Collaer the Nova
Chapter IV - Cornered
Elias detached one side of the chain and let it fall toward the startled man.
Jack stepped forward and said, "Hey! Shouldn't we think about this? We don't know that guy."
Elias turned to meet Jack's gaze. "I'm not leaving him down there!"
The chain fell within a few paces of the startled man. He began to jump from the capsule, lunging for the chain. After a few failed attempts to grab it, the capsule began to give way. He felt it shift beneath his feet and screamed in distress, "This can't be the end!" He jumped once more, just before the container dropped from underneath him. The metallic casket slid out of the nook in the slope and crashed to the plain below, causing the ground to shudder.
The man dangled from the chain, shrieking hysterically.
Jack and Elias hauled him onto the plateau. By then, most of the company had gathered. They all stared at him. He was hunched over, inhaling to catch his breath. "I thought I was a goner," he said and stood up straight. The men of the company cringed while the women whistled. The man scratched his head and scanned the crowd, visibly trying to understand.
The Lieutenant shoved his way through the crowd. "What the hell happened? I—" He saw the stranger. "Boy, you'd best explain yourself."
"Well, you see, I was being chased," he began. The Lieutenant stared, though if looks could burn, his gaze would melt the man where he stood. Oblivious, he continued, "Then I was shot, then I woke up down there."
The Lieutenant slowly looked down the slope. "You mean to say," he said, "You were being held in that capsule, boy?"
"Um, yes, but my name isn't boy. It's Collaer."
"Your last name, boy."
"But I said my name isn't boy."
"Goddammit!" Gunther shouted. "Someone give this piece of shit something to wear until I've regained my sanity." The Lieutenant stormed away, knocking over one of his own soldiers in the process.
"He can have my blanket!" yelled one of the women. Her again, Jack thought. A woman with goggles plastered across her face emerged from the crowd and threw a dark cloth around Collaer's shoulders. She couldn't have possibly reached his shoulders. Whether Collaer was too tall, or she was too short, Jack couldn't decide. "I hear it gets cold out here at night, so we can share," she said, casting a quick glance at Jack.
Elias took a step toward them. "You know you can't do that, Mina."
Her lips curled into a half-frown that even Jack could admit was somewhat cute in an irritating way. She pushed her goggles up, into her dark hair. "Screw regulations, I'm a Castille!"
Jack sighed audibly. "You can't throw your name around and expect things to change!"
She took Collaer's arm, who had been gazing at everyone in a confused daze. She asked, "Why do you care?"
Jack crossed his arms and looked at the ground. "I don't," he said, before walking away.
The Lieutenant shouted into a megaphone from the top of one of the tanks, a blue and white flag flapping beside him, "You sorry sons of bitches set up a perimeter! We're camping here for the night. And stay away from the slope, unless you want to end up like the dumbass we just acquired."
Elias walked with Jack to prepare their camp. "Looks like we get to keep him."
Jack shook his head and unpacked his satchel.
The sun was setting, glowing various colors before it left the sky. Jack stared into the campfire from the blanket, laid across the ground. Above the fire was an army-issued pot, suspended in the air by wire and rods stuck in the sand. Jack spoke, "This is the last of our wood."
Elias watched the stew boil. The smell of cooked potatoes and gravy spread to their senses. He spooned it into two small bowls. "Guess we better eat it while it's hot."
"Or start to eat it during the day and cook it off Mina's Tank." Past their fire, Jack could see her talking to Collaer. He was surrounded by the women of the convoy, clearly being ogled. He seemed not to notice at all, which bothered Jack more than Mina's personality. Right now, anyway… He could hear her obnoxious laugh, cut off by Collaer standing up. He waved and said something before turning toward Jack and Elias's smaller camp. He approached them and said, "You're the guys that helped me up, right? And found me."
Jack sat up. "If you're going to talk to us, cover up down there," he said, pointing.
Collaer looked down, obviously confused. The blanket was still hung around his shoulders, probably the reason for Mina's good mood. After several excruciating moments, Collaer finally folded the blanket around his lower body. He asked, "Can I sit here?"
Jack shrugged and fell on his back, finished with his stew. "Whatever." Elias absorbed himself with his own empty bowl.
Collaer sat down opposite of Jack. "I wanted to say thanks. I thought I was going to die."
Elias waved his hand. "We just happened to be there when you fell."
Collaer nodded. "Still, I appreciate it. I don't know why I was in that thing…"
Jack turned onto his side, facing away from the fire and Collaer and said, "How can you not know?"
Collaer dragged his finger through the sand in front of him. "I know I was being chased, but I don't know what for. Then, I was shot, and blacked out."
Elias poured what was left of the stew into his bowl and looked at Collaer, then the bowl again, before pushing it toward him. "Eat. You were probably in there a while," he said.
Collaer took the bowl and thanked him. "This looks good!" He tried to mimic the way Jack and Elias ate, but, Elias noticed, he couldn't handle the spoon, and soon gave up. Collaer brought the bowl up to his mouth and let it pour into his mouth.
Elias opened his own satchel and asked, "Who chased you?"
Jack opened his palm in the air, supporting his head with the other. "Who cares?"
Collaer spoke, gravy lining his lips, "Two people in these long, dark coats. One was a girl. I don't think I've ever seen them before." He seemed not to hear Jack. Elias pulled something out of his satchel.
Collaer looked over and asked, "What's that?"
Elias held it up in the firelight. "A quilt my family made, before I joined the army." It was white and yellow with small holes in it. He placed it gently in his lap and pushed his fingers through the holes.
Collaer arched an eyebrow. "Family?"
"My sisters, to be exact."
Collaer looked confused, but Elias said, "Forget it, I—" His voice was interrupted by a distant boom. A nearby explosion shook the ground, sending sand into the air from behind a ridge.
Jack scrambled to his feet and climbed up the nearby slope to look across the dune. Other soldiers followed suit. Five tanks were lined up, about a hundred paces from the convoy's position, barrels aimed toward them. Dark flags, outlined in yellow, stood tall in the fading light. We're at a disadvantage… but what is the Nalban army doing out here? Firing on us, to top it off!
Elias pulled his helmet on over his straight brown hair and crawled up the slope with his rifle. He called back to Collaer, "Stay down!"
But Collaer was crawling right next to him. Elias waved his hand, signaling for Collaer to leave. Instead, Collaer moved closer to the top of the ridge. Elias's face stretched in disbelief. "Go back down there, you idiot!"
Collaer responded, "But I want to see what's going on!" He looked over the ridge. "Oh."
Elias hand ripped at Collaer's shoulder and Collaer tumbled down the slope. Elias pointed his rifle over the ridge, keeping his head low. "What are they doing here?"
Jack shook his head and said, between shell explosions, "This is bad."
Both of them realized if Dare company pulled their tanks out from the ridge's protection, they would be instantly barraged. Conversely, if they stayed, the ridge would be shot down and they would die. Outnumbered in tanks, the situation seemed hopeless. This awareness seemed to spread to all the soldiers as they lay against the ridge in fear. For all they knew, units could be flanking the ridge as they considered the situation.
Suddenly, the barrage stopped. A man's voice called out across the sand, aided by a megaphone, "Surrender, Restallians. We will cease fire if you lay down your arms and walk toward us."
The Lieutenant manned his own megaphone. "We'll never surrender! Goddamn Nalbans!"
With that, the tanks began firing again. Jack thrust his head into the sand in disbelief. To their left, a shell clipped the ridge and burst through one of their comrades, carrying the unlucky man over the plateau and over the cliff behind them. Jack and Elias looked over their shoulders. Collaer was running to the slope and watched as the man fell, blood trailing through the air. The stranger fell to his knees, gripping the sand with his hands. Jack turned his gaze back to the enemy. "What the hell is Gunther thinking?!"
Elias stopped watching Collaer and said, "He wants to die, probably."
"Why did we get assigned to this unit?" Jack asked. "Or are we just lucky?"
"Unlucky, you mean."
"Nothing makes sense anymore," Jack pointed out. "I blame that guy." He pointed his thumb at Collaer, who was currently walking toward them. He clambered up the slope, seemingly oblivious to the explosions erupting in front of him.
Collaer stood at the top of the slope and said, "I'll go."
I have a long way to go, I think. With my writing and handling a story properly.
I'm grateful for the compliments and reviews, but I still think I'm capable of better. If this sounds weird, I apologize--it's a feeling I can't shake.
Anyway. Collaer is probably one of the most hilarious person I've ever met. I know, you will probably attack me with various instruments of destruction for stopping at this point, but I think this pacing requires me to split it up. I have it thought out, get ready. The next chapter is going to be a doozy.