3: Last Shot

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Doc was in a bad way.  Its carapace was pretty good protection against swords and the like though not much use against firearms.  Higher morphs like Doc and myself unconsciously emitted our physical status during times like this.  It had been hit by gunfire four times, once superficially and once mortally.  Our leader had also suffered a slash that had disabled one of its sword arms.  

"Remember our mission," Doc emitted along with details it hadn't previously chosen to share with me.  I learned it was critical that we take a certain number of the winged queen ants back to Hive.  Everything was happening so fast.  I would have to process the barrage of olfactory inputs later, assuming I survived.

My antennae also picked up that Doc was gathering the last of its energy for a final charge at the men rolling up their cannon toward the mouth of the cave.

I heard the squeaking of the cannon's wheels and our enemies shouting at each other.  The small arms fire had died down.  Sporadic now.  Zaafer and a couple of other men were bellowing conflicting orders.  Sounded like maybe some of them were sniping at each other as well as us.  I was glad a few had apparently stayed loyal to Wasim.  The tang of black powder in the air made me realize I was hungry.  Stress always did that to me.  Pungent.  I pushed a sudden craving for rotten frillneck eggs out of my mind. 

Doc straightened up, ran forward a few steps, staggered then collapsed.  My hearts fell as Doc's emissions faded away.  Only a few moments left.  I wasn't angry yet a heavy sadness pressed down on me.  I was surprised by the realization that I had loved my friend.  All I had of him now was the regret of things left unsaid and the fact that despite being a communications morph I had never thought of Doc beyond, as one human put it, "a walking abacus."  

Doc was dead.      

Time passed, I'm not sure how long.  Two men approached me.  One bore a long spear.  The other thrust a torch out in front of him and clutched a knife to his breast.  Their weapons glittered in the flickering light.  

"Here, that other one is still alive."

"Yeah, I see," the one with the spear replied.  "You there," addressing me now.  "Stand aside, we've orders to kill Wasim."  He punctuated his sentence with a threatening gesture of his lance.  

"Prisoners," his partner muttered.

"That's right, and you're our prisoner."

"Me?" I asked.

The one with the spear looked back over his shoulder and then at me again. 

"Hey now, drop that thing ... and the knives too."

I looked down and realized I had drawn my pistol and leveled it at the human with the torch, and I held knives in my other three hands.  I was shutting down.  Going to a sterile, odorless place outside of myself.  The cave, the men, the situation contracted as my awareness shrunk into a tight, little ball with a leaden core of sadness for the fate of my poor friend.  No, I'm not being entirely truthful.  There is no point in writing this account if I lie or leave things out simply because they are hard to write or make me look bad.  Sure, Doc's death was hard but the truth is I was terrified.  I froze because I'm a physical coward and I hate that about myself.  Sometimes I can screw up my nerve and muddle through but other times I have no more control of the fear that wells up inside me than I would a raging torrent, and I have no way of knowing in advance how I'll hold up either.  How I wish Doc were here now with its beautiful, indomitable bravery.  How many times did I resent the pain of our leader's emissions of control during dangerous situations and afterwards nursed fleeting revenge fantasies?  I realized now that Doc had ignored my insubordination all of those times.  Now I yearned for that pain and resulting lack of agency with my whole being.  Still, I was between Wasim and our two antagonists so that was good.  I hadn't abandoned him or Gillian and I wouldn't!

There was a third, shorter human now.  This one was a woman and her name was Sifr.  She stood a couple of steps behind the other two and pointed a short, double-barreled musket at my chest.  It was a fine weapon embellished with etchwork and chased silver.  A gift from Wasim.    

Sifr scoffed.  "What a pair you are.  Zaafer knew what he was about not letting either of you geniuses come in here with a gun.  "He said 'Kill Wasim if  he won't surrender.'"

The one with the torch looked like he wanted to argue but thought better of it.

"You hear that?" the spearman yelled past me.  "What do you say, Wasim?"

Wasim didn't respond. 

"By the horned shayatin, you're a cold little she-devil, aren't you?  I thought you were Wasim's woman?" the other said.  His partner made agreeing noises.  They both chuckled.    

Sifr scoffed and pushed her way between the pair and said, "Shut up."  She cocked one hammer.  Those two muzzles looked positively cavernous.

Before she could pull back the second, something horrible erupted that after the fact I'd say was between an echoing thunderclap and the peal of an ogreish blacksmith's hammer striking a monstrous anvil.  I felt a strange wetness and a vibrating blast of hot wind like a sirocco that knocked me prone.  There was screaming, a tang of iron and dust.  Thick, choking earth.  The tinkling of debris kicked up by the blast and maybe bits falling from the ceiling.  I felt like someone had pulled off my head and made a bell out of it.  There were muffled voices.  I had no trouble understanding them even if I didn't recognize who was saying what.         

"I didn't say to fire!" someone roared.  

"That was our last shot."

"Well, there were only three when we stole the thing."

Someone said something I didn't quite catch.  There was a babble of voices then quiet. 

"I don't know, Sir.  It just kind of went off somehow."  

"It wasn't my fault!"

"You fumbling rock scorpions!"

I noticed that someone's tooth was embedded in the back of my hand. Didn't seem to have gone all the way through my chitin so that was good.  

Then the ceiling collapsed.

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