Tessa ran through the dank, dim swamp. Dark, twisted trees and muddy water surrounded her in a tangled mess. She didn’t know which way to go, but she dodged wet monkey vines as she ran from the monsters that had attacked her group’s camp. Mud and green sludge covered her dark skin, white skirt, pink t-shirt and bare feet. About seventeen, and pretty to most, she kept her curly black hair short for summer. Bastards! I loved this outfit too! Their groans and clicking noises were getting closer.
A slimy green hand grabbed her shoulder. Tessa slipped its grasp, only to fall backwards into a mud pit. Her assailant stood on the twisted tree root she had tripped over. The sun peeked through the swamp’s tangled tree tops, giving Tessa just enough light to see the five foot frog that stood like a man.
Its yellow spotted eyes bulged to either side of its light green face, its underbelly was even paler. It wore a leather loincloth and held a dark wooden club. It croaked loudly into the air as he raised his club. Fuck, I’m going to be killed by something that eats flies.
There was a flash of light. Tessa closed her eyes, assuming she had died before she knew it. She peeked an eye open. The frogman’s torso now had a deep gash in it, blood and guts spilling out. Oh no. She felt another presence to her right. Slowly she turned to it.
It wore a dark green cloak with spots of swamp fluids spread throughout. Whoever it was had taken a knee after killing the frogman, and she could see his gloved hand wiping the muck and blood off of a shiny broadsword with his cloak. His voice was deeper than she expected from a man so short, “Are you alright my lady?”
Tessa wanted to thank him, but the menacing croaks and ribbits of more frogmen approached. She looked back at her savior; he stopped cleaning his sword and turned to face her. Three or more different leathers were stitched together for pants. Tessa thought they were hideous, but she thought his loose, tan shirt was easy to look at. Then he pulled his hood back. Another frogman?! She felt around the puddle and pulled out her dead pursuer’s club.
The new one had blue spotted eyes with a scar that had nearly stolen his right eye. In a blink, he lunged his sword at her, spun her club from her grip and caught it with his free hand. He offered it back and told her, “Come with me if you want to live.”
What did I get into? She retook her new club and again, before she could process the movement, he held her around the waist. At least he’s wearing clothes. Tessa felt safe somehow, but she still squeaked, “Shit!” when he leapt from tree to tree, further into the swamp.
Tessa sat on the far side of the hut. Her savior had offered her a double-barrel shotgun and she accepted. She didn’t care for shell-guns. Energy weapons were so much sleeker, lighter and in her opinion, more reliable.
The gun felt awkward in her hands, and she scared herself when she broke the gun open. There were two rusty shells loaded, but she couldn’t remember how to tell if a gun shell was used or not. The swordsman frog watched her. He’d know if the shells were good or not, right? She yelped when she snapped it back together. Damn guns.
The hut floor was covered in eight different rugs. Welcome mats, rubber sheets, animal skins and a few carpets were jammed together like a sloppy puzzle. I guess he can’t be picky. He had a small fire in the center of the hut, keeping some kind of soup at a simmer. His face was strange enough to look at; Tessa was glad he kept his gloves on.
The walls curved around into an uneven circle, about ten feet in diameter, supporting a roof of loosely thatched branches and moss. I wonder where the savage frogs would’ve taken me.
She could stand comfortably, even if her frog friend was a bit shorter. He had a wooden table with a metal folding chair and even a two-cushion couch along the other wall. A plastic cooler on wheels served as his current seat; she used the metal chair. Manners too, huh? Tessa liked the smell of the dark brown soup more than she thought she would. More than food though, she wanted answers. She set her gun on the table and spun it to point to the door. “So… Am I the only one that got away?”
The frog pursed his lips and nodded to the floor.
Shit. “Well, I’m Dr. Tessa Weyland.” She forced her hand out for a handshake. “You can call me Tess.” He’s wearing gloves. He’s wearing gloves.
He took his hand from the wooden spoon and shook her hand, “Eric.”
Any other day she would’ve giggled at how he made a “ribbit” noise with his name. It was still funny to her, but the murderous frogmen from earlier had ruined it. She pretended to straighten her skirt to wipe her hand off, to hide it from Eric. “So Eric… you’re going to let me leave right?”
He dipped his head back down and stirred the soup again. “Whenever you want.”
Sad puppy much? “Oh! It’s not like I’m not grateful! I just want to make sure you’re not like the—other—frogs.”
Eric looked disgusted and spit to the side. More under his breath than to Tessa, he said, “I’m nothing like them.”
“Sorry.” She watched him pour clumps of meat and something green and stringy plop into a tin can. Faking a smile, she accepted the stew. It looked better when I couldn’t see it. “I’d hate to ask so soon—”
“But?” He kept his eyes on his food.
“How do I get to the west side of the swamp? I have to let my brothers know I’m safe, and tell others what happened to the rest.”
Eric sighed. “The swamp lets you in, but nothing escapes.”
“Oh come on! You cut that other frog easier than bread! What could possibly be worse out here?”
“Alligator women, fungal zombies, mutant leeches, carnivorous trees, a wyrm, moving puddles, an evil swamp-thing and giant mosquitoes.”
Did he mean ‘giant worm’? Tessa tilted her head, “Oh, is that all?”
“No. The swamp itself is alive. Always changing its rivers’ directions and levels, changing the earth, and it attacks your very mind.”
“So I’m stuck here forever?”
“I’m afraid so my lady.”
Why can’t he be a human? Callin’ me ‘lady’ like that… He’d be so cute, instead of so… ew. Tessa cleared her throat, “What about the flying machine? Have you seen it?”
“Tis’ a blessing to see the sun most days.”
“Well, it crashed in here a few days ago. That’s actually what we were doing in here.” She looked down at her soup, remembering how the rest of her group was attacked.
Eric rubbed his chin and took a swallow from his tin cup. “What does it look like?”
“Like a big, white boat with six stubby wings.”
Eric narrowed his already-narrow eyes. “I have seen it then, but it does not appear air-worthy.”
Tessa’s eyes shot open, “Can you take me there?”
He shrugged, “As you wish.”
She was a bit surprised. “Oh.”
“I just—I thought you’d be all chivalrous and say ‘No my lady.’”
“When you’re stuck in a swamp forever, the smallest chance of escape is difficult to pass up.” He smirked and added, “And I’ll protect you, my lady.”
Tessa figured they were about ten minutes into their journey, and she was glad she didn’t eat too much soup. Every leap and landing bounced her stomach up and down from throat to groin. She tried to be grateful for the faster transport, but her gut wasn’t. Would Eric notice vomit on his cloak?
She’d never admit it to anyone, but she was rather comfortable in Eric’s arms now. Tessa knew she was light, but she was still surprised by how effortlessly Eric hopped her around.
Eric asked, “So what kind of doctor are you Tessa?”
“I’m an MT.” She noticed his hairless brows contort. “Oh, mech technician. My group studies mech tech. We repair, reverse engineer, recycle and you know, whatever with it.”
“I presumed doctors to be elderly. You are quite lovely—lively!” He darted his attention back to the swamp.
Awww! “I’m good at what I do, but hopefully it doesn’t need that much work.”
“Let us hope then.”
They stopped a few times for Eric to try and remember where the ship fell. “The swamp changes constantly, but the flying boat shouldn’t move too quickly.” Tessa was just happy they didn’t run into any trouble. They saw an alligator and large spiders, and Eric easily snuck them past a small frogman camp. Tessa didn’t care for the gun in her hands, but she still wished she had more than two shells.
“That’s it!” Tessa kept her voice down, but not her excitement. The white sun sailor was submerged in swamp up to its wings. Slimy green vines made their way up the hull from the water, blocking round windows and latching to the deck above. Branches and monkey vines also slid their way onboard. Looks like the swamp wants to keep its new toy…
Eric made one final leap onto the slippery, polymer deck. Tessa slid from his grasp onto her feet. It looked much like a fifty-foot long, white boat. The deck was slightly covered with splinters of broken branches, moss and leaves. Tessa looked up and saw beautiful blue sky from where the ship crashed through the swamp’s canopy. Also on deck were two mounted laser guns on each side. There was a single door towards the bow, leading into the ship’s cabin. Panel windows ran around the cabin from waist to head level, but it was still difficult to see inside.
Eric stayed close behind her, “What brought her down?”
Tessa led Eric to the command deck. “That’s one reason we—were looking for it.” She kept her shotgun tight as she grabbed the solid white door. “Ready?” Eric drew his sword and jumped ahead of Tessa right as she opened the door. “Great teamwork…”
She stepped inside to no one but Eric. Command panels lined the walls, all white with jet black, angled covers. They’d look pretty plain until the power turned back on. Tessa slowly approached the helm. Two thin white podiums rose to waist height, with the tops smoothed over in spotless black orbs. Start-up systems should be… there!
To the front right corner, she saw the key in the ignition. It looked like an elongated, shiny white chicken egg, perfectly symmetrical. She pulled it from the panel, two dull parallel prongs as small as Tessa’s pinky protruded. “Dammit.” She turned to Eric. “Now I know why it crashed.”
Eric was still studying the cabin, and a ladder that led up and down behind the helm. “Why?”
“You see this key here? The brighter these emitters, the more power they hold.”
It took him a second, but he nodded, “And there’s no light at all.”
Tessa sighed and remembered the guns on deck. “Hmm. Let’s see if the guns are networked to the power hub or not.”
It just hit her, He probably has no idea what this stuff is. “You do know what mech tech is right?” She tried not to smile as she walked backwards to the cabin door. Then he nearly killed her with a heart attack. He lunged his sword by her head, into a savage frogman’s eye.
She panicked and fired her shotgun into its gut. The frog was blown away, but so was the gun. The recoil sent the gun back into Eric.
The swordsman frog was holding his stomach, the gun resting at his feet. “Oww.”
“I’m so sorry Eric!”
He closed the door as he ran to the deck. Tessa caught movement to the left. A dozen savage frogs were making their way onboard. Through the glass, she watched as Eric quickly became outnumbered. She tried to rush out, but the door was jammed. “Come on! What the hell?!” She took a breath and saw that the shotgun on the other side was slid into the door handle so it couldn’t be opened. Goddamn men.
Tessa quickly scanned the spotless interior. No sign of anything she could even improvise for a weapon. She recognized an empty weapon rack beside the ladder. Then she jumped on the ladder and went to the upper deck. It was cramped, but it was a gunner cockpit. “Yes!” She jumped into the seat and the gun turned on.
It was a perfect sphere with easy to use controls for swiveling the turret and finding targets, and it all turned on when she sat in the seat. “Hot damn!” With two joysticks in hand, she moved them left to aim back at the deck. It didn’t even turn. “Damn.” To the right, it only moved far enough to be caught in monkey vines. The four barrels were barely two feet long past the cockpit, but they were just long enough to be caught in the vegetation. “Double damn!”
Okay, think! Gun works, seat mechanism works. It’s not networked, so the deck guns shouldn’t be networked. Right? She turned a few knobs, popped a few compartments and pulled a few wires from the turret and seat. Then she slowly pulled another ignition key from the gun. The two prongs glowed bright green.
“Dammit!” Green is for plasma bursts and low-level tech. She tried to remember what her teacher said, and she was positive a green key wouldn’t run the ship. Plasma’s only good for weapons, right? She paused. “Right.” She looked over her shoulder and saw Eric losing the fight. Think woman! She looked at the chrome turret and pulled the dead key from her pocket. Should work, right?
Tessa cut off the door knob like paper with her invention. A skinny rod about three feet long, with the dead key crudely fused at the end. The rod protruded from the end of one of the turret barrels she had disassembled. And below the barrel’s other end was the hastily inserted plasma key. She shoved her elbow into the door and knocked it open.
Half the frogs that weren’t crowding Eric looked in her direction. Green, uneven light rippled along the rod to the cap, and back to the key. She held the plasma blade comfortably, but her knees were shaking. Okay, I don’t have to win, I just have to get some pressure off of Eric. “Come get some!”
A few more frogs turned from Eric, and a few more jumped on deck around Tessa. “Shit. Shit, shit, shit.” Okay, what do I know about sword-fighting? Not much. A blue-green frog croaked and charged her from the side. Tessa turned and swung wildly. It ducked under the blade and pounded a club to her stomach. She nearly dropped her weapon, but Tessa gritted her teeth and focused.
The young scientist spun to the ground, and with the back of her bare heel, she tripped the frog and slammed her plasma blade through its face. The cap bounced off the deck, but the blade cut him in half from hip to eye. In another break-dance move, she spun herself to her feet and held her weapon in two hands. Okay, no one gets to make fun of my dancing anymore.
She swore she could see caution in the frogs’ eyes now, but they weren’t backing off. Another charged her with a spear. Tessa twirled on her tiptoes and used the momentum to both dodge with a midair jump, and cut through the frog like a blender from the side. Disbelief washed over her. “Holy shit!”
Two frogs pushed each other back and forth towards Tessa. She pulled her blade back like a baseball bat. Finally the two charged together, flanking her left and right in an instant. She rolled forward to dodge the club and hatchet. She slid to her feet and barely did a back flip in time to dodge a third frog attack. Now I’m getting outnumbered… but Eric’s still getting beat down.
Tessa was near the edge of the deck. Six frogs formed a semicircle around her, and the laser turret she wanted to get to. She swung the blade at them, barely warding them off. That’s enough space. Spinning back to the turret, she grabbed the turret handle and cut it off of its base with the plasma blade. A bit heavier than I thought. Again she swung her weapon to buy some space, but this time she followed up by shooting a barrage of red lasers from the light, unmounted turret. Their croaks turned to cries of pain, one of them even caught aflame.
Now all frogs on deck and off looked at Tessa. She propped the gun’s barrel across her sword wrist, it was the only way she could hold it steadily. The flaming frog jumped far over Tessa and into the swamp water. She turned to the frogs surrounding Eric, and pulled the trigger until it was just him. Now they were all off the deck, but not retreating. She turned off the plasma blade and put a hand on Eric, face down; barely breathing.
“Come on Eric! We need to get out of here, now!” She gently rolled him on his back. His chin slowly expanded with each breath, a subtle, raspy croak sounded out. Tessa looked back at the surrounding frogs, but they were gone.
His voice was quiet, “How many did I best?”
Tessa smiled wide and hugged him tight. “It doesn’t matter. I got more.”
She laughed after she made him laugh, but she could hear the pain in his voice. “Doctor, I’d like to kiss you for saving my life.”
Tessa felt her cheeks flush, but she let go and looked into his weird, pretty blue eyes. She smiled a bit wider and furrowed her brows. “Alright, but… you’re so damned ugly.”
She leaned down as he pushed his head up, and they kissed.