A/N: If you haven't seen Crystalline Coalition yet I would recommend going over there first, but it isn't strictly necessary for the purposes of this. Otherwise, enjoy!
I took a breath.
The cold air nipped at my face and ears, seizing the water vapour in the exhalation. That little bit of snow, the promise of a world renewed, still dusted the trees about the dirt pathway, glittering in the morning light. It would melt soon, of course, but the fact that it remained said so much. Above, the thin wisps of clouds danced, though it was hard to tell what sort they were besides cirrus. All in all, it was a welcome break from the smog that had defined my life for over 10 years now. I didn't know how much I missed the fields and forests back home until Kosei had announced this trip. It was a beautiful day on the mountain. I could hear the soft chirping of birds, the light skitter of creatures in the trees. I could smell the hint of spruce in the air, the-
"Jared, why on Earth are you wearing that garbage? I wanted to get out in nature, not in - what was it - Essence of Perfection."
The engineer fixed me with an exasperated look.
"Doctor, you know that I of all people would never do that sort of thing around you. This is wildlife repellent. Besides," he states, "the perfume you are thinking of is Essence of Manliness."
"Doesn't matter. Wildlife repellent?"
"You know, so we won't get jumped by bears."
"Black bears. You're worried about being attacked by a black bear."
He was quick to realize his mistake.
"A-and other things."
I settled for an eye-roll and moved on, though it wasn't long before he spoke again.
"So, what do you think They're going to do?"
"Jared, we're on vacation. I didn't bring you along to help me not relax. I do that enough by myself." If only I could. The Earth is beautiful today, after all.
"The world doesn't just stop when you ignore it, and you can't just leave it."
I sighed, and turned about. Yes, you can. If you don't know you want to.
"I… don't know. I hope everything will be fine, but they haven't said anything. You'd think we'd have gotten something, even just some 'hi, we can think' math."
Jared placed a hand on my shoulder.
"Maybe it's hard for communication to happen. Maybe they don't talk the same way we do, and are wondering why we haven't answered them?"
I could feel it, how we both knew he was grasping at straws. I gulped.
"It's today, isn't it? They said the fleet would arrive today."
"Let's just climb. With luck, the future will wait for us to get back to the cabin."
I took a baited breath
As the water in the exhalation crackled into the screen, I gazed upon a shattered behemoth: a Jorōgumo, one of Their favourite armoured vehicles for urban warfare. This one had been tagged by a tank shell, penetrating its thin carapace of Apothiem and shredding the pilot. Despite the violence which had gone into procuring it, the armour that hadn't been directly involved in the breach was mostly unharmed, and because of it, everything less durable was useless ash.
It was like this for most of their warmachines: any amount of firepower capable of dealing enough damage for a total mission kill like you need on the battlefield will also destroy anything of value. Exceptions are extracted at almost any cost. This specimen, RACU-023, was the best preserved on-site, and it had almost nothing to go on.
"The emitter is aligned, Doctor. All personnel have been evacuated from the chamber. We are ready to proceed on your order."
That's just it, though. Most of these things took many blows to bring down. RACU-023 fell after a single blow. Catastrophic damage to Apothiem usually leads to the breakdown of its crystal matrix, leaving us with a bunch of elements that don't do anything when you melt them in a pot and stir. But when most of the plate hasn't sustained severe penetrating damage…
I plugged my ident key into the computer.
"Dawn, Erilynn A. Clearance FOR-9" I looked over at the aide, thinking of how he reminded me of a younger Jared Ioun. "You may proceed." I said, to which he nods.
"FOR-9 confirmed, beginning incision on plate seven, RACU-023."
The beam ignited, and I saw the invisible line of destruction begin to heat the edges of the designated plate. Sizzling force boiled away layers of concrete as the alien metal shone, defiant against the efforts of humanity to understand it. But as it converted from grey to red to silver, I saw its strength flag and fail. Then, across the CCTV network, we heard the loud clatter of metal on metal.
"Bring that piece to Spectroscopy. I'll be there in five." I called into the intercom.
Apothiem had been one of Their greatest advantages ever since we took space superiority away from Them on day one. A metal of the gods. It's about damn time miracles became the property of men once more.
I took a shaking breath.
Over the muted sounds of my choked sobs, at the edge of my preception, screams and gunshots resounded. The area pulsed with the dull red of emergency lighting.
They're here, I thought, and they know what we've done. What I've done. A crime against their narrative, their nature.
Like spiteful angels they tore through the complex, barking orders or curses in a language we didn't understand. Whenever they found a human, a datatape, anything of value, well, no doubt that was each time I heard the short, tinny *pop* of their gauss weapons. A message - addressed to puny humans who might try to steal the light of those from beyond the stars.
Maybe if I still had my staff I could do something, but all I have is a boomstick: a crude, double-barrelled slug-thrower designed to punch through heavy armour at close range. It can kill one through power armour. If you can get within a harpfrog's leaping distance. If you can get the jump on Them. If you hit a weak spot. If you can control the thing's kick long enough to aim true. If if if if. And then, after all that, you probably have a broken shoulder, and the thunderous roar of an Earth weapon to give away your position.
The war wasn't kind to those who needed to stay hidden.
My breath catches as I hear them down the hallway. Not the sharp rat-tat-tat of mag fire, but the arrogant stomp of metal boots, no doubt wrought of that metal. Closer, ever closer.
Down the hall, I heard the snap of a Cracker, with the blinding glow spilling into the room I was in and briefly banishing the dark. I can tell from the intensity that I am too far away to help, but that doesn't stop me from hoping, as I hear the sound of random, panicked enemy rifles. There was an apocalyptic boom, and one of the guns fell silent. Then, the sound of servos and a thin, meaty crunch. A few words(?) come forth, the barely-heard syllables of their melodic, beautiful tongue, and then the lizard continues down the hall to me.
As it moved by my room, it stopped, no doubt the keen senses in Their helmets picking out my biometrics from all the static. It turned and fired, and I felt the rounds thump in my back. The world blurred as I gasped, letting out the breath, and I felt myself slump. Satisfied, the enemy turned back down the hall, only for me to tumble from behind the prototype plate, weapon in hand. Before it could turn, the boomstick thundered, and the monster before me fell.
I picked myself up and hefted the thin yet heavy plate of a new metal, never before tested. While based on Apothiem, our world has different elements to work with, and this material is distinctly human. It is called Adamantine, and its recipe will escape this compound.
Once, in another time, I found myself here. Once I thought every day of returning home, but it was not to be. I found I was better used here, better loved here. Father's nepotism only ever served my old ego, after all. It just took me months of here to realize that. Nothing the invaders have yet done has taken away the fact that where I am is a beautiful fairy tale.
I was Princess Erilynn Angelina Dawn, Duchess of Velenor, 3rd Heiress of the Velden Province, of Terra. I am Dr. Erilynn A. Dawn, pioneer in Theoretical Physics and now Material Science, Adoptee of Earth. And these Things will not take my home from me, or anyone else.
...apparently I still care about titles. Well, my life isn't over yet. I shouldered the weapon, and it gleamed in the thin light, gunmetal blue against the deathly red. Gathering my nerve, I stepped into the unknown, stealing life from foul arbiters. In my other hand, the plate, winking in the dark like a pool of hungry shadows, its man-made imperfection marred by Their weapons, yet still desiring more. One more breath.
A/N: Hi! I had a short work I did in Crystalline Coalition that didn't fit into the story, so I thought I'd make a place for it. For those that caught it, yes, the good Doctor is the same Erilynn as depicted in Ethereal Enigma, with some alterations to fit her into the Crystalline chronology.
I don't know what else is going to go here, but I have a few ideas, so stay tuned.