It took him awhile, but Cochise eventually was able to judge the difference between a rebel Skitter and an Espheni's Skitter at a single glance. There was something different in the way they carried themselves, the way they stood. The rebel Skitters were more alert; shifty, constantly looking about like they could be attacked at any moment. They felt fear.
The Skitter that Cochise was now looking at obviously had no such concerns. Whether it was arrogance or the habitual relaxation bred by usually having a Mech at their backs or even something caused by the chemlock drugs that made those Skitters so careless compared to the rebels, no one knew, but Cochise was thankful for the distinction. It would do no one any good, after all, if he couldn't tell the difference between foes and allies.
It was odd that the creature was alone. Even when they had an accompanying Mech, it was rare that a Skitter was seen without another Skitter at its side. They tended to come in pairs, at least, though it was more common to see groups of three or five. Cochise sniffed the air but could not find the scent of a second Skitter, or even the metallic tang of a Mech. This one was definitely alone, which meant that it was possibly lost. It would be perfect to capture, and if not that, it would be an easy kill. Practically risk-free, from Cochise's point of view. There was, however, one small drawback to this all-too-easy situation.
One cannot hit a target when one has no weapon.
Cochise had not gone out to the edges of Charleston with any plans to fight. He had wanted to survey certain housing units. He was less likely to get hurt if the buildings were unsafe, so he had taken it upon himself to check their structures for flaws. Tom had said such a gesture was unnecessary, but Cochise had used polite words to soothe away the flustered, overly-grateful streak that Tom tended to fall into. Cochise called it 'nothing more than a polite gesture meant to make their work more efficient and less hazardous' and failed to mention that he genuinely wanted to help Charleston rebuild. He wanted to see what humans would make, given the opportunity.
So. Cochise was standing in the rubble of an obliterated house while a very easy-to-kill Skitter was right there, and Cochise had no weapon. Because no one takes a gun to survey broken-down old houses, obviously, and Cochise had not wanted to appear as paranoid. Most humans already thought that he was overly militant, which was true in a way, but he didn't want to further promote that view. As strange as it was, he felt the longing to be one of them. He would never be human, of course, but if they could one day call him friend and comrade instead of alien.
This was a bad situation. Humans had other words for it, colorful words, but Cochise was rather sure that those words were rather vulgar, so he resisted the urge to use them.
Backing away wasn't an option. There was an enemy Skitter on the outskirts of an inhabited city, and if Cochise backed away now, that Skitter could do anything. No, Cochise couldn't let the creature out of his sight. But, by the same token, Cochise could not simply watch. Unfortunately, there was no third option, because attacking the Skitter with his bare hands was probably the dumbest thing that anyone could ever do, and Cochise was not about to make himself the fool who proved it to be the dumbest thing.
I believe humans would refer to this as an impasse.
Cochise swayed there for a moment, unsure. He couldn't leave, he couldn't just watch, but there was no action he could think to take. There wasn't much around that could be made into a weapon, and it was completely against his training to fight with a weapon he didn't know like a brother. He had to do something, but there was nothing to be done.
Maybe it was time to use one of the humans' rather vulgar expletives.
Just as Cochise was ready to give in and try to run for help (which would be a stupid thing to do, but desperate times called for stupid measures), he heard the soft shuffle of feet – a human's quick, short-limbed gait. Cochise didn't move or say anything. He just hoped that the Skitter wouldn't hear the human, who obviously wasn't trained in the art of scouting, because Cochise could hear gravel being scraped across the ground. The Skitter, thankfully, didn't seem to notice. A Rebel Skitter would have immediately been on alert, but this one was dull-minded and self-assured in its safety despite being alone. That had to be something conditioned into them. It made sense. The Espheni didn't need their soldiers to have survival instincts. Skitters, Cochise thought, were like the Berserkers. Humans used the word kamikaze, and that seemed appropriate. They threw themselves into a fight without fear, not because they were brave, but because they felt not the consequences of death. Death as all around them, but they acted as if they could not be touched.
As surprising as it was, Cochise did not flinch when the long muzzle of a rifle snuck past his cheek and steadied itself on his shoulder.
"Do you mind?" whispered a young, human voice that was surprisingly close to his ear.
"I am glad to be of service," Cochise answered, bracing himself so that the kickback of the shot would not send him off balance.
A shot rang out and the Skitter's head snapped to an unnatural angle. The Skitter dropped like a stone, legs splayed awkwardly under its body. Cochise allowed himself a moment to admire the clean shot and filter the ringing out of his ears.
The rifle lifted shakily, but with military precision. A newly-trained recruit, then. That would explain the... youth...
Cochise turned, expecting to find a young soldier, but finding a child instead. He had never seen such a small soldier among the humans. He must have been older than his height suggested, or Captain Weaver certainly wouldn't have allowed the child to operate a gun. The small creature looked up at him, eyes squinting and nose wrinkled, but not with the usual distaste that Cochise was used to receiving from many humans. It was purely curiosity, and it was refreshing, Cochise found (looked at as different, not just alien, because on this planet, alien was like a dirty word). The boy breathed out through his nose, relaxing a bit as he settled the gun over his shoulder.
"Matt Mason," the boy said, gesturing to himself with a gloved hand.
Cochise knew that name. "... Tom Mason's son?"
"Yep. Him." The curly-headed Mason child cocked his head and squinted (those eyes, the color of them almost too dark to detect; that was Tom's blood in this half-grown creature). Cochise felt like he was being weighed and measured, which wasn't intimidating from a child, but felt quite important from a Mason. "Dad said you were pretty awesome. Think he's right. Man, you are big."
Cochise didn't have the first clue how to respond to that. He wasn't even sure if he had correctly interpreted the boy's meaning. But before he could come up with anything to say, Matt Mason held up a finger in a gesture that Cochise had learned that humans used to ask for patience, or silence, or both. For safety's sake, Cochise gave the boy both, and remained quiet.
Quick as a flash, Matt reached inside his coat and pulled out a thick volume of paper. Cochise's nostrils flared at the scent of a book, and he almost felt guilty for the pleasure the scent brought him. It was too good, but at the same time, it made Cochise ache for… for something different. The life that he lived was not one he would have chosen for himself. There was a war, yes, and he wanted to help the many peoples victimized by the Espheni, but if there wasn't a war, Cochise knew he would have a different life. If he could just choose to be anything he wanted, to go anywhere, he would be right here, on Earth, and he would live in a house like humans did, and he would have books, and he would grow Tiger Lilies, and… and so many things. He would have more friends instead of fellow soldiers. Tom Mason would tell him about history and Cochise would have the chance to watch the young ones grow and maybe (oh, and this was a traitorous thought that shocked and pleased him as his mind conceived it) he could have a family of his own. Human women were strange to him, but not unattractive. Perhaps, if it weren't for the war and the xenophobia it often caused, just maybe one might–
The very idea startled Cochise back into reality like the shot of a blaster, and he realized that Matt Mason was holding the book out to him. The corners were foxed and yellowed and the spine was supported by duct tape, but it was the best thing Cochise had seen all day.
"Dad said to give you this," the Mason boy said as Cochise took the book from him. "It's a true story. I haven't read it, but Ben has. Like, five times, 'cause he's a nerd. Not that you're a nerd. You're just super-advanced or something, like Dad says. It's cool."
When all else failed (because Cochise's train of thought was not only failing him, but flat-out betraying him), manners were key. So Cochise did the smart thing and said, "Thank you, Matt Mason."
"No problem," the young human answered, which Cochise understood to be an informal variation of you're welcome. Informal behavior, as long as it was not aggressive, usually signaled a certain level of ease or relaxation. The boy was comfortable around him. How… strange. "Gotta go, or Weaver'll have my butt. Bye!"
The boy gave a sloppy salute and bolted back into the rubble. Cochise blinked.
Thank you for reading. Since I post fics mainly to practice my writing skills, feedback is very important to me and reviews are much appreciated.