by The Wildcat
The vehicle was a contraption really. An amalgam of automobile, weaponry, and armor. The one-time muscle car had been stripped and outfitted for off road escapes.
Equipped with dual 50-caliber machine guns and harpoon cannon backups, the vehicle was a war machine. But its implementation was humble. It was a quick strike vehicle. A raider.
Mounted on the back, the protective cases housed the impossible. Salvaged from elite weaponry, the stolen energy orbs were critical to the development of new and better technology. The Combine would never know what hit them.
Perhaps that was a false sentiment.
The raider roared over a hillside and rumbled into an old river bed. In pursuit, twin gunships their weapons spitting pulses of energy. Spatters of rock and dust trailed the car ever more closely.
Thomas was nervous. For someone as quiet and ever collected, he was admittedly scared. Garry and Joshua manned the machine guns in a vain attempt to deter the pursuers. Clare, the young brunette in the passenger seat was steadily readying the harpoons.
The rag tag band was all that remained of an outpost. Their efforts to secure the energy orbs had proven their greatest mistake… but the possibilities…
A flare of sparks and fire marked the destruction of one crate. Its contents quickly erupted in a random volley of death. Garry was gone a split second after the burst. Joshua had slightly longer, a moment to scream.
Cursing under his breath, Thomas shifted his massive body in the driver’s seat and grunted a warning to Clare. The raider smashed beneath a partially fallen tree and its engine roared with the sudden turbo boost out of the river bed.
“We have no choice,” Thomas said, “Camp 4 is too far away. Secure the lines and use the harpoons. We’ll dump the last crate and sacrifice the car.”
Clare primed both harpoon cannons and began sighting the first gunship. With a burst of gas and a scream of rushing wind, the rusted projectile slammed into a soft joint in the synth’s shell.
Then Thomas felt blood running down his face. He did not need to look. He knew. The gunship’s counter attack had punched Clare in the abdomen. Her body sank onto one side in the seat and gasped a final breath.
Bellowing with outrage, Thomas released the controls of the car and lunged for the second harpoon launcher. Even as his ride began to pitch upward at the edge of a hill, he took careful aim and fired.
The second gunship seemed to shriek with pain as the weapon plunged into a joint in the fore section. Buzzing and rumbling, the gunships desperately tried to break free, but the damage was done.
As the raider finally swerved completely off course, Thomas made one final act of defiance. He flipped the release on the only surviving crate and allowed it tumble away.
Impact was dreadful. The vehicle began to roll, and snapped through a thick tree. The fuel tanks, which had been filled during preparations for escape, ruptured. Fire and debris gushed out of the mass.
The two gunships were dragged to the ground and slammed into a wooded region, tearing away sections of shell and synth enhancements.
Thomas rolled onto his back. He had been thrown clear of the wreck, along with Clare. Surprised to be alive, he groaned and began feeling his limbs for broken bones. Miraculously, his wounds were mostly cuts and bruises. The most serious injury was a gash on his left side. He would definitely need stitches.
Still, the ordeal left him tired and weak. His large frame seemed too heavy to support. But he managed to roll toward Clare’s body and kissed her one last time.
The sorrow and dread was overwhelming. Clutching the body of his beloved Clare, he faded from consciousness.
Salvaging the shipment and securing any surviving weaponry could wait.
Thomas sat at the edge of a distant cliff, allowing his legs to dangle loosely over the edge. The beach below was clean and white. Gentle surf rolled a few feet onto the shore and then sank away. The setting sun lit the sky with orange and purple hues.
Clare was sitting quietly beside him, staring at the horizon. Abruptly, she leaned over and pressed close to Thomas.
“Don’t you dare Tommy,” she said scornfully.
“I won’t let you make me an excuse to give up. You’ve never been a quitter. And you aren’t gonna be one now.”
“But I don’t… I feel so… lost.”
“It’s okay to morn. But don’t let it consume you so. You must fight. It’s what we both believed in. You must move on, and you must fight for what’s right.”
Thomas groaned. He didn’t want to fight anymore.
“Don’t let this thing clog your head. You can’t give up now. You’re too good a pilot and driver. And you’re too good a man.
“I’ll be fine. Stop worrying about me. I don’t want you giving up here and now. And I don’t want you going off half cocked and getting yourself killed for revenge either.
“You need to move on now. It’s not your turn yet. Remember me when you fight, but don’t fight because of that memory. Fight for hope.”
Thomas bowed his head in defeat. He knew he was dreaming, but he also knew that Clare was right. She was always right.
A single tear ran down his angular cheek. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.”
“Don’t worry,” Clare added, “I’ll be around.”
As the dream faded from his mind, Thomas jerked awake. He sharply sat up. His senses returned to him quickly.
The raider was a shattered debris field. One of the gunships had been torn to pieces amidst the trees. But the other was still mostly intact. It was scorched and sections of shell had been sheered away. By all rights, it was dead. However, occasionally its synth body would twitch and chirp.
Perhaps someone could salvage something from it. Weapons. Technology. A framework. Something.
Unfortunately, that person would not be Thomas Jackson. He had neither the tools, nor the skill to work on such a creation. But the surviving crate was laying near-by.
It was the important part. Its contents had to be delivered to camp four.
Thomas began scouring the debris in a desperate hope. Most of the weapons were damaged or destroyed. But one of the machine guns and a portion of its ammunition feed were still intact. He also found a glock, its clip secured. Unfortunately, his shotgun was a complete loss.
Then, by chance, he found it. Clare’s pulse rifle. For a single moment, he was taken aback.
“Hope,” he reminded himself.
Standing, with weapons slung over each shoulder, he hefted the crate and began his long walk to the north. Though the stars were beautiful, he could afford not a moment’s hesitation. No doubt a Combine patrol, or choppers, or worse would be along shortly.