Welcome back to Panel 350, our foray into flash fiction! Mea culpa, this one stretches to a luxurious 390 words. I hope I’m not taking too much of your time.
The bullet traced the cloudless sky, frozen in place by the optic implants over his eye. That allowed him to track the bullet back to its source.
His Combat Data System (CDS) noted the range. “Feed range data to SmartBullet (commit?)” appeared on his heads-up display. He crouched behind the low wall and adjusted the grip on his rifle. All the time in the world.
Another bullet track joined the first, then another. The traces were supposed to fade after 1.5 seconds, but they stayed. Ominous lines filled the sky, and then: blackness.
At first, he thought he was dead. Then the sound of battle came into sharp focus – random ricochets from the insurgents’ ancient rifles, the precision pop of SmartBullets from his side. He tongued the control to get a top-down display of the battlespace from the drone overhead. Still nothing.
The CDS had crashed. Prickly sweat broke out under his armor.
He tried to remember the hostiles’ angle of fire: Was the wall any protection at all? A bullet struck closeby, spalling stone chips into his helmet.
He fumbled the rifle over the wall and frantically pulled the trigger: nothing. It was still slaved to the CDS. He’d have to remove the bulky gloves to switch it to manual.
A small line appeared in the field of blackness. A cursor! One word: “Rebooting …” It needed about 30 seconds to reboot.
The hail of bullets became steady now. Bits of broken stone sprayed his cheeks, tore at his uniform. He hugged tighter into the wall.
He did the wrist motion to deploy the rocket launcher housed in his forearm. He couldn’t aim it, but he could get the explosive off his body. It jammed, filled with fine desert dust.
Panic, an unfamiliar feeling. If the hormone pump was off, so were the pain dampeners. A bullet pinged off the carbon blades that replaced his legs from the knees down. An ancient, animal part of his brain screamed.
Then, an explosion, 50 yards toward the insurgents. The firing stopped. The CDS comm crackled to life “…you OK? McGurr, do you copy?”
A coolness settled over him as the hormone pump got to work. “A-OK, sarge,” he said. “CDS crash. Gotta clear the cache, I guess.”
His vision cleared as the sergeant extended a hand. “Government issue,” the sergeant said.