Five years in the service. Rynak grinned, remembering how gassed he and the troop got. Great party. Even Sarge stopped by. “Rynak, you jacked into comm?” He felt Sarge snarl in his head.
“Yes, Sarge.” Jacked in, but not listening to the chatter.
“Then bear left, grubber! You got a knot of the demon scrum making noise. Go give Kalron some backup.” Sarge’s impatience rang through the comm. Rynak thought an affirmative to Sarge and chased after his partner.
Problem was he couldn’t find Kalron’s skimmer to back her up. If there was a knot of demon aliens here, he sure didn’t see them on any of the viz reads. “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.”
He got a little nauseated at the idea of second guessing Sarge. Rynak hesitated, slowing as he flew into the nordern complexes. Sarge beat him to it. “Where in the demons’ do you think you are, grubber? I told you to follow formation up the Main! Yet I see you heading nord. Explain!”
“Uh, well,” Rynak was confused. “Well, Sarge, you commed me to bear left and back up Kalron. That we was to take out a knot of the demons.”
“Get your grubby skin back to base, Rynak. Report to Operations Verification. You got a malfunct somewhere.” The nausea turned into a full stomach flip. OpVeri?
Rynak acknowledged the order and pulled his skimmer around. He replayed the exchange a few times, but it was always the same. Sarge’s comm input telling him to change course. Kalron confirming she was in the Main. Sarge chewing his skin and ordering him to OpVeri.
Trudging to the offices, he couldn’t help thinking of the stories about the ghouls at OpVeri. Didn’t give a scrammer’s gear about ruining a flier’s life with their tests. He took a few deep breaths before he stepped up to the door, making it hiss open.
They were quick about it. One set of readings with jacks in, one with probes in the receptors in his head while someone else checked his jacks. The tech reported in a bored tone, “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 ghoul left. His first coherent thought was he needed a drink.
He had several. Kalron and Butran found him and all but carried him back to barracks. “Just sleep,” Kalron ordered when he incoherently tried to explain. In seconds, he followed orders.
Ten solars turned out to be excruciatingly long. Rynak obsessed over the mission. It didn’t make sense. Was he overjacked? Some went that way. No predicting who would jack out. Chill shook him. No, couldn’t be. He tested clean. Those stories of overjacking being impossible to test 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, grubs!” Twenty ran, not wanting to be the last to get ready. As they webbed and jacked in, the briefing commed through. Simple mission, just heading soud to put the scare into the alien 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 mob of the 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 flew between the buildings which once housed humans. He switched from viz to viz. The jack whirred as it worked. Strange. He forgot about it when he caught sight of Kalron’s skimmer running low and tight along the nordestin valley. Dipping quickly, he moved in behind her. She waggled her skimmer at 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 mob?” Abruptly, she disappeared from his viz scans. No matter which reading he tried, she just wasn’t there. A strange giggle over the comm made him freeze. Shock still fresh, 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 grub. I don’t know what briefing you got, but the rest of the formation are back at base, mission accomplished. Get back here and check in at OpVeri. They’d better find something wrong this time, Rynak.” No one wanted it 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.
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.