Chapter 4 - Alone in a Forest

When I awoke, it took me a little while to remember how I'd come to be lying at the base of a large tree; surrounded by smouldering wreckage; wearing highly polished, slightly dented and very expensive armour. When the realisation hit me, I sat up instantly and looked around for the rest of the squad.
Apart from a few pieces of smouldering landing-craft, a couple of splintered trees and a charred rucksack, I was alone in a large forest.

Let me ammend that, a very large forest. In fact, the sheer height of the canopy above me was almost enough to make me fall over, while sitting down. The nearest tree stretched up to dizzying heights, looking more like a skyscraper from the old days of Earth than a living thing. If I had to compare it to a terrestrial tree, it would be an oak, but it was so much more than that. While an oak is impressive, this was mind-boggling. Instead of brown and tan, the tree trunk was a vast collumn of silvery green, covered in moss and vines all the way to the top, with millions of silver-white leaves in perfect order.

Apart from the gaping hole I'd fallen through.

This brought me back to my senses, I had to take stock of my situation, I couldn't sit around staring at trees all day.

Although I didn't feel injured, I thought it prudent to run a self-diagnostic.

"Err... Suit?" I wish I'd spent more time reading this thing's manual. "Armour? Helmet? Computer..?" Suddenly, a number of displays flicked up into my HUD (Heads-Up-Display). I didn't have the expertise or time to check all of them, but I was relieved to see that a large majority of them were written in green, and none in red. That was a good sign.

"Computer, show me suit integrity and injury readings."

All the other displays blinked into nothing, and a picture of a person with their arms held away from their sides appeared in their place. A variety of percentages pointed to particular areas of the little person. Since none were below 70%, I decided everything was satisfactory.

"Computer, show me last updated thermal mapping."

Instead of the expected map, a message flashed up.

"FILE 'odo5.tis' NOT FOUND"

That wasn't encouraging news.

"Computer, do you have any topological data on Odo 5?"

A large picture of the Odo system flashed up, with a small golden arrow indicating the fifth planet in the system.

"Anything closer?"

Small white letters scrawled across the top of the display.

"I'm sorry Phoenix 0883 - no topological data was uploaded before 14.02.2204"

"Computer, you're sentient?"

"I am a class 4 artificial intelligence, serial number 24587690AI, codenamed HELENA"

This livened my mood slightly.

"So, what, do you have a personality?"

"I am a class 4 artificial intelligence, serial number 24587690AI, codenamed HELENA"

I sighed. But what was I expecting, really? A witty, somewhat sarcastic AI that would guide me through my Heartbreaker?

"HELENA, what is your function?"

"To provide data and information which may be of use to a combat Shadow."

"Do you have any for me at the present time?


I sighed, again. I really was on my own.

I stood up, and looked around the little, newly made clearing to find my rifle. I'd had it in my hands when I'd been thrown from the lander. After a quick glance round, I saw it buried to the stock in the dirt about two feet from where my head had been. At least I'd been lucky enough not to have impaled myself with my own weapon before I'd even reached the ground. Avery would have loved that.

Striding over to the rifle, I grabbed it and pulled quickly. To my surprise, it came out easily with a satisfying 'gloop' sound. I examined it quickly, trailing my gloved hands over the familiar grooves and bolts. I pulled the charging handle, and a round ejected itself cleanly onto the forest floor. I would have to change the barrel over, of course, but aside from that being blocked, the gun was in perfect working order.

Now all that was left to check was my pack, which was still smoking slightly in the middle of a small crater of its own making.

I wasn't hopeful, but as I made my way over to it I let out a whistle of appreciation. The old steel canteen, which was my only possession in all of the 4 months I spent on Mars, had taken all of the impact of the fall. But, being the tough old thing that it was, it had not been pierced. In fact, it looked totally intact, aside from being slightly burned. And dented six ways from Sunday.

Luckily, since the canteen had taken the brunt of the fall, all my equipment was still intact. Well, relatively. My canvas tent had holes burned in it, and my ration packs were singed at the corners of the packaging. Nothing that stopped them from being usuable though.

Y'know, for a guy who's just been hurled from the sky at a hostile planet, in the middle of nowhere, I was quite lucky.

The End

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