Five years serving as of last week. Rynak grinned, remembering how gassed he and the troop got. Great celebration. Even Sarge stopped by. “Rynak, you listening?” his comm snarled in his head via the jack.
“Yes, Sarge.” A lie which left a shaft of cold down his spine.
“Then bear left, grubber! You got a knot of them over there. Go back up Kalron.” Sarge’s impatience rang true through the comm. Ryank thought an affirmative and followed orders.
Problem was he couldn’t find Kalron’s skimmer to back her up. If there was a knot of the demon aliens here, he sure didn’t see them on any of the viz reads in his head. “Kalron, where in demons’ lounge are you?” he blasted through the comm.
“Riding up the Main toward the alien charge, where do you think, crabling? You got the same briefing I did, yeah?”
Rynak hated to question Sarge. Hated it so much, he hesitated and flew further into the nordern complexes. Sarge beat him to it. “Where in the demons’ do you think you are, grubber? You were clearly directed to follow formation up the Main! Yet I see you heading nord. Explain!”
“Uh, well,” Rynak was confused. “Well, Sarge, you commed me, told me to bear left and back up Kalron. That we was to take out a knot of demons.”
“Get your grubby skin back to base immediately, Rynak. Report to Operations Verification. You got a malfunct somewhere.”
Rynak acknowledged the order and pulled his skimmer around. He replayed the exchange a few times, but heard the same over and over. Sarge’s sensory input through the comm telling him to change course. Kalron confirming she was in the Main. Sarge chewing his skin and ordering him to OpVeri.
The tests were quick. One set of readings with his jacks in, one with probes in the receptors in his head while someone else checked his jacks. The tech reported, “All equipment within normal limits. No malfunctions, currently or in history.”
“What about the comm from Sarge telling me to go to the nordern sector?”
“We found no such comm. A report was sent to your command. You are grounded for ten solars. Good day.” Rynak stared long after the tech left. His first coherent thought was he needed a drink.
He had several. Kalron and Butran found him and all but carried him back. “Just sleep,” Kalron ordered when he incoherently tried to explain. In seconds, he followed orders.
Ten solars turned out to be excruciatingly long. Rynak went through that mission over and over. He was sure, despite all evidence to the contrary. Was he overjacked? Some went that way. No predicting who would go. Chill shook him. No, couldn’t be. Tested clean. He ignored the stories of overjacking being impossible to test. Those were just rumors.
Sarge smacked him on the shoulder. “You got everything back where it belongs, grubber? Jacks all singing the right tune?”
“Yes, Sarge!” Rynak called out. He sure hoped so, anyway.
“Into your skimmers, grubbers!” Twenty ran, not wanting to be the last to get ready. As they webbed in, the brief commed through their jacks. Simple mission, just heading soud to put the scare into the demons, keep them from getting any bright ideas.
As they hit the border of New Angeles, Kalron called out through the comm. “Rynak, catch up. I’m going ahead for recon. Saw a knot of alien skram and I need you at my back. Mark right one click.”
“With you,” Rynak responded. He veered right and hovered for a moment. Not seeing Kalron’s skimmer, he gained altitude as he progressed between the huge buildings that used to house humans. He switched the views in his head. Strangely, he felt the visual jack whirr as it worked. He ignored it when he identified Kalron’s skimmer running low and tight along the nordestin valley. Dipping quickly, he moved in behind her. She waggled her skimmer to acknowledge him and kicked it.
They sped through the valley, but his viz showed only the occasional demon. No groups, big or small. Rynak asked, “Kalron, where is this knot?” Abruptly, she disappeared from his viz scans. No matter which reading he tried, she just wasn’t there. A stranger’s giggle over the comm made him freeze for a moment. When he got past that shock, he thought to Kalron, asking the status of the mission.
She didn’t respond. Sarge did. “It’s time and more since you responded, you diseased grubber. I don’t know what briefing you got, but the rest of the formation are back at base, mission accomplished. Get your skimmer back now and check in at OpVeri. They’d better find something wrong this time, Rynak.” No one wanted that more than Rynak.
“Ollan ale,” the female called out. She took the seat next to Rynak and lit a cannystick. She nodded to the bardroid as it filled her order and held out the packet of sticks to Rynak. “You look like you could use one, grub.” Rynak shook his head and tried to ignore the giggling in his comm jack.
“Maybe you could use something else?” Lura leaned in and stroked the man’s thigh, deftly placing the cryscharge under his seat. He glanced at her cleavages, more a habit than real interest. Poor kid. Bounty said he was wanted dead. Overjacked, it said. No use to anyone anymore, not even himself.
“You’re no fun,” she pretended to pout. Grabbing the cannysticks, she flounced out. At the entrance to the cantina, Lura pressed the remote. It did the rest. Poor kid.
© 2011 JC Rosen
Happy seasonal wishes to all! A little cameo from one of my favorite characters at the end. Hope you enjoyed it. Here’s Lura’s story for those of you who never read it.