Well that's just great, he thought darkly. Bloody Martians... they left me for the fucking Martians! He crawled his way over to his blastgun, gripped it with his good hand - "Good" hand?, he thought, looking at the cauterised stump that had replaced the other one. Only hand! - and used it as a support to get upright again, before pushing the charging lever back to around 40% with his left stump. He would have to learn to write - and more importantly, shoot - with his right hand. Shaking his head, he looked down at the stump. "Seriously... why the hell does that not hurt like it should?" he mused aloud, knowing full well how good Martian hearing was.
"For that matter, why am I not paralysed? That shot at my back should have burnt through my spine."
Shrugging - and loving the fact that he could still do so - he lifted the blastgun to his hip and pointed it at the door, where Martian footsteps could be heard, not really bothering to aim. Letting the pleasing soft whine of the charging gun reach his ears, he put on his favourite manic grin as three Martians appeared in the doorway.
"Hey bastards," he greeted them cheerfully, "knock knock!"
He thumbed the trigger and let fly a volley of superheated plasma, roasting them all alive inside their armour before it vapourised along with them.
Good practice for when he caught up with the army piece of shit who took his hand.
In the gutter of the sewer, Jeanne felt herself lurch forward, dragged down by Jimmy, and they both hit the sewer floor hard, kicking up dust of fossilised Human waste. The stink was not only all but tangible, as if you could cut it with a knife should you have the inclination, it stank less of shit than of... well, death. Decay. Well, Jeanne supposed, it must have been thirty years ago at least that the sewer had been drained. As she hit the disgusting, dusty stinking floor sling-first, she felt agony rip through her shoulder, almost as if her wound had re-opened. She let out a cry of pain, and then bit her tongue, cursing her own lack of restraint as her exclamation echoed through the tunnel. If the Martians hadn't known where the refugees had gone yet, they did now.
The voices above were getting louder. Lenny didn't understand a word of the Martian language, nor could he decifer Martian tone, but nevertheless he knew in that place at the pit of his stomach that nobody likes to hear from that they were disappointed and indignant about the lack of prey, and determined to find the survivors of the earlier battle.
In the corner of her eye, Jeanne saw a grimy pair of boots settle on the ground; she looked up and saw that the man who had been the soldiers' commander had offered a hand to help her up. She wondered with a hint of indignation why he offered no assistance to Jimmy, who she could see struggling back to his feet nursing a bloody forehead, but regardless, she greatfully took the hand with her good arm and pulled herself up, muttering a word of thanks, and wondered somewhat apprehensively whether she might have an admirer. She mulled over the implications of the possibility that a newcomer to the resistance, fresh from mutiny against the Corporation, might have a crush on her; at the same time, she found herself unable to make sense of her own thoughts on the subject, that difficulty made all the worse by the pain in her shoulder.
She broke the uncomfortable silence which she was in all likelihood the only one aware of by clumsily blurting in French, "Je suis désole," then, realising that meant nothing to those around her, elaborated in English, "I'm sorry."
"For what, lass?" Jimmy inquired from beside her where he was leant against the side of the gutter applying an anti-septic dressing to his forehead.
"I am slowing you down," Jeanne replied, her eyes trained on the floor. "You will be a lot quicker if you leave me."
"Ma'am, the 15th Infantry leave no man behind!" the former officer exclaimed, apparently forgetting he had burnt his bridges with the military - although, of course, the same principle generally applied to the LSF.
"That would be very callous of us, wouldn't it now?" Jimmy chimed in, while he shouldered some of her weight again and they resumed their march, now further back in the crowd. "Besides, 'twas my fault we fell." He was right of course, but she was too polite to confirm it and respected him too much to humour him.
"Are you implying that I am a man?" Jeanne facetiously asked her potential admirer, amused and showing it in her voice.
"No ma'am," he answered in his stiff military manner. "Just that you won't be left behind on my watch."
"Take no notice," Jimmy advised her, "he's just nae used to working with women, 'tis all. There ain't no women in the army, ye see. Downright sexist, if ye ask me."
"So," she inquired of the officer, who was supporting her on the other side to Jimmy, but whose name she still didn't know, "why're you 'elping us?"
"There's no honour in the military anymore," he clarified. "Did you know they wanted us to execute you on worldwide television?"
Jeanne hadn't known, but nor did it come as much of a surprise.
What happened next was more of a bombshell, although in the context of her earlier scream it was less so than it might have been. A bloodcurdling yell to "RUN!" echoed towards them down the tunnel, and Jeanne blamed herself as she felt her heart sink, silently admonishing herself.
Lenny started to hear heavy footfalls in the passage behind them, on the raised sections to either side as well as in the gutter. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw the large, armoured silhouettes of Martian troops.
"RUN!" he screamed, turning towards the Martians and bringing his rifle up. He shot out the support struts on either side of the passage behind the crowd of refugees, and bowled a grenade back along the raised part of the sewer in an attempt to collapse the tunnel behind them. Earth and concrete came tumbling down from the walls and ceiling, blocking the tunnel, but he knew it wouldn't hold them for long.
He dropped a proximity mine and ran from the fearsome enemy.
"We'd better dash," Jimmy remarked, scooping Jeanne from the ground into his arms and ignoring his throbbing skull as he ran as fast as he could while weighted down by her - as petite as she was, she was still a Human being, and Humans were heavy. He felt the tension leave her muscles, and noticed her eyes drift closed.
Nearby, his former commander Jack Morgan was also struggling to keep up, his pulse burn injuries - which would have been exacerbated by helping Jeanne - holding him back. "That was very stupid of you," Jimmy heard (no longer) Sergeant Johnson berate Morgan as he grabbed him by the arm and dragged him along away from their pursuers. "Exerting yourself, in your state."
The sound of pulse rifle fire rang out, followed a few seconds later by the blast of a grenade and the rumble of crumbling rock. Jimmy found new energy and ran faster, stumbling slightly but this time managing to stay on his feet and not drop his charge. He saw her open her eyes slightly, squinting from the pain, and look around. "Where're we going?" She asked, sounding slightly delirious. "And where is your... camarade?"
"Who, Jack? Dave's got him... I can't carry both of you!" Jimmy responded, laughing. "I dunno where we're going, actually. Where exactly do these tunnels lead?"
"Ooh ees Dave?" Jeanne asked, her accent much more pronounced.
"His XO from our platoon. He's a good man, even if he is a soldier."
"Zat's good," she replied, letting her eyelids droop once more.
He heard Lenny cry out in warning from back down the tunnel again, "THEY'RE BREAKING THROUGH!"
Jeanne heard the man's exclamation and her eyes snapped open. She felt adrenalin pump around her body. She winced when she jarred her wound again by reaching for the revolver tucked into her belt with her left hand - unfortunately her right arm was trapped against Jimmy's torso - and braced it on Jimmy's shoulder so she could return fire on the Martians if they got close enough.
"Jeanne!" he panted. "There's been enough violence..."
"But... ze Martians..." she replied, tightening her grip on the gun, "zey're... not your Jacques... their only code is to kill!"
"But what's the point in lowering ourselves to their level!? That won't solve anything!"
"It will keep us alive!" she snapped back.
"And how'll it do that?" he asked, conceding a hint of condescension into his voice. "There's too many of them! We'll outrun them and it won't matter how many we've killed, or we'll get caught and it still won't matter!"
As the first plasma fire splashed against the walls around him, instantly vapourising chunks of the concrete walls, Lenny heard his mine detonate. Running harder, he sprayed fire blind over his shoulder. Then he tripped on a rut left by a shot, and flew face-first to the ground. Unable to grit his teeth but nontheless withstanding the pain of a broken nose and jaw, with no run left in him but plenty of fight, he decided now was the time to atone for all the grief he had brought as a soldier. He rolled onto his back, and shouldering his rifle and bracing himself against the wall, Leonard L Church prepared to drag the slimies into hell along with him.
"Do you think zat zey will be okay?" Jeanne asked.
"Us?" Jimmy responded. "Yeah, we'll all be fine. I wouldn't worry." Privately, he was convinced his time was up.
"I- I..." Jeanne said, avoiding his gaze, "I feel useless 'ere. I cannot 'elp... anyone."
"Jeanne?" he asked, suddenly worried. "What?" It sounded as if she was developing an inferiority complex...
"I can't 'elp anyone," she mumbled, not looking at him, "I am useless."
"No!" he yelled. "Don't ever say that. You're not useless. Nobody's 'useless'."
Jeanne flinched and said, "But all I 'ave done is get captured and shot..."
"You did so while trying to protect countless other people. You knew you were likely to get captured or killed, yet you volunteered for the rear guard. An act of selflessness, even in vain, is never 'useless'."
"I..." she said, glancing up at him, "merci."
Lenny drove attacker after attacker to the ground with bursts of deadly light, yet they kept coming. As the pursuing horde grew nearer, Lenny gripped his remaining grenade, that explosive ball of death, in his hand, still afraid to use it, preparing himself for the moment.
"Today, I declared my freedom," he proclaimed. "Today, I experienced freedom, if only of the mind. Today, I fought for freedom." With that, he pulled the pin. "TODAY, I DIED FREE, SO THAT THEY MAY LIVE FREE!"
And in a ball of fire, the sacrifice of one man decimated and scattered the forces of aggression. In death, he defended the lives and freedom of dozens of others. His death would not be in vain.
Hearing the explosion and knowing intuitively what had happened, Morgan muttered, "He died with honour. He was a warrior. May he find his peace in Valhalla."
Jimmy looked back, hearing the explosion, a teardrop forming in his eye. "Lenny..." he breathed, shocked. "Lenny's dead?" He stood there for a moment, gripping Jeanne to him, refugees rushing past them. Then, vowing not to let his friend's sacrifice be in vain, he turned forward again, shaking the tears from his face, still carrying Jeanne, he ran. And he ran. And he ran. "You were a good friend, Len," he muttered, "rest in peace."
"Désolé," Jeanne said, wanting to comfort Jimmy but knowing that, as when Tom had died only that evening, nothing she could say would be good enough. "I am sorry for the loss of your friend. Peut il se reposer dans le morceau."
The sewer tunnel was blocked by fallen concrete ahead of them, but there was an access shaft ahead of the blockage. The refugees continued through the access shaft, into another tunnel, wider, and... strange concrete floor laced with iron rails and wooden planks.
"Okay, where are we?" Morgan asked their ageing guide, Adriana.
"Where does it look like? We're in an old railway tunnel. Piccadilly station is about a minute's walk in that direction." Morgan's heart sank as she pointed down the tunnel. Piccadilly station, the ancient transport nexus, had been bought by Dermis Capital centuries ago as part of its takeover of Manchester's rail network early in Dermis's rise to power, since which it had become the centre of the new worldwide teleportation network.
"PICCADILLY!?" Johnson gave voice to his Morgan's misgivings. "Are you fucking INSANE!? If I was the Martians, that right there would be the most heavily defended building on the PLANET!"