Hollowed Memories, chapter 7, part 1

November 23, 2014

Chapter 7:  Underground

He met his contacts by the riverside, after quite a long walk.  After his nighttime flight, Yarec found a spot to rest in the lee of a rocky outcrop.  It was surrounded by tufts of dessicated grass, enough to keep him concealed from any hostile observers who stayed at a reasonable distance.  Yarec knew it was unwise to sleep out under the sky, especially in unfamiliar country.  However, sometimes there were no other options.

Yarec would be in danger while he slept, but he had always been a light sleeper.  Even with his eyes shut, it would be difficult to take him completely by surprise.  He was well equipped to spend the night out in the open, although he heard of other individuals who might have been even better prepared.  For the last few years, there had been rumors flying, of specially equipped soldiers or agents who could fight even in their sleep.  They were supposed to have been spotted in South Asia, snoring with their eyes open, then leaping up with gun or blade in hand if anyone else ventured too near.  The necessary technology might be plausible—rerouting visual stimuli and gross motor control through some kind of digital device while the recipient slept in darkness.  Yared had not seen any actual intelligence about such superlatively modified individuals, but if they were real, he would likely find out eventually—probably when someone sent him on a mission to kidnap one of the surgeons who knew how the required work was done.

In the partial shelter of the stone, Yarec found a few more hours of sleep without being disturbed.  He was itchy when he woke up, but he lay perfectly still, concentrating until the irritating sensation had passed.  He focused all his attention on the patches of itchy flesh, letting them feel heavy and relaxed, until each one was free of discomfort.  Then he sat up, rubbing the back of his head, which had happened to be resting on a sharp knob of rock.  He looked around cautiously, initially keeping hidden behind the outcropping as he peered back westward, in the direction of the Kruppeen Engineering Center.  No one else seemed to be in sight.  He had departed from the road before bedding down, and the only things around were dirt, rocks, spotty plants, and a few small ground-dwelling birds.  The sun was still low, but it was full light, and Yarec knew he ought to get moving soon, once he had an idea which way to head.

He unfolded the wire headset that was resting against the back of his neck, invisible next to the black collar of his shirt.  The tiny speakers hooked over his earlobes, underneath the gray micro-woven cap that had been keeping his head warm.  A small pickup dangled near his mouth, and his tongue tapped out a series of tiny clicks, ordering the device into transmission mode.  The clicks were barely audible even to Yarec (for whom they were magnified by the reverberations inside his skull) but the headset heard and replied with a clear tone, like the sound of a thin metal bell.  Yarec issued more instructions, with a mixture of coded clicks and spoken commands, and opened a channel toward the nearest allied communication station.

The headset transmitter identified itself by number and the processor at the other end accepted.  Once the two-way link was functioning, it tried to locate a human operator, and after a few seconds of repetitive but inoffensive drum music, a breathy male voice popped into Yarec’s ear.

“Captain ban Silfien, sir,” the voice said, “can you please confirm your identity?”

“Transparent furious limpet,” Yarec said, invoking one of his more esoteric identity codes.  The operator he did not have direct access to the list of acceptable answers, but the communications computer confirmed the adequacy of Yarec’s response.

“Thank you, sir,” the man said after the necessary pause.  “Are you safe at your current location?” he asked, proceeding according to his script.

“Yes, yes,” Yarec replied.  “I’m alone and in no danger, so far as I can see.”

“That’s good,” was the man’s response, then, “Do you need immediate assistance?”

“Listen, there have been some problems,” Yarec said.  “I don’t want to grouse too much, but I was sent into a literally unstable situation.  I need to know what’s going on and what I need to do.”

“Well, uh… well,” the operator stammered a bit, not having all the information Yarec required immediately at hand.  “I’ve actually got several urgent messages for you.”

“They’re presumably related,” Yarec interrupted.

“Yes, sir,” the man at the other end sighed.  “Would you like to hear those messages?”

“How many are there?” Yarec asked, feeling tired, hungry, and impatient.

“Just three.”

“Fine then.  Shoot ‘em at me.”

“Check.”  The operator’s voice again became clipped and businesslike.  “Message one, to Captain ban Silfien, from Colonel Conchita Tomblin, United Command Headquarters, at zero fifty-four this morning:  Yarec, we have reports of violent activity at the Kruppeen Engineering facility where you are deployed.  Please take care, and if possible, advise us of developments.”

“Acknowledged,” Yarec said.

“Moving on….  Message two, to Captain ban Silfien, from Colonel Conchita Tomblin, United Command Headquarters, at one twenty-eight this morning:  There have been several explosions at your location.  Exercise extreme caution.  You are authorized to take necessary actions to address the situation.”

“Acknowledged.  Keep going.”

“Message three, to Captain ban Silfien, from General-Admiral Sebastian Dotchki, at two oh six this morning:  Damn, Yarec, you sure got out of there pretty fast.  A few electrical fireworks and you dash.  Well, it was probably the smart thing to do, if sparks were shooting off all over the place.  I assume you got away fine, but we do need confirmation that we’re doing alright.

We’ve been in contact with the Solara brothers who are going to guide you.  They will try to meet up with you on the way to the investigation site.”

“That was the last message?” Yarec asked.  “Nothing since then?”

“Negative, sir.  Those were the three.”

“Well, this is just great.”  Yarec crammed his fingers into fists, in a display of frustration that the operator would not see.  He exhaled sharply three or four times, then said, “I can confirm that I’m alive.”

“Acknowledged, sir.  I have recorded that you survived the incident.”

Then Yarec asked, “Do you have any more info about what all that stuff blowing up back there was?”

“Uh, I don’t see any, but I’ll include a note about it in my report,” the operator said apologetically.

“Real slick.  I’m still in the dark,” Yarec sighed.  “Thanks anyway.”  There was a dull pause—a few seconds of silence while the men faced off against their parallel frustrations.  Then Yarec asked, “Have you got my position?”

“Yes, sir, your coordinates are transmitted clearly.  Please leave your set tuned in, so we can track your movements and get ahold of you when we need to.”

“Will comply,” Yarec muttered.  “Can you shoot the rendezvous directions over?”

“Already done, sir,” was the clipped response.

“Thanks.  Lemme have a look.”  Yarec fell silent for a while.  He called up the area map on his computing lamina.  It was folded into eighths, to fit comfortably in his palm, and only the topmost display surface was on.  As promised, there was a new route outlined on the map, transmitted from a computer bank somewhere, to a relay station, to Yarec’s radio headset, and finally over to his personal computing device.  The dotted orange path looked fairly easy.  He needed to loop around a marshy area and down to the Black Snail River.  There was a semi-improved road paralleling the river, and he was supposed to meet up with the Solaras along it.  Beyond the anticipated meeting point, the dots continued toward the east in red.

“It looks to be in order,” Yarec said at last, after tracing out the full route with his eyes three times.  He stared across the plain in the direction he was supposed to head, but there was nothing much worth seeing in view.  Before cutting off the transmission, he added a bit of strictly social conversation.  “How much longer is your shift?” Yarec asked.

“About an hour, sir.”  For the first time, Yarec thought the operator sounded tired.

“So we probably won’t be talking again today,” Yarec said.  “I hope you have a better rest period than I did last night.  Signing off, but leaving the channel open.”

“Signing off, sir.”

Yarec glanced at the map again, then once more surveyed the terrain.  With a histrionic sigh, he started walking.  His night spent on the run, then sleeping under a rock, had left his muscles stiff and twitchy.  As he started moving, there were jabs of discomfort from spots on his hamstrings and ankles; but then they settled down into just a barely perceptible soreness, which he could endure for many hours, if necessary.  He ate while he walked, nibbling at a chewy red-brown bar.  It tasted sweet, like a mixture of real fruits, and it was packed with sugars and important proteins.  The bar was not large, but it was designed to be filling, and when Yarec dropped the last sticky crumb into his mouth, he felt mostly satisfied.  He took a long drink of water from the canteen on his belt and ran his tongue over his teeth, trying to wash away the fuzzy feeling in his mouth.  Then there was nothing to do but walk, keeping an eye on the scenery and which way he was headed.

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