannot aim the blas-“


“Hold on! Let me have a look!”


“What are you talking about? We don’t have time for-“


“Let me have a look! Now!”


The sheer commanding tone in Ghost’s voice compelled Ace to comply. Placing his hand out, palm up, Ace summoned Ghost forth. An alien grenade exploded on the other side of their cover. The tree trunk’s large girth absorbed the shock of the explosion. Ghost didn’t even flinch as it focused on the four-arm’s weapon.


“There is raw material here.” Ace could sense the excitement in Ghost’s tone. “I can do something with raw material. This one has Potential.”

“Potential?” Ace repeated. The four-arm grenade thrower peaked over the summit to check on the damage caused by their munition.


Respect.


Zero rounds left.


“I bought us a few seconds, but we’re all out,” Ace sighed, “Where do we run to next?”


“Pick that up,” Ghost responded.


“What? Did you hear me? I am all out of ammo. We need to run! I can’t die out here. They’ll get their hands on you and then we both will-“


“Ace! Pick that up!” Ghost commanded.


Ace’s visor highlighted the alien weapon’s magazine. With a shrug, he reached down and grabbed the slim case of ammunition. Ghost emitted a beam of energy that Ace felt at the periphery of his senses more than anything else. And then, before his very eyes, the case of alien ammunition appeared to break apart and reform into a more recognizable form.


Ace couldn’t believe his eyes. He turned the magazine over several times in his hands before frantically pulling up his pulse rifle. With a smooth, practiced motion, Ace ejected the spent magazine and slapped the new one into the receiver.


Twenty seven rounds.


Another tiny highlight appeared in the corner of his visor.


“Potential,” Ace whispered.


“Ghost?” Ace called out as he took aim at the four-arms making their way into a flanking position.


“Yes, Ace?”


“We need to give you a name.”


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