Illustration by angelgts
Guiding Hand Friarre, the most powerful member of the Neodirsk Nations and its ruler, frowned at the tall, holographic battle map projected up through the center of her headquarters.
At the bottom of it she saw her empire and its holdings with all of her defenses swirling about; her military created layer after layer of protection from any angle and all altitudes: infantry and mechs and tanks and other ground forces stood at the ready in precise geometric formations; surface-to-air rocket batteries and enormous surface-to-space missiles rose up out of their silos and into firing positions; aircraft flew patrol patterns, and suborbital interceptors climbed higher and higher into place; above it all, in orbit, Friarre gazed at the dozens of glowing outlines of her massive mag-rail platforms, like massive metal fingers pointing up into space, tilting toward one another as they aimed at the same target.
It was all in response to a report that those spineless dogs, the BrekBak Collective, had paid for a mercenary to defend them from Friarre’s might. The Collective stood no chance against the Nations; Friarre smirked as she thought about this. Their only chance, apparently, was to hire a champion in their stead, and her agents told her that the Collective had used absolutely every last scrap of its wealth, if it could be called that, to do so: like the rabble
they were, they had no leaders or hierarchies, every woman, man, and child had pitched in all they had. No matter. She would swat this fly and then commence her long-planned invasion of the Collective's remaining land and cities.
"A single ship," she muttered, looking high into hologram-filled space above her. The vague projected shape -- for it was still too far from Friarre’s sphere of influence for even Neodirsk’s outermost scouts to know what it looked like -- the "contact," loomed red and large. It slowly moved downward, approaching the effective range of her orbital cannons, which was represented by a faint line arcing across the highest reaches of the holomap; she eagerly watched the red shape creep downward toward that line.
Above her were levels upon floors upon more levels, stacked all the way up to the high ceiling; places she never went. They were stuffed with computers and machinery and the people who worked both, acting as the nexus of her military and propaganda and civil control infrastructures. If there was something she needed to know, her officers sitting above her or out in the field relayed it to a small implant in her ear, or her personal assistant and bodyguard -- Narakita, tall and stern -- told her. The holomap extended from the floor to the ceiling, carving out an invisible cylinder in the center of the expansive room, and allowing Friarre to see up into the many levels overhead where shadowed shapes bobbed and worked, lit only by the monitors before them.
Friarre’s gray-blue eyes watched those women sitting at the edges of the platforms above her for a moment, unblinking. She wore the simple dark gray jacket, pants, hip-holstered pistol, and shining black boots that any of her officers would, with only a small gold emblem pinned to her chest to denote her rank as Guiding Hand; it was a personal symbol: a slender hand with long fingers, molded after her own, clutching her home planet of Queelorg in its claw-like grasp. The badge stood in for the various caps of rank a Neodirsk woman typically wore in the service, as an officer. Instead, Friarre’s faded blond tresses were pulled up into elaborate braids, her head bare.
The Guiding Hand spun on her heels and strode toward her command center’s immense windows that overlooked the capital city of Neodirsk; her fortified tower was the highest structure of all, situated at the very center. The city's most impressive skyscrapers were gathered around the stem of the tower, with the buildings getting shorter and shorter with greater distance from it. This gave the city skyline the look of a sloping cone with concave walls; in her headquarters, Guiding Hand Friarre stood above it all.
She could see her military preparing all around the city and its limits from her perch at the edge of the observation deck. She heard soft communications chatter buzzing all over the room as her commanders in the field talked to her officers in the room. Their female voices were all familiar to her, and she could pick out what branch of her armed forces each represented as she picked them out with a careful ear. The Nation's military was the strongest on Queelorg; only the Collective posed a threat to their global supremacy. And only through their culture, not might -- the Collective supposed themselves pacifists. Friarre allowed herself an indulgent smile: then they could die without fighting back.
She heard Narakita's telltale measured gait behind her, and then the woman's strong, deep voice. "All mag-rails have acquired the target, sire."
Friarre turned her head and her eyes flickered toward the woman, finding Narakita’s blurry presence in the corner of her vision. "Fire."
Then Friarre returned her gaze to the windows once more and walked up to one of the towering panes; she pressed her hand to the icy glass and watched the sky. Distant flashes of light appeared all at once as the dozens of orbital cannons discharged their high-speed payloads toward the approaching mercenary ship. Friarre closed her eyes and let her head drift downwards as she imagined the deadly shots traveling through space. Seconds passed without thought or motion; outside, she heard the roaring grind and buzz and swoosh of her mechanized ground forces and helicraft and aircraft, standing at the ready. It was all muffled by the thick panes of the tower's windows, and its many protective coatings.
Friarre opened her eyes then and stared back out at the vista of her capital, her mouth tugging into a frown. She was waiting for Narakita to speak, but too much time passed without a single word from her assistant. "Damage to the vessel," Friarre demanded.
"No damage reported."
Seconds continued to bleed away, yet there was no whispered report in her ear from the Guiding Hand's orbital commander, either.
Friarre whipped around and glared at Narakita as she passed the woman, hurrying back to the holomap with long, impatient strides. She watched the red contact continue to approach, dripping downward like a big angry drop; it was well within range now, and Friarre’s mag-rails moved to fire again. The holomap simulated their rounds, and the movement of the craft; it spun in a tight circle, and all the shots seemed to miss.
"Damage," Friarre demanded again.
She heard Narakita swallow behind her. "None."
Friarre growled, her slate-blue irises flickering over the length of the holographic summation of her military might. "The mag-rails won't be able to track the target at this range. Not at the speed it's moving. Launch interceptors from every moon; ready all STABs" -- she saw new range lines appear across holomap as she gave her orders, time estimates popping up with each of them -- and then Friarre twirled about-face once more, her glaring eyes locking on Narakita as her boots clopped pointedly by her assistant. She noted how the woman, so prim in her crisp dark gray uniform, shook ever so slightly. "Has the target changed its trajectory at all?"
"No," Narakita said, walking just behind her like a trained pup. "It's following a predictable arc."
"It has finely-tuned sublight maneuvering," Friarre ruminated, "and the ability to predict projectile arcs from an insanely long distance." She looked ahead and saw her surface-to-space warheads locking into position beyond the great windows, each one as big a-round as a silo and nearly as tall as her tower. She ordered: "Fire STABs projecting false telemetry," and then glanced back over her shoulder at the holomap, seeing the interceptor wings appearing at its edges and angling toward the enemy contact. "Have interceptors transmit a visual."
The barely muted roar of the rockets filled the command center as they fired their engines. Friarre’s orders were confirmed softly in her ear by several of her officers. Exhaust from the cooling chambers below the rising warheads billowed up from their bays and obscured the missiles; then -- as the fortified tower rumbled -- the space-bound ordinance started to lift away from their batteries at the outskirts of the city, pushing up through the fog. Friarre watched them go; there would not be time to ready a second wave, she knew.
There was a sudden stillness after the rockets left, but their crackling, grumbling bellow still filled the air like distant, endless thunder, their glare high in the sky. The farthest away were out of sight, already deep into their gravity turn that would carry them into the orbit of Queelorg and on an intercept trajectory with the approaching mercenary craft.
"The target is returning fire," Narakita said.
"At," Friarre barked, more than a little annoyance in her voice. “What’s in range?”
"It's unclear; ah; at the STABs."
Friarre looked up into the sky, shocked. "The precision that would take," she murmured, breathless, her words trailing off. "Has it hit one?"
The Guiding Hand’s eyes told her what she wanted to know before her aide could, but Friarre could scarcely believe the rapid then-and-gone circular flashes high above as things
exploded in space.
Narakita's voice hesitated, and then caught on different words. "A quarter of the STABs have been destroyed, m'lord."
"What!" Friarre slammed her fist against the glass. In the air above the tower, the tails of the launched rockets could still be seen. All of a sudden there was another distant flash; then another again, closer; then a more detailed explosion -- not quite a perfect circle -- and, finally, the last STAB, still in the airspace over the city, blossomed into an angry red bloom of nuclear energy. The light was blinding, and the shockwave that came seconds later shook the command tower and rattled the city; windows in the buildings near the spire shattered, and even the thick panes of the tower cracked in places. Screams sounded throughout the tower’s decks and for several seconds Friarre could feel her headquarters absorbing the energy of the blast as the floor rattled beneath the soles of her boots. It held, as did Friarre’s squared stance.
"What is it we fight," Friarre muttered.
"Interceptors have a visual," Narakita reported.
Friarre looked back toward the holomap. "That doesn't look like a ship," she declared, squinting at the shape. She approached the middle of the tower to better take it in: it looked like a robot flying through space, with arms and legs and a head; it was operating what appeared to be a huge long-barreled rifle, like an infantry sniper. "A precision weapon," Friarre observed quietly. "But why would a craft be shaped so?"
"The first wings are in range," Narakita reported.
Friarre watched as a simulation of the battle in space played out before her, and the holograms of her interceptors moved in to strike the humanoid-shaped vessel. The mysterious craft whirled around, its movements fluid and humanlike, and it let go of its rifle; another weapon appeared in its hands, and the holomap was filled with a spray of projectiles. Friarre could only stand there and witness as interceptors disappeared by the dozen in the hail of fire; rounds exploded in puffs in the middle of her squadrons and shredded whole formations at a time.
"He's armed with some kind of flak weapon," Narakita said.
Friarre whirled to look at her, glaring. "'He?' What do you know?"
Narakita swallowed, her eyes searching Friarre's face. "Only the rumors," the assistant stammered.
"And those are?"
"The Collective has hired a mercenary to fight us. A, uh,” Narakita had to swallow before she could force the last word out: “a giant."
"Ha!" Friarre threw back her head and laughed. She turned and gazed at the approaching vessel. "It's a mech, maybe autonomous. No being is that big. That’s impossible. Cast that foolishness from your mind this instant. How do we defeat it," Friarre asked. She turned toward Narakita, squaring off with her shaking assistant expectantly.
The woman's eyes bulged and the growing effort she made to reply was obvious. "They say his kind are undefeated, ma'am. That our weapons our useless against him. That we can't-"
In one smooth motion, Friarre pulled the pistol from the holster on her hip and aimed it at Narakita's forehead as the woman's eyes opened wide; the Guiding Hand squeezed the trigger and the slug punched a hole through the woman's skull, a plug of blood and brains leaking from the back of her head as her body crumpled straight down in a heap.
The room's activity ground to a halt; near-silence settled. Friarre could see her officers peeking down at her as she stood over Narakita's fallen form, barrel smoking.
"Collective lies!" She spat, screaming up at them. "I am afraid of no mercenary, no matter how large!"
Friarre turned her attention back toward her holomap and heard activity resume. Her officers' reports once again whispered softly in her ear. The room buzzed anew.
The mercenary -- this giant man
, if that was to be believed -- had dispatched Friarre's interceptors and was tangling with her orbital layer, wrecking her defenseless mag-rail platforms in the process. And back at the window she could see the carnage ensuing: the distant, ball-like flashes of light, gone as quick as they came, showed where the giant was chased by orbital fighters and drones; the dozens of flashes moved around the sky in a thin trail like a flying serpent.
"The enemy is moving to land," a voice whispered to her.
Friarre searched the light purple sky with her eyes; the glaring red sun dipped down toward the horizon as the day prepared to surrender to dusk.
Then she found the telltale blocky shape in her vision, growing larger and larger. Friarre gritted her teeth as it appeared this mercenary meant to land right on top of her army. Would it take on her whole force at once? Friarre felt fear seize her for the first time in a long while; could it be true what Narakita had said? Was there no way to stop this giant? The Guiding Hand had readied all of her military but one piece of equipment: a giant experimental aircraft that was to be her personal ride into battle during the assault on the Collective.
"Have my chariot prepared for battle," Friarre said to the air before her, but a whispering voice acknowledged her coded order.
The shape continued to fall toward the planet until it was right overtop of the city and the Neodirsk formations. With a burst of flame and smoke it fired landing jets and deployed a trio of huge parachutes; the action seemed to slow the robot’s descending bulk just enough so that it wasn't destroyed on impact; still it landed with amazing force.
The Guiding Hand's hunch was right: the giant mech-like warrior slammed down directly on top of her army, sending vehicles and tiny speck-like uniformed women flying all around the impact zone. A shroud of smoke and powder-like debris rose up in the next instant and obscured her view of the assailant, but she could see the bulky shape lurking, dark in the haze. There was a piercing hiss she could hear even in her reinforced tower, and then what looked like two great halves of the thing fell to each side of the monstrous warrior, blowing some of the fog away and utterly crushing most of what remained of her ground forces.Space armor
, Friarre mused darkly, but made for a warrior far larger than any of her troops. Shed on top of her forces, it made a surprisingly effective weapon: like tall, broad slabs falling down onto ants.
Many of the voices that filled Friarre's ear simply stopped; her ground and orbital commanders were no more. The rest of the chatter was full of panic. To hear all that chaos was almost calming for Friarre, who was helpless but to see how the next moments played out.
When the dust and debris settled, there indeed appeared to be an armored man crouched at the edge of the city, but he was far too large for it to be true. Friarre realized, then, how hard she'd been clenching her jaw; her teeth sung with pain and the muscles in her cheeks ached to be released.
The robot-man stood to his full height and almost casually swung what looked like a too-bulky shotgun with a squared barrel around from its holster at his back; but the gun fired no bullets. Instead, it melted everything he pointed it at. Where there were once relatively tiny robots and tanks and infantry scrambling to recover from the giant's landing, in the next moment there was only molten slag and piles of ash. She watched her vehicles explode and her soldiers disappear in little puffs of flame, like bugs coming into contact with an electric coil.
Friarre watched her remaining army get steadily decimated with rage boiling over. "Fight back, you fools!"
Explosions rippled across the giant warrior's angular armor to no effect; rounds bounced from it, flying in all directions. Explosive impacts left barely a scorched streak or nothing at all.
The giant man advanced with small, deliberate steps, sweeping his melt-gun and burning down the Nations' surviving military -- which scant moments before was the strongest fighting force on the planet -- in mere seconds. Friarre could hardly believe what her eyes told her she bore witness to this towering visitor turning her world upside-down. He was covered head-to-toe in thick overlapping plates, colored a drab gray with faded strips of orange to accent; there were signs of weaponry all over his body, including a number of guns strapped to his arms and legs and barrels peeking around his sides, fastened to his back. His helmet was tall and thin, with a bright opaque orange visor that deflected damage as completely as the rest of his suit.
He finished mopping up the ground forces; any soldiers still left alive were fleeing the field at his feet like unnoticed ants; those he did
notice, in groups large enough, he casually smeared into paste beneath his boots. The giant warrior threw his gun to the ground and swatted at some attacking aircraft lazily with a hand -- they disintegrated into flame; one plane that wasn’t completely destroyed followed its death spiral into the ground far behind him.
The giant man then pulled a large pistol from a leg holster and aimed right at the tower -- at Friarre. She gasped and pressed a hand against the window out of reflex.
Friarre's breath caught in her throat and her mind froze. All she could do was wait for the flash of the gun; the bullet; the BANG!
Just then a flight of dozens of helicraft cut across the sky, strafing sideways as they let loose a concentrated blast of rockets at their opponent and his weapon; the giant fell backward a step and dropped the gun from his hand as it exploded. Recovering, he punched through the middle of the squadron, crushing a swathe through the vehicles in midair; then he aimed his gauntlets at the remainder and there was a bright flash as a spray of flak spewed outward, shredding the remaining craft. The rest of Friarre's air force met a similar fate as the giant warrior repelled them with his gauntlet-mounted cannons. Hot brass ejected with each shot and then, like that, it was all over.
Friarre's terrestrial military was decimated.
The whispers in her ear had stopped.
The officers all around her hand nothing to relay to her. Like Friarre, they watched the warrior outside who towered over their city.
The giant shook himself, soot and twisted metal falling from his form. He stood just at the edge of the metropolis, almost as tall as the command tower itself. The idea that a being could be that big made Friarre's head spin.
With what almost looked like shoulders shaking with laughter, the giant took his first step into the city, his huge armored foot crushing down onto the squat grid-like pattern of domiciles at the capital's outskirts. Hundreds must have died in that stomp, and the same for his next. Friarre watched as the giant’s faceplate angled down and he squatted, as if observing the ant-like beings that fled through the streets below him -- the people of the capital, and soldiers who'd made it to what they had hoped was safety. The giant's shoulders shook again and this time Friarre heard a muffled, mechanical "ah-ha-ha" as the warrior swiped a hand and knocked a taller building over; it toppled toward the street and broke into pieces as it crashed atop a panicked mob in a wave of rubble.
Reports spilled into the Guiding Hand’s ear once more, now of emergencies all across the city. Friarre reached up and tapped her implant, shutting the feed off. She punched a fist into the thick glass pane before her as she watched the giant straighten to his full height; he proceeded to stomp his armored boots on top of the structures around him, kicking over the few that were too tall to casually smash down underfoot.
Then the giant walked toward her tower once more, his masked face seemingly looking directly at Friarre; his boots landed one after the other atop structures that he had to lift his legs to stomp on. He pulled a huge knife from its metal holster in one of his thigh-plates as he lumbered closer, stooping to slash at the waist-high buildings before him as if cutting through tall grass. They slid away from him or fell in his path to be ground beneath his boots as he advanced. It was an unreal sight for Friarre, watching as skyscrapers she had gazed down on for years -- some miles tall -- were hacked away so nonchalantly. She could hear the collective screams of the thousands trapped in the structures with each swing of the giant’s blade.
Finally, right at her doorstep, the warrior punched at the closest buildings outside the tower, clearing himself some room.
The giant stopped before the tower. He dropped his knife without a care as to where it landed, his visor still pointed toward the relatively tiny Guiding Hand. What he waited for, she did not know.
"Prepare my pod!" Friarre wailed, backing away from the window. She remembered she'd turned her implant off and then tapped it back on, screaming her order again over the deluge of terrified officers reporting all the casualties caused by the giant's wading through the city.
Instead of attacking the tower like she expected, the giant glanced down at his feet and the smashed rubble all around him. The streets were now heaped high with ruination, and countless tiny shapes struggled through the chaos and destruction to escape the giant. Friarre heard his cruel, smug "ah-ha-ha-ha" more clearly now, his voice deep and hazy as it was projected through speakers on his enormous helmet. The tower's floor shook with the noise.
Then, in disbelief, Friarre watched as the codpiece of the giant's armored suit opened at the middle and pulled away; his huge cock swung free in a lewd display, flaccid, his skin dark as soil. He put his hands on his hips and waited; Friarre waited, too, lips twitching with disgust.
The dangling organ twitched as it came to life and the giant sent a hot stream of piss down onto the fleeing shapes below him, right there under Friarre's seat of power. She looked on with horror as the heavy torrent splattered the people it rained onto, sending other specks into cracks in the rubble like bugs down a drain; they would no doubt drown as the cracks filled up, the Guiding Hand’s mind told her, unbidden. The knowledge disturbed her, and Friarre howled at the window, enraged by the display.
"Lock onto this monster with the nearest ion," Friarre screamed.
"The shot will do major damage to the city," a soft, tense voice protested.
"The damage is done! Fire right across the front of him. I want to see his cock sawed right OFF!
There was a confirmation of Friarre's order. She watched, licking her lips as the giant continued to piss, fully expecting to see laser-light rake across the front of her opponent, and for his severed cock to fall down toward the city he took so much pleasure in destroying.
Instead, the towering man glanced quickly up at the sky and there was a sudden blast as jets of flame shot out from all over his armor. He rocketed backward just as a blinding beam dug a trench across the rubble where the titan was urinating moments before. It all happened so fast, shattering the windows of the control tower and letting the wind in; it whipped all around the startled ruler of the steadily crumbling capital of the Neodirsk Nations. Plumes of flame shot up out of the deep trench as the laser weapon struck into the city’s underground infrastructure. A rising curtain of black smoke quickly obscured the giant from Friarre’s view and, with the window gone, the acrid vapors filled her every breath, and the heat of the utterly wrecked city in flames crackled around her bare face and hands.
Friarre, visionless, could feel the giant's steps resonating through the room, and heard each of his powerful stomps. Then the colossus strode through the blanket of smoke, already upon the tower. His codpiece was closed, and his longs legs quickly carried him to the miles-tall stem that held Friarre aloft.
The giant reached his hand out, fingers spread, as one might reach out and cradle the head of a rose with its stalk between their fingers; then, hearing the tortured groan of twisting metal below her, the whole room tilted askew as the mercenary tore the disk-like observation deck from the top of it needle-like stem. Friarre screamed as the room continued to dip to the side, holding onto a beam that, just before, acted as a seam between two of the great panes; she screamed again, feeling her body swing out into the air as gravity swung her around the pole. Shattered glass rained down on the giant warrior's visored face as he held the disk above him.
With glittering shards still sluicing off the curved surface of the armored orange mask, it opened and retracted, exposing a massive, human face that looked amused, like this was all in good fun; the man had dark skin, a big smile, brown eyes, and short, curly black hair.
For the first time in her life, looking at the giant's face, Friarre wished she had been born someone else; born a giant like him. Galaxies would burn before her, she thought angrily; yet this giant was happy to serve whoever paid him, it seemed. What an asset he could have been to the Nations. Instead, he fought for those cowards from the Collective. None of it made any kind of sense to Friarre, but she didn’t have long to worry about it.
His huge mouth opened and Friarre saw into his pink, slick gullet beyond his big white teeth. The room started to shake and Friarre glanced all around herself in horror as the women manning her control room tumbled from their seats and fell down into the giant's waiting maw; he rumbled with laughter as they did, swallowing them by the dozen as they rained into his wide open, smiling mouth. All the little details were horrifying to Friarre; it had to be unreal; it was like a waking nightmare: her speck-like officers bouncing off the giant’s lips and onto his waiting tongue; or how some of them smacked against his broad teeth, leaving little red streaks as their broken bodies slid off and down toward the depths of his throat; some of the tiny bodies fell to either side of his face, either spiralling down the long length of the titan’s body toward the ruined city at his feet, or into his armor, where they would most likely be lost for the rest of their short lives.
Friarre held onto the strut more tightly and tore her gun from its holster, aiming at one of the giant's eyes and taking a few wild shots. She saw his head flinch and his eyes close instinctively as he whipped his face away -- like someone with a gnat in their eye. Friarre's falling officers tumbled through the air in the absence of his mouth, splattering against his armor or disappearing to the rubble below. The world whirled as the giant moved.
Friarre dropped her gun and activated another implant: a tracking beacon for her personal escape pod. As the giant steadied himself and held the control tower's deck in one hand, Friarre saw her pod fly up to meet her, and wasted no time diving down into it. The giant recovered just in time to see what was happening, and let out an angry grunt as he brought his hand up, fingers like claws, reaching for the pod.
Then Friarre was forced painfully back into her seat as the pod fired its jets; all at once she was high up in the air, the giant almost looking like a normal-sized person far below her on a screen that showed a feed of the earth beneath her; she saw that giant standing there, watching her go. His fist tensed and her command center exploded into bits.
Her ear was silent again.
She held onto the rails next to her seat, her teeth chattering as the pod arced; it carried her, she knew, toward her experimental heavy vehicle, her last hope. All around her the sound of the pod’s jets rattled the machinery around her, drowning out the sound of her heavy breathing as her chest heaved.
After a few minutes the pod's course started to trend downward. She saw no sign of the giant on any of her screens.
"Identify, identify," a woman's voice continually requested over the pod's intercom. It took a moment for Friarre to realize someone was talking to her.
She gave her name and designation, and the voice acknowledged her. As her pod moved to land, firing its jets and parachute, Friarre's stomach was doing flips. She felt the deadly race she was running against the giant. Surely he wouldn't leave her alone. Surely, if he was to be the Collective's harbinger, he would be tasked with making sure Friarre died with the rest of the might of the Nations.
That might was almost all gone, she ruminated. A squad of flight officers wearing the Nation’s most cutting-edge gear met her at the pod’s landing pad and led her toward the experimental craft at the heart of the secret facility. It sat inside its cavernous hangar, like an armored beetle bristling with weapons. She knew most of them were designed to take out ground targets: to decimate entire cities from the skies above them. It would take careful position to bring those weapons to bear on the giant; she'd have to be close.
Friarre rode the elevator up into her giant vehicle, a single craft more powerful than all the fighting capability she'd just lost. She strode to the cockpit feeling more and more confident, and strapped herself in as she gave the order to open the hangar's shell.
A great seam of light appeared before her as the walls spread apart, and Friarre squinted through it, her eyes hunting for the giant who wrecked her capital.There!
On the horizon she saw a shape of him; the armored warrior approached, fast, zipping across the desert landscape on jets and kicking up a plume of dust behind him.
"We move!" Friarre called, and the pilots sitting behind her let out a clipped cheer in unison. Friarre reached forward and gripped the controls; she eased the experimental weapon into the air; it was a heavy craft meant to hover and not fly. It's cruising altitude would be just over the height of the giant.
"We've got to get in close," she said to her crew. In turn each of the women acknowledged her order; her pilots were ready for the battle.
The approaching warrior slowed, his jets cutting off as he transitioned to a solid walk. Friarre tilted her craft forward, picking up speed. The warrior crouched a little, as if awaiting a charging bull; he held his arms out and fired flak from the barrels on the back of his gauntlets; the world exploded all around the cockpit, and the windshield burst open off to one side of the Guiding Hand as flak entered the cabin. Friarre heard officers screaming behind her, shredded by the cruel metal rounds. Alarms and sirens filled her ears. She tensed, pushing the craft forward, hoping to survive the next salvo as the mercenary took aim once more. Damage indicators lit up all across the panel in front of her, but Friarre ignored them. Instead, she rammed the throttle forward and charged.
Friarre let out a furious scream as she pulled back on her control stick and the craft lurched upward, its backend dipping; the warrior's outstretched hands found the edges of the craft and she heard metal twist and whine as his armored fingers sank into the craft. Like two behemoths caught in a tangle of death, Friarre's flying fortress and the giant warrior fired everything at hand: Friarre's underside-aiming lasers and cannons and rockets raked the warrior at point-blank range; all up and down his suit weapon compartments popped open and the giant met her barrage in kind. Brass rounds and pulses of light and rockets, barely able to fire their engines before exploding, filled the space between the two combatants with utter chaos. Sections of the great craft exploded, and Friarre watched with wild-eyed glee as one of her heavy lasers sawed the warrior's right arm clean off.
The titan's armor was pitted and torn and smoking as the monster of a man fell backward. Similarly, Friarre's readouts warned her of the critical damage to her vehicle, and she felt it falling from the sky. Friarre hit the control to punch out and was suddenly flying up through the air as her ejection seat deployed a protective screen around her and then punched through the canopy above. She grimly noted that no other ejection seats followed her into the air; the rest of her crew was dead, or about to be.
Friarre was plunged into the air-whipping nothingness high above the battlefield. She watched as her smoldering craft -- there was barely half of it left -- careened to the side and just missed the fallen warrior, rolling onto its edge and spinning forward like a pinwheel as it exploded into careening chunks; she saw the warrior where he fell, motionless, smoke and flames rising from his armor, his bulky severed arm lying by his body. Friarre tried to grin but almost immediately starting hacking blood. It was a bittersweet victory she saw; she was bleeding profusely from a wound at her midsection: a fatal gash across her stomach. She held her guts in as she coughed, clinging to her triumphant, costly reprieve as she drifted back toward the ground a distance from the fallen warrior.
The ejection seat's parachutes brought Friarre down gently. She looked at the fallen warrior with slowly closing eyes. She laughed to herself. "I won," she whispered. She hacked more blood, which dribbled down her chin or splattered across her dark gray jacket.
One last Queelorgian dusk. The desert sand was warm beneath her, but the air was cooling quickly as the whooping calls of nocturnal creatures -- no doubt startled by the commotion of Friarre’s final, glorious battle -- woke up and greeted the first of the planet’s moons to rise into the sky. The sun was nowhere to be seen, now, but how she wished she could gaze upon it one last time. Hlera, a star named for one of the Queelorg’s ancient goddesses, always felt like it rose and set just for her.
Across the debris-strewn desert Friarre heard a sharp hiss and then saw pieces of the giant's warsuit starting to open up.
"No," Friarre muttered, watching with eyes slowly opening.
More sections came away, and Friarre heard the warrior's distant hacking. A towering man, thin with long lean muscular limbs, rose from the wreckage of his suit like a snake shedding its skin; he wore what looked like a simple flightsuit of white cloth; it was covered in ash and burned at places, and streaked with blood. She hoped to watch him collapse and fall over dead, but instead the warrior stood on steady legs and straightened. He was missing his arm, but Friarre saw that his remaining limb was robotic: the stump still glowed where her laser sawed his cybernetic limb off, but the warrior showed no sign of minding it now.
His dark eyes locked onto her and his lips twisted into a terribly smug grin.
He started walking toward her. Friarre watched him come with growing dread. "No!" She roared. He rose higher and higher into the sky above her, as if he grew larger before her very eyes; she saw his huge bare feet slapping down onto the desert dust, and felt his steps rock the world beneath her. "No!" Friarre whined, pleading with the colossus who no doubt couldn't hear her. His humongous feet settled on either side of her; she was almost thrown from the seat she was crumpled into, her consciousness fading fast.
Guiding Hand Friarre looked up at the towering man with disgust and disbelief and envy. His legs stretched above her like her now-lost tower, miles tall; she saw the bulging musculature of his torso and, beyond that, his dark, curious, smiling eyes; it was all she could see of his face around his chest. His visage was so far away, as if in the heavens.
Then the giant's leg swung, smooth, gracefully, faster than she thought it would. She saw the enormous sole of his foot hover above her, its tan skin, lighter than the rest of his body, covered with smears of yellow desert loam and sweat.
Friarre held a weak hand up. "No," she whimpered.
The giant's shoulders shook and it sounded like a god was laughing at her. "I win," the towering warrior said in her language, accented but clear.
The giant's dirty sole raced down toward her, big enough to crush thousands of her. She was just another speck beneath this marauding colossus now. The briny tang of sweat called at her nostrils, and she felt the warmth radiating from his massives slab of flesh as it crashed down onto her. She felt herself get pushed down into the ground by the foot's weight, the earth moving beneath her, before all at once the pressure became too great.
Guiding Hand Friarre's body flattened and then came apart. What was left of her was lost in the dirt caked on the giant's sole. She started that day at the helm of Queelorg's mightiest empire; she ended it an ant, crushed to a dirty sole.thanks for reading!