A flash of lightning, then the boom of thunder. Six gunshots, then empty clicking. The medic held the revolver outstretched in the pouring rain, helpless to stop what was happening. A beast of inconsistent form flickered from a fox, to a lizard, an equine, and a dragon. Each was as blurry as the last until it settled clearly on a grinning red vulpine before it knocked the runner over and placed its paw down on top of him. The pinned runner was an inky, black, faceless figure until it took the appearance of a soldier with cracked glasses, confused and afraid as he looked around, seemingly incapable of understanding what was happening.
The man let out a cry as the beast's paw pressed down and, with a crunching of bones that should have been drowned out by the storm, he was silenced. The medic shouted in anger and cocked his weapon back to throw when red fur gave way to white. The visage of the fox took the shape of a blue eyed wolf. He caught himself before he threw the gun and it was his turn to be confused. Intense feelings of betrayal welled up in his heart and the gun lowered and fell to the ground. His eyes darted around him as the ground shook from the approaching beast. Massive furred paws placed themselves to either side of him. One nudged him over onto his back and then raised up above him. Moisture from the rain dripped down from the claw tips and pattered onto his body as the paw simply hovered above him. The toes flexed and a large drop fell down to splash him on the face.
Dylan awoke with a flinch and a hand went to his face as if to wipe away water. A slight tremble wracked his body as he looked up at the dark ceiling. But worse was the sick feeling in his gut. The feeling of betrayal festered within him just from that dream. He sighed and rolled over to fall back to sleep when he spied the clock. With a quiet groan he realized Mitchell would be here soon to wake them up, so falling back to sleep would just make it worse for him when the shouting started.
Disappointed that he wouldn't be able to sleep longer, yet relieved that he wouldn't risk a nightmare again, he climbed out of bed. He opened his footlocker to get ready for the day. UTO issued uniforms and a few pairs of shorts and shirts for physical training were folded up within along with boots, running shoes, and his miscellaneous possessions. It crossed his mind that this chest essentially contained everything he owned in the universe. He frowned to himself and grabbed an exercise outfit, shoes, and a small box.
He slipped into the bathroom and changed into the fresh clothing. He placed his box on top of one of the sinks and flipped it open to take out his contacts case. While unscrewing the caps he looked up at the mirror to check his eyes. He looked better than yesterday, at least. He didn't cry in his sleep, but then again he didn't feel painfully terrified, just uneasy. He and Kira had been getting along very well. He even allowed her to wrap her fingers around him. Maybe it was too soon. His unconscious mind seemed to be having a hard time accepting that she would never do anything to hurt him while his conscious mind was resigned to just not knowing her well enough.
'But then,' he thought as he carefully placed the first contact in, 'she didn't actually hurt anyone in that one.' The beast only took her form after he was the only one left. The paw didn't come down this time either. Though he could have just managed to awaken before it did. He popped in the second contact and then had to bite back the agitation in his eye. He leaned in close to the mirror to try to see the state of the contact. He blinked a few times and the lens settled smoothly onto his brown iris. But the irritation managed to flush the white skin of his face a light red as he bit back a tear. He really needed to think of more relaxing things when doing this. The closeness to the mirror made him run a hand through the stubble growing on his face; he would need to shave today. That hand carried on to brush through his buzzed brown hair. Speaking of shaving... he was fairly sure they didn't have a barber here. For humans anyway. They'd probably be shaving each others' heads if they didn't remedy that.
When he walked back out of the bathroom he still had some ten minutes before the sergeant burst in, and so he decided to get some fresh morning air. Light had started to filter in through the windows, illuminating the barracks. He felt some annoyance at how the troops segregated themselves. They were only twenty, but there was space enough for fifty humans in here with single, rather roomy bunks. But the western soldiers had formed their own sector, the Russians took their own corner, and the Chinese took the other. A war for Earth that supposedly tore down the barriers between mankind – yet here they were, keeping to themselves. Then again, he was guilty of that, too. Maybe bunking down next to one of the Spetsnaz or PLA troops could help to break down barriers. Opposite of the entrance to the human barracks was another door that led to a balcony outside the building. He walked on through, and was surprised to find another man sitting in one of the chairs, barely illuminated by the early morning light.
He looked back towards Dylan with what appeared to be an electronic cigarette in his mouth. It was Master Sergeant Mitchell. His mech was standing nearby, facing the balcony, which revealed how he had got here. “Ah, Maddock, looks like you saved yourself from me coming in there to wake you up, you're even ready to go. Excellent.” He nodded towards the chair on the other side of the small table. “Have a seat.”
“Good morning sergeant,” the medic replied and sat himself down.
Mitchell nodded to him before he pulled the plastic cigarette from his mouth and glared at it. “I'll never get used to these damn things.” He then slipped it into a chest pocket and then pulled out a pack of real cigarettes. Then he took out a small ashtray and placed it on the table before finally producing a zippo.
“Wait,” Dylan muttered to the sergeant in disbelief, the UTO was most certainly not shipping cigarettes to their bases yet, “how the hell did you get those?” The older man shrugged as he brought the filter to his lips and lit the cigarette. With a great deal of relief, he inhaled deeply.
“So,” Mitchell said as he blew smoke out over the balcony, “I went digging on how you got here. Couldn't figure specifically why you were chosen, but I have an idea. You stood out.” He pointed to him with the cancer stick.
“I stood out? I'm a medic that's still stuck as a private.”
“And that's a fuckin' tragedy, ain't it?” Was he being sarcastic? “Not many guardsmen survived out there, and the civilians don't really like talking about it, but there was enough to paint a picture.” He took a drag from the cigarette again before continuing, “You name came up a few times.” At this point Dylan was feeling a bit worried. Some of the things he had done could be argued as desertion. The sergeant leaned towards the medic and then raised his hand... for a shake? The medic looked at it, confused, before accepting it. “I have no idea how you're still a private. And how they didn't pin a single medal to your chest is incredible.” Their grips released and Mitchell went on, “The things they say you did...” He shook his head in disbelief. “The medical corps should be proud to have you. You may not think it, but you're perfect for this. I would be honored to train you.”
Oh, this sergeant was dredging up a lot of memories. Most of his fears stemmed from the things he saw in the zone. He could have held a very cushy position as a medic surrounded by soldiers, but in that place his skills in the art of healing were worth too much to remain hidden, so he sent himself out there. As such, he experienced some truly horrible acts that were burned into his mind forever. But he was just doing his job. He didn't really feel like a hero when so many died while he couldn't do a thing. “Now,” the older man continued, “that said, Kemeng is getting the boot. He's taking a ship back to Earth this weekend. Since a ship capable of transporting humans is already scheduled, this would make them more accepting of you wanting to leave. You can put in your resignation request citing traumatic stress. Kira and I would vouch for it. Then you'd be honorably discharged without much contest. If that's what you want.”
Dylan had to think that over. He was feeling a mixed bag of emotions on the matter now. So far, he had been getting rather comfortable with Kira. She did seem very protective of him, and that was quite the pleasant switch from his experiences with the Rynar. He also didn't have anything to return to. If the reformed Guard didn't want to keep him then he wasn't sure what he'd do. But on the other hand his emotions could cripple him here. He still felt tingling betrayal from just a dream. He had lost his cool in the simulation yesterday to a complete blood rage that would have gotten him killed in a real fight. Hell, even a flashback could induce a panic attack in him. Though he hadn't had one of those in a while. But he didn't really have anything to return to on Earth. Then there's the whole 'see the universe on the UTO's dime' thing. Why would he want to get out of that?
Right, the fighting part. That was the catch.
But so what? He knew he was strong of will. If he learned anything from the zone it was that. “Honestly, sergeant, I think I can do this. I may look like a PTSD wreck, but I know what I can do, and I know I can do this.”
“Glad to hear it, son. My name is Samuel, by the way. Sam if you will. I may be your sergeant during training, but you boys already went through basic, and much more than that. You don't need me yelling down your throats and acting all high and mighty.” He took another long puff of his cigarette and flicked the ash into the tray. “That said, I'm still basically a drill sergeant. You ready for PT?”
They weren't here to train as recruits. However, they were here to receive the training that was being adapted into the training regiment of all new soldiers. So they had schedules to keep, on top of the regular physical training. Their exercises typically involved runs, aerobics, and weight lifting. Failure to exercise enough would result in disciplinary action in the form of forced, scheduled exercises of the grueling variety, rather than the 'do it when you have the chance' method.
Kira was out on a jog running the perimeter of the base with Yirshan and Larish. It was a massive base, covering the entire length of it was a decent exercise, but they were nearing the end. Obviously it would be too much to expect the humans to run the perimeter. They likely would do laps around the barracks.
But no, apparently they enjoyed doing the unexpected. The group was not sure what they were seeing as they approached, but as they got closer they worked it out. It was the humans, all twenty plus one. They were running in a tight formation with one off to the side, presumably the run leader. Someone at the front was holding a sort of pole with a flashing red light on top of it. Kira couldn't believe it! The crazy little things apparently got out of bed hours before, sneaked out, and started running the ENTIRE length of the base. On top of that... were they chanting?
“Eighty one mike mike on the ground!” Her keen hearing picked up one yell then the rest of the group repeated it. “Fire mission fire mission coming down!” The run leader shouted, prompting the rest to repeat like before. “FDC this is OP left!” They weren't chanting. They were singing! “Sure could use some silent death!” By now they had caught up to the humans and the three slowed to a walk alongside them. “OP Right this is you and me!” The run leader was Sergeant Mitchell. Apparently he kidnapped her battalion's humans and made them all run. “Looking down at the enemy!” The man cried out, and as expected the rest repeated.
It seemed that was the end of their little song as Mitchell turned to look up at her. “Morning, sergeant!” he greeted her, a little too gleefully for someone that ran as much as she suspected. Perhaps they didn't run as much as she thought.
“Mitchell.” She nodded curtly at him. She still had to ask, though. “Did you have them run the whole perimeter?”
“Damn straight! And you love it, don't ya boys?!”
“Sir, yes sir!” they shouted much too enthusiastically in response.
“Hell yeah! Here we go!” Mitchell shouted towards the group, apparently starting another song. “Up in the morning way too soon!” he chanted, then they sung it right back. The three exchanged confused looks before running off, intent on finishing their run. “Hungry as hell by noon!” she heard, followed by “Went to the mess on my knees!”
When they reached the barracks, the corporal dismissed himself while Kira and Yirshan stayed outside. The group was approaching, she could see their little red light, but they would still be a few minutes. The dragoness sniggered and said, “I told you they were crazy.”
Kira shook her head. “The recruits don't even run that much, and they certainly don't celebrate it.”
“Maybe they're compensating.” When the wolf gave her a quizzical look, she explained, “You know, they're so small, so they try to do impressive things.”
“Well, I'm impressed they're not passing out.” Technically, the humans ran the same distance as they did. But on their own scale it was significantly longer. They were also treating Mitchell like a drill sergeant. Half of those soldiers outranked the man or at least matched him. They must have been showing off.
“Crazy stamina.” Yirshan agreed. “I'll go get the rest, we need to go eat something before the grueling lectures.” The dragoness padded off back into the barracks while Kira waited for Dylan.
They stopped singing by the time they reached the building and the group disbanded to meet their respective guardians. Dylan came marching up to her, and she lowered her hand for him. He practically fell into it then rolled onto his back, panting heavily. She smiled at him and giggled. “Rough morning?”
“Go on without me, I'll only slow you down,” he muttered breathlessly.
“Oh no, I don't think you'll be a problem.” He appeared to be damp, and wetness was starting to touch her palm. “You're wet? How could you have possibly managed that?”
He sat up and abruptly turned sheepish as he responded, “Er, sorry. Uh, it's called sweating. It's how we lower our body temperature during exertion. Our skin starts to release water to cool us off.”
“What? Really?” She sniffed him. “It smells a little funny, but that's amazing. And you pant too. Sort of.” He fell on his back again, and she responded by gently stroking him with a finger. “I guess you need it to run that much. That was impressive.” Sweating wasn't unique, but apparently humans did it very well.
“Hah, yeah. We're not fast or particularly strong, but we have some serious endurance.” He coughed, but his breathing started to slow. “Prehistoric humans used to catch prey by chasing it until it was tired, then killed it.”
“I could see that working.” It was difficult to grasp their endurance when every other species could easily outpace them with just a walk. But if this was an example of it, then the mechanized infantry could be better than imagined. If a human's strength were brought up to size with a mech, then their endurance could carry them through a brutally long fight where others would wear out. It was a good trait indeed when their faults were eliminated by the mechs.
Kira returned to the barracks, making sure she was careful where she stepped in the event there was a human not collected by their guardian yet. Her eyes shifted to the medic in her hand as she neared the pad. He looked terrible. She lowered him down onto the platform. He groaned out, “Closer, pleeeease.” She chuckled and slid her hand along the pad, closer towards the human barracks, but still an insignificant distance. He reluctantly rolled out of her hand and staggered off to get washed up and changed while Kira herself left to do the same.
Over a half hour later Kira returned to collect her charge. She noted that most of the humans were gathered near the pad as they waited for their furred guardians. She quietly snorted to herself. Just like the dragons the humans were furless and quick to get washed up because of that. Her charge stepped out onto the pad as she approached. “Your new uniform, very nice. How do you like it?” she asked. All of the humans were dressed in their UTO issued clothing now.
He paused in front of her hand and rather obviously hesitated. She didn't show any agitation this time. The wolfess was starting to accept that he would regularly do this depending on his mood. He tried to hide his apprehension of climbing onto her hand by looking down and feeling his new outfit. “I'm wearing alien fabric... feels weird.”
“I don't think so.” Her own uniform was made of the same high durability fabric. “Though you are a furless, fleshy thing. You must be quite sensitive.”
He laughed and then climbed into her hand. He seated himself in the center of her palm and looked up at her. “Well this 'furless, fleshy thing' is starving. Let's go already!”
Her tail wagged behind her. This was better than yesterday morning. She still detected apprehension from him. But it was waning quite well. She doubted he would ever be willing to jump into her mouth like with those two lieutenants she met before. But climbing into her hand after a moment of hesitation was much better than the shock into inaction she saw when they first met. Rather than lower her hand to the standard carry position, she brought him up to her face as she turned to leave. He looked a little different, she noticed, and leaned in a little closer. He leaned back in response, apparently confused. She realized she was making him uncomfortable so she lowered him down to her abdomen as they left the barracks for the mess hall. “The fur on your face is gone. Why?”
She looked down at him to see him rubbing his face. “You're very observant and keen eyed. It's been a long while since I tried, but the last time I gave a beard a shot, it was a mess.”
“I have a cream that stimulates healthy fur growth.” Such creams were most often used in the military after a wound was ready for fur regrowth.
“Thank you, but I don't want a beard, anyway.”
“It doesn't make any sense for it to grow in select places, anyway. Why don't you people just have full bodies of fur?” They were the only species that had fully exposed flesh on most of their bodies. The dragons might be arguable as the same, but those were decently durable scales. Kira was quite sure she could poke Dylan hard enough with a claw tip and cause some serious damage. Her ears folded at the thought. Why did she have to think about that?
She instinctively used her thumb to idly stroke him to reassure herself that she was perfectly capable of touching him without tearing him open. He allowed her to pet him for a few moments before pushing her thumb away. Right, cut down on the stroking like a pet. Hopefully he would open up to more of it, soon. It was only fair. She felt good stroking him like he did touching her fur. Maybe she should bring that up sometime. When the digit left him he said, “Eh... can you imagine a human covered in fur? I don't know about you but the image I'm getting is not pleasant looking.”
She imagined a furred human. The thought made her frown for a moment before she laughed. “Alright, I'll admit, you little ones pull off the furless look well.”
Kira carried Dylan into the mess hall. Out of pure instinct, the human retreated harder against her abdomen. There were so many giants and he had no barracks to retreat to. His guardian brought him here a couple of times already, but never during a meal hour. A large amount of military rations were stored at the barracks for the humans to consume in the event their guardians were unavailable. He and most of his fellows just ate those. He probably wouldn't even have gone with Kira to the mess on the first day if he knew he could have just grabbed a ration pack. Giants were daunting enough, but a massive crowd of them milling around caused him to tremble.
“You okay?” Kira asked him.
He looked up at her looking down at him with a worried look on her face. She was remarkably sensitive to his conditions. If he'd learned anything about her over the past few days, it was that. Perhaps it was canine instincts. “No. I'm not okay. Let's just get this over with.” Her thumb moved again. He was expecting to get stroked again, but instead she just laid it next to him.
He didn't immediately understand what she was doing, but his body did. His hand reached out and touched the ample fur on the back of her digit. Even with his emotions running wild, he felt relief from the softness. He even smirked slightly at the thought that crossed his mind. Kira seemed to know how to help him better than himself. Perhaps he should rethink his wish for her to stroke him less. It seemed rather hypocritical.
The wolfess walked through the crowds and took her position at the back of the line. Her charge made himself look as small and unnoticeable as possible and his guardian curled her fingers higher around him while her thumb moved away to block off the other side of her hand. All in all, it was quite the protective little shelter. Unfortunately, it was still only stomach level and the giants could look down to see what she was holding.
The person in front of them, a leopard with sergeant markings like Kira noticed him when he looked at the back of the line. He turned around and looked down at the medic with an interested look on his face. But that look turned into a stare when he didn't stop. Dylan averted his own gaze and looked down at Kira's padded palm, but he still felt the felid's eyes on him.
That only carried on for a few moments before Kira requested flatly to him, “Stop staring at him, please.”
The leopard looked up at her and frowned. “Why? It's not like I'm going to eat him.”
Dylan blanched. That was a very terrible choice of words. His guardian shifted her form sideways to hide him from the offender's view, bared her teeth, and growled out, “Think about what you say before you say it. Turn around.” The leopard looked a bit confused as he glared at her.
“Is there a problem here?” Both sergeants looked to their side to find First Lieutenant Kulshah. The male sergeant was about to say something when he noticed the human standing on the golden dragoness' head. He gave the man a look then just turned right back around to face the front of the line.
The two guardians smiled at each other and Kira cocked her head at the man on top of Fahne's head. “Is that climbing equipment?” she asked when he noticed the harness he was wearing and the tether that connected him to one of his comrade's horns. Dylan couldn't help but grin at the sight. That most certainly was climbing gear!
“Aye, it is!” Major Dolby, now a second lieutenant temporarily under his guardian, answered. “Figured it would be good to have if I would be spending so much time with a giant.”
The dragoness held up a hand, palm flat, by her shoulder. “I'd like to move my head now, Russel.” The human responded by suddenly rappelling off of the side of her head and landing right on her palm. He detached the tether and it went reeling back up to the dragoness' horn. She then brought her hand to her stomach. Kira moved her thumb out of the way so the two humans could see each other.
Dylan felt the subtle movements of Kira's tail wagging as she said excitedly, “That's amazing! I need to get some kind of set up so Dylan could safely ride on my shoulder.” She glanced at Fahne's horns, possibly wondering how she would do it without the natural anchors. “Maybe a collar. Dylan could just attach a rope to it.” Rather abruptly Russel started to laugh along with Dylan. Really? A collar and a rope for him to hold onto? The two guardians looked down at them and Kira asked with a cocked head, “What's so funny?”
The two humans shared a look as if they had some kind of inside joke going on. Which they more or less did. Dylan figured they must have had pets they collared and leashed. But it didn't seem to cross her mind that she fit the profile of the most commonly collared and leashed animal on Earth. “Kira,” Dylan began, “I, uh, I'd rather not see you wearing a collar with me holding any kind of rope attached to it.”
“I'll explain that to you some other time,” he said sheepishly. She cocked her head at that, but didn't push it, thankfully. He wasn't too keen on explaining how she would look like a pet. The other pair dismissed themselves to return to their meal while Kira turned back around and collected her tray. The servers slapped this morning's food onto it and she looked at her growing breakfast hungrily. It was a mixture of what looked like vegetables, fruit and meat. No carnivorous species evolved without developing the capacity to ingest a decent range of non-meat foods was what Kira explained to him the first time she brought him here. At the end of the line was where she would wait for Dylan to get his food, right next to the last server.
She looked up at the drab gray furred wolf as he placed her dessert onto her tray. “They have you serving food now, Jaha'kaishia?”
The male shrugged and said, “Now that you lot are following a proper schedule, I don't have to wander off while Bob feeds the humans.”
“You also don't have a reason to leave me here anymore, Hank.” Both wolves looked over towards the human standing on the counter with a miniature serving line built onto it. This human was Jaha'kaishia's charge, the only human cook on base.
Kira placed Dylan down in front of it and stepped off to the side while she waited for him to get his meal. The male wolf only chuckled at his charge's comment and Kira felt the need to ask, “Hank? Is that a nickname?”
He flicked his ear in confirmation. “The humans started calling me that back on Earth. I think they thought it was funny, for some reason.”
“You know this already, Hank. Your real name's a mouthful,” Bob said and then looked at Kira. “Before you say we could have just called him Jaha – that's two syllables. Hank is one.” Hank merely looked at her with a neutral expression. The two continued to talk while Bob turned his full attention to Dylan.
The medic looked over what was available. “This is still stuff you pulled out of MREs,” the medic remarked. It truly was food he would find in one of the 'Meals, Ready to Eat' the Army distributed as field rations.
“Not true. I made chili. Also got some sliced up alien fruit and some meat.”
“Right... you sure it's safe to eat?
“Oh. Did you use it to make the chili?”
“Nah.” He opened up a pot with the mentioned chili inside. “It's good stuff, want some?”
The medic nodded and Bob placed a bowl of it onto his tray with some bread. “I'll try the fruit and the 'meat,' too.” The other man used some prongs to serve him some steaming, unknown meat. It looked like sliced ham. If the ham was disconcertingly grayish. He picked up an alien fruit bowl and looked at it. It was colorful. Some of the pieces looked like kiwis and other Earth fruits. Well, part of meeting cool aliens was eating cool alien food. This was a start. He took a chocolate covered cookie that definitely came out of an MRE packet and a bottle of water then thanked the cook for the meal.
Bob let out a sharp whistle with his fingers, drawing the attention of Kira, while Hank ignored it and just kept serving alien pastries. “Come on now, he's holding up the line.” He nodded towards Dylan.
“There is no line,” she shot back. But Bob just stared at her, expecting her to collect Dylan and clear his food line. Shrugging it off, she picked up her charge and his meal and walked away from the serving line with her own tray in her other hand. She was waved over by Yirshan, who was sitting next to Fahne. In front of them was a miniature version of the table they sat at with what must have been Fahne's charge sitting at it. Kemeng was not present, as he was being removed from the program and interaction between he and Yirshan was best kept to a minimum.
Dylan snorted to himself. Kemeng. Either he was supremely brave or supremely stupid. How could he be so offensive to someone that could turn him into a red smear on a whim? But then the point of integration was to bring humanity comfortably into the fold was it not? Making it safe for the little ones to freely speak their minds was a part of that. Kemeng just seemed to be pushing it so early on.
Kira placed her charge down on the table and Dylan very quickly felt trapped. He was essentially on a high, open platform with giants on either side with no safe place to hide. But the closest thing to that was actually Kira and he unwittingly took several steps back towards her. The two dragonesses smiled at him with their teeth hidden. Russel then called to him, “Get over here, lad. Food will help get your mind off things.”
The medic nodded dumbly and approached the normal sized table Russel was seated at. He felt the tremor of Kira's tray being laid down where he was just standing. He debated with himself on which side he should sit. He could have his back to the guardians and try to pretend they weren't there. Or the other way around. The former would be rude, however, so he sat down next to the Englishman.
The commando looked at his tray. “Ah, you got the mystery meat, too! It's actually quite good.”
Dylan poked the meat with his fork and held it up. He gave it a sniff. It actually smelled great. Then he heard someone else sniffing. He looked up to see Kira hunched over smelling the meat as well. She gave him an apologetic look and pulled away. “That's siliash. It's from a big herd animal on this planet.” She held up her own massive piece of what looked like more siliash and took a bite from it. “It's really good, try it!”
At that, the medic bit it into and assessed the taste of his first alien food. Kira watched him curiously as she chewed her own, apparently interested to hear what he thought of it. He nodded as he swallowed it. “Wow, this is great.” He couldn't compare it to anything on Earth, like chicken. It was truly alien to him. It wasn't unpleasant at all, just unknown. He felt himself perking up at this. He just ate alien food! How many people have gotten to say that?
By now, more of the platoon was showing up as well as more guardians. Only a few tables had the smaller versions of themselves for the humans to use. Trikil brought Cody. Then shortly after that came one of the Russian Spetsnaz soldiers, Lieutenant Potap Shvedov – a dark skinned man with a lioness for a guardian that he didn't know the name of. Sergeant Dapeng Quyang of the PLA arrived in the hand of a male rabbit that he heard Kira call Nahni once before, if he recalled correctly.
With four other humans Dylan was feeling more relaxed. Normal sized company helped to suppress the unnerving feeling of a crowd of giants that the table became. The medic was opening the fruit cup when he looked down the long table. The sight made him pause. Right by the mini-table were their guardians. But all along the line it was what could be best described as a corridor of titans. Titans that were just eating, talking, joking and messing with each other with trays of food in front of them and camouflaged outfits on their backs.
The likeness to what he would have seen on a human base a year ago was fascinating. He couldn't say it was the same, though. A year ago he sat next to his comrades and ate with them. Here he was on the table at a smaller table because he was too small for the bigger table. It was still pretty close. He'd be patching up holes in these giants one day just like he did with his fellow guardsmen.
He sighed and placed the now open cup down and placed his face in his hands. “Are you alright?” someone asked. He turned his head to see Dapeng looking at him. The medic didn't immediately respond. He wasn't really alright. He just thought about the guardsmen he served with.
They were almost all dead.
“Just thinking about how overwhelming this all is,” he lied. Dylan brought his hands away from his face to gesture towards all the giants along the table. It was best to avoid conversations about the countless dead. It often lead to dark places for the medic.
The other soldier nodded in agreement. “Yes. Looking down at that just makes the world seem oppressively big.”
“Well,” Cody chimed in, “it kind of is.”
Dapeng shook his head. “No. It's just big. If it was truly oppressive, then we wouldn't be here.” He looked back to Dylan. “You'll be fine. You clearly have the willpower to get through this.” Potap chuckled and both men looked to him. “Do you disagree?”
The Russian shook his head. “No, not at all. I just didn't expect much from him. Yesterday was very surprising.”
“Goddamn right it was!” Russel clapped Dylan on the shoulder. “What the hell were you doing in the National Guard, boy?”
He shrugged. “I really have no idea. Seemed like a good idea at the time.” Whether it still was a good idea was highly debatable. On one hand, it brought focus to his life and he went into space. On the other, he had constant nightmares and the occasional flashback. At least the latter seemed to have been going away, though.
“Hey, how about this.” Cody picked up his bottled water. “Here's to Spade, the killer medic.”
The other men responded by picking up their own drinks and raising them. “To Spade!” they collectively cheered.
Dylan felt Dapeng clasp him on the back as he looked at Cody. “Spade? Really? You know I died doing that. Kira rode my ass for being so stupid.”
“Would you rather be Scattergun?”
He waved the other soldier off and looked back down at the still untouched fruit cup, but a smirk was clearly on his face. “Spade, huh?” Fahne said down to them with a grin. “I could see that sticking to my medic.”
“Oh, but he won't be your medic for long, Fahn,” Russel shot back, to which the dragoness merely flicked an ear. Dylan grabbed his fork and stuck it into the fruit cup. The pairs that had humans that were special forces would go on to become a part of the UTO special forces themselves. Which meant Fahne would not be the platoon leader by the end of this. Any thoughts on which sergeant would be promoted to lead the platoon escaped him as he finally tasted the alien fruit.
He looked down at the cup in surprise. That was great! He eagerly started to try the different fruits in the cup... then promptly spat out a yellow piece in disgust. He'd come back to the fruit after the chili.
He was dipping his bread in the what he had to admit was damn good chili and eating it like that when he noticed Kira watching him. He stopped to look back at her. She smiled and muttered, “Sorry, that just smells really good.”
Potap abruptly laughed before Dylan could respond, then said in English, “Nose like dog, smell strong. Can imagine what is like?”
From the look on Kira's face, the broken and heavily accented English may not have translated well – which could be what the commando wanted for whatever reason. At least, that's how it appeared at first. “Dog?” she said the English world curiously.
Someone further down the table chimed in, “Dogs? I read about those. They're related to wolves on Earth, your four legged counterparts, Kira.”
“Don't we all have some tiny four legged version of ourselves?” another asked.
“No, not the Atians,” one responded, refering to the dragons and gryphons.
“So there's a species like mine?”
This sparked something Dylan was worried would happen. Their conversations turned to animals on Earth. The one that explained dogs quickly showed that he really didn't know much. So then they started to realize: who better to ask about Earth animals than the tiny little aliens from the planet itself sitting right here at their table?
Giant eyes shifted towards the handful of humans as attention fell on them. All six of the men grew silent, even Russel who seemed to be the least phased by the aliens withdrew when so many turned their attention to him. A few leaned close, including Trikil. However, the rest of the guardians were quick to pick up on the problem and gently pushed the offenders away. “Stand down,” Fahne firmly ordered. “You're crowding them. If you're all so suddenly curious then search on the extranet. Otherwise, you'll learn everything you want in the lectures.”
After that, discussions went on to said lectures. That was where they were all going after this. As a part of integration, the humans had to learn about the UTO, and vice versa. They were all going to learn about basic history, special quirks, planets, and anything considered relevant to helping everyone understand each other. The humans would get a lot more lecture due to all of the other races as well as their classes on learning Alliance Common Language for reading purposes. Basically, everything that future generations would learn in school.
Dylan didn't hold much interest in school – he was a college dropout for a reason. But this? Learning about aliens? That could hold his attention for sure.
Over the next five days of the week, Kira felt like she was in university again. Although instead of learning about military science she was learning about the tiniest members of the alliance – and there was much to learn in those five days. But that was it. The humans would get another week and a half of lectures as they had to go through all of the other races, even the Rynar.
She didn't learn as much as she wished she could. If anything, these lectures served to pique interest while just teaching the basics. She learned about their world wars. But she knew she only scratched the surface. There was inevitably a lot more to a planetlocked war that left sixty million dead. They looked at their Cold War and how it presented a fascinatingly unique situation due to nuclear weapons. They touched upon how the humans went from flimsy looking paper aircraft to landing people on their moon via massive rockets in a single lifetime. This was just a single century, the century that shaped them into what they were. If the humans entered the fold years ago while she was in school, then she probably would have sought a degree in history just so she could poke through the bounty of a totally new past.
However, as interesting as it was she was tired of the mental battering. But it was done and the next few days and this evening would be a time to break from their training schedule. She was already using some of her free time to be with Dylan. The little human had been coming around rather well. He still withdrew when in a crowd, but he wasn't nearly as terrified as he was at first. Best of all he was becoming quite comfortable with her. He even went as far as to gravitate towards her when he was afraid. He didn't go leaping into her hands to retreat, but it still made her happy that he trusted her that much.
“So, I learned what a chicken is,” Kira said as she laid on her back across the very same bench she first brought him to. Her charge was perched on the arm rest right next to her head with his legs dangling. “You calling Common chicken scratches makes sense now.”
He shrugged and kicked his legs. “It's really not so bad. Never really was one to learn new languages. Only know the one.”
She turned her head to look at him. “Would you like help? I know four, so I know a few tricks to make it easier to learn.”
He smiled at her. “You want to teach me hand to hand and Common. Want anything back? At this rate I'm going to feel like a freeloader.”
She wanted to just hold him and nuzzle him like the adorable thing he was. But that may be too demanding of him. “Oooh, I do a lot more for you than that, you know.” He couldn't really function here without her. She meant it as a tease, but he looked ashamed as he frowned and looked down between his legs. In response she rolled onto her stomach and placed a hand behind him as she brought her nose in close. “That's okay, though. All I want in return is for you to keep being the cutest little guy ever and to fix any holes that inexplicably pop up on my body.” He didn't brighten up at that so her nose got closer until it softly nudged him on the chest. “Look at me, Dylan.” She stared at him down her muzzle until he looked up to meet her gaze. She then smiled as she gently said to him, “I know exactly what I was in for when I signed up for this. You may be the completely reliant one for now, but in the end it will be balanced out by what you bring to this platoon.”
He smiled lightly and placed a tiny hand onto her black nose. Oh, that was so, so adorable. She had to resist the urge to just nuzzle him right there. “I can't wait for a mech.”
“Me too.” She pulled her nose away and rolled back onto her back with the rear of her head propped on the arm rest. “So, go on, tell me what you found most interesting in all those lectures.”
“Huh...” He seemed to be mulling over what to mention, so she kept quiet and let him think. There was certainly much for him to choose from. “Well, Union Hub was fascinating to learn about. Giant space stations come up all the time in science fiction, but its just incredible to know they actually exist. Ooohh I hope I get to go there one day. It sounds amazing.”
“It is.” Union Hub was the heart of the UTO and was originally founded by the dragons and gryphons. In its past it hosted the ambassadors of each race, and the station grew largely with each species that joined the alliance. But over the course of its life it grew from a massive embassy to a sprawling space borne metropolis that no longer served as a place for ambassadors to meet, but for members of what had clearly become a union to decide on what was best for the unified civilization as a whole. “I'm sure you'll get to see it one day.”
“So, what about you? Did you learn about wolves?”
She grinned toothily at that, but quickly caught herself and covered them. “I did. I learned how they were domesticated and bred over many years to become dogs.” She turned her head slightly to see how he was reacting. He appeared calm, but she could smell some anxiety on him. “Your issue with me having a collar and you a rope makes sense now.”
“Yeah... how does that make you feel. Uh... do you feel resentment?”
“At first? Yes, it was fairly angering to see what looked like me turned into pets. But they're not my species nor are they intelligent. Every species domesticated animals. Your own race used what you had. It's not your fault that many of them just happened to look like giant aliens that could step on you.” He glowered at her thinly veiled teasing. “But, I’d say my counterparts made it out well. Man's best friend was how they put it. Loyal, caring, protective... that's how they described dogs.” She rolled onto her stomach again and cocked her head at him. “Do you think some kind of association with dogs helped you adapt to me?”
He looked at her for a few moments then cocked his own head to mirror hers. “I'd like to think it had mostly to do with you being such a good person.”
Her tail wagged behind her from that and she smiled. “Aw, thanks!” She reached into her pocket and pulled out her yutri. It was what at first would look like her earpiece – a disk like thing with a loop to go around her ear. If set that way it functioned as a communication device. It was connected to her neural implant so she could interact with it that way. With a thought, a projection appeared from it that simply displayed the time. “We need to get going, they're going to be starting the movie soon.”
After Dahashi had referenced 'The Matrix' apparently more than a few times it didn't take too long for the origin of those references to be figured out. As a result, the film became the natural first choice for the premier this evening – by the humans' choice, of course. Dahashi had already captioned numerous films, but this one seemed appropriate. That, and 'Starship Troopers' got quite a few laughs for being TOO appropriate.
When the movie started, Dylan sat in Kira's palm as her hand rested in her lap. The area in front of her, as well as the other guardians, had to be clear of other giants for him to be able to see the screen. It would have been easier to perch on her shoulder, but there had been a recent crackdown on humans riding anywhere other than an open palm. Even Russel and Fahne's setup was not exempt from this. Supposedly, alternative methods were being looked into, but until then humans should just stay in their guardian's palm. That was fine with Dylan. He wasn't sure about getting tied to a giant, anyway, even if it was Kira. He'd still like to have the option of jumping head first to his doom if she inexplicably turned into a monster. A bungee cord would just bring him right back! Extremely unlikely shifts in temperament aside he did feel secure in her hand with her stomach at his back, so he had no complaints. Riding on her shoulder worried them both anyway. It also was the perfect location for the guardian to quietly whisper her commentary to her charge, some of which was much to his amusement.
The first thing she said to him was, “So it's going to be one of those... or can humans actually run on walls?”
“No, Kira, we can't.” It was then that he quickly realized the entertainment potential here was not in the film he'd seen before, but in how the aliens would react to it. They already had no idea what to expect from the plot. Then on top of that, no idea what to expect from human movies.
At first, they seemed to think it was just going to be a pumped up action film with impossible stunts and impressive sequences. As the plot went on, things started to make sense to them and it actually looked like it became very engaging for them.
“…but we know that it was us that scorched the sky.”
Kira cocked her head then queried, “That's nuclear winter, right?” He confirmed it, then he started wondering how much they learned about the effects of nuclear weapons. From what he learned, the concept of being locked onto one planet with the weaponry to end your civilization was something only seen in fiction for them.
There appeared to be some interested chatter during the sparring scene, and he wasn't really sure why. Kira seemed to notice this and muttered to him, “Human hand to hand lacks clawing and biting and is completely blunt, like the equines, but much less heavy handed and more nimble than most styles. It's fascinating to observe.” That got him slightly worried. She did promise to teach him to fight in the simulations. Was she going to rend and tear him as she pounded him into the simulated ground?
When Morpheus leaped across the buildings, his guardian smirked. “Do humans even weigh enough to break the ground?” He suspected it was just a tease and didn't grace her with an answer. He wasn't sure, anyway.
“Which is why everything tastes like chicken.”
Kira leaned down and whispered, “Does siliash taste like chicken to you?”
“Yes.” It really didn't, but he just wanted to see the confused look she would have. Maybe one day she could try chicken. They would need to slaughter a lot of chickens.
'If you'd like to meet her, I can arrange a much more personalized milieu.' There were a few chuckles, and he heard a comment about sex in the simulations. He had to admit, it did cross his mind. He just didn't know it was actually a thing. But apparently it was very satisfying.
'Instead, only try to realize the truth.'
'There is no spoon.' There wasn't as much chatter about the interesting exchange as there were coos about adorable little human children, including from Kira. But then, she apparently found him adorable. So a kid might just make her die of affection.
'Okay, so whaddya need – besides a miracle.'
'Guns. Lots of guns.' The faces of the surrounding platoon had the signs of understanding as Dahashi's reference made sense now.
After the gunfight at the security checkpoint Kira remarked, “I see human movies have bad guys with terrible aim as well. Impressive sequence though.” Dylan felt himself a bit relieved at that. For all he knew, aliens figured out how to get past the issue of plot armor with main characters. It was good to know action heroes were universally projectile repellant.
“I didn't know humans had rotary weapons,” she commented. “Oh a projectile rotary weapon would be amazing to see in real action.” He didn't know the UTO used rotary weapons, either. A plasma weapon of that type would be awesome to see, so he could relate with her there.
By the end of the film, the audience seemed thoroughly impressed. Which was great. It would be a shame if one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time got canned by aliens. Kira definitely enjoyed it, but she had to let him off on a nearby table as she wanted in on the discussion among the guardians to pick a UTO created film to show next.
“...send them south all the time. Apparently Canadian snow is pretty popular among the central eastern states of the US,” he heard Cody saying with a few other humans standing around grinning at the conversation.
Bob growled out, “Stop please. Snow bales aren't real.”
“Snow bales?” Dylan piped in as he approached. “I love those things. In Maryland, winter hangs around the freezing point, so it snows, then it melts practically the next day. We order snow bales from Canada and dump 'em out in popular sledding and skiing places and what not when the temperature dips down again.”
Bob looked at him with an exasperated look as Cody beamed and nodded in approval. “Stop,” he demanded.
“You're from Florida, right?” the medic continued. “Don't tell me they don't have indoor ski places. I figured you guys would be all over snow bales to keep those running.”
“Indoor... skiing? No... I don't think.” Bob clearly looked like he was unsure of himself now.
“Well, good then,” Cody said. “Because snow bales aren't a thing.”
The collected group laughed at Bob's expense, even the cook himself looked amused, before dispersing to mingle with others. Dylan looked over to the nearby guardians as they bickered over which movie to go with. Trikil seemed to be getting worked up over something as he waved his drink around, trying to assert that his film choice was the best. Dahashi was there with a giant sized version of his avatar apparently trying to tell him it wasn't in good taste to show to the humans.
The medic sighed and sat down on the table. He was tired, but he really wanted to stay and watch an alien movie. He also wanted to hear about these movies, and it certainly helped that he was close enough to pick up Dahashi's radius transmission with his earpiece. Apparently Trikil and a few others were suggesting some kind of monster movie while claiming the perspective of the survivors would be something that the humans could relate to.
Naturally, this encouraged Dylan's mind to wander towards his own experiences. Then, just as naturally, he actively tried to suppress those thoughts before he lost himself in them. A particularly terrible memory came to him and he frowned as he thought about it. He was pushing it away when he flinched at the sound of a nearby giant opening a canned drink. The loud, metallic puncturing sound left a pit in his stomach and his mind ran wild as the memory came to him, no longer being pushed back. His breathing picked up and he started to lose focus. A part of him knew what was happening, but he couldn't stop it. A buzzing sound came from Dahashi to make the bickering guardians stop so he could simply collect a vote. But the buzz kept going. The medic's face turned neutral and he went wide eyed as it continued to sound in his head. He stared off at nothing as it began to raise in pitch until it was no longer a buzz, but a whistle. “It's going to be okay...” he muttered to nobody in particular.
Dylan idly listened to the whistle of the truck's turbo while the vehicle growled through the town. He looked down as the small child in his lap shifted. The soldier held the boy tight as he wept into his vest. He muttered reassurances to the child. He could barely even recall where they got the kid. It was such a cluttered mess of panic as they rounded people up. All he knew was his parents were missing and he went by Andy. The back of the deuce and a half was crammed full of civilians. The only other soldiers in the truck were the driver and the gunner scanning their surroundings.
It was a small convoy of trucks whose sole goal right now was moving these civilians to safe zones that the scattered national guard units had been doing their best to secure. They were basically holes in the ground where people could hide like animals. Isolated areas lost in the wilderness. Mountains, forests, and tucked away farms. The Guard may not have the capabilities to stand against the Rynar, but they could still try to save as many lives as possible. This was one of their efforts – the relocation of civilians that for one reason or another were unable to hide away before and survived the onslaught.
The medic's eyes scanned over the people he was with. They were tired, scared, and broken. The lizards took everything and left them nothing. Why? As far as anyone could tell, it was because they were bored. Because they could. Because it was easy. He shook his head and patted the child's back and held him tighter.
“Shit, fuck. Stop, stop! Where the hell did they come from?” Dylan heard over his radio. Thankfully it was an earpiece, so the civilians didn't hear it. But the color did drain from his face. The convoy came to a halt. The idea was to have vehicles running around some distance from the convoy, looking out for Rynar troops. The convoy would then halt when anything was nearby. However based off what the soldier on the radio said, a few may have gotten close and weren't even noticed. They may be big, but human perspectives were so low to the ground that spotting the Rynar before it was too late wasn't easy in dense areas like towns and forests.
All was silent as they waited. The civilians quietly sobbed as the medic held the child tightly. The gunner spun his weapon slowly, scanning for aliens. The weapon squealed along its mounting. In the tense silence it sounded like a siren, but was merely a light squeak. The man flinched at the sound and pulled his hands from the fifty caliber machine gun as if he put his limbs into a fire.
The ground shook, that meant they were close. Close enough to see the convoy was another matter. A few people prayed to be left alone. The child buried his head deep into the shoulder of the guardsman. The tailgate of the truck rattled gently... and then it stopped. All of the shaking stopped.
“Oh no...” the gunner muttered and grabbed his weapon, swinging it around to point its barrel over the passengers' heads. Everyone looked back to see a Rynar trooper had stepped into the street the column drove down and appeared to be calling its friends.
“They see you! Move it!” a different radio man cried. The civilians screamed in terror as the engine of the deuce fired back up and the vehicle took off, even as a few people jumped from the vehicle to scatter. This was the only truck with a machine gun mount, which in hindsight may have been a bad idea to use considering even the mighty M2HB heavy machine gun wasn't very effective against the giant Rynar. All it really did was make the vehicle a target. At least, a target after the actual important targets were taken care of. Their one tank near the rear managed to swing its turret around and raise its barrel to fire once into the groin of the one that spotted them. It was in the process of driving off when the other Rynar troops showed up. Plasma fire tore into the machine, quickly turning it into a burning fireball as its momentum carried it onward even as fire erupted from all of its hatches.
Two Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles went screaming past in the opposite direction with their twenty five millimeter chain guns firing wildly along with a stripped Humvee armed with a belt fed grenade launcher following right behind them. That was the total extent of their vehicles capable of challenging the giants with even the slightest chance of success.
The automatic cannons and missiles on the IFVs could bring a giant down, as well as the grenade launcher if they got lucky. But there were so many of them coming into view. As the trucks fled from the attack everyone watched in horror as a couple explosions erupted where once two armored war machines were. That incredibly hot plasma almost always cooked off all of the ammunition in vehicles.
With no resistance left there was only one more target for them: the column. Trucks full of civilians and a single M113 Armored Personnel Carrier that wasn't even armed. Said APC, however, appeared to have driven off somewhere else while it could. It would have just been caught and destroyed first, anyway. It didn't move very quickly. But of course, neither did these trucks compared to the giants who gave pursuit. Dylan was reminded of a scene from 'Jurassic Park' when the giant aliens came running after them. The civilians all screamed and ducked their heads when the truck's gunner began to fire right over them. They covered their ears as the heavy weapon thundered. It's large casings and links clattered all over the bed of the truck as the weapon ejected them in a constant stream as the gunner desperately hoped for the impossible.
But obviously it would never be. For nearly a century that weapon had been one of the greatest ever engineered. It was infamous for its powerful round that would cut men down into pieces and tear into lightly armored vehicles as if they were mere toys all while showing no signs of stopping with its outstanding design and reliability. But now this mighty gun was the toy. It's powerful rounds burrowed or bounced harmlessly off of the giants' armor as they closed in on them with incredibly rapid speed.
As Dylan watched an armored boot come down towards the rear truck, he couldn't help but briefly think about how fucking unfair this was. They were in trucks going all out, and their enemy was catching up to them ON FOOT. One moment the six wheeled truck was there, full of helpless civilians and the odd soldier. The next, its rear axles were crushed along with most of the people in the bed, leaving a helpless wreck that got further trampled as more of the monstrous aliens stepped onto it. They should have stopped and abandoned the vehicles, then scattered. Maybe they were hoping they would just leave them be after taking out the escorts. A small amount of the alien invaders didn't seem to care for pointless slaughter. Too bad these didn't seem to be like that. Now it just looked like there was no hope at all.
Dylan passed the child to the person across from him and unslung his M4 from his back. He'd be dammed if he died with a whimper. With one hand holding onto the edge of the truck and the other holding the rifle he flicked off the safety and squeezed the trigger. His bullets joined the gunner's as they sailed over the next and now last truck in the line to harmlessly pelt the Rynar soldier in the lead. The Guardsman was distinctly aware of the cracks of the large rounds sailing possibly within inches of his head. All it would take was a bump in the road and the heavy gun may very well take his head off. But he couldn't bring himself to care.
It was so goddamn pointless. Why did they do it? What was it with human nature that compelled them to fight, even with these odds, so clearly stacked against them that it entered the realm of impossibility? Was it hatred of the enemy? Sheer will to live? The desire to see others make it through? Perhaps all of these things?
As the medic burned through his magazine, these were the thoughts that danced in his mind as he watched his death approach. The truck behind them was suddenly kicked in the rear, lifting its back end up. In the brief time it was in the air, Dylan could see how the bullets from the machine gun and his own rifle tore into the people in the back of the truck as the vehicle became a temporary barrier between their weapons and the alien soldier.
The two soldiers kept shooting, though, even as they tore those people apart with their guns. The truck was only there for a few moments before it landed on its back. The passengers were only briefly trapped before the wreck was compacted under the boots of their pursuers who certainly looked like they were having a good time.
This truck was next. The monster was coming right at them and they had NOTHING that could stop it. It knew that, as well. Clearly it was only toying with them. These trucks hardly moved fast compared to a sprinting giant.
Dylan's rifle clicked empty and shortly after him the M2 stopped firing. The medic didn't even know why he bothered to reload. What was the point? Just to be defiant? He caught the empty magazine and angrily tossed it at the giant. Then the big green ammo can from the machine gun went flying over to fall short of hitting the alien.
“You fucking monsters!” the gunner cried, now without ammunition to shoot with. “Why the hell are you doing this?!” A good question. Didn't they have a war to fight? What did taking out an evacuation convoy accomplish?
Dylan slammed in the next magazine, chambered a round, and promptly resumed his pointless shooting. He was only a few bullets in when to his utter surprise the Humvee that was escorting the convoy came sliding out of a side road onto the main street they were on. It slipped right between the legs of the Rynar troops behind the leader and gunned its engine. It had no armor on it at all, not even doors, which gave it enough speed to catch up to the lead pursuer. It's movements straightened out for a moment as the gunner took aim. Dylan was distinctly aware of how a bad shot from that soldier could kill everyone in the bed of this truck.
But either skill, luck, or something higher was on their side as he fired a single grenade that caught the unarmored back of the giant's knee, instantly causing it to crumple to the ground and tumble. The Humvee came swerving around the wounded alien soldier and the gunner swung his weapon around to pepper the remaining pursuers, prompting them to stop and take aim with their rifles to try to hit it.
“Turn right, right, right!” The truck's gunner screamed to the driver and the vehicle abruptly turned right and slid around a corner just as their enemy began firing. The deuce tilted to the left as its right wheels left the pavement from the hard turn. It felt like the thing would roll over. When it slammed back down onto the pavement they saw the Humvee barrel rolling past, clearly stricken, while the lead truck carried on down the road without turning. A few more plasma bolts went flying after it.
Unfortunately, or perhaps it was fortunate, their own truck lost nearly all of its speed making the turn. People began to jump out of it before it even came to a complete stop. It was a free for all as everyone scattered every which way into and around the surrounding buildings. Dylan was following right behind a group of four civilians, one of which was carrying the child he was holding earlier. They ran towards a small house. God, he hoped it wasn't locked. The man in front got to the door and jostled the handle, and much to everyone's short relief it flung open.
They all quickly filed through and Dylan kicked the door closed behind himself. “Everyone to the back of the house, find the back door,” he hissed to them as he took up a position by the front window. He intended to keep a lookout to tell them if they needed to run. He could see most of the Rynar troops run down the other street. Did they not hit the lead truck?
Seven ran by and it actually looked like ALL of them passed without even noticing the still running truck abandoned in the street. But they wouldn't be so lucky. Two from the main group came back. They approached the vehicle and gave it a contemptuous stomp onto its front end, silencing it. They looked around, probably wondering which buildings to start tearing into.
The soldier was about to have everyone slip out the back when he heard another engine from a human vehicle. He looked left, ahead of where the alien soldiers were looking. The unaccounted for M113 drove out of an alley then abruptly stopped when its commander noticed the two enemy soldiers. “Back, back!” he cried.
The aliens took off towards it. The driver just had it kicked into reverse and backing into the alley when one of the giants clapped its hands down onto either side of the armored vehicle and dragged it back out with its rubber padded tracks smoking up the pavement as they desperately tried to pull it the other way. The giant pulled out a blade and lifted the machine up sideways. It jabbed the knife into one of the treads and jostled it from its mounting. It did the same with the other side and plopped it back down, totally immobile. The commander, who was peaking out, abruptly grabbed his hatch and slammed it closed.
Dylan's gut wrenched and he whispered to the civilians, “Go out the back, I'll follow.” He then turned his attention back to the two alien soldiers who dragged the APC further out into the street. The one that caught it straddled the vehicle as it brought its thumbs down on top of it. It applied some force and then loudly punctured the armor of the machine. Gunfire came out of the hole, only to strike harmlessly against the giant.
The medic could swear he heard them laughing as the one opening the vehicle slipped its armored fingers through the hole and pulled it apart. The troop carrier split open as if it were a mere tin can. He could hear screams of terror and automatic fire coming from it as he tore himself away from the scene, furious that he couldn't do anything. He exited out the back door of the building, all too aware of the cries of human soldiers as the monsters slaughtered or tormented them.
He could hear their cries for help and mercy. He felt rage. Hatred. Sorrow. Helplessness. He squeezed his rifle tightly as he shook. He was terrified, too. So painfully afraid.
“...Dylan! Are you alright, man?” The medic jerked and looked to his right when he felt someone touch his shoulder. It was Cody, looking at him worriedly. “Are you crying?”
He felt his face and looked at his hand, wet with tears. He sobbed and shook as he muttered, “Fucking monsters...” He then whimpered as his body wracked with anguish.
“Oh, damn,” Cody whispered sadly and draped an arm around the other soldier as he sat down next to him. “I need some help over here!”
Dylan kept muttering about monsters and animals as other humans came over. Sergeant Mitchell crouched down in front of him, took one good look, and muttered, “Crap...”
By now Kira had noticed what was happening and that it involved her charge. Sam stood up to tell her to stay back, that she would only make things worse. The wolfess's ears folded at that, but she kept her distance.
The sergeant had Cody stay next to the medic while he left to get his mech. Dylan continued to babble and weep and whatever reassurances the Canadian said were lost on him as he recounted dreaded memories. Off to the side, Sam was in his mech. He lowered it down so the chest was level with the table, then opened it up. He stepped out and retrieved his stricken subordinate. He hauled him up into the mech and secured him to a passenger position.
Next thing Dylan knew he was back at the barracks, staring at his trembling hands, and no longer sobbing despite tears running down his cheeks. He was breathing heavily, however, and thoughts of the zone danced in his head. He couldn't stop it. Normally he would just not think about it, then suppress them if they did come up. But now he couldn't, and it hurt. He ached in his chest thinking about it all.
He gripped one shaking hand with the other to still them, then looked up over the barracks. There was only one other person here. Kemeng. The man was sitting at the edge of his bed looking down at something in his hand. He looked up and caught the medic looking towards him. They stared at each other for a few moments until the senior soldier stood up and approached.
Dylan scowled, he was not in the mood to talk to this man. Kemeng sat down on the cot across from him. “Bad memories?” he asked, seeming to not acknowledge the unwelcoming look.
His facade lapsed into a frown and he looked down at their feet. “The worst.”
Kemeng nodded. “You'll pull through.”
“Yeah... sure.” He looked at what appeared to be a photograph held between the other man's fingers. “What's that?” He passed it to him and Dylan held it up. It was a picture of a family. There was a woman holding a toddler, Kemeng in his uniform, and a young girl. Obviously, it was his family. “Are they okay?” he asked, dearly hoping for him to say yes, they're home safe.
“No.” Dylan frowned and looked back at the picture. “My wife and son died in Tianjin.”
“I'm sorry.” His eyes shifted to the daughter. She looked to be in her teens. “Your daughter?”
“I don't know,” he replied softly. “The shelling of Tianjin left so many unaccounted for. I tried to look for her, but I had to come here.” He took the picture back. “But I'm going back now. I will be discharged and I will find her. I only hope she is alive when I do.”
“Good luck, Kemeng. I wish you the best.” He meant it. Kemeng may be a prick, but the man deserved closure on this, and hopefully a reunion.
The older man nodded, then held out his hand, which Dylan took in his own. “Thank you. I'm sorry for everything.” He stood up and said down to him, “You should sleep. You're going to be feeling bad for a few days, so you should rest as much as you can.” He then walked back to his own cot.
Dylan kicked his boots off and laid back onto the bed, still in his uniform. His head hit the pillow and he just laid there, wide eyed. Kemeng went and turned down the lights for him, which helped a small amount. Eventually, he felt himself start to doze off with his finals thoughts being: awake he regularly fought his own memories, asleep he had nightmares fueled by his memories.
He just couldn't escape the zone, could he?