Crowe's Nest

I.

She dropped the gun and fell backward to the wet ground, clutching her right shoulder and grimacing hard, groaning through her teeth. For a moment, Crowe was crouched beside her, completely at a loss with his hands low before him, unsure of what to do. He knew she was in bad condition; she was sweating profusely, her hair a wild yellow mass littered with leaves and bits of tree bark, and blood began running down her shoulder around her hand as she kept clenching tighter.

As he leaned in to her to get a better look at the wound, she grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him close until their faces were inches apart. She glared at him with straining eyes and said, "I told you to stay put."

"I'm sorry, I couldn't just sit by and-" he choked, looking at the ground next to her. He just couldn't bring himself to meet her eyes, as they were so full of anguish and pain. Pain that I caused, he thought. If I hadn't been here, she wouldn't have gotten shot. Dammit why didn't I listen?

"I just couldn't-"

"Don't give me that!" she barked, jerking his shirt. Her sudden drive jolted Crowe enough to shake him out his sulk and look her in the eyes, and when he looked at them they were, for a couple brief moments, completely different: her pupils grew twice in size, blocking all color except her whites, which were cracked from all sides with bloodshot veins; her eyes seemed to pulsate with a strange energy, almost with a malevolent glow.

Her eyes then returned to their previous state, deep blue but still red around the edges from the pain she was in, so fast that Crowe thought he might have imagined it.

She narrowed her gaze on him and said with gritted teeth, "You have to get out of here."

"You want me to run?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes! It's not safe here, and if we can't win this," she contorted her face as she gripped her side and tried sitting up, "you're only going to get yourself killed."

"I can't just leave you guys," he started.

"Yes, you can! I'm ordering you to get out and save yourself!" Her eyes then shut tight as she locked her teeth and reached for her knee then lurched forward; she was actually trying to stand up. When the pain was too great for her, she grabbed her right shoulder and laid back down, her face red from the effort.

As she did so, Crowe looked to her shoulder and saw blood seeping through her shirt from where she'd been shot. It brought his mind back to his own shoulders, which were probably still bleeding pretty badly, as he felt himself getting woozy; whether it was from the blood loss, or the thought of this girl and the skin-walker he recently killed, he didn't know.

He narrowed his gaze on her, then reached out and placed his hand on hers covering her shoulder, helping her keep pressure on the wound.

"I'm sorry, but I can't do that. Not to you, not now."

"You don't get it! I'm not asking you, I'm telling you-"

"Yeah, and I'm telling you to sit still and not kill yourself!" He surprised himself by yelling at her to do something he himself failed to do moments ago. Before she could protest, he removed his hand, struggled to his feet, and moved towards the closest broken half of the fallen tree. He began to sway a little, and then fell with his hands held out to catch himself on the tree trunk. He shook off his dizziness, then carefully craned his neck over the trunk and examined the battlefield.

There were a few small craters dotted between trees; weapons lay broken next to the torn, bloodied bodies of the men that had previously fired them; some of the bandits were still alive, but lying on the ground, moaning in pain as they gripped their gunshot wounds, or reached for limbs laying close by them; yet he still heard the sounds of yelling and grunting: some of the men were still alive and fighting, meaning Luka and the others were alive too, although the rain did a good job of obscuring his vision.

His right hand instinctively reached for his left shoulder, feeling blood still pouring lightly from his shoulder cuts; he felt he was running out of both time and blood. He quickly looked back over the tree trunk and hurriedly scanned the forest for Luka, Carlos, and Freddie until he found them.

Luka had lost his rifle and swapped to his steel tomahawk and hunting knife as he dueled two bandits at once, one wearing a hooded jacket under a bulletproof vest and tattoos covering his face, and the other with large shoulder pads and a military helmet with a heavy visor, as both were swinging machetes at him. Carlos had also dropped his gun and was now wielding the long spear-like machete he had on his back earlier, and was using it against a bandit with a riot shield and a long metal pipe with nails. Crowe looked to the left of them and saw Freddie, still using her other rifle, picking off any stragglers hiding behind cover when she could. Crowe's confidence depleted, however, once he saw the Borg standing at the far end of the battlefield.

It was more machine than man, if it even was a man at some point; its torso, arms, legs, and more than half its face replaced with metal sheets and various robotic parts. It was a tall (easily over seven feet), black, blue, and red mass of wires, flickering lights, tubes, and solid steel alloy, standing there and observing the chaos. It's left arm looked like a normal arm, with four fingers instead of five, and more beefed up with extra steel plates, wires, and a few spikes welded to the shoulder and elbow; the right was more menacing, as it may have been used as an arm, but was now re-fitted with a large cannon directly wired to the Borg's hydra-fusion reactor core in it's chest; the torso was covered in solid plate metal with small spikes and strange numbers and symbols welded to the front, as well as a few flare launchers just in front of his shoulders. But what really unnerved Crowe, was its face. The upper left side of the face was human, barely, with a few wires and metal staples surrounding some dirty white flesh with a bloodshot blue eye in the middle; the rest of the face was layered with cold metal with oxygen tubes linking to where the mouth would be, and a piercing red light where the right eye would be.

The monstrosity stood idle, completely ignorant of the rain, waiting for his weapon to recharge for another blast, and Crowe knew he had been calculating a line of fire that wouldn't miss this time.

Feeling himself getting sick in his stomach, Crowe crouched back behind the tree. He looked at his hand which started trembling lightly, his heart was beating faster, and his vision started to get blurry. I must be running out of blood, he thought.

"It's not too late," the girl said. Crowe turned to see her, still tightly holding her shoulder, blood running down her hand, "Please, get out while you still can. You don't owe me anything." She pleaded with the same face from when she wanted to heal his shoulders earlier.

For a second, Crowe actually considered running. He could have left Taylor behind and escaped, called for help, gotten back to the settlement in time for breakfast, and move on with his life as if none of this ever happened; it would have all been as a bad dream that he barely escaped from. That's what anyone with any sense would have done. Just wake up from a bad dream.

Yeah right, he thought to himself. Like I'm just gonna leave this girl and her friends on a whim, after everything. I can't run away, not now; forget what she said, I owe them at least that much. Besides, with all the blood I lost, I wouldn't get far. All this he thought in an instant. But what can I do? What can I do?

"What can I do?" he whispered. He stood up again and, without thinking, moved between the two broken halves of the fallen tree, uncaring of the gunfire being shot all around him. He looked up at the Borg as it stood, the light in its chest getting brighter with each passing second, electricity crackling from his main weapon.

"What are you doing?!" the girl shouted, "Get away from there!"

Crowe was aware what he was doing was suicide, but for some reason nothing in his conscience told him to move. Instead he just stood, almost as still as the Borg, staring at it while it slowly started moving towards him.

A loud roar suddenly erupted from the machine's core as energy flowed into his arm, and another crash of thunder exploded as a huge arc of electricity burst from the weapon, heading straight towards Crowe, tearing through a tree as it did so. Evan simply stood there, watching the arc soar at him but was too lost in his own state of limbo to move.

"No!" the girl cried as she helplessly watched Evan stand up to the vaporizing blast.

KRA-KOOOM

The energy slammed into Evan with the force to kill a grown behemoth. A flash of light from the collision of the blast blinded the girl on the ground, causing her to shield her eyes and dirt to explode off the ground. A few seconds later, when her vision came to, she rubbed the dirt from her eyes and looked up, expecting to see nothing but a searing carcass and a large crater. Indeed she saw the crater, but sitting in the middle of it was Evan, his skin red and smoking, and not scorched to a black crisp.

Evan rose unsteadily to his feet, his mouth tasting like burning copper and his clothes with numerous rips and tears torn through them. He looked out the corner of his eye and saw the girl, sitting upright and gazing at him in dismay. At the moment, he wasn't sure who was more surprised; him, the girl, or the borg that fired at him.

Evan took a weak step forward but tripped, falling to his knees. He put a hand on the tree and staggered to his feet, staring down at the borg two dozen yards away, taking full notice of the fighting that had paused momentarily in wake of the loud crash of the blast.

"Wha… what are you?" the girl said.

He looked down at his trembling hands. "I don't know," he whispered.

He didn't know what he was; all he wanted was the fighting to be over, and that there should be no need to fight. But then, there was much else he wanted: he wanted to be home; he wanted to know his parents; he wanted Taylor, this girl and her friends to be safe. And he wanted it all right then. He got back on his feet, his knees shaking all the while, and put his hand against the tree trunk.

The girl tried getting back to her feet, her face turning red from the effort. She had recovered her sword, still sheathed, and was using it now as a cane to help her struggle to a crouch.

"Stand down," she told him exhaustedly. "Please, just get back!"

Crowe ignored her and kept looking at his hand; and just then, it stopped trembling. He could still feel pain in his head and shoulders, but the trembling in his hand just stopped all together. He turned his head and looked at the Borg, the hulking figure of a monster standing and waiting, its red eye piercing through the rain. For reasons he could not fathom, Crowe took his now steady hand, and raised it to the creature, his arm straight and his fingers stretched out. He closed his eyes tight and listened through the rainfall, completely uncaring of anything.

What can I do? He asked himself again. I just want them to stop fighting. Just stop fighting.

He opened his eyes just as a loud crash boomed overhead and, not a second later, over half a dozen strokes of lightning tore through the sky and fell to the earth before him. Each stroke lasted for several seconds, an as Crowe watched, the lightning fell upon each of the raiders, two striking the Borg where it stood, and the rest directly upon the bandits.

When it finally ended, all was silent. The rain had stopped completely. Broken tree branches each the size of a man, as well as several small fires, littered the area. Where the bandits stood were now burnt, smoking corpses that all collapsed to the ground as one. The Borg had not been spared either; it was now a hulking mass of melted black steel, red at the edges with heat, fallen to its knees, then to the ground with a loud crash. Crowe could smell the smoldering metal and seared flesh of the men from where he was.

After a moment, Crowe felt his whole body go limp. He fell backwards from the tree and was caught in the arms of the girl behind him. She finally got to her feet, dropped her sword, and was now cradling him in her arms. He was sweating out of every pour of his body, his skin hot to the touch. His shoulders were bleeding profusely, and despite his heavy breathing, he could not feel the oxygen moving to his lungs. His vision was also going dim, but it was just clear enough for him to see the girl holding him, looking at him incredulously, eyes wide open. He heard someone rushing towards them, and barely saw Carlos throw his weapon to the ground and slide into a crouch beside the girl, looking at both of them of with the same face of shock and disbelief.

"What happened?" Carlos asked her. Evan's hearing was also muffled, barely able to pick out the words with the ringing of thunder still in his ears. The girl only gazed at Evan still.

"What the fuck was that?!" Luka cried out.

"You've been shot," Carlos noticed, looking at the girl's shoulder.

"I'm fine," she said to him. "Go get Freddie and Luka. We have to get out of here."

"What about them?" Carlos asked, nodding to Crowe and Taylor.

"Leave that one," she said bluntly, looking at Taylor. "Whatever village he's from, if they're nearby, they're bound to heave heard all those explosions. They'll be on their way soon, if they aren't already. Well?" she said, "Hop to."

Carlos faltered for a moment, then did what she said. He stood up, pulled the radio out of his pocket, then hurriedly left Crowe's vision.

"Big Red this is Drifter 4. Where the hell are you?" he said into the device.

Drifter, I'm almost there, the familiar voice on the other end responded. Did you guys see that lightning?

The last thing Evan saw was the girl above him. Her eyes focused on his as she held the back of his head and leaned in. Despite being inches away, her face was still blurry.

"Can you hear me?" she asked him quietly, "you're going to be alright. I promise."

Then everything went dark.