Following what Akira can only describe as the single most painful experience of her life, the agony in her skull finally subsides. It’s a relief and is why a short time later she dares to open her eyes. But the veteran fighter doesn’t understand the sight she is met with. After all, none of what her eyes are taking in is familiar to her. If her vision wasn’t blurred it might make more sense, but the more she blinks attempting to dispel the blurriness the more it persists. Still, she could swear that she is surrounded by liquid. That’s why she thinks herself mad. She can’t be surrounded by liquid it would be stinging her eyes and choking her. Humans can’t breathe underwater and yet as the seconds tick by and her vision finally begins to clear there is no doubt that Akira is indeed in a liquid of some kind. It’s not water; she can safely conclude that as it is thick and resistant to her movements. Not quite to the point that it limits them, but still resistant.

Then she realises that this liquid is finite and that as her head whips around, as fast as the viscous substance will allow, she determines that she is within some form of cylindrical pod.

Not an ounce of this makes sense to the woman. Unless, it has taken her brain this long to get back up to speed and actually have a conscious input, I was captured. It’s a terrifying thought, but it might explain why that excruciating pain in her head materialised out of the ether. It certainly wasn’t natural, its appearance or severity. Yet, while possible it does not explain where she is now or why, especially as The Barren have never once since they arrived on Earth, taken prisoners. It’s just not what they do or how they operate. They want humanity eliminated and have never shown any indication that study is part of their motive for invasion.

It is the only plausible conclusion Akira has been able to reach, but she does not consider it plausible that the barbarian extraterrestrial race might have changed tact. After all, why would they need to? They are winning. Not by a slight margin. It’s resounding and…

Akira never finishes that thought as one of the giant aliens with its angular head, similar in appearance to their ship when she’d viewed it from the ground, slides into view.

Akira recoils instinctively as the hulking beast with its metallic bio-mechanical skin and piercing illuminated blue eyes stares at her. To the veteran resistance member it feels like the alien is peering into her soul, analysing her with its eyes, and then it growls.

In response to the sound Akira feels an almighty surge of hatred. It boils from deep within her. It’s revenge and why she wastes no time in raising her arms and flailing them wildly. The first few swings do nothing but whale through the thick liquid, carving a path forward for the woman. Then her arms slam against the interior surface of the pod. Akira feels the bursts of pain as she continually slams her balled up fists against what she can only label as glass. It isn’t, but the human has no other name for it. She doesn’t know that it is a form of polymer resin layered and woven with high-grade alloy not found on Earth or the system that it resides within.

Finally, Akira attempts to scream. Her mouth opens for her to unleash her tirade of pain and anger, but nothing comes out. In that moment her eyes shoot open again. She’d screwed them shut instinctively because of her thirst for blood. Yet, to her shock the liquid she is engulfed within has not filled her mouth or threatened to slip down her throat, choking her. That startles her, but is quickly forgotten about when Akira realises that The Barren she had been trying to rail against is gone.

Akira thinks him, it, she doesn’t know how to refer to them, a coward. The determination and judgement of The Barren does not last however, as four seconds later a needle appears from somewhere above her head. It thrusts through the liquid unimpeded until it is roughly head height. At that point it angles toward her and then begins to glide forward, tip first.  The black haired woman attempts to do a kind of backstroke in hopes of retreating from the incoming object. Akira hasn’t a clue what its purpose might be, other than to inject her with something foreign to her, and has no wish to find out. However, her attempts are futile and instead of wading backward through the thick matter she is simply left flailing almost on the spot where she first started. Frustration boils up as a result.

If only the needle suffered the same failures, but it doesn’t. Instead, it continues to slowly sail effortlessly ever closer to the woman until finally, seeing no other option, she dares to do what she fears might end very poorly. That is to attempt grabbing a hold of the assembly to which the needle is attached. It succeeds, much to Akira’s surprise, and results in no violent response.

The woman breathes a sigh of relief at that but wastes no time in putting all her available strength behind wrenching it violently toward and over her head, in the hopes of shearing it clear of its assembly. Akira doubts it’ll be that easy and knows that it may take several attempts to achieve what she has planned.

However, much to her surprise the needle, guided by her hands, moves with far greater ease than she had been willing to contemplate, which is why the tip is sent spearing into the glass-like cylindrical wall around her.

The response to the impact of the sharp pointed needle is immediate as a deep impact crater is created, which quickly spreads and grows into a long jagged crack. That crack then diverges creating more and more cracks until finally the pressure of the viscous liquid upon the heavily damaged surface of the pod is too much. It is at this point that the pods single curved wall detonates. The thick liquid within no longer contained, pours out like a deluge and drags Akira along with it, whether she agrees or not.

The woman is spilled out onto the floor as the liquid slops and splashes around her. A couple seconds pass during which relief and joy wash over her. Next comes coughing and sees the long black haired woman choking and vomiting up some of the liquid that she managed to swallow during her unceremonious ejection from the ruined remains of the pod.

Her chest hurts from the heaving. The coughing continuing as she keeps herself propped up on her elbows now, even if she can feel nothing but a burning sensation coming from her lungs. It’s agonising but a far cry from being a specimen in a jar, which is how she felt in that pod.

That doesn’t matter now, she tells herself, because she is free and sucking down what she can only describe as the freshest and cleanest air that she thinks she has ever had the fortune of inhaling in all her life. Even if it wasn’t Akira wouldn’t complain as she continues to suck down the life sustaining gases frantically. Her breathing is heavy and ragged as she fights to fill her lungs with what they need most and also ease the rapid-fire beats of her heart, when suddenly The Barren reappears.

Akira cannot say it is the one from earlier, but something inclines her to believe that it is as she raised her head in the moments after a rumbling growl filled the air alerting her to its presence.

This growl was much longer than the one that previously left its lips. Akira doesn’t know if The Barren have lips. She assumes that they do somewhere beneath that skin of reflective pearlescent alloy that would more accurately be called armour, if they were ever seen out of it that is.

Suddenly, The Barren charges, launching itself at close to full speed toward her. Akira rolls away mere seconds before the beast has the chance to go stampeding over her body. If it hadn’t reacted when she did she’d be dead for sure. Her bones would’ve been no match for the bulk that the aliens must possess, especially when all she is clad in is some kind of simple white wrappings that cover her from shoulders down to thigh.

The material, Akira has to admit, is surprisingly flexible even if it is now stained with patches of black and obviously soaked from whatever that liquid that she had found herself in was. Still, that is nothing compared to how The Barren attacking her seems, which is desperate. She doesn’t understand why because the hulking beast has the upper hand in every way. Then Akira notes that the alien has no weapon. Her face contorts puzzled as the realisation hits her.

It makes no sense to her. The Barren are always armed with those energy weapons of theirs. The half circles with a central focusing shaft between them. The same shaft that forces the four digits of their hands to be split between the upper and lower sections. But this specimen doesn’t have one, or anything else that Akira would be inclined to call a weapon.

That might explain why it seems desperate. Why it charged her as recklessly as it did. Why it still looks fearful as it turns her way and prepares for what she can only assume will be another angry charge. That is indeed the aliens’ intent, and proves it when a mere couple seconds later when it rushes headlong toward the woman. Akira is forced to quickly scramble to her feet and just in time to avoid the wide swipes of its long powerful arms. The arms that, had she been a second late would have crushed her bones to dust. But she wasn’t and so at the end of a forward roll grasps a hold of the only thing she knows is close enough and can be used as a weapon, the severed remains of the needle, its vial and a small part of the still attached mounting assembly.

She quickly tests the weight of the object in her hands. Its back-end heavy which is no surprise considering its true purpose. Yet, Akira has no other option available to her. She might be able to keep up this dance, but isn’t inclined too. One false move or mistiming could be the end for her, so she prepares herself for another assault. The veteran resistance member knows without a doubt that it will be coming. She can see it from the way The Barren is standing and the grunts and rumbles that are leaving wherever its mouth is beneath all that metal.

Then it charges, for what is now the third time. Akira waits. She has to be patient. She’ll get one shot at this. No second chances and she knows it, which is why when the beast reaches what she considers the point of commitment she begins to swing the blunt tool, her hands grasping tightly the slippery metal of the needle as though it is some sort of club. Don’t miss, she tells herself as she knows that if she does there is no doubt that she will die. The Barren will make sure of that, and probably without much effort too.

However, Akira is committed now and her body is fully behind the swing that is so desperate that the woman ends up entirely off-balance as it works.

But it works. Somehow against all the odds the needle, its vial and the section of sheared mounting assembly still attached hit their mark. The vial above the stem of the needle explodes as it and the mounting section slam into the side of the lumbering aliens’ angular head.

The impact is sufficient to not only halt the invaders progress but also send him staggering off, sideways, as the bulk of the mounting section slams to the floor with a dull thud.

But Akira doesn’t care about the remains of her further ruined makeshift weapon. The strike had the desired effect and has created an opening for Akira, who takes it without pause.

The woman launches herself as high into the air as she can manage, aiming for The Barren’s back. It’s her only goal. She’ll take whatever she can get, whether it be upper or lower, and make it work from there.

Akira achieves about the midway point, barely. It’s better than she feared but not as good as she would have liked. Still, she won’t complain and grasps a hold, with her one free hand, of the various contours and ridges across the armours rear section.

Once she is sure he footing is secure and she in place, while the alien is still stumbling about, she climbs as fast as her body will allow. Even when The Barren begins to flail back and forth on the spot attempting to dislodge her not long after she refuses to be hurled through the air and instead clings on with all her might.

The noises coming from the extraterrestrial, though growled, sound afraid and defeated as it continues to flail uselessly, while Akira climbs its enormous slightly curved back. The woman can only wonder how tall the alien would be if it stood up straight. The Barren can’t as their anatomy does not allow for it, but that is not the point. If they were able to it would add a good three quarters of a metre to their already impressive stature.

Still, Akira does not understand why this member of The Barren seems so contradictory to all the others she has ever come face-to-face with. Not literally face-to-face of course, as if she had then she wouldn’t be alive to talk about it.

This development implies that there might be more to The Barren than just soldiers, which is all that she has fought before now. It makes sense that there would be other facets to their civilization, and yet it had never registered until just now.

But even as a non-combat entity she would never have considered that one of the aliens would be willing to almost give up. Nothing she has ever witnessed suggests that they possess such a trait and yet here it is. Perhaps this one is different, weak. She hopes so. She also hopes there are many more like it as she ignores its growls, which sound like pleas for mercy, and pointless flailing motions, seeing as she has reached her goal, the upper section of the aliens’ back. She smiles, reflexively, and then without hesitation hefts the remains of the needle and its shattered vial and then drives it, remorselessly, into a gap between the helmet and neck guard.

The response from The Barren is immediate and ear-splitting as a squeal leaps from the massive otherworldly beast. It doesn’t go down however. Instead, it reaches for Akira. Before it had simply been trying to buck her off its back, but now it seems to have grasped the true severity of its situation and the resourcefulness of its opponent. Not that it’s frantic swiping at empty air do anything to prove contrary to Akira’s decision that this thing has no idea about how to fight, keep a cool head and think without making rash, panic fuelled decisions. Even as mighty four fingered paws lunge for her. She deftly dodges the fearful swings without issue, while attempting to drive the shattered remains of the needle deeper into her opponent.

It’s working and the beast continues to verbalise the pain that is being wrought against it, so mercilessly, until suddenly there is a snap. The Barren freezes immediately. Its arms no longer flail or wave about desperately attempting to grab a hold of Akira. Instead, it begins to fall, backward. Akira having felt the sudden change in the aliens balance jumps as far her legs will allow as she kicks off against the falling aliens’ mass.

She lands, off-balance herself, just as the body of The Barren crashes to the floor, made entirely of metal and coloured somewhere between grey and light blue, dead in a heap.

Instinctively Akira scans around her, expecting more of The Barren to swoop in for the kill. They tend to swarm and surround. Not that they need to but it seems to be a common tactic they use. Who can blame them when human weapons tend to bounce off them harmlessly, unless they are focused upon by an entire group? Even then that is not usually enough to thwart The Barren and dissuade them from making whatever kill they have set their eyes upon.

To her dismay she isn’t, and finds herself completely alone. Left to take in the room around her, properly now. Before she had not realised it but it seems as though the space she finds herself in is some sort of medical area. Or at least that is what she would compare it to, which would make sense seeing as a syringe was being levelled at her in a manner usually reserved for weapons. Yet, it is unlike any medical facility she has ever found herself in.

She focuses on her surroundings, her eyes slowly sliding closed to allow her to focus on what she can hear. At first she hears only her breathing, it’s faster than she would like but the veteran fighter manages to push past it, ignore it and instead focus on quieter less obvious sounds. Expecting to hear grunts and groans, those ejected from The Barren, she prepares her body. But such sounds never come and she quickly forces those thoughts aside. They are not what she wanted but her mind had brought them up. The woman had hoped to consider other things, like… Suddenly it dawns on her that she can feel the thrum of engines. They would have to be enormous for her to feel the vibrations through what she now realises is a deck. Then her eyes spring open only to quickly do a new sweep of the room. It’s still empty, save for her, but life is not what she is looking for. Instead, she is viewing the space around her through a new lens.

It’s clear to Akira now that she is on a ship. Is it the mothership, the one that The Barren descended down to Earth upon when they first arrived? She cannot say. If it is then how is it she got here? She doesn’t remember, yet rejects that initial response and searches her memories for something, anything that might give her a hint. Minutes pass before Akira accepts defeat. There are no memories of how she got here and that worries her even more than how long she’s been here, which is a question that had entered her head a good while ago.

The now continuous thrum of the engines and the alien surfaces all around her send shivers down her spine until finally she decides that this has to be the mothership. Especially, as there has never been any sighting of any other ship within the possession of The Barren.

Akira smiles, and at a time when many others would not if they had found themselves in her shoes. It’s uncharacteristic for the woman, who has shown little emotion other than anger and violence since the war began. If it could at all be called a war. It can’t really. More accurately it is a slaughter. An extermination of the native species for reasons completely unfathomable. She doubts anyone would argue that The Barren can be reasoned with, so that peace might prevail. Such notions are long dead and should never have existed once The Barren started their slaughter, but they had.

Anyway, the reason for the woman’s smile is simple. She never actually believed she would make it here, to the vessel wielded by The Barren. It seemed an impossible dream. A last desperate struggle destined for one outcome, failure. Yet, somehow she is here. Stood on one of however-many decks it is comprised of; convinced that she and all the others would be torn to smouldering meaty shreds by The Barren’s weapons. Then it hits her. She wonders how many others survived. She can’t be the only one, or at least hopes she isn’t.

If only I could remember what happened. Then I might have more to go on. Answers are what I need, Akira thinks before accepting that she really does not have the answers buried deep inside her head. It is at that point the woman decides she needs to find a weapon and fast. After all, there is no telling how long she has before more of The Barren rear their ugly almost featureless heads. And the last thing Akira fancies is attempting to go toe-to-toe with anymore of the hulking giants without a proper weapon. One that doesn’t have a risk of getting her killed as soon as she uses it.

In truth, the resistance fighter knows that she was lucky to survive the fight against what seemed to be a clueless member of the spacefaring species. Something tells her that luck isn’t likely to hold out a second time. But even if by some miracle it is, she’s inclined not to risk it, which is why she begins to search the room. She doesn’t know what she’s looking for and after several minutes of searching and having no luck, she isn’t even sure this room contains anything akin to storage. Then she finds something. She can’t explain what it is but it is definitely alien, beyond her comprehension and by the looks of things utterly useless to her. It’s why she re-places it where she found it and then continues her search.

Almost ten minutes pass, by which point Akira is ready to accept defeat, when she stumbles upon a locker. She opens it, the container in no way locked, to find, to her utter surprise, that her gear is inside. She blinks convinced this must be a dream. But it isn’t, and nestled neatly inside are her affects, including her Bloodbolt. It makes no sense why it is here and not sealed up tight in some weapons cache, but Akira isn’t about to forego it and begin to argue against her newest round of good fortune. Instead, she grabs her gear and begins to prepare herself for whatever will come next.

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