Monday, September 26, 2011

Rock and a Hard Place, Part 3

Part 3 of Rock and a Hard Place. A little bit of a different viewpoint than I'm used to writing from, so I'm sure I screwed up all over the place despite having re-read this several times a day. Still, I'll let you be the judge of that. Nothing particularly shocking to warn about this time.

Stana lifted the compact teapot and slid it into a padded carrier, setting a short stack of cups and a few food bars on top of it before departing from the makeshift kitchen. It was late in the night and there was just the one older female running it. She smiled and thanked her for her trouble.

She smiled back, which was a surprise. Not a lot of happiness to go around in the service tunnels since the tkt attacked the base. Even having the humans show up to bolster their defenses was met with mixed reactions. Certainly, it was good that they were there with fresh soldiers and weapons that still had ammunition.

Still, many people complained that they hadn’t sent enough, or that they should leave now that they had assisted in setting up a new perimeter defense. Stana had been warned against trying to argue any points one way or another, she was in the military now. Even if she had better information, civilians would not always listen to it and she wasn’t there to fight with them.

That was a bit strange, as she had been a civilian just three days before. Now she had to conduct herself differently, even if she was still just the Commander’s assistant. She did not feel different and that made it a bit difficult to adjust.  

That wasn’t entirely true. The suit they had issued her was not what she was used to wearing. It was form fitting, had thin shields and light armor as well as climate control and a full communications interface. It did add a nice width to her legs, but the perpetual cool of the liner left her feeling naked while the bulk of the armor made her feel physically isolated. She thought it was rubbing a patch of her hip bald, as well.

It was confusing, to say the least. But, she pressed on because she had a job to do. Kaen... she corrected herself, Commander Lhenan had requested she pick up some items from stores and bring them up to the ridgeline. She had not been told to get him any food, but she was pretty sure he had not eaten anything in a day or longer. He seemed anxious and gaunt last time she had seen him.  

Stana continued down the corridor towards the stairway to the upper level exit. The base had originally been cut out of the solid valley cliff, so the walls, stairs and ceilings were still in excellent condition but much of the equipment was decades old. With everything closed up tight, the life support system that had been installed before her grandparents were born was pushed to its limit to keep the survivors in breathable air.   

Most of the civilians had gotten into the old base when asked to evacuate there the first time. The Commander had ordered the base up to alert over the tkt before, but he’d never ordered an evacuation. The rest of them only needed to be shown video from the southern outpost being overrun to be convinced.  

The military personnel - now her fellows, though all of them were older and just... different - had not fared so well. The rifles were not really made for the tkt. They were reasonably effective on the workers, but when the warriors showed up it became clear that they would not work. Machine gun nests were overrun quickly and most of the walkers had been destroyed by the end of the second day. They had run out of ammunition a half day before the humans had arrived.  

They had some of the more skilled civilians make them weapons out of building materials. Mostly rebar spears but a few swords made of armor plate from one of the walkers as well. Close in fighting was not a good idea against an enemy so large, but they would have breached the doors at some point were the tides not stemmed.  

She trudged up the stairs and caught sight of a group of her peers - other kids her age, anyway - coming down from the upper levels. Stana recognized one of them, a handsome young male that she had spoke to on several occasions before. They had even taken classes together. She smiled at him and she caught the barest flicker of recognition in his eyes. He looked away and she noticed that he was holding someone else’s hand.   

Her smile faded, quenched with disappointment as she trudged past the group. There wasn’t time for that right now, anyway. She had tasks she was supposed to be doing.  

It was six more flights of stairs before she reached the upper airlock. She was out of breath by the time she arrived, stopping to rest at small landing in front of the airlock. Stana leaned on the wall, and regretted getting the tea as much as she regretted carrying the massive hunting revolver the Commander had given her. It didn’t help that the armor was far heavier than the clothes she was used to.  

Stana trudged to the airlock, leaned in to the retina scanner and the inner doors opened for her. She stepped into the cramped room and it cycled around her, little strobes going off to let her know the outer door was going to open. That would have been important when the atmosphere had been unbreathable.  

When they opened, she caught a blast of cold night air carrying the cloying stench of death and gagged on it. A flick of her mind and the armor’s shields came on and the on board recyclers filtered the air - but it was already stuck in her nose and mouth. She probably smelled like it now, too.  

It didn’t take long to figure out where she was going. The turbines were silent and halfway down the top of the ridge there was a bonfire that the Commander had told her to look for. It was an easy walk, this whole edge of the valley had been cleared to the bedrock to make a solid base for the turbines.  

The Commander was not there at the fire, but there were two humans. One stood looking out over valley and was having a heated conversation... hopefully over a comm. The other sat on a crate amidst piles of equipment. It spotted her and gestured, the motion seemed to be indicating that she should come towards it.  

She did, though with less confidence than she would have liked. Even sitting, it was clear the human was substantially larger than she was. The vertical, smoke-dark faceplate was unsettling, making the human look like some sort of automaton.

It sort of slouched when she stopped well short of where it at and the faceplate retracted, the entire helmet folding up behind the human's head and pulling down into it’s armor. Stana was surprised to find that this human was female. If her armor was intended to demonstrate that, all of the magazines and gear covering it disguised it well.  

The revelation that humans, too, came in different colors was almost a shock. This one was a dark shade of brown, the single previous human she had seen had been much more pale. Her head was very nearly bald, just a thin layer of fur. They called it something else, she remembered that much, but it was still made of the same material and grew similarly.

She gestured at Stana again, pointing at the ground directly in front of her. "Here." While her accent was thick, the lone word in tsla was perfectly understandable. The Commander had said to follow their instructions... He seemed to trust them and that was good enough for her.

Stana obliged and stepped up to the female as she ripped open a thick synthetic bag and slid a slim black box into her hand. She turned it over, inspecting it and unspooling the long cable running out of it.

She was just a little bit taller than the human was while sitting. She reached out and gave Stana’s shoulder a poke, thickly gloved finger sliding away before she made contact and shook her head. "No shield."

Stana rolled her eyes but took a deep breath and dropped the shield. The wind here blew a different direction and she chanced a smell while the human squeezed a circle of glue onto the box. The air was cold and more importantly, it was fresh. Something she hasn't had the chance to enjoy for several days.

“Turn” She was brought back to the matter at hand as the human jammed the box against the front of the armor plate over her left shoulder, shoving her back a step. She pulled Stana back into place easily and squeezed a bead of glue along up over the top of her shoulder, laying the thin wire down over it.  

"Turn." She continued laying glue and wire as Stana rotated until she faced back the way she had come from. "Stop."   

She heard one of the various access panels on the back of her suit open and the little warning buzzer shook her antennae just before the whole thing shut off. The human was back there, humming quietly and apparently wiring the box into her suit.  

A moment later she shut the panel and the power came back on with a new translation module showing in her list of installed accessories. Her only installed accessory, actually.

She patted the back of Stana’s armor twice. "Run through comm."  

She activated it and attached it’s function through her communications system. "Is this correct?"  

"Can you understand me?"  

There was significant lag, but the translation was very good so far. Stana nodded. "Yes, clearly."  

"Then it is correct. I am Weapons Master Williams and that is Beneath-the-Stars Thames.” She tossed her head towards the other human, still talking to someone. “I presume you are the one Commander Lhenen sent for medical gear? First Order Zhensen?"

"Yes. He requested two items, a fresh supply of anesthetic for his armor and a canister of medical foam."  

She glanced down at the teapot-shaped carrier Stana still held in her hand and gave her a curious look. "Did you get them?"  

"Yes. The base is still well stocked for items like that."  

"That is good to hear. I need the foam, I have never swapped one of these out before." She lifted a white case with a wide red cross that Stana recognized from some other human medical supplies. “Might have to send you to get another if it does not work.”

She set the carrier down and plucked the dark green canister out, warm from the teapot. Williams took it and unfolded a case of tools, setting to work stripping a similar canister from a strange, translucent... Machine? It looked to be almost gelatinous but still contained mechanical parts. Stana stood and watched her work, fitting hoses and adapters to make the Tslao cylinder attach to the device. “What is that?”

“Field automatic surgeon, truama.”

“What does it do?”

Williams gave her a sidelong glance and raised her eyebrows, but kept working. “It is used for treating injuries to armored personnel, in the field. Where it is too dangerous or impractical to remove their armor.”

She nodded like it was obvious. It did make sense. Most of the other soldiers had heavier, boosted armor that was almost impossible to remove without an assist frame, all of which had been destroyed. Stana stood and watched her work for several minutes, feeling continuously less and less capable.

"Would you like some tea?" She just sort of blurted it out, suddenly desperate to feel like she was doing something, even if it wasn’t very useful.

Williams picked through some wiring with a pair of tweezers and shrugged. "Eh, why not?"

That was an odd question. Stana approached it carefully, her answer cautious. "Because you do not think you would like it?"  

She laughed and shook her head. "I will try some, please."  

Stana stifled her surprise and found some unused space on the nearer the fire, the flames were taller than she was and barely gave off any heat in the wind. At least the tea was still hot. She poured out a single cup for the Weapons Master before tucking the pot back into it’s carrier. No sense letting it get tepid.

“Thank you.” Williams took a sip and set it down without any indication if she liked it or not as she continued working, soldering a small bit of electronics onto the canister’s valve controller. “Interesting piece you have there.”

Was that how they usually talked? Questions and riddles? “Piece of what?”

“Your firearm. Only one I have seen like it around here.”

Some kind of slang or one of their other languages, probably. They had several. “Oh yes. The Commander gave it to me, it is one of his personal firearms.”

“Really? That is interesting... He always takes a personal interest in your well being?”

“I do, yes.” Stana turned to see Lhenen crest the top of the trail that lead up from the valley floor, face pinched in pain and breathing heavily. His armor had shined last she had seen him, but now it was covered in dirt and blood, one of his antenna nearly gone. “Zhensen reminds me of my younger sister at her age...”

“Sir! What... What happened?”

He gave her questioning look as he made his way across the pool of light, Williams making room for him to sit down next to her. “I seem to have gotten into a fist fight with someone much larger than myself.”

She immediately felt stupid for asking. He had been out there for days, he was likely to have picked up some injuries. “Of course. I have the anesthetic you asked for.” She picked the slender container up and hustled over to him.

Lhenen already had the access hatch on the back of his armor open, the empty tube waiting to be removed. She pulled it and twisted the cap off the new unit, the inert gasses inside escaping with a crack. When seated, the unit retracted and the armor closed up around it, once again solid. He sighed and relaxed. “Thank you.”

"I need you to hold your arm over your head." Williams sprayed something astringent onto the side of the Commander's armor, coating all of the dried blood and dirt in a coppery foam. He winced as she wiped it clean, a fresh trickle of reddish-brown blood seeping from a rip in the base layer of his suit. The Weapons Master lifted the medical device from it's crate, rectangular with a concave bottom that she set against the injury. It seemed to latch itself onto him, pulling down and conforming to his armor.

"It works well, yes?" she wasn't sure about this device. It would probably be better to have a real doctor take a look at him...

Williams nodded her head towards Beneath-the-Stars Thames, who had finished with his conversation and joined them. "I patched that idiot up with one last year when a power cell he was next to exploded. Ruptured his spleen, liver and intestine. Seems fine now."

He was pale like the other human she had seen, gray eyed and his head wreathed in dark stubble. “Never going to let me live that down... I would have seen if the building had not been on fire.”

“Mm-hmm.” Williams seemed unconcerned as she grabbed a tablet and plugged it in to the device, the screen glowing to life. "You can put your arm down now. As a warning, this is not going to feel good."

Lhenen grunted and twitched as she thumbed the controls, face contorted in pain. He gritted his teeth and straightened up. "That is... Quite invasive."

"Yes, it is." Williams stared down into the tablet, thumbs sliding over the screen. "Hey, I can see your organs from here."

He smiled and laugh-wheezed. "Everything is in order?"

Her thumbs glided over the controls slowly and she nodded to herself. “I think so. As you may have determined since you are still alive, your organs are all intact.  Four cracked ribs and the rip in the abdominal wall, though. Lucky.”

“It could be worse. How long will this take?”

“Give it an hour to clean the wound and get the base repairs done. After that, give it a day to heal fully.”

The Commander grimaced but dipped his head in assent. “Very well.”

Williams unplugged the tablet and started to pack some of her equipment up when Stana remembered that she had gotten more than she had been told to. “Sir! I know you did not request it, but I brought you some food and tea. If you would like it.”

His face softened significantly and he once again looked like the Commander she had worked for before the tkt attacked. “Very good, Zhensen, thank you. I would very much like whatever you have brought.”


  1. I didn't see any blatant grammatical errors. (Sorry that's all I'm good for editing wise)
    I didn't get a huge noticeable difference in your writing style, but I think that was because you were very effective in getting in to the new characters heads.
    In other words, there was a difference, but it barely discernible while reading. This is a different time, and place, than Bridge Builders, and that came across.
    This is about survival, and possibly coming to terms with a few things.
    As always, good job and a great read. Looking forward to the last bit.

  2. @archnemesis: No worries about errors. Had a word misspelled last week and when someone pointed it out I both herped and derped. It was shameful and thankfully only on Facebook.

    Hmm... Well, that's what I was going for, so good. There was a lot I was worried about presenting things from Stana's view, but it appears it went well. Hooray!