by Andrew G. McCann
A lone seagull wheeled overhead, a black dot against the hot orange sky. The bird was very sick, and to save its strength had been gliding on the fierce thermals that rippled the air. Looking down, it saw a rock that glittered at the edge of the murky sea, and it swooped down to rest.
* * *
During the final, early morning assault on the Enemy's headquarters, as he waited in the trenches, he felt the muffled explosions through his armored DarcAngel skin and barely heard the cacophony of screams, moans, and prayers over the 'pathic channels. Then the order came down, and he ran through patches of smoke and over the pitted earth. His team moved rapidly, their cyborg legs pumping up the ripped hillside. Suddenly, there came the order to retreat -- a brief, milling moment of confusion -- and then a great, silent flash.
He awoke with a start. The battle seemed to echo in his mind still. He felt immobilized, but then found he could move his head. He stretched his neck and looked at his body, seeing his metallic arms and legs fused to the blasted rock. He laid his head back again and checked his internal monitors: 12.6 hours had passed since he lost conciousness, battery power was full (apparently, his solar panels still functioned), his nutricapsule supply was adequate, and there was a 3-mail message marked "Urgent!" on his mnemonitor. Who sends 3-mail during a battle? He blinked it open. But the message area was empty.
He closed his eyes.
When he awoke again, he raised his head and scanned the area -- surprised to see the hill was now an island in an inland sea. Where had all the water come from? He checked his internals: No more 3- mail had come, and the comm channels were still dead.
His internal clock no longer functioned properly. It was difficult to remain awake, and he kept hearing voices on the edge of sleep. His mind wandered uncontrollably, despite his training. Very soon, no doubt, he would lose his mind.
Somehow, millimeter by millimeter, he had managed to free his right hand, then his wrist, and, soon, his elbow. The arm seemed to be working well enough to do what he intended. Since rescue, or even capture, now seemed unlikely anytime soon, he would endeavor to open his chestplate and power down for neurorecovery at a later point in time. As it was, his mind was becoming permanently damaged.
Something caught his eye. Something moving in the fiery sky. His comrades, at last?
He strained to see, his crystal-interleaved eyes focusing sharply on the moving object: It was a bird, a seagull, and it was coming toward him. A trick? The Enemy had used birds before, but there were precious few of them to be found anymore, and he was just one, disabled soldier, however potentially deadly. Certainly they could just come and take him if they wanted.
* * *
He watched the gull descend erratically and land at his feet, which were melted lumpishly to the barren rock. It hopped closer. Closer still. And stopped. With great effort, he lifted his right forearm, reaching toward the bird, which he could now see was disfigured and molting. Its eyes were filmy, but questioning. Its breathing was labored. His battle-scorched hand twitched, and the gull, startled, took flight in a shower of feathers. It rose up, and up, but faltered, convulsed, and dropped like a stone into the dark, lapping waves.
With a powerful twist he freed his arm fully from the grasping rock, extended it, and plunged strong, hard fingers into his chest, ripping out his power core. His clutching, metallic hand crashed back against the rock and his eyes dimmed, but his body shone like a beacon at the edge of a nameless, poisoned sea. *
Story and illustration copyright ©1995-1996 by Andrew G. McCann <email@example.com>
Additional art copyright ©1994 by Romeo Esparrago <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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