Battle of Haibi Chapter 12
Previous: Battle of Haibi Chapter 11: Tailspin
Chapter 12: Precursors
Roku is walking along main street towards the Central Tower. It is a training day for her. She checks her watch and sits down at a bench. She pulls out a small bag and tosses some seeds to the sparrows. She starts rambling at them, "This all feels so strange, being a haibane and all. I'm used to war and bloodshed, deployment orders. Now I live in a quaint little apartment save for a few nights in a barracks."
Her loud sigh startles a couple of the sparrows, but they show no further interest as she whispers, "I know nothing of what my life was like in the Final War ... except how it feels." The sparrows must be particularly hungry, as two of them hop up on the bench beside her and pick some crumbs that she spilled by accident just inches away from her hip. "It seems odd that you'd get so close," she whispers, "And for some reason," she reflects, "I feel afraid ... not of death or injury or persecution." She closes her eyes and whispers, "I'm afraid of turning into a garrison softie ... What does that mean?"
She opens her eyes, sensing that someone has sat down on the bench beside her. There's no one there. A black shape catches her eye, and standing on the bench's ornate stone upright is a crow. As soon as it realizes that she's noticed, he takes off.
"Who-" she pauses as the crow deftly catches a thermal updraft over the next alley and stops flapping its wings even as it continues to climb. "Who am I? Do you know?"
She checks her watch, and as she stands, the sparrows on the bench appear to regain their sense of self-preservation and scatter. She pours the rest of her dried out bread crust onto the snow in the plaza. About a hundred sparrows have gathered and elbow each other as she reaches the stairs on the western face of the square tower.
She arrives at the second floor, the control room simulator. Samurai greets her, then whispers, "Willow Branch say anything?"
She shakes her head. "Has a haibane precursor ever been positively identified?" she asks.
"No," Samurai says, "Well ... I don't know, actually. I think if I found out who my precursor was, especially if it was someone famous like Nick Vitores or Jack Campbell ... I doubt I'd want it known all around."
"Nick?" she asks.
"Oh," Samurai says, "Operation Tatakai, the Final War unit that wielded the Soul Cube. Their main members were Jack and Devon Campbell, but they picked up several long term members before the annihilation battle. Nick Vitores, Victor Neufeld, Juice Hightail ... Echo, dang, not even Gillie could figure out his real name."
"Do we know what happened to them?" Roku asks.
Samurai says, "Vitores lasted just into the Annihilation, February or March of zero year and died when the Tatakai vehicle at that time was shot down. Neufeld was a marked lab assistant in the first teleporter lab, the Soul Cube stole his implants, and then he was mostly a data sleuth. He was left in Miami when the annihilation started ... at his request. He probably starved to death. Juice went missing just after," Samurai racks his brain, "No, sorry, just before the Annihilation started. Probably secretly murdered while running her last errand, nobody has any idea what became of her."
"Echo?" Roku asks.
Samurai laughs, "As if. He went back to the UEG Marine Corps just after the annihilation began, so we know even less about his fate."
"Could I," Roku says softly, afraid of what the answer might be, "have been one of them?"
"I seriously doubt it. First, you don't look like any of them, and..." his voice trails off.
Roku silently prods for the rest of the tought.
Samurai turns and looks at her, "Well, haibane might look totally different than their precursors, and that might be why we've never been able to track one down. Kabocha thinks you're Featherwing Tatakai herself, but..."
"I first reacted to that name by saying Haibane Tatakai," Roku says, "She must have died too late to have been executed for refusing an implant. After the Annihilation started, the implant became meaningless, and in my cocoon dream, it is clear that I was executed for refusing to take one." Roku looks away momentarily, wondering if he has a response. After a minute, she turns back to him and says, "I think that if Devon Campbell comes back, she will take on that name, Tatakai. She must have died in battle."
"I wish she were around now," Samurai says, "but hey!" He turns towards her and says, "We're very blessed to have you in our defense. You place first in most categories of training, but there is one thing you need to improve on."
"Just one?" she chuckles.
Samurai smiles, "True. After just five weeks as a haibane, you still have a lot to learn, even if they're just refresher courses. This thing," he reaches into an equipment cell built into the corridor next to the opening by the stairs, "I'm pretty sure your precursor has never seen."
"So, I need to improve on?" she says with a coy smile.
"Your flying," Samurai says with a smile.
Roku claps her wings back so hard that they generate a startling clap, then blows such a gust of air at Samurai that his hair is blown about. "I've tried," she says.
"Did your precursor ever fly?" Samurai asks.
"No," Roku says flatly.
"No airliners, gliders, parachutes-"
"Oh!" Roku blurts, blushing. She spreads a wing and says, "I thought you meant these."
"Well, you use them," Samurai waits for just long enough for Roku to get uncomfortable, then finishes, "to steer..." He hands her the backpack as he finishes, "A self-rigidizing, hikarinium suspended paraflyer. That's how Kabocha got the radiation herbs to you so fast when," he pauses to steel himself for the name, "Taka got hit." They spend a moment in silence, which he breaks by smacking her on the shoulder, "Come on, I'll show you."