The first hint that she wasn't alone was the towering shadow that encompassed her as she looked down on the toxic, broken planet. It made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, whether it was the defeat of the planet below her or the impending shadow surrounding her, she wasn't sure. In the blink of an eye her gun was out and she flew into movement. Her gun was aimed center-mass, but the dark shadow leapt into motion. With a heavy thud, she was forced against the cold, unforgiving transparent metal of the window. Her wrists were pinned with such force that reflex forced her to let go of the gun. With an echoing crash, it connected with the floor.
Every sound rang in her ears. Blood pounded and a wordless yell that she realized was screeching from her own throat echoed through the ship. Listening closer she could hear something coldly familiar. A deep rasping, like the sound of a machine breathing.
The toes of her boots were nowhere near connecting with the floor as the being lifted her higher by her aching wrists. Violently, she kicked at whatever part of the monstrous being that she could reach, but only connected one time, as her boot met a piece of body armor, but had she not felt it, she wouldn’t have known that she connected. The body armor absorbed all shock and used it to recharge the wearer’s weapons.
One eye stared through the darkened visor and back into hers.
The color of dark ruby wine.
“You’re alive!” she screamed and they were both sure the entire ship could hear. She escaped his grasp and launched herself into his arms. Her feet cleared the ground by over a foot, as he swept her into his arms. “They told me that you were dead. That you had been killed by… them.”
“Close, but not quite,” he said. What passed for his laugh, a deep, vaguely metallic sound, resounded as he dropped her back to the floor. “Maybe I’ll tell you about it one day, squirt.”
For the first time in five years, the affectionate moniker bothered her. “It’s been over a year Isha… I thought that you were dead for over a year. Why didn’t you…”
The moment was intruded on, the ship lurching suddenly, slamming them both against the window. A soft oomph came from Nyal. And the sound that Isha’s armor made on impact was horrific. An evil screech of metal tearing echoed through every rivet in the ship.
“I’ll tell you all about it later, Nyal. I promise,” Isha said as he got up, pulling his weapon from his back and patting her roughly on the shoulder.
As Nyal leaned against the window of the spaceship, she studied him for a second. His height was somewhere around seven feet tall and he was clad in dingy, metallic armor. She’d never seen the man, or monster as he referred to himself, under the armor. She knew that he was not of Earth, but more half of the beings on the ship weren’t.
A harsh buzzing filled the stale air and she immediately knew what was going on. They were there. On the ship.
She grabbed her gun and followed behind him.
“Stay here!” he hissed to her. Of course, he had noticed that she wasn’t wearing her armor. He was the most observant person –soldier– that Nyal had ever known.
“I’m going with you.”
“Stay behind me, then,” he muttered roughly as he began an easy jog through the corridors. Echoing loudly with every step. She sprinted to keep up with him. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so happy while rigorously exercising.
An explosion rocked the ship, but it wasn’t unexpected anymore and they both kept their footing. They continued running towards the sound of gunfire.
The water that Nyal was holding in her hand was highly suspect. She sniffed it and the slight smell of sulfur made her stomach turn. She held the glass up to the light. Something was wrong with the water purification system. Again. Whoever put the exhaust system next to the water purification center needed to be drawn and quartered.
She heaved a deep sigh and was standing up to go talk to someone about it before the whole battalion got sick for the second time during the voyage when she found herself face-to-breastplate with a being who stood over a foot taller than her.
“Something I can do for you, Tiny?” Nyal spat, trying to push him aside, but he didn’t move. He didn’t even sway a bit. “If not, get the hell out of my way.”
Every breath that he took was carefully measured and deliberate. A booming, semi-mechanical voice said, “Is that any way to treat your new partner?”
“I told them that I didn’t want a new partner, it’s too dangerous. I don’t want to get another idiot killed,” she muttered as she walked away from him.
He grabbed her wrist and squeezed it, but she wasn’t going to let him see how much it was hurting her. She wanted to cry out and she was about to when he said, “I’m your partner, orders of the Fleet Admiral.”
Grudgingly, she showed him to his quarters where he had to duck to get in the doorway. “You can take your armor off, tough guy,” she muttered.
“No, I can’t,” he said flatly.
“And why not?” she wanted to laugh at how absurdly tough that he thought he was. Leaving your armor on around the ship was the surest way to mess some intricate system up that would take weeks to repair. And that was when they attacked.
“Because, I’m a Duron.”
Nyal and Isha could smell the creatures long before they could see them. They reeked of decaying flesh. They were a thousand different species, infected by a small parasite, no larger than Nyal’s thumbnail. They had started somewhere in another galaxy by reanimating the dead of a planet. As their numbers grew, they were able to transform the victims they had savaged during their conquest of galaxies.
Several times, she had caught up with him and sprinted beside him, her chest heaving with the effort of running through the terrible, damp air, but one long armored arm swung back, corralling her behind him. This gesture was mutually infuriating and sweet.
The reanimated zombie creatures moved forward towards Isha and Nyal as they rounded a corner. They began shooting, but the influx of screeching creatures threatened to overrun them in mere moments. All of the beings were ghastly pale, faded from whatever color they had been before.
But her alabaster skin shining under the harsh light was no different, save that it wasn’t decaying, it had been years since she’d been under a sun without her armor and couldn’t be bothered to go to the sun deck that never worked.
Hours of combat had taken their toll on Nyal. She was still ecstatic to see Isha, but her muscles were to their breaking point. She looked around in enough time to see a needle thin blade glimmer into her field of vision. Before she could react, Isha was standing in front of her.
And he screamed as one single drop of blood fell in slow motion as it crackled and solidified before it hit the ground.
“It’s funny how you say that like it means something to me,” she said, crossing her arms under her bust as they stood in his quarters.
“That means that in your atmosphere, my blood solidifies. If oxygen comes into contact with my blood, it becomes like what you would call cement. There’s nothing that can stop it. My world was destroyed as well as the one element that maintained the strength of my skin, so that it couldn’t be pierced.”
She had a sudden epiphany. “No, the Warriors of Dura are all dead. They have been for centuries. They were Achilles Heel of the Federal Armada.”
“Ha! That’s what they would like for you to believe. There are a few hundred of us left. Dispersed through dozens of galaxies and thousands of planets.”
They studied each other, well he studied her and she studied the blank material of his armor. “My name’s Isha,” he said.
“Commander Zavvarrii,” she said, strutting out of the room. “You may address me as ‘Ma’am’.”
All the words felt as though they’re been ripped from Nyal’s heart. She erased the existence of the murderous alien and ran to Isha’s side. She looked down at him, trying to find where it was that he had been hurt.
“Nyal,” he said, his voice placidly calm as he took her hand. “Take my helmet off.”
She didn’t know how he could keep so calm as the chemistry of his body was changing under the indestructible armor. Pain tore through her heart as she reach for his helmet. Isha’s good eye watched her shaking hand reaching out to press the button somewhere behind his left ear.
His helmet released with a hiss and she pulled it off of him. Tears were pouring from Nyal’s eyes, distorting her vision, and they dripped from her chin to Isha’s cheeks. “It’s okay, squirt,” he said as she looked on his face for the first time.
She pulled her dying friend into her arms and held him close, suddenly only inches from him, she studied him for the first time. Long black hair pooled around her lap as she smoothed his hair back from his sweating face. His luminescent blue skin was smooth except for the deep silver scars that cut across his face and down into his throat, which was the reason that he was cursed with the breathing apparatus.
“No, no, no,” she whispered softly as though her denial would keep his essence from fleeing his tall, strong body. “No, I just got you back. I don’t want you to die.”
“Nyal,” he said as the shimmer faded from his wine-colored eyes.
A strangled scream escaped her throat as she held him tightly to her. A small hole was situated beside his breastplate, the only weak point in his armor. It was a small hole, no larger than a needle.
For anyone else, it would have been a non-fatal wound.