He'd fought the red one before. Well, technically they were all black as space, star-blotting monster-shaped holes; only in between armored, superhard chitin segments sometimes there would be a flash of color. Tendons maybe, who knew. Whatever. It made it easier on John, identifying them like that. If he had to check out the shape of their armors and their weapon arms and then match it to whatever random-ass legend Rose had chosen to stick on it, seriously who cared about those, they made him so sleepy...
He'd fought the red one before. It wasn't the best fighter, but it was cautious and smart, and it could hit both with the outer curve of its pincers like a club, and with the inside, serrated, metal-tearing blade on the inner curve. Hence why he'd never managed to smash it to death in one hit and why Roxy kept stealing the highest kill record from him; he wasn't fond of hard vacuum and explosive decompression, and after the last time it blocked his weapon in mid-swipe and slipped under his guard to shred up his cockpit he was in no hurry to rush it again. Vacuum was pretty unnerving when all you had left between it and you was one piddly helmet with fifteen minutes of oxygen.
"Warhammer to Base, Cancer broke through, in pursuit!"
It had never, ever rushed him before.
Never thrown itself straight at his raised hammers, like it didn't care it'd be crushed through in one single blow, so long as its corpse could tackle the shit out of John's mech. He'd been frozen stupid a half-second too long and it had slipped underneath his hammer head, even though it left a gouge down its back. The impact threw them ass over head and whirling in a ball as John's head rattled inside his helmet, shock-foam hardening along his spine and his security harness leaving friction burns right through his flight suit.
And then here he was, letting his hammer go and tearing at its shoulder-blade plates to peel it off him, and it planted its clawed mantis legs in his mech's crotch and kicked off, like John was a mere stepping stone to...
... to, fuck, fuck.
"Base to Warhammer, was Cancer alone?"
John checked his instruments at a glance and throttled more speed out of his engines. "As far as I could see, but --"
"I'm sending out Excalibur to fill your position. I can't spare you any backup for the hunt -- it's imperative that you catch it!"
Too far before him, the giant, insectoid space monster kept building up speed, plasma blooming fire engine red at its back like butterfly wings.
Earth kept growing in their sight. John ignored it, seeing only the trailing afterimages on his heat camera like the taillights of a truck. He was gaining, he was, but too slow, they were already screaming through the thermosphere. He could see nothing but those serrated pincers, those clawed second-arms, the monster-feet. It was tall like a ten-stories building and it shed nuclear radiation like Bec shed white hairs on black couches. No one knew how the species managed oxygen issues or if they ever needed it but they were organic, John knew, he'd brought back enough fragments of alien encrusted in his hammers for copious amounts of analysis, and organic beings had to eat.
"Base, communication breakdown in two minutes. I won't catch up before the stratosphere."
Warhammer wasn't optimized for atmosphere operations. It could manage, though. He would manage.
"Acknowledged." A pause. "See you at dinner, John."
He let her hear a smile in his voice and lied to her. "Sure, Rose."
He clicked off his radio.
They fell into the Earth's gravity well, caught and speeding up, tearing the air into howling fire. John's mech rattled all around him, viewscreens sparking with static and sudden flames, instruments beeping to turn him deaf; he clicked them off, one by one, security warnings, low on fuel, G-forces too high, slow down, slow down.
Cancer wasn't slowing down either, even though he could see the chitinous armor curl and smoke, dulled at the edges -- weak to fire, fat lot of good it did all of them fighting up in space. John had a burst of inappropriate laughter thinking about General Harley's face if he recommended they invite the aliens down home for a barbecue.
Maybe the old man would even laugh and say why not.
The Pacific sprawled under them, the insectoid shape like a black hole going right through gorgeous green-blue waters from that angle. John bypassed a last security lock and put the last of his fuel into a burst of speed, bet it all into catching up before it touched down.
He bet the monster didn't expect that.
He rammed it straight in the spine, right between its plasma wings. He couldn't tell if the wings went out on impact, or if he was just losing consciousness. Probably both.
His cockpit was filled black as alien armor, light-devouring, an endless hole. They fell.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
"Dave, gotaheadache, alarm, turnidoff."
Beep. Beep. Beep.
"Dirk? Pretty please? Cherry on top? Your Majesty?"
Beep. Beep. Beep. Why was he sleeping in a ... uh. Pillow fort? This felt like a padded chair, but sideways. And if he moved --
"Ow! Ow, ow, crap, darn-danged -- fucktarded excuse for a -- ow!"
A faint red glow blinked on and off through layers and layers of shock-absorbing foam. The harness was snug across his chest. When he shuffled his weight a bit it dug into one of his shoulders; he could feel that arm as nothing but muted tingles, like someone had anesthetized him and then dropped him in fire ants. (And now they were sitting back going hehehe to themselves waiting for feeling to come back. Asshole.)
His face was covered in dry blood. Urgh. He worked some out from between his teeth and spat it out with a grimace, fumbling for the harness release, which predictably dumped him on his right-side instrument board, which was now more or less underneath. The foam helped some, but most bubbles were already popped flat and there was very little bounce left in them.
Okay. Yeah. Fairly good bet he'd crashed.
Also fairly good bet he wasn't dead. Awesome. Unexpected, but awesome. Concussion... nah. Well, more probably he'd had one, for a while. Whee for nanite healing. Good nanites, best friends. He'd have to thank Doc Lalonde. Not that he wasn't still dizzy and exhausted, on account of they had to take energy from somewhere, but that was better than bleeding in your brain by just about three miles.
He pushed his hand through the foam, sliced it open and parted the edges like they were a curtain made of pillows, which strained his arm but whatever. The screens were almost all shorted out; the instruments, as expected, answered what amounted to a 'ahaha shyeah right' when he tried to move his mech. He patted the front console, a little sad. "Sorry, Hammer-buddy. If it helps you went out in a blaze of awesome."
Unless, oh, fuck, fuckity fuck fuck, he hadn't killed it, usually he hit them from the front, who knew how deep he'd crushed it from the back, what if it wasn't dead! He yanked open the weapon compartment overhead -- the big blaster gun almost brained him when it fell free -- and squirmed his way to the emergency release.
The thought came to him a bit late that it was exceedingly likely he'd landed into the ocean and was now thirty meters deep and sinking fast. Water was already rushing in to slap him in the face by then.
He slapped the side of his helmet, spluttering when saltwater got in before the glass slid closed, enclosing his face. Aw heck. It was going to take a little bit to be siphoned out. In the meantime he could still breathe, if awkwardly. He swam through the hatch, paddled up. To his relief Warhammer rested barely three meters deep on its side on a slope, at the end of a gouge in the sea floor. The water was clear, all raised dirt and sand sunk to rest once again, fish unafraid to come right up to one huge metal hand to investigate; he must have been unconscious a while.
John rose to the surface and tapped his communicator as he bobbed in lazy, sun-speckled waves, admiring some sea, and more sea, and a little bit of some more sea. Static.
"Wow. Maybe I ought to have stayed in the cockpit," he muttered to himself, and tried to pull the gun's strap so it wouldn't make swimming even more awkward than it already was holy wow an island!
He kicked up in excitement, bobbed higher on the waves; it wasn't even that far, maybe five minutes at a leisurely breast-stroke, which considering he'd bruised his shoulders to the bone with the harness didn't sound like a bad idea. Looked like he'd clipped some palm trees or whatever those were on his way down, heh, oops, and...
... looked like something else had crushed through a much bigger number of trees over there.
Okay. Never mind his shoulders. Time to speed up.
The beach was gorgeous, a wide stretch of pink sand, and all he could think was how exposed he was out there. He'd been trained some on grounds tactics, but the bare required minimum; he'd been destined for space even before he was an enthusiastic blastocyst in a test tub, after all. He bent low, holding his gun with both hands. Man he wished Jade were here. She'd taken to General Harley's hobbies like a duck to water.
The plasma gun would make a pretty nice hole in chitin. The trick was finding the right spot to do more than piss it off.
And there it was, the Cancer alien, even more gigantic like this, with him frail and human and without any shell of his own before it. It lay sprawled on its back, one of its grasping hands torn off at the socket, the gaping hole oozing reddish phlegm. The other limbs John could see from there were clearly broken and in a lot of places, though nothing like bone showed through.
It didn't move, not even to breathe. That wasn't proof of jack shit. To survive in hard vacuum they had to have amazingly efficient oxygen processing, or whatever they used instead of oxygen. Maybe it was just napping.
He picked up a rock and flung it, scurried off to another hiding place. No reaction.
Another rock, still no reaction. Okay.
The head was out of reach, propped up on rocks and hidden behind a crapload of crushed trees. Chest shot it was, then. John gritted his teeth and stalked his way to its side. The shell in shadows was cold to the touch, a hint of the void of space still clinging to it, though in the sun it reminded him more of turtle shell.
... It was so, so big. Made it hard to breathe, being in its shadow.
It needed to die. He slung his gun over his back to free his hands and started to climb, fast, not letting himself hesitate. Either it would wake up or it wouldn't; he needed to be in position either way, a shot straight through the chest where his hammers could finish it in one blow, where obviously there were important things to destroy. It'd probably eat people otherwise, make a huge monstrous nest with a queen and killing drones for all John knew, and soon Earth would be overrun, colonized. They couldn't eradicate the monsters on-planet without sterilizing whole continents, making all life impossible there, and he couldn't allow that. He wouldn't.
Even as he strode up its chest, swinging the gun back in his hands, he vaguely wondered why the usually cautious Cancer had even charged him at all. But it didn't matter.
He reached where its sternum should probably be, and...
... there was a crack in the armor, raw flesh oozing behind. Good; he moved closer, peered in. The plasma gun would lose less power if it didn't have to burn through the...
... oh god.
Lights inside, dim firefly glows through pooled phlegm, a liquid thicker than blood, see-through faint pink but for the clouds of red obscuring the outline of a, no, he was going crazy, oh god he couldn't breathe, this was a person, was this where all their kidnapped fighter pilots and explorers had gone, were they -- those were tentacles worming their way over the person's legs in slow organic pulses, he was going to be sick.
He yanked his helmet off, turned away, threw up. The tentacle went into that guy's leg, like a giant leech, a parasite worm, what the fuck, what the fuck.
The guy was bleeding to death in there. Bleeding out in the dark, with the little firefly glows going out one by one. John wiped his mouth on the back of his glove and crawled his way to the edge of the hole. It was so deep, shit, shit, he wasn't going to be able to reach with just one arm. Maybe with a foot, if he held on to the edge, but what if those worms -- urgh.
Anyway he wasn't going to risk falling headfirst into it and breathing that disgusting pink snot in. He turned around on his knees to pick his helmet back up.
Of course that was when the chitin under his knees cracked in two like a hinged door.
It was like drowning in amniotic fluid. Body-warm on his skin, slick, clinging. He fought to resurface and only sank faster.
A fleshy rope coiled around his ankle. He was screaming before he'd thought better of it.
No, no, no, oh god he needed to be out, he needed to get out of here, this was a trap, he was going to drown he was choking it hurt everywhere he couldn't move needed to move needed to escape keep fighting keep moving couldn't die here, couldn't, couldn't fail his people, loved his people loved them needed to protect them fightescapelive, no, no --
Breathing. Calm down. Breathing.
... Oh. Yeah. He wasn't passing out yet. The liquid was thick in his lungs, uncomfortable, was an effort to push out and to breathe back in. He didn't feel dizzy at all.
Lights were getting brighter, more of them blooming, orange and yellow, purple sparks, like looking at instrument grids underwater, straight lines all wavy, distorted. It was...
Familiar. Radio here radars there all is well oh no it's really not. Pain, pain, my arm's broken my arm's gone it hurts, can't panic can't--
John kicked a slow-crawling tentacle off him with a shudder of disgust, flipped around to face down. The liquid was clouded with red, the lighting so dim. His eyes didn't sting, wide open to catch every single detail of that short black hair dancing in slow eddies, the line of that so-human jaw, the flashing orange glow on that dark skin, highlighting here a cheekbone, there the curve of an ear. The face was scrunched up in pain.
(despair) going to die on you (friendlovemyown) so sorry, so sorry, so far away, a hundred stars, failed, failed, left you alone, I promised...
It wasn't him. Those feelings. It wasn't him.
The other boy coughed up another cloud of blood and its teeth were a row of serrated knives.
Its eyes opened gold and red and black the second the muzzle of John's gun touched its chest.
Nothing. For the longest time there was nothing. And then a trickle of bland, unsurprised resignation, bitter and mourning, failedyou failedyou sosorry, wafting through John's mind and then gone in wind-torn wisps.
John's hand didn't shake. That didn't stop him feeling sick, suddenly, gorge rising with the memory of what he'd felt when he was plunging down to Earth on the alien's tail, not even really thinking of all those strangers he had to protect, but of Rose that he wouldn't see at dinner (they'd both known he was lying) and Jade who would never get to tell him hunting stories again, and Dad, and the Striders, and everyone.
Well? Get on with it.
He might have shot anyway, only there were tentacles rising and swaying around them like a nest of cobras, their ends tipped with needles long like his hand, and his first reflex was to escape.
His second reflex was to rescue. He couldn't help but glance down, stare at all those veiny, gut-like things pressed flush against the -- the pilot's legs, its -- his back, his spine.
He tried to speak and managed a strangled, muffled croak, but his burst of horrordetermination had the alien boy twitching, startled.
John bared his teeth, mind made, grabbed a handful of disgusting flesh ropes. Yank it out. Hurt you?
The alien boy flashed his alarm at him, nononostupid paralyzemeno!
Then how! He growled, teeth bared, turned the gun on one of the walls. The tentacles lazily started to drape around the end. He thought very hard about the size of the hole it would make, the way it'd cauterize everything on its path.
Startled apprehension. Disbelief. Yes, I'm serious, damn it.
The... the alien -- the pilot -- the other boy -- felt around him, hand awkward, hurting. John flinched as ghost-wounds crawled in his arms, there and gone. It was like a memory of multiple breaks, some on limbs he didn't even have, and wasn't it weird the mech -- oh shit it was a mech, it wasn't an alien, the alien was here -- the mech had six limbs when the alien had just four?
Eyeing him warily, the boy pushed his hand in the tangle of tentacles, pressed something. John tucked his blaster gun under the boy's chin, just in case he was preparing a bad trick, and the alien bared his teeth at him but all that happened was the tentacles slowly drifting down and coiling onto the bottom of the... he guessed it was a cockpit, of sorts, so creepy. A few of the ones leeched onto his legs released with little plumes of blood; John watched the black bodysuit crawl over the bared skin and plug itself closed with undisguised, weirded-out interest.
One of them didn't want to release. The alien winced and set his teeth and (piece of shit not even surprised) yanked it free. Ow, shit, that hurt.
And if that rush of frustrated feelings wasn't a big huge duh + fuck you combo John didn't know what was. He frowned some more and pursed his lips, and tried not to laugh. Bad time.
Fuck you fuck you argh!
... Yeah, okay, note to self, laughing in placenta snot made lungs very unhappy.
The little lights were dying one by one. John braced his feet on what he guessed were command panels and leaned down to grab onto the alien's arm.
The second he pulled up, there was a burst of painpainpain in his head and then nothing but static.
Aw, hell. He supposed that'd make pulling out the alien boy a bit more difficult, but at least he wouldn't have to keep his gun on him all the time. He went about climbing back up to the edge to secure a climbing line and pulled the alien on his back. Oof. He was so glad things were more buoyant under there, because the guy felt like nothing but solid muscle. Heavy muscle.
Oh well. John was strong. He'd been made that way. He settled the boy's limp weight on his back, grabbed the line. Up we go!
A hour later and he was still coughing up pink froth semi-regularly.
The alien boy hadn't awakened. John seriously hoped he hadn't damaged him, carrying him off the Cancer mech and around over bumpy ground like that, but at least the guy breathed pretty normally, if kind of slow. The froth he coughed up was a lot closer to red, though. John busied himself finding them a boulder to prop branches against, make a bit of shelter in case of tropical storm, not that he even knew if it was the season. He'd used the shoulder strap of his gun to secure the boy's arms up over his head to a convenient root, though, because he wasn't stupid and this was an alien from a race hell-bent on eradicating his.
(left you alone failed you)
... Janey and Doc Lalonde would be all over the alien. Jane especially, she was always going on and on about what she'd managed to extrapolate of the species' psychology and behaviors and how much she still hadn't and how it made no sense goshdarnit all to heck. They'd be in researcher heaven.
... His skin was gray, which was the weirdest thing. Not unhealthy gray, but full-out slate. John hadn't really noticed in the dim pseudo-womb, with only orange and red lights to give a hint of color; he'd looked maybe from India or maybe part-Black, not straight out rock-colored.
John propped another branch on his lattice and busied himself threading it in, trying not to ogle too much. The flight suit was... pretty close to John's, actually, molded to a somewhat stocky but humanlike body, padded at the knees, groin, and elbows, only the material was black instead of sky blue and seemed kind of alive (so creepy!) and would close back up if cut. The alien's facial traits were subtly off in proportion, but in the end that snub nose was human enough; he knew Roxy was guaranteed to try to tweak it and coo about how cute it was.
And then the alien would probably bite her fingers off with his bear trap mouth.
John crouched beside him, tapped his cheek. "Hey, buddy?" No reaction. John pulled up an eyelid next, but he had no clue how to interpret it -- the iris itself seemed to change sizes, instead of the pupil, it was freaky as hell. The violent, flashy red of it didn't help.
... With teeth like that he was probably some kind of cannibal. Yep.
Or the unholy result of a mating with a paper shredder. Pff. Heheh.
Man, he wished his friends would lock onto his emergency beacon fast. A few meters of water weren't going to kill the signal, and it'd been hours since he'd crashed. Maybe they were busy. Busy with that guy's asshole buddies, trying to kill them all and invade earth like B-movie dick-headed alien assholes, all the cruisers, all the battleships they'd lost out there in space to those insectile horrors. Maybe right at the same time as John was here lazing around on some tropical little atoll paradise Roxy was getting beaten into pieces, Jade hunted and harried so she couldn't gain the distance she needed to snipe, out of ammo.
(I promised so sorry)
The guy coughed again, chest rattling so hard John was half expecting to see a lung plop out. He shuffled closer, slid an arm under the guy's shoulders and lifted his upper body up a bit. He couldn't sit him up completely without untying him, and that wasn't happening. He'd seen the claws on those hands, thanks, they were pretty hard to miss.
Whether the guy's friends were busy killing John's friends, that didn't change that John had the first live captive of this war ever (oh man he'd just realized, the best place to smash his hammer through was where the cockpit was on those things, no wonder the science team had never realized, with the way it smashed things into mush) and he wasn't allowing him to die. The end.
It had nothing to do with how he looked about John's age (he could be centuries older!) or that he'd been all trapped in creepy vampire-vines straight through from one of Dirk's X-rated movies only worse. Or that he'd been injured (while trying to get down to Earth) and was in pain, it didn't, John didn't care.
(despair, despair, despair)
... Aw, crap. The froth was pretty much pure red now. "Hey, man. Alienbuddy? Insectpal? Chuminvader? Wake up and tell me it's spittle, okay, you're just foaming at the mouth smelling the buffet of deliciousness rising from my skin. Aliens wouldn't have red blood, right, you'd have... Dunno, transparent ichors or whatever? Yeah? Oh man, it's dripping down your chin now, okay this is not on. Wake up. Wake up!"
He shuffled so the alien was propped up on his leg, patted his cheek. Wiped some blood (maybe it wasn't blood? maybe?) off his chin with a thumb. Aw hell, hell. The alien kept coughing all raw and exhausted, trying to curl up only he couldn't because he was tied up, and John patting his face did jack shit to calm him down or wake him up.
The alien's head rolled a bit and a hard round bit dug into his hipbone, hard. Huh. John ruffled his hair aside, exploring. Skull, skull, sku-- huh.
"Oh wow, you have, uh, are they stubby antennas? No, they're too hard. Can't be mandibles, you don't have a mouth on your skull, right, that'd be creepy. Horns then? Why'd insect people have horns? Haha, that's funny." He could hear Rose's lecture about convergent evolution and how insect-like and humanoid-shaped didn't indicate a common origin at all, though he knew she'd never dreamed of such a close degree of likeness between their two species. The alien had five fingered-hands, for Pete's sake. "Okay, fine, horns. They're a pretty bright color, huh, not like the rest of you."
He combed locks of thick hair away from the small, round-ended horns, tipped in pale gold and rooted in rust. They were soft like wood polished to a satin finish, warm.
When John traced his finger along the outer curve of one, the coughing stopped.
He did it again, experimentally. A shudder ran through the alien's frame. He coughed again, but making an attempt to smother it that time, groaned quietly.
"Hey! Are you waking up yet?"
The alien boy's eyes cracked open.
Red on gold, and that pupil constricting in barely a second from a black dime to a dot, or more like the red in his eyes had suddenly doubled in size on both inside and outside edges, so that even the yellow sclera were partly hidden. The effect was really strange.
They stared at each other. The alien had stopped coughing -- stopped breathing entirely, actually, frozen in a solid block of startled, wary fear on John's lap. John grinned down at him.
A 'discreet' tug to his pulled-up wrists confirmed that yep, he sure was tied up. John kept grinning. The alien somehow managed to seem to breathe even less.
"There, there." He patted him between the horns. The guy's eyelids twitched. "I'm sure you're smart enough to figure out that if I haven't killed you yet, I'm probably not gonna. You're more useful as a live prisoner, yeah?"
Though he guessed aliens might think different. No one knew what had happened to any of their prisoners. They'd never resurfaced. Kept as slaves? Dissected? Eaten? Who knew.
Wasn't a bad thing if he was a little scared of John, anyway. He didn't want to come across as a soft touch.
"Um, I don't suppose you speak English, though. ... Espa˝ol? Franšais? I kinda suck at French though so even if you did, I, uh, yeah. Iyaan, yamete kudasai?"
The alien was still staring at him, eyes open a touch too wide and still as stiff as if he'd been carved out of that cliff there on his other side.
"Okay, I guess Dirk's boyporn anime isn't the best place to learn languages."
He noticed his index and middle fingers were still hooked in the curve of the alien's horn. He gave it a little tug, just to see what might happen.
The alien took in a startled, too-quick breath, and started trying to hack up half his respiratory system, was what happened. John pulled him a little higher against his knee, wincing. He couldn't sit him up any higher without dislocating his shoulders, though. "Whoops. Sorry."
... Okay, this was definitely blood. This wasn't goopy foam anymore, it dripped in big fat drops, made rivulets. Something had burst in there.
John stopped smiling, grabbed the alien's chin, firm and demanding attention as he frowned down at him. "Freeze."
It probably was just the tone, or the body language, but the alien froze, though his chest heaved trying to cough again. John kept holding onto his chin, his other hand pointing down at the alien's throat, nodding to it; "Here?" pointing lower; "Here?"
The alien made a clicking, grating noise that John couldn't read at all, but his face seemed merely wary, disgruntled. In pain, too, strained.
When John reached his lower chest, upper abdomen, he visibly tensed, eyes rolled down to watch John's hand with clear apprehension. He rattled out something that was certainly a chain of words. (Jane was going to explode with happiness, and then with frustration at the amount of work it was going to take to learn.) John decided it meant yeah that's were it hurts oh god don't touch it.
Internal bleeding and/or punctured ... breathing apparatus.
Fuck. Double fuck. Triple fuck.
The alien's eyes closed almost all the way, exhausted and sour. He shuddered, blinked -- his eyes looked wetter for a second, surely John was imagining it, he was an alien, it must be a coincidence if he looked about to cry -- but he blinked it away and when he looked up at John they were dry. He side-eyed him from behind dark bangs for a couple of seconds, something John couldn't read passing on his face, and then he breathed out slow and careful and let his head roll back on John's knee.
It was so deliberate, the way it made the flight suit collar gape there, the way it exposed the whole length of that throat, vulnerable and hopeless. Understanding was a punch to the stomach.
John's alien boy was asking him to kill him.
He... couldn't even move, at first, could only stare. Red eyes closed slowly, and oh, even his tears were pinkish when they rolled off his temple and onto John's arm, pink and warm. He looked so exhausted. So ashamed.
John keyed his wristcom, caught his chin in hand, and leaned in. He had a half-second to stare at those teeth and think maybe he should have found another way to swap saliva, but he couldn't stand it even that long.
He sealed their mouths together, tasted something metallic and salty that wasn't quite like his own blood, sickeningly raw.
The alien boy went stiff as a strung bow under him and started trying to struggle, snarling in his mouth. John had to press his thumb hard in his jaw muscles to keep him from biting, and then he had to twist to the side and drape a leg over his hips to pin them down before the idiot tore himself up worse inside. He growled in turn, out of frustration and impatience, and broke their ridiculous liplock to glare him down. "I'm trying to help you! Settle the hell down already or I'm sitting on you, and you really won't like that!"
He freed the leg he had stuck under the alien, guided him down flat on the grass, caught his chin again even as the alien shook his head, no, no, no. Aw hell, he felt like some kind of molester, but it was for his own damn good, okay!
Liplock again, and he had to put some tongue into it or it would never be enough, and ow, ow, the alien had just managed to slice the inside of John's lip with a fang. John groaned in frustration and shifted on top of him, kept him pinned with his upper body and wow that managed to make it even worse somehow but he needed a free hand to grab his hair and tug.
He seriously hoped the alien boy didn't have a concussion, because John wasn't really helping.
By the time the wristcom beeped again the alien had stopped fighting, smothered coughs shaking a frame otherwise gone limp, eyes half-open and blank. John sat up slowly, freeing his chin, his hair. The boy turned his face away to hide against his arm. John felt like the creepiest asswipe of all.
Cautiously, he shifted his weight off the other boy's hips, sat at his side. "... Um. Hey. It's okay. I'm done. And now let's seriously hope that nanites can even be keyed to an alien and that they won't short out and clog up your arteries or some shit, because I'm sure that little bout of boytussling didn't help."
Another rattling, blood-speckled cough. Otherwise, no reaction. Well duh John, he's captured, mission gloriously failed, he thinks he's dying, and then he gets molested, it wasn't a tone of voice he probably couldn't even parse that was going to communicate that all was well.
... He was pretty sure that weirdass goop was chock full of neurotransmitters, though. Sometimes the feelings had been so clear they'd almost felt like words. John burst to his feet, snatched up the gun. "You stay here, okay? Fine, that's a pretty dumb order but seriously you're too weak to escape and there's nothing but sea all around so don't even bother, that'd be silly. Right? Right!"
He was gone at a run in the next second, leaping over boulders and racing through high grass, scaring off flocks of birds on his way. The Cancer mech was highly visible, a block of night black crisscrossed by tree trunks and vivid green leaves. John took a little while searching the grass for his fallen helmet, stuck it on his head in case the radio had gone back up -- nope, still static -- and climbed up its side.
And then he was up there. He took off his helmet, and went to scoop a big helping of amniotic goop with it, hoping that the mech hadn't died or whatever happened to severely damaged fleshware and it hadn't gone bad. Getting back down without dropping the thing was an adventure of its own, and he was trotting back, exhausted and thirsty and wishing he could have a sports drink or three to rebalance all the electrolytes that had gone into powering the nanites' fast multiplication. His mouth was so dry, but all his snacks and sodas and things were in his mech, which was at the bottom of the sea, crap and re-crap.
Maybe if the alien boy fell asleep he'd go diving for things to salvage. Later on.
When he trotted back up to their little hut, the alien boy was still tied up with his arms overhead, but he'd pulled up his legs somehow, feet tucked close to his butt and knees up and pressed together despite how many bad things it must do to his abdomen, and the wary glare and the snake-hiss he threw at John made it clear what he expected him to try. John groaned.
"Oh no, your maidenly virtue is safe, I swear. I'm sorry, okay? -- you know what, wait just a sec and we'll just, hm, how to do that..."
He knelt at the alien's side, patted one of his arms in what he hoped was a soothing manner (got teeth snapped at him, goddamn he was going to have to hold him by the hair again) and leaned over him. The boy cringed away from him, hissing and snarling in syncopated rhythms that just had to be words and which John had no hope of untangling.
"Feeling better already, huh?" John said with a grin. The alien flinched like he'd threatened to eat his mother. John sighed and leaned in, smeared a nice big handful of lukewarm goop on that gray forehead, and then closed the distance to press his own against it.
Fear and helpless exhaustion were so weak that for a few heartbeats he didn't even notice them as separate from his own tiredness. Biting his lip in thought, he smeared some more goop, staring in the alien's eyes and willing him to calm down, and pretty sure none of it was getting through.
An image of a pink and sky-blue caricature with bared teeth flashed at him, smiling in smug, friendly contempt as it forced its way between his legs. John flinched back, stomach twisting.
"Oh god. No, okay? No, no, no, just no. That's just not -- nrhg." He cupped his face between goop-nasty hands, pressed their foreheads back together despite the way he bared his teeth. Goddamn it if he would only stop snarling for one second so they could actually communicate...!
Tense. Wary. Waiting. What now?
John breathed out slowly, eyes closing in relief. Awesome. Now, um. Safe. "Yeah, you're safe, it's fine, shh. I won't hurt you. Shh, shh -- why does this feel like every single time we've had to take Jaspers to the vet." Safe, won't hurt you, won't force you.
Sheer incredulity snapped back at him, but the details were lost, fuzzy. Sighing, John applied more goop. It was already starting to dry crusty in his hair, ew.
A big dollop rolled free of his hand, trailed a line through the forest of the alien's hair, glanced off a horn. Tiny, round, adorable horn.
Oh, fuck you, even the aliens, fuck you very much.
John exploded into giggles. "What?" What? They are cute, buddy, sorry to say.
The answer he got felt like about ten minutes of fuck you packaged into a ten-second burst. "Whoa. Hehehe. You're a surly bastard, aren't'cha. There, there, shhh."
Okay, now how to explain, uhh...
The alien lost patience before he figured it out. Wrists caught why? Pinned down why? (has to be sex what else enemy flat on his back what else happens, hurts injured can't even serve can't pilot can't can't can't (I'msorryIpromised)) mouth on mine forcing me open, forcing--
No! "No, that was to help you, that -- aw, damn it, stop being so incredulous at me." Healing, he pushed, head hurt, little blood things fix it, no more pain. He really hoped that was clear. It was too bad the swim through that goop had washed the last of the crusted blood off his own temple, he could have showed off the absence of wound there. Your chest hurts, sharing the healing.
A moment's thought, blanked away from him, and then resigned understanding. The alien boy tied down on a rack, pink blurry humans prodding and poking him, watching him bleed and making notes on little handheld things that seemed a universal constant of both interrogators and medical doctors. He needed to be kept alive for that.
John felt nauseous once again, mostly because he couldn't swear that'd never happen. Their first live, captive alien. There was no way he'd be left untouched.
... hah. See.
John closed his eyes tight, so they'd stop stinging. For all he knew, this same desperate, scared boy had killed his compatriots. Maybe he deserved it, huh, deserved the torture, every single second of it.
Why do you fight? he thought, pressing it sharp like a blade, digging deep. If there was a way to think at each other, to be linked that way, brainwaves crossing from one to the other, there was no reason why he had to wait for the answers to come, was there? Why -- tell me why!
The alien arched under him, choked on a short scream of pain, but John wasn't letting go, was pushing his way through flashes of a strange cargo bay and sitting in a cockpit waiting for it to flood (drowning every day) battleship corridors marching down you have your assignment, sergeant, good luck (mockery, die already you filth die die die)
But if I succeed
If I succeed she
(ropes of raw flesh piercing through, swallowing whole, mouth open in a permanent, silent scream, twice-too-many horns bare but eyes hooded, blinded, caught and caught and never, he won't, it's his place, filthy traitor, smothered in tentacles burrowing deep under his skin in his flesh in his bones his spine inside his chest trapping him, digesting him does he still have legs left under that does he could he still is he still --)
John choked, tasted his own tears on his lips. Under him the alien had started struggling in earnest, teeth bared to the gums, and he could feel how much it hurt, when the wounds the nanites had barely started on reopened, how much he didn't care.
Get out! I'll kill you, fucking little pink mutant sludge, you have no right!
And it was raw fury spurred by pain, the stark knowledge that it was futile, his whole grand desperate attempt, it had always been futile right from the start, and then he'd gone and failed just as planned, and John was crying and he couldn't stop.
Stop it, stop feeling sorry for me, I hate you!
"It's okay. It's okay if you do. I don't hate you."
He wiped his eyes, stared down into furious red irises, pupils constricted so tight they were almost invisible. He leaned down again.
I have friends to protect too. (DadJaneJadeJakeDaveRoseRoxyDirk, Bro and the General and the Doc, my people mine mine mine.) I'd do anything. Anything to stop this war.
... won't kill me, the alien replied eventually, bleak with anticipation of torture, of lifelong captivity.
No, John agreed, sorry-soft and steel-resolved. There's too much we need to know.
He straightened up, wiped the goop off his captive alien's face, out of the curve of his horn. His eyes still itched with tears. He didn't say he was sorry.
He sat with his back to the rock, the gun tucked against his shoulder, left him alone. Nagging wouldn't bring anyone anything. Empathy didn't matter. They weren't friends. They were enemies. He had a mech to fix back to fighting trim and compatriots of his captive to smash to pieces with his hammers and a war to fight.
After a hour, the alien stopped coughing and fell into a fitful sleep. It was late in the evening when Dave's battle-scarred Excalibur and Rose's Echidna touched down on the beach.