Taraken Mes is my name. I am Captain of the 9th company of the Nights. We are a tough company, used in the hardest missions and the inhospitable climates. I have survived a thousand skirmishes, more than I can care to remember and lost an eye and an arm in the process.
I've been posted to the furthest outpost in the Karnsad desert. We are fighting the Sard Y'rach, a foe that can appear out of nowhere and is armed with bullets that can punch a hole in the side of an armoured space-transporter. We've been here five months. And this is how I died.
My breath hitched painfully in my throat as I raced across the blazing sand. Behind me, I could hear the laboured gasps of my squad and I slowed my pace slightly. Candîda ran up beside me, his shining white hair clinging limply to his forehead. He panted roughly and gestured at the shadowed underside of a dune. I nodded and altered course.
They flopped, wasted tired, in the slender hang of shadow. I crouched by Labi as he sipped sparingly at his water bottle. My netic eye whirred constantly as the sand occasionally messed up the connectors. Candîda glanced across at me, catching my attention and I crawled towards him. I put my head close to his so he could speak without being heard.
“Prodêre has Sard Y'rach fragments in his arm.”
I swore quietly and patted his shoulder.
“Keep an eye on him.”
A cackle sounded across the hot sand, sending us upright and streaming over the dune tip. I laughed out loud as the outpost came into view and I halted the running squad members. I pulled up my comm-unit and spoke into it.
“Karnsad outpost, this is Captain, Over.”
Static crackled in my ear and I saw the rest of my squad attaching their own comm-units.
“Karnsad outpost, this is Captain, over.”
Unease dripped down my spine like an ice cube.
“Karnsad outpost, answer me.”
“Soy! Zan! Heto! Is any one there?!”
Panic was settling in. There was always someone at the comms. I dropped the comm-unit back to my belt and stared at the outpost. Candîda watched me as I struggled to control my mounting anxiety.
“Captain, what do we do?”
“Give me a flare.”
“You'll give away our position.”
“Give. Me. The. Flare.”
He handed it to me. I slammed the end in and had thrown it before it started to smoke. I dropped on my stomach and watched the fort closely as the flare landed a few hundred feet away.
Movement on the wall. The glint of a blade. I felt a thrumming on the ground and leapt to my feet, spitting profanities.
“Run! They've taken the outpost!”
We fled back into the desert.
The next few days were hell. They picked us off, one by one until only Candîda and I was left standing. We made our stand at the foot of a rock formation. The Sard swarmed us again and again. Candîda fell to a bullet and I simply scooped up his weapon and kept firing.
A blow to the leg sent me to my knees. Still I fought. I lost my other arm to a sword. I fought on. Blood flowed from every part of my body as I still hacked and stabbed. A sword slid under my guard and pierced a lung and I kept slaying.
I was tired. My vision had gone in my normal eye and I couldn't feel anything below my waist. My sword slid from my grasp as the wires in my netic arm were severed. I bent my head and panted, waiting for the blow to end my life.
It didn't come and I looked up to see the Sard fleeing before my glorious Company as they swept forwards with flame guns and motor swords. Zan, magnificent to my weary eyes, had saved me and was now cradling my numb body in his arms. He bellowed for a medic as I struggled to focus.
“Zan.” I forced the word through my dead lips.
He bent his head over mine and whispered,
“Stay still, Taraken. The medic is coming.”
“Too... late. Be...a... good... captain...Zan.”, limply, I gestured at my sword.
“No!Taraken! Stay with me!”
Zan bent his head over Taraken's bloodied body and wept for his friend and his captain. Around him, the 9th company of Nights bowed their heads in homage as Taraken slipped into endless sleep. Finally, he raised his head and gently lay Taraken in the sand. His eyes were dry and his face was stone-set.
“Place a marker. We will return for our Captain.”
Zan bent and picked up Taraken's sword. Blood and gore stained it and he gazed upon it for a moment. His face twisted.
“Let's hunt down these alien bastards!”
The battle resolved itself in the next few days. The heroes were the 9th Company of Nights, who stormed the stronghold and captured the entire Sard compound. When asked later about their victory, every single one of them said the same thing.
“The victory was Taraken Mes's.”
A lone torch burnt in the night. Zan approached the funeral pyre and set it ablaze. He saluted, proudly showing his Captain pips. Taraken's sabre was sheathed at his side.
“Thank you, Taraken. Thank you."