The man in the moon mocked him.
On his back, trapped in the Marauder, Nanoforge would have glared back at the full, white moon....if he was fully conscious.
He didn't know how many times he had tumbled down the butte before resting on a ledge. Or how many minutes passed while he was stuck there.
In the haze of his battle-weary mind was the firefight he'd escaped from. His team had walked right into a trap, and they never knew what hit them. The squad thought *they* were setting up a trap for the bugs. Only, the squad was bug bait.
Nanoforge kicked himself for not listening to his gut. He'd never ignored himself before... why the hell didn't he stop them from going forward?
The private struggled to clear his mind and return to consciousness; the searing pain in his shoulder joints blinded him back to the welcoming fog.
Never in his life had he ever felt as helpless as when he watched the squad get picked off, one by one. The two Marauders should've been more than enough to hold the bugs off until help arrived.
But the call for backup was never made.
And the other Marauder driver shoved Nanoforge off the butte in a desperate gesture of friendship and hope.
Nanoforge couldn't stomach that.
It should've been the other way around - he should've saved Liesl Vanderwahl.
He finally clenched his jaw enough to make it hurt, and forced himself to stay awake. However, the pain in his shoulders was powerful enough to take his breath away. He'd dislocated both arms, and he was trapped inside the Marauder.
Gingerly, he squirmed around enough to turn on the comm-panel, talking himself through the motions.
With each painful flip of the switch, he received a monotone screech. It was enough to tell him all he needed to know.
His squad was gone.
If any of them had been alive, they would've tried to search for him. Or, raise him on the radio. As it was, there was no movement. Neither motion nor auditory signals were picked up the Marauder, and that meant the bugs had moved on.
Nanoforge let gravity take over, and he relaxed his body inside the cockpit.
He cursed himself for the squad's complacency. They had tallied up an impressive number of days with absolutely no injury to the team. THE best in all of SICON's front-line squads. Four hundred and twelve days. Not a single injury, not a single loss of machinery.
Fate, it seemed, had decided now the record should be broken.
In those four hundred twelve days, the squad had become what all tight-knit squads became: a family unit.
Nanoforge now lost everything.
He had no family outside of the federal service.
And now, he had no family on the inside of federal service.
He was... alone.
And it wasn't so much that he was ... afraid... of being alone, as so much that he hadn't been allowed to join his family in death. Angrily, he wondered why he'd been chosen to survive, and not any of the others.
They were all good people. Every single one of them.
The frustration built and he could not restrain the single cry of despair. It was a long howl, filled with anguish, soon followed by uncontrollable sobbing.
His shaky movements set off the retrieval beacon.
He knew the SICON shrinks would shake their heads in pity - and then Section Eight him. There's no way a trooper could endure losing his entire squad. The guilt would be overwhelming, and the trooper wouldn't be able to focus on his reassignment. A mind-swipe was the only solution.
If he could just die here, just die now, he wouldn't be forced into the process of having his memory erased. Wouldn't be forced to forget that the last year and a half was the best time of his life. Wouldn't be forced to forget the faces of his family, the pranks they'd pulled on one another, the steady stream of firefights where they'd managed to survive without a scratch.
The entire First Division was proud to have them on the front-line, albeit secretly envious of the squad's record.
Nanoforge could feel the blackness of unconsciousness soothe his mind. And he wanted nothing more to succumb. But first, he needed to roll the Marauder off the ledge, so it would crash to the hard ground below. And take him to the other side.
Moving was painful, and as the minutes passed by, the pain in his shoulders increased, restricting his movements. He knew if he didn't hurry, he wouldn't be successful.
He'd live, whether he wanted to or not.
Nanoforge promised himself he'd rest for five minutes, then attempt again. Mentally, he set his clock, and relaxed as much as he could.
In that five minutes, a transport flew low overhead, and came back for another pass.
When his mental alarm clock woke him, he opened his eyes and stared into the concerned eyes of a young woman.
"Don't worry," she said softly, "we're here to get you out."
Nanoforge swallowed, and slightly shook his head. "I don't want out."
She flinched, and looked over at her companion, a dark-skinned medic who ignored the request.
Together, they eased Nanoforge out from the cockpit of the Marauder, and eased him onto a makeshift gurney.
"Easy, pal," the medic said, "you're not the only one who's been through this."
Nanoforge chuckled bitterly. "Yeah. Right."
The two Roughnecks hoisted him onto the ramp of the waiting transport, and carried him onboard.
He could feel the gravity shift as the transport turned and headed back for Seattle. His eyes once again closed, he thought he'd overheard someone, a very young man, make note of who he was. And the squad he used to be with.
"Isn't that... isn't he from Drake's Destroyers?" Higgins whispered in shock.