Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence and mature content.
James entered the operating room, wearing only a surgical gown. The chill of the floor against the soles of his feet was slightly uncomfortable, yet he seated himself in the designated chair with a resigned ease. As he settled, the team of scientists gathered around him, their movements precise and efficient.
They manipulated the chair, transitioning it seamlessly from an upright to a prone position, offering him a surprising comfort as he lay back. A mask was placed over his face, the hissing sound of laughing gas foretelling the impending unconsciousness. The cool liquid of the anesthetic began its journey through his IV, ushering in a sleepy fog that muffled his consciousness.
The last flicker of awareness that wove through James's mind was the peculiar sight of extra prosthetic limbs staged nearby. 'Why are there more hands and legs?' he wondered idly, his thoughts unraveling into the oblivion of sleep.
You're not supposed to dream while under anesthesia, but when you have boffins tinkering inside your head, strange things can happen...
The hull of the escape pod peeled away, layer by layer, the temperature inside soaring to unbearable levels. James, jostled violently by the turbulence, could only sense the chaos in his semi-conscious state. If he were fully awake, terror would have certainly gripped him as pinholes of light started piercing the darkened interior of the hull—a precursor to catastrophe.
Then, with a shuddering crash that cut through the fabric of his hazy nightmare, the pod impacted the ground, breaking apart on contact.
James struggled toward the murky surface of consciousness, images flickering past like a strobe-lit nightmare. A pressing weight on his left leg, a sharp, penetrating pain in his left arm—he looked down through the haze of agony. Three of his fingers were gone, vanished, and a gruesome portion of his forearm was shredded, the remaining digits barely clinging on by splinters of bone and torn flesh.
The escape pod was a ruin around him, a jigsaw of destruction, with flames caressing his leg in a mockery of warmth. But there was no pain from the fire—was he paralyzed? The thought was a silent scream in the chaos of his mind. And as the black tendrils of unconsciousness curled around him once more, he succumbed to the void.
James fought against the tide of darkness, a lone warrior wrestling with the shadows that threatened to drag him back into the abyss. He attempted to speak, but the heat scorched his throat, a stark reminder of the inferno around him. Then, reality crashed in waves—there was no one to hear him, he was utterly alone.
With a grimace, he shifted, leveraging his weight against the stump that still bore a thumb and a finger. As he pushed, a flash of excruciating pain ripped through his abdomen, stopping him cold. Trembling, James forced his eyes downward, the horror dawning slow and cruel—he was impaled, a jagged shard of the pod's carcass having claimed him as part of the wreckage.
Every instinct screamed to move, to free himself, but the spike of debris anchored him in place, a grotesque fixture amidst the chaos. Desperation clawed at his insides, as real and sharp as the metal that pierced him.
James' gaze swept the devastation that surrounded him, the searing heat enveloping him like a suffocating blanket, yet the flames remained a constant distance away, neither advancing nor retreating. In this momentary reprieve from immediate danger, his body begged for rest, for the sweet escape of sleep to numb the pain and chaos.
But as he teetered on the brink of succumbing to the darkness, a critical thought sparked through the fog of his agony. 'No, can't sleep... concussion,' his mind raced, clinging to the shards of survival training that surged forth. Sleep was a siren calling to him, promising relief, but he knew it could also mean slipping into a coma, or worse, never waking up again.
With effort that felt Herculean, he willed his eyes to remain open, his senses to stay alert. He had to stay conscious, had to survive. Every lesson he'd ever learned about trauma, every drill, every briefing, they all echoed the same refrain: stay awake, stay alive.
James forced his attention to the task at hand—taking mental stock, a self-assessment that felt almost detached, clinical. His 'left hand,' or what remained of it, commanded his focus first. It was a clean cut, not a jagged tear; the bleeding was surprisingly minimal. 'Missed the important plumbing,' he mused grimly, grateful for small mercies.
Next was his abdomen. The wound there wasn't bleeding, which was both a blessing and a curse. He was impaled, skewered in place, which prevented him from bleeding out but also trapped him in this mangled coffin of metal and sorrow.
Lastly, he turned his thoughts to his left leg, or rather, where his left leg should have been. It was pinned beneath a substantial chunk of the escape pod's remains, but there was no sensation—no pain, no warmth, no cold. It was as if it didn't exist. 'Shock,' he realized, 'or nerve damage.' The lack of pain was disconcerting, a reminder that his body was in severe trauma.
Despite the grim inventory, his training kicked in, prioritizing his next actions. 'Stay conscious, stay alive. Signal for help. Survive.' He clung to that mantra, a beacon in the storm of his circumstance.
Ricardo pushed through the alien terrain, the weight of desperation adding to his every step. The pod’s chaotic descent was a stark contrast to the precise, calculated landings they were trained for. Its systems had surely been compromised by the catastrophic events that had led to the Maxwell's demise—a detonation that they had narrowly escaped, leaving them stranded on this uncharted planet.
The sound of the impact had resonated through the air, a foreboding boom that spoke of a grim outcome. But Ricardo, alongside the few who had survived alongside him, couldn't afford to succumb to despair. They were driven by duty, and the slim hope that their captain, James, had somehow endured the brutal landing.
For hours they marched, the landscape around them a blur of unfamiliar colors and shapes. Fatigue threatened to take hold, but the urgency of their mission propelled them forward. Their thoughts were consumed by the possible scenarios they might find at the crash site—each as uncertain as the alien ground beneath their feet.
They were soldiers, survivors, and above all, they were a crew bound by the unspoken promise to leave no one behind. In the vastness of the unknown, that promise was a beacon, guiding them toward the wreckage. They held onto hope, however faint, that their captain was out there, alive, waiting to be found. They would search relentlessly, for to them, James was more than a captain; he was the glue that held them together in the chaos of the cosmos.
As dusk began to cast its shadows across the alien landscape, the wreckage of the escape pod loomed ahead, a stark silhouette against the waning light. The flames that had once consumed the vessel were now extinguished, leaving behind only the faint glow of dying embers—a silent testament to the violence of its arrival.
The fading light did nothing to ease the trepidation with which Ricardo and the other survivors approached. Each step brought them closer to answers they were not sure they wished to find. The wreckage was a grim mosaic of twisted metal and charred technology, the once-sleek escape pod now an unrecognizable ruin.
In the dimming visibility, the remnants of the pod seemed almost peaceful, but the scars of its descent told a horrific story. It was a sobering sight, and the group moved with a careful reverence, knowing that what they found amongst the debris would seal the fate of their captain.
The quiet of the approaching night was a stark contrast to the chaos that must have reigned during the pod's final moments. Now, only the occasional crackle of cooling metal or the distant cry of an alien fauna broke the silence.
Ricardo and his companions steeled themselves for the search, their eyes scanning, hoping against all odds for a sign of life. As they fanned out, examining the scattered remnants, the true scale of their situation began to settle in. They were alone, on an unknown planet, with nightfall bringing unknown dangers. But for now, their mission was clear: to find James, and to cling to the hope that he had survived the horrific landing.
James lay still, every sense strained to its limit. Movement rustled at the edge of his awareness, the faint sound of footsteps and voices filtering through the aftermath. He stilled his breath, straining to identify the newcomers. Friend or foe?
In the back of his mind, he knew the risks of revealing himself. If it was the enemy, a call for help could be his end. But if it was his men, his salvation could be moments away. The dichotomy of hope and fear wrestled within him, each second an eternity as he lay pinned amidst the remnants of his escape pod.
The sounds grew closer, clearer. The crunch of boots on debris, the murmur of voices conferring with one another—these were sounds of search, not of conquest. The patterns were familiar, the cadence reminiscent of military precision. It was a language of movement he knew well.
Should he risk a signal? Should he wait for a clearer sign? James's mind raced, his training colliding with his instincts. Then, amidst the murmur of voices, a word, distinct and unmistakable, cut through the haze—his name.
It was a beacon in the darkness, a thread of hope amid despair. With that, the choice was made. Gathering the dregs of his strength, he prepared to make his presence known, to signal to his would-be rescuers that he was here, that he was alive. It was a gamble, but one he had to take—for in the balance lay his very survival.
James, mustering what little strength he had left, resorted to a primal form of communication. His voice, reduced to a feeble whisper by the searing pain and exhaustion, was no match for the vastness of the desolate landscape. In a surge of clarity, he remembered an old signal from their training days — three quick raps, a pause, and then three more; a universally recognized distress call.
He gripped a salvaged piece of the hull with his functioning hand and pounded against the metal pinning his leg. Three rapid clangs echoed into the twilight, followed by a deliberate pause. He repeated the sequence, over and over, the pattern a desperate beacon amidst the silence.
With each repetition, his actions became more mechanical, driven by the fading hope that someone, anyone, would hear. And then, as the light dimmed and his strength waned, the sound of footsteps crunching on the debris gave rhythm to his heartbeats.
Ricardo, the face of brotherhood and camaraderie, emerged from the shadows. In the dimming light, his silhouette was a herald of salvation. The relief that washed over James was a palpable force, and it carried with it an unspoken promise of rescue, of survival. His signal — the old, familiar distress call — had guided his brother to him.