On My Side

Scott Pearson

The first Garinthian I’d ever seen face to face approached just after I struggled out of my half-buried drop tube. I was lost in a wooded countryside, separated from my fireteam and our squad. He glanced up and down my camouflage uniform, front and back arms twitching nervously at his side. Wispy red and yellow leaves, shaken from the feather trees by my crash landing, floated around us, glistening in the moonlight.
       “Easy,” I said, though I didn’t know if he spoke Standard. We’d been told that a lot of the civilians welcomed the arrival of Alliance troops, but his skittish movements radiated fear. He stopped a couple meters away from me, and we stared at each other. His clothes were worn and dirty. Maybe he was a farmer, but most Garinthians were struggling to survive while their leaders got rich by raiding cargo ships from other systems.
       I attempted a phrase in one of the major Garinthian languages, roughly meaning “No problem here,” then switched back to Standard. I took a cautious step forward. His all-gray unblinking eyes and striated multicolored skin made it difficult to read his expression. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to get my gear and find my squad.”
       I pointed at the drop tube behind me and then in the general direction of where I thought the squad had landed. As my eyes adjusted to the moonlight, I noticed he was deformed. At the base of his long neck, on his right side, was a growth about the size and shape of an old deflated American football. His shirt didn’t fit over the lump, leaving it half exposed. I didn’t know if it was a birth defect or a tumor, but it didn’t seem to bother him as he craned his neck from side to side to examine me and the tube. He waved his front arms slowly in a nonthreatening mirror of my own gestures.
       Distracted by the deformity and the movements of his front arms, I didn’t notice his back arms had reached behind him until he swung a large weapon into view and fired from the hip. The gunshot felt like a dozen spinning hot blades punching into my left side. I cried out as the impact sent me spinning to the ground, face first into the mud. Luckily I landed by my rifle. Training and instinct took over as I grabbed my weapon and rolled onto my back to defend myself. . . .

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