Last Survivor – An Auskar Story

The Hanger Auskar without his armor

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White sun blazed through a washed-out colorless sky.

Bugs killed the armored soldiers in my unit, then chased me across desert dunes of blistering charcoal gray powder. Dusty sand covered the entire planet except for an occasional rock outcropping and a giant impact crater five kilometers away.

I remained alive.

Even when Bugs dropped to all six legs, my Ranger armor was faster, at least when I ran. When I didn’t see Bugs behind, I slowed and tried to march. With every step, my armor sank to the calves and the powder sucked as I struggled to pull free and clamber up the slope of a dune.

No clouds.

No water.

Even though I knew the canteen was dry, I sucked on the sip straw in my helmet. Nothing.

The suit cooled sun-scorched air enough so I could breathe.

My suit’s energy gauge hovered at twenty-two percent. I stumbled in the peppery sand and fell to my knees. I wanted to stay on the ground and not get up. The armor seemed harder to move. Maybe powder clogged the joints. I dragged, wrung limp, beat, too tired to run.

“Never give up,” I said aloud. I only had my own voice for company.

When I topped the dune ridge, I paused. Another valley filled with more dark dust. More dunes across the way, but above those dunes, I spied the tip of our colony ship. The map on my heads-up-display displayed the route, the only physical barriers remaining: a low ridge of dunes, a flat rocky area, then the crater wall. After that, a short walk to Deliverance. Appropriate name for the ship.

Easy.

Safety.

Still no Bugs behind me.

Out of ammunition, out of grenades, low on power, I had nothing left to fight with but my armor and the two swords on my back. None of the other soldiers carried swords.

Without those swords, I wouldn’t have survived the last battle.

I glanced at the needle-slim tip of the ship. For the first time since the final battle when all human soldiers died, comms crackled in my ear. “We see you now, Auskar,” said Cat Foley, president of the colony foundation, her voice loud, clear and comforting.

No longer alone.

“Is Deliverance ready to take off?” I asked.

“No,” replied another voice.

“Captain Richardson is here, too,” announced Cat. “So is everyone.”

“Everyone?”

“All seven thousand. You’re on screen throughout the ship.”

I said nothing.

“The passengers know about the battle. They wanted to know what is happening,” said Cat. I heard a pause. I did not like pauses. Speakers paused because they hoped to avoid what came next. “I have bad news.”

“What news?”

“We know your location. Near the top of the ridge ahead are Bugs. Lots of Bugs.”

As Cat was speaking, mantis shaped Bugs began pouring over the dune ahead of me, shorter than normal Bugs — four feet tall instead of eight feet. “Lighter,” I thought. They wouldn’t sink in the sand. Already adapted. That was quick.

Damn.

I searched the landscape right and left. I couldn’t reach either end of the valley ahead of the Bugs. There were hundreds of them. Facing any single Bug, I would lop off his head and move on. I could beat three. Maybe more of these short ones.

I killed so many already.

“Can the infantry shuttle come get me?”

“It’s still laid up,” answered Richardson.

“Bugs would be all over me before it arrived, anyway.”

No one could do anything.

I waited till Bugs were almost at the bottom of the high dune. Thoughts of being tired no longer mattered, no longer occurred. I focused on anger. I focused on hate. Damn Bugs.

I pulled both swords free from the scabbards on my back, then ran straight at them.

“What are you doing, Auskar?” asked Cat.

One man against Bugs.

Cat and Captain Richardson said more, but I no longer listened. I had no mind. I got mean.

The Bugs behind slowed down so these smaller Bugs could take me out. Strategy. That made me angry. With my right sword I slashed the neck of the first Bug I reached. The head fell into the charcoal powder and rolled. Easier than before, I thought. Dwarf Bugs. Baby Bugs. Easy Bugs. Kill the damned Bugs. Maybe they were five feet tall if they didn’t hunch over. A mantis-looking creature reached forward, trying to kill me.

“Thwack!”

The next lost a claw, then the other arm before I sliced his thorax in two. One at a time, I thought. Just kill the next one. Then the next. Be fricking mean.

I found myself backing up to remain just beyond the Bugs’ reach. If a Bug got too close, I slashed off the offending part. Both my arms swung independent of the other. All Bugs died. The next Bug would die. If not, it’d die with its next step. I didn’t care. They’d all die.

Jumping back and forth, leaping and slicing, the Bugs barely touched me. I slaughtered them! Severed arms fell, but not in my way. Backing from the front, Bugs followed me, leaving blood, parts, dead Bugs and brethren behind.

I didn’t even wonder why they didn’t have weapons. Maybe it took longer to manufacture a weapon than to hatch a Bug! Bugs did not count. They did not matter!

If I took a Bug out, it could not attack Deliverance! I gutted another Bug, then backed away again. I jabbed and stabbed. I swung at the insects until they split in pieces. I killed Bugs!

Bugs! Endlessly, I eliminated Bugs!

Deliverance

Originally intended for higher-level officers to make tactical decisions, Auskar’s helmet had a camera. On monitors in cabins, hallways, offices, lounges, and bars, passengers aboard the Deliverance saw the view from Auskar’s helmet camera. Auskar killed and killed and killed Bugs. He sliced through enemy, gouged them and slit them. Odds against him, he would not quit.

A normal man would give up.

Just moving his arms must be tiring! How much did those swords weigh? Even if they did not weigh an ounce, he must be tired! His shoulders and arms had to give out! The armor must support him. It must pump stimulants in him!

Auskar never quit.

Passengers watched the endless battle. They grew tired — the never-ending slashing, chopping, cleaving and mowing though Bugs followed quickly by evasion, leaping and jumping backward beyond talons’ reach!

“Die, just die!” thought more than one viewer. They knew it was wrong, even as they thought it. No one said it aloud.

Auskar still would not quit. He fought for them.

Finally, he slashed, killed a bug, the view suddenly dropped a meter! Obviously, Auskar fell to his knees. Why? Fatigue? Was he wounded? Was it over? Then, the helmet camera fell sideways so passengers saw only charcoal sand and dirt of the desert floor. If Auskar was not dead, surely any bug could kill him now! Viewers waited. Most held their breath. Then, the camera and the view tracked upward, displaying the entire valley floor covered by bloody insect corpses and their thin rust-colored blood, hundreds of corpses in all.

He won?

God, he won! He defeated them! He won!

Shouts welled up aboard Deliverance in celebration. No one believed Auskar could possibly beat them, yet he did. He did! He won! No Bugs left to attack! All passengers aboard Deliverance cheered and heard their cheers echoed by other passengers.

Auskar

“I am so tired,” I said aloud. I slowly stood, felt fire and pain of overused muscles and visually absorbed the carnage in the valley. My swords and armor were so caked with Bug blood that the swords would not go back in the scabbards. I wiped them clean on a Bug, there were enough carcasses around. If I cleaned the swords with sand or dirt, filth would have stuck to the blade.

Then I slowly trudged up the dune, leaving my valley, leaving this battle behind.

“Auskar,” called Cat, on the radio again.

“Don’t talk to me,” I grunted. “Leave me be.”

“We watched,” she said.

I grunted again while I struggled to the top. There, I intended to sit for a moment. That is exactly what I did. A personal moment at the top of the ridge, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief and plopped down to take in the view. At the bottom of the dune, a short hard plain, no sand. No dunes, just a pristine rocky view, not filled with death or destruction. A little way to the crater, the dry landscape a bit rougher, the area closer to the crater formed by uplifted stone, diagonal layers clearly visible.

I glanced at my heads-up-display. Only four percent of a full charge left. Not much. Probably not enough. Maybe Deliverance should send a civilian shuttle. I started to transmit when I saw Bugs begin to swarm through the cracks in the stone at the far rim of this plateau.

Bugs.

Too many Bugs.

Full-sized Bugs — eight feet tall.

I stood, pulled my swords free and remembered what a staff-sergeant once told me. “When all appears lost, when you know you will die and can’t hold out, when retreat is impossible, when there is no way out…”

I charged the enemy.

© copyright 2021 by Terr Light