Chapter 13: Adventure Time
Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, United States
Partnership Engineering Exchange
Champion and Sergeant Daar (Tigger) of Clan Stoneback
Daar found himself severely tested by the process of visiting Earth, since before anything could be done came the odious medical preparations. Neither Adam nor John would be able to accompany Daar so one of the newly-qualified JETS PJs would shadow him instead. Technical Sergeant Wilde quickly became Daar’s new, most bestest friend (besides Walsh and Vandenberg) and would follow Daar anywhere and everywhere he went.
They needed to be best friends, or Daar would have felt like a sickly cub being hounded by an overprotective Mother.
Then there was the training on exactly what Daar must do to ensure his survival, an exercise he couldn’t help but feel was perhaps overwrought. After all, viral infections weren’t an overly terrifying concern. Gaoians actually had some fairly strong defenses there to everyone’s relief. Nor were allergens, at least not with the time of year (winter) and a strong antihistamine on hand, just in case.
No, the real concern was microbes. With Earth microlife, even a tough and hardy body was no defense against their ravages. It came down to biological weaponry and Gaoians were simply not equipped to deal with the bacteria, fungi, parasites and enzymes routinely encountered on Earth. Daar may have been an exemplar of the former—tough enough to impress his trainers and hardy enough to wrestle with them, in fact—but the latter was simply not possible. Gaoians did not have immune systems honed over millions of years to guard against the most lethal, aggressive, and opportunistic microlife to be found anywhere.
But on the other hand, microbes required an inlet and take time to work, so a regular decontamination procedure should be sufficient, right?
On that point Wilde was steadfast: no, it would not. Many horrifying examples were given of what a human could experience, even with their more advanced defenses. Daar acquiesced—he knew his intellectual limits and debating emergency medicine with trained practitioners was silly—but he relented only reluctantly.
In retrospect it was easy to see his frustration. He was big and tough and the annoyance of it all was rather impressive; after all, one has the practicalities of field training to consider. Daar needed to be mobile and engineers were always in the dirt and mud and rain of it all, not a great place for advanced medical care.
But Wilde had a point and Daar knew it. Engineers played in the perfect places and situations for injury or opportunistic infection. The argument went back and forth to the growing frustration of all involved. But then the Clan got directly involved and everything went to shit. The Champion and Stud-Prime of Stoneback? On Earth!? Unacceptable. It was frustrating, to say the least. Daar just wanted to dig holes, lay traps, build bridges, and blow shit up.
In the end the agreed-upon solution was the most annoying and nerve-wracking possible for Daar. His Clan purchased a portable active biological field, one which he was required to carry with him at all times. It was an absolutely breathtaking bit of advanced technology and one the Corti were extremely proud of; unlike the crude medical fields generally available to the public, which took a “kill with prejudice” approach to marauding biology, this more advanced field selectively filtered and attacked (for the most part) only the threatening microbes it encountered. At all other times it was entirely deactivated, making it difficult to notice the field was even there. It could be worn as a personal shield, could act as a traditional decontamination field, and it could also act as a quarantine field, all in a device the size of a cell phone…
…And which cost as much as a medium-sized starliner. Daar, being of a labor tradition, strongly rebelled at the very notion of possessing anything that valuable. It took a personal appeal by his Clan Grandfather to secure Daar’s acquiescence, and even then it was only on the understanding that the device would be returned to the Clan for the benefit of others. Grandfather agreed but this was a “downy lie;” Daar was unaware the device was programmed and tuned specifically for him, and that the Corti would charge handsomely to “reprogram” the device appropriately.
Worse, it became immediately apparent that Daar could not possibly function in the field with the device activated at all times. The programming wasn’t quite perfect. It interfered with many of the “dangerous” compounds Daar was routinely exposed to, especially the explosives. And so, with no reluctance at all, the device remained in his barracks locker for the training day. A profound relief for him, but an enormous concern for Wilde, whose worry about infections and injuries greatly increased.
What to do? The stop-gap proved far simpler than anyone had considered. Daar didn’t truly need the field constantly, as Regaari had proved. What he needed was a means to stave off infection until the end of the working day…a point Daar had made previously, to his infinite frustration. The solution? Penicillin. A simple (but heavy) preventative dose every day, and a complete decontamination every night, served to keep the microbes at bay and keep his fur clean of irritants and parasites.
It wasn’t perfect, of course. A small cut on his left forepaw one day while digging holes and entrenching charges left him with a fungal infection, one he didn’t notice until his paw began to hurt several hours later. A quick dose of ciprofloxacin by Wilde and an immediate evacuation back to barracks saved Daar’s life. He protested vehemently…until the decontamination field sounded an alarm. The fungus had taken root in his paw and was just beginning to wreak havoc. The infection was purged, but his paw was left weakened and in pain. Reluctantly, for he did not wish to “abandon” his mission, he acceded to the human’s advice and Grandfather’s demands, and took an emergency shuttle back to Gao for treatment.
The Mother-Doctors of Yenmi Memorial Hospital for Alien Care ran a renowned facility. For them it was a simple treatment, all said, and only a day or two was required to restore full health and functionality to the limb. That left him a week on Gao to tell stories, make reports, meet up with friends…
“I’m being discharged today an’ I wanna stretch my legs. Come to the park?”
The Sister-Nurse in charge of his care smiled coyly. “Why, Daar! If I didn’t know better I would think you had plans for me!”
He replied with a smoldering growl, “Well, if you insist I suppose I could find time…And I haven’t properly run in so long! Wanna ride?”
“A ride?” She seemed almost scandalized. “Is that how you lure all the Sisters?”
A leer, “Only the good ones.”
“Daar!” The Mother-in-Charge appeared seemingly out of nowhere and swat Daar on his nose. She had to stand on her tip-toes to reach, for like the most intimidating mothers in human cultures, a Gaoian Mother’s powers only increased as stature decreased.
“You have not been cleared for release yet! We still have tests to run and I will not permit you to walk around until every scrap of Deathworld contamination is removed!”
No Gaoian male enjoys anger from a Mother. That was true even for Daar, who was easily five times the mass of his angry tormenter. He whined quietly, “But Mother—”
“But NOTHING, Daar of Stoneback. You will stay until the final tests are complete.”
“…Yes, Mother.” He seemed to shrink almost entirely into himself. An unconsciously wise maneuver; Mothers did not like to see their cubs distraught.
She drooped her shoulders and relented, just a tiny bit. “…I’ll hurry the tests along, Daar. But you stay put until they’re done, understand?”
“Good.” She turned to leave, but as she stepped out she turned back and gave a sly look at the two. “I think it’ll be a beautiful cub.”
The two looked at each other, and laughed.
The Mother-in-Charge was good for her word and had the tests completed that day, to Daar’s profound and increasingly frustrated relief. He hung around until shift end, chatting up the Sisters at their nursing station, then—
“You ready for that ride I promised?” He sank to all four paws and enjoyed the clearly scandalized (and intrigued) looks from the Sisters. He had eyes only for his chosen. “I need the extra weight!”
The ride he spoke of was, of course, perfectly innocent. He bore her swiftly through the park to the shocked and amused looks of all, and to her surprised and delighted joy. They talked, and shared food, and gently played, and before long a contract was proposed, agreed, and the Sister became a Mother before the evening properly set, there in a secluded corner of the park under the perfect, open sky. They remained happily together for the rest of the week but as expected, the story of his dalliance spread rapidly amongst the Sisters of the hospital. Before he left for Earth he had a number of lovely Sisters to bid him farewell, and communicator addresses stored in his contact file.
Daar, all things considered, had little to complain about.
But the lesson was learned. On return he resolved to keep the device with him at all times, deactivated so as not to interfere with his training. Just in case.
13y 9m AV
HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean
Final Prep for First JETS Deployment
“We set to go?” Walsh checked his gear one last time with Daar. As in most field deployments the men paired up with Battle Buddies, who were responsible for each other’s equipment, safety, preparation, and the like. He went over Daar’s enormous pile with a fine-toothed comb. All their gear was laid out on a big table for each man, all had checklists, and everyone verified everything twice.
Going without in the field was a necessity. But one never went without necessities.
Daar finished his checklist on Tiny’s pile. “I think that’s everything, Brother.” He bounded over, got a nod from Walsh, and began carefully packing his things. Both Tiny and Tigger were the mules for this trip and so were responsible for the bulkier items. They packed together in nervous, laughing camaraderie.
In short order the team was packed and ready to go. They changed into their field gear with few words; Game Time was upon them. Once changed they loaded their gear into their trucks, drove over to the flight pad, and began loading their gear into their spacecraft. The ship was provided courtesy of Whitecrest and incorporated Gaoian technology, and Human creativity and paranoia. It was an angular thing of deadly beauty.
Major Powell was waiting for them. “You lads prepared?”
Coombes, the team leader, spoke for them. “As prepared as we will ever be, sir.”
“Aye. You know the mission, but let me recap. You will travel to Messier 24 with appropriate caution and learn as much about the installation as you can, as discreetly as you can. Take your time, lads. Don’t rush this.”
He paused and eyed them all, confidently and reassuringly. It was a look both intimidating and inspirational. Even Daar—largest and strongest being in a group of impressive Deathworlders—duck-nodded nervously under the power of that gaze.
“I don’t lie when I say this may be one of the most important missions Mankind has ever undertaken. And the same may go for Gaoiankind, too. Know that we will not allow this mission to fail, whatever happens. You have the full support and might of our two worlds at your backs. SOR will drop EVERYTHING if we need. And should the unthinkable happen, we will see it done, and it will not be in vain.” He paused and bowed his head. “This I promise. Chaplain?”
The unit chaplain was a wizened old man and a veteran of so many quiet, critical conflicts that none present had the clearance or authority to know his complete past. He had an assistant, one of the monks at the new monastery. He was small, even for a Gaoian. But he was a Starmind and possessed of an utterly devastating intelligence. He came to study the deeply complex and intricate web of humanity’s spirituality. He adopted Buddhism. To this he added the ancient, almost-forgotten Gaoian reflections on the Eternal.
The two together commanded instant and profound respect from all.
The old man spoke with a soft yet commanding voice. “As we are Brothers of many faiths and paths, charged with the defense of our peoples, it seems inappropriate to offer what meagre words I could conjure forth. Instead, let us reflect on the opportunity we have, the blessings we’ve been given, the people we treasure, and the dreams we share.”
He bowed his head. The silence was profound.
“Amen.” This from the monk. The JETS team did not know his name. He preferred it that way, to keep ego apart from the task at hand.
“Thank you.” Powell nodded respectfully and the spirit-leaders departed.
“There…ain’t anything I can add to that, lads.” He gave a humorous chuckle. “Go with the blessings of all of us. Happy hunting.”
He saluted, and left.
Father-Initiate and Sergeant Regaari (Dexter) of Clan Whitecrest
“Your guest is here to see you.”
“Thank you, send him in.”
He entered. Regaari knew the face; the Gaoian before him was one of the pirates they had processed so long ago. Thankfully, the scars had healed up from his long and (distressingly) brutal interrogation, which Regaari found deeply unfortunate. Pirates, being outlaws, were generally reluctant to reveal information and this had required…persuasion. Exactly what that might entail for each detainee depended entirely on their personal lives, their network of friends, Clan prospects, and so forth. It was exhausting to track.
A few would not respond to any form of gentle encouragement, not even the subtle and insidious refinements Regaari had gleaned from human interrogation methods. Those were sad cases indeed. Their resistance was admirable, in a sense, though their false loyalty was disadvantageous to Gao and therefore could not be permitted.
This one was Detainee 47 and his case had been the most regretful. That this Detainee would seek Regaari out after such an experience could only mean two things. Revenge, or…
Regaari offered him a chair and a fruit drink.
“How may I help you, Six?”