Stronger

“Stronger”

April 21, 2178

1100 hours

“Why did I agree to this? This is taking forever. I don’t see why I have to risk my life because she’s alive for now,” Snapper muttered, staring at the gorge, with only a series of stone towers to cross. He honestly thought it was a bad day to head out; it was foggy and unnaturally cold for what their ancestors called spring. But he knew there was no deterring Slash, as the Earth-bound had a way with words, and could sway anyone to her side.

“You’ve said that before, it’s getting old,” Slash retorted, stepping on the first stone. Thankfully, it didn’t collapse. It would be a long way down if she fell. Only the stars knew if anyone had been here before. “In your case, Stella is vital to the war, as she is one of your faction’s lieutenants. In my case, I’m doing this because I care about her. She may be my faction’s enemy, but we are more than the badges we wear.” 

“I suppose,” Snapper said, checking his radar, where Stella’s life signal was blinking steadily. She was alive for now, but no one knew what dangers lay here, beyond the war. “But there are plenty of others who make a living thanks to their badge.”

“You mean the mercenaries?” Slash asked, jumping to the other side. “Never thought you’d be sympathetic towards them. But I guess we’re all just trying to survive here. Also, start crossing or we’ll get there at midnight.” Snapper scoffed and started following. Despite his words, he considered the Earth-bound lieutenant a friend. His only other real friend was the other Space-bound lieutenant, Stella, who’d gone missing recently, and Slash had offered to help.

 

“Hey you! Get off our territory, or else!” Snapper spat at the figure in the distance. He was on the midnight patrol, deep in some tall grass-like plants, and he really didn’t want to deal with the Earth-bound right now. Whoever was standing about 20 feet away seemed familiar, but it was hard to tell in the dark, and he wasn’t taking any chances.
“I thought Space-bound had better vision. I’m a little over 5 feet away from the border,” they replied. Snapper growled. Of course she’d returned. She either wanted information or a friend, and Snapper was assuming it was the former, since he hated talking to anyone but his commander.

“Oh, it’s you. What do you want?” he demanded.

“Well, a little bird told me that your friend has gone missing,” Slash replied.

“And? Why do you care?” Snapper asked.

“Because no one else does,” she replied. “And someone has to. Look, long story short, I got a lock on her life signal. I’m leaving tomorrow. You can join if you want, but otherwise, I’m publicly out of the war for some time.” Snapper’s eyes narrowed.

“Why would you trust me?” he asked skeptically.

“I don’t know,” Slash admitted. “I think it’s because you’re the only other one willing to question the war.” And then she disappeared into the darkness.

 

A day later, they stood at the foot of a mountain, with a lot of deep ditches littering the ground around it. “So this is where Stella is supposed to be held,” Slash said. “We should probably hurry. Who knows how long it’s going to take to climb this.”

“Terrible place to hold a hostage, if you ask me. Look at it. It’s cold, desolate, and you can just feel the evilness here. Just like those old horror movies,” Snapper told her, and started walking towards an area where the slope of the mountain was flatter, and much easier to walk on.

“You actually watch those? Wait, I don’t think it’s the smartest idea to just walk in without knowing what we’re dealing with,” Slash called, darting after him.

“Oh come on, it’s not like an alien’s going to come and attack us. Those movies were fake,” Snapper sneered, turning to face her. “This planet has been uninhabited for years. Come on, I can see Stella.”

“Really Snapper, this feels too easy,” Slash insisted, taking in their surroundings. The fog hadn’t cleared yet, and it was extremely hard to see more than 10 feet ahead. “Just because we might be able to walk in that cave and find Stella, doesn’t mean we’ll be able to.”

“Now who’s being pessimistic?” Snapper scoffed. “Look, it’s like 20 feet away, and there’s nothing here.”

A shadow started looming over them both.

“You might want to take back your words before we die,” Slash said softly, staring up with wide eyes.

“What? Why-oh,” Snapper finally turned around.

“Intruders! You must be destroyed!”

 

“What is that?!” Slash shouted, jumping back as an alien spider, probably 3 times their height, stomped towards them.

“What makes you think I know?” Snapper retorted.

“Your origins are Earth-bound,” the spider interrupted, turning on Slash.

“I’m no Earth-bound! I’m not one of those manipulative dictators!” Snapper snarled at the spider. The spider ignored him and went for Slash, who barely managed to scramble out of the way.

“How do you know where I’m from?” she asked, still backing away from the spider. She hoped she wasn’t near a ditch.

“Because I have seen you, and learned all about your kind. You see, I was the result of a failed experiment, one done by your allies,” the spider said coldly. “They sought to use me as a weapon, but I freed myself, and here I stand, taking revenge on those who suppressed me.”

“Like the Space-bound did against the Earth-bound,” Snapper said.

“Indeed, like yourselves. Although, I was more inspired by your peoples’ stories of your inter-regional and overseas wars,” the spider mused, finally turning their attention to him.

“Our Civil War and Revolutionary War,” Slash said softly, waiting for Snapper to turn on her.

“Now see, you understand what it’s like. Perhaps we can come to a mutual understanding, and finally free your kind.” Snapper watched the spider, curious to know what they would say next. An alliance would definitely tip the war in the Space-bound’s favor. They would definitely win, and maybe everyone could finally live in peace after the Earth-bound left. “Of course, I will only assist on one condition.”
“And what would that be?” Snapper asked.

“Destroy the Earth-bound lieutenant.”

 

“Destroy Raider? She’s already out of the war,” Snapper said, confused.

“I did not mean her,” the spider replied coldly. “I meant the one who stands here now.”

“Slash?” he asked. “Why her?”

“Is it not obvious? This Earth-bound is the only thing standing between you and winning the war,” the spider replied, circling Snapper slowly. His gaze slid away for a moment, and he saw that Slash was trying to sneak away. “Her intelligence is high, and her skill is great. Normally she would be a valuable ally to your cause, but her loyalty to the dictators proves she is too big of a threat. Destroy her.”

“I promise I won’t attack you, as long as you stay on track and don’t betray me,” Slash said before they left, packing up the last of her materials, including the dagger she often used in combat.

“I promise I’ll stay on track and won’t abandon you in the middle of nowhere, provided you do not hand me over to the Earth-bound,” Snapper replied coolly. Slash nodded, satisfied, before picking her bag up and mapping their path. 

“…I won’t,” Snapper growled, and the spider looked taken aback. “I may be loyal to the Space-bound, but I made a promise to Slash, and I’m not going back on that now. When we make a promise, we keep it, unless both parties agree it is no longer needed.” The spider hissed, before leaning closer.

“Think carefully, warrior. What you decide now will determine the rest of your life,” they told him.

“I’m well aware that my choice will have a lasting impact on my future, but it is a risk I’m willing to take,” Snapper replied firmly. The spider jerked back, surprised. “Slash may be Earth-bound, but she has a spirit like no other and it was she who chose to save Stella. Without her, we would’ve lost not only a commander, but a friend. I refuse to kill her.” The spider snarled, before springing at him.

 

Snapper ducked out of the way, but the spider turned on him. He had no time to think. He knew there was no way he would make it out of this alive. Slash stood in the spider’s blind spot, frozen with indecision. He caught her gaze and tried to telepathically tell her to run. She backed up and sprinted up the path on the side of the mountain. Snapper sighed. Hopefully, she would be able to free Stella and they could get away. He turned and faced the spider again. If this was how he was going to die, then so be it. At least he’d done something in his life that he definitely wouldn’t regret. When the spider jumped, Snapper scrambled out of the way and then sliced at its legs. It didn’t move out of the way fast enough, and snarled as it checked its wound, though it kept an eye on him. It seemed that every move he made, the spider always had a counterattack. “It might be better to get to higher ground…the height difference is making this difficult,” he muttered, and jumped up to one of the mountain ledges.

“You can run, but you can’t hide!” The spider shouted, and crouched, ready to jump up.

The second it shifted its weight, something jumped on it. The spider screeched and tried to throw whatever it was off it, but Snapper sprang off his ledge and knocked the spider off balance. They tumbled into one of the steeper ditches, and Snapper exhaled. 

 

Someone jumped down next to him as he was catching his breath.

“Good work,” they told him.

“Stella,” Snapper replied. “I’m glad you’re okay. Wait. Where’s Slash?”

“The Earth-bound? She’s in the ditch,” Stella replied. Snapper darted over to the ditch, where the spider was struggling to get out. “What are you doing? She’s our enemy.” Snapper growled and turned to her.

“If it wasn’t for Slash you’d be dead. She was the one who wanted to come here. She cared when no one else did. She risked her life for yours and you’re just going to leave her?” he asked incredulously. Stella hesitated, and Snapper sighed before springing in.

“I can’t believe I’m risking my life for an Earth-bound,” she muttered, before following.

The spider struggled, but it couldn’t hold off all three of them.

“I will not be deterred!” It shrieked. “I will get my revenge on all of you! You will die before my claws!”

“I hate to do this, but I think it’s going to follow through on its word unless we kill it,” Stella said. Slash sighed, and agreed . She had a lot of scratches, but thankfully nothing too serious.

“I mean, it almost killed me. I say we save others from having to deal with this,” Snapper added.

“Then it is settled,” Stella declared, then turned to the spider. “You have been found guilty of attempted murder.”

 

Two days later, the trio approached home. “It feels weird to be back,” Slash admitted. “I mean, we’ve been gone a week and almost died.”

“Yeah, I’m going to kind of miss fighting like that. But I’m glad we don’t actually have to worry about fighting for our lives,” Snapper agreed.

“Hey Slash?” Stella asked. Slash looked at her. “Thanks for saving me. I was reluctant to help out, but you’ve proved more than a few times that not all Earth-bound are the same. Our predecessors may have made bad choices and wrecked our home, but we don’t have to be like them. If you ever need something, I’ll be more than happy to help.” The Earth-bound lieutenant smiled.

“It was an honor to work with you, Lieutenant Stella,” she replied. “Until we meet again, Snapper.” Then she turned and headed for Earth-bound territory, with the sunrise in the distance.

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