Battle of Haibi Chapter 18

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Previous: Battle of Haibi Chapter 17: Willow Branch

Chapter 18: Feather Conspiracy

"Let me get this straight," Tess signs at Nick, "You sealed up some serum from Lake Baikal, and flew with half a pound of that stuff all the way to Siege Command?"

"Yes," Nick replies, "and I couldn't drink the stuff, that's how I wound up half-dead in the Western Grove. I couldn't quite make it back to the Flight Well."

"So your plan is to dump it into Siege Command's computer cooling system?" Tess asks.

Nick's eyes twinkle in the light of the Friday morning of the second shortest day of the year, "You should see what that stuff does to microcircuitry!"

"You're on crack, Nick," Tess responds. What the crows and Defenders know, but few other citizens within Haibi, is that the earth is populated by a quantum virus that turns water into blood. The Saviour ordered the Soul Cube to create it during the False Peace, when the United Earth Government, and therefore most of humanity, was allied with the demons. The virus almost immediately polluted a third of the ocean area of the planet, then mysteriously paused in its progress. Despite the peace and this wonderful source of fresh food, after just three and a half years, the demons decided they had enough of looking at these creatures made in the image of God and elected to wipe them out. At that point, the virus spread until it had converted all water, in the oceans, rivers and aquifers, into blood.

Except, as it turned out, one rather small one in Siberia that is now incorporated into Haibi under the Flight Well, a discovery that surprised the Praeleanthor while they were looking for the best site to Deploy.

Standing blood congeals, and thus, after several months, it separates into the clot and the serum. Fortunately for all concerned, it happens much slower than in normal blood. The blood conversion virus, after several years of letting the serum purify, can infect the water again. Hellspawn who eat blood (quantum virus or natural), metabolize it into delta vector. Delta vector emits delta radiation, and delta radiation does a gruesomely efficient job of ruining most living tissue and semiconductor electronics.

"Here's one for you, Tess," Nick gestures, "We crows are completely immune to delta radiation."

The other crow, next to him, stands there for quite some time, cocking her head on occasion to track the nurses and orderlies wandering into work, occasionally pausing to gaze upon the apparently romantic pair.

Finally Tess says, "Nick, you really are on crack." Then she pecks him on the beak and starts preening the feathers on his head as she signs, "How do we get out of here without blowing our cover?"

"Haibi could well be gone by this time tomorrow," Nick signs. Then he thrashes his toes around and flies to the door.

Nick picks up a small stick, jabs it through the wire, lifts the latch inside the north wing proper, and then flaps his wings wildly to pull open the door a few inches.

"Screw the cover," he had so quickly signed.

"What the heck?" the nurse at the triage desk gasps as a crow with extra long feathers, most artifically extended using dowels in their shafts, soars from the direction of the aviary and lands on the bookcase in the waiting room The nurse turns to see who touched her shoulder and sees nothing. Spinning to see who touched her other shoulder, she then feels something soft smack her in the head and feels the strap of her key card slip upwards through her hair. Angered, she spins to confront the thief and hears the flapping of wings. She turns back just in time to see a second crow tap it against the card reader next to the door. Both crows fly away, leaving the key card on the floor.

"I guess they're well enough to go, after all," Shinzoo says from beside the bewildered nurse.

"Where's Tori?" the nurse snorts, "I can't believe he'd train them to do something like that!"

"He went away, remember that big light show Wednesday night?" Shinzoo asks, "I'm looking after the birds for now, praying that God would send someone who can do better."

"You haibane are so wierd," she snorts as she stoops to pick up her key card next to the entrance.

Roku eats from the meal tray in the dim room, curtains covering the narrow horizontal window. Breakfast is the most tender strips of beef she's ever had in her life, along with stir-fried vegetables, and little strips of slightly cooked tuna tataki.

"I guess hospital food isn't so bad," she says as she looks up at Yuki. They are in Defense Tower Four's convalescence ward on the sixth floor. Roku pauses for a moment, and almost absently taps the tips of her empty chopsticks together next to her ear. Then resumes eating.

"What's that about?" Yuki asks curiously.

"Well," says Roku, exploring the remains of her breakfast, "when you can't see, everything sounds, feels, tastes, and smells better."

"You're not totally blind," he says.

Roku looks at him, trying to focus. "Ow," she says, "A little bit. The battle mask will help, but getting around in forty pounds of armor all the time..." her voice trails off.

"Is something wrong?" Yuki asks.

"Oh, no," Roku says softly. She's a lousy liar. Yuki can tell there is, just something she can't talk about.

"They say it'll be about six weeks before I can return to duty," he clears his throat. There's probably still some fluid getting into his thoracic air sacs from the broken wing. "I can't operate the suit until I'm all better, the wings are kinda essential. How about you?"

"Monday," she says. Suddenly she starts bawling.

Yuki struggles from his chair to a spot beside her on the bed, "Tell me what's wrong," he urges.

"Classified," she sobs, resting her head on her arms, on the meal cart, her unfinished food beside her head.

"Forgive me," Yuki says, "but you're more sensitive than I expected. After experiencing that air strike you weathered on Tuesday, I thought you'd be a tougher hombrè than this. I'm sure it'll work out, whatever it is."

"Monday," she weeps more softly, "It's too late, and they need me."

"Too late..." Yuki sighs, "for what?" Then he leans back and says, "Oh, shit. Intel thinks they're going to attack before then, right?"

Roku struggles to get back up, then eats a strip of beef.

"Am I right?" Yuki persists.

Roku nods.

"That would explain why all the day shifters are in the training facility at Central Tower," Yuki snorts. "I'm getting a rifle to guard our room. We'll get through this."

"Hey," Roku starts, "boss." She's on the phone. "Yuki's here. I kinda spilled the beans about tomorrow." She winces, "Try ... With the new switches we can set from Mode A and Mode B and back fairly quickly, but... Oh, well that sucks."

Yuki slumps, "It's bad, isn't it?" he asks.

Roku nods. "Kabocha, I'm going back to bed, put me on the wall tonight, just a rifle. I'll recalibrate my battle mask and do some spotting. I can see a little, yes. I think I can make the mask oculars easy enough on my eyes that I can do something at least. A double shift after a day and a half of sleeping, I can handle no problem. Thanks, boss."

"I'll leave you to that rest, then," Yuki says.

"Are you going to be alright?" Roku asks, able to focus on the dark shape below fuzzy glow that must be his halo, "knowing, I mean?"

"Yeah," Yuki says, "I think so. If I'm to die in battle, I'm doing it with a weapon in my hands. I said that the day my wings came out."

Roku blurts, "Oh, I'm just curious ... Your cocoon dream?"

"Something like that, yeah," Yuki says with a smile. He clears his throat and puts on a bit of a Russian accent, "Samurai thinks it was the Siege of Moskba against the Germans two hundred fifteen years before Deployment," then he chuckles, "I think it was against the French three hundred forty-four years before Deployment." He sighs, back to his normal accent, "I hope we have a chance to settle that argument. Good night, Roku."

She looks about grimly to her companions. The controls around her look quaint, but she knows them well. She doesn't understand any of the markings, only functions she does not know the words for. She reaches for them with a huge hand, pale and callused, wearing a leather glove. This one sets the vehicle to remain hovering where it is. She goes from the control cabin into the back of the vehicle, flooded with crimson red light. She looks left at the console where a relatively skinny blonde young man winks at her.

From the corner of his console, tacked into the vehicle's cabin, hangs a large ornately carved cube with five glowing green lights, dangling about as the vehicle shifts with the movements of its five occupants. This object looks somehow familiar, but somehow not so.

Roku turns to the back ramp, nods at a young lady with long blonde hair and piercing green eyes, who seems in a panic to hide her mane in her armor suit. She turns to the other man, who is bigger and with short hair. They stare at each other for a few seconds, and the both start suddenly chuckling.

The blonde lady, equal boss with the man, turns to her and speaks. Roku does not hear the lady's voice, but understanding forms in her thoughts: They are destroying a missile in the concrete pit below them. Roku wonders how, but her body in the dream nods, and cocks a weapon in her hands by a foregrip pump. The warheads on top of the missile are the priority, and she is to destroy four of twelve on it, without blowing up the launching stage below it.

Roku is stunned at the pace of the dream, as she, in her far larger body, descends into the underground silo on a rope and does her job. When she returns to the controls of her vehicle, the clock has advanced only three minutes. Roku wonders how she knows that if she can't read it. The third of her three companions helped her up the ramp. This small, quick man, whom she dwarfs, whom she envies the speed of. She remembers that on ladders and ropes, she can outclimb him like he's standing still, but that is her only advantage. For a moment, he looks familiar to Roku. She has seen him before ... in real life.

As Roku grips the flying vehicle's wheel, she hears a tapping on the window and suddenly, of her own will for the first time, turns her head to the right.

And sees nothing. She groans, "Dang, I'm up."

She hears a tapping on the window, just as in the dream. The window behind the drapes. Seventeen taps. She daren't pull back the drapes and let in the afternoon sun, but she listens. Seventeen taps.

"Who is it?" she asks.

Seventeen taps.

"Juunana?," she wonders to herself.

Two taps.

She finds her phone on the nightstand, and dials out. "Uh ... Konbonwa, is this the Western University Hospital? ... The crows in Tori's aviary ... Escaped? ... Which two? Thank you."

She drops the phone on her bed, reaches up under the drapes, and opens the window. The two ravens spill into the darkened room.

"Juunanaban?" she asks, lowering her hand to the floor. The bird hops into her hands, and using the same foot language as before, asks her for a meal replacement ration.

"I've got some beef from this morning," she indicates the breakfast cart.

"We have too much flying to do in the upcoming battle," The bird stomps in her hands, "Calorie density, and two medicine vials with water, please."

"Ima, nanji?" she wonders mostly to herself, looking for the clock.

"4:12 in the afternoon," she feels the warm feathered creature in her hands, "Time for a couple scratches?" The bird shifts onto her left hand.

Carefully, she pets the head of a bird she is unable to see, feeling the soft black feathers in the dark.

"Thank you, Roku," he signs.

"Thank you, Juunana," Roku weeps with her voice.

She offers the crow a perch on the meal tray, which he takes. Then she phones, "Hi, I'm Roku-chan. I'm a little hungry again, can I get a meal replacement ration and, if you can spare them, two empty pill vials with the lids. Oh, and knock when you get here, I still must hide my eyes from the bright light in the hallway."

The two birds hide when the attendant gets there. He's not a nurse, but a second watch Defender.

"Thank you," Roku says.

"My pleasure," he says, removing the breakfast leftovers, "and what would you like for dinner? Another MRR?," he shakes his head, "I got chicken stew on the go."

"That would be great, thanks," Roku replies.

Her fellow gunner looks slightly impish and says, "Sounds like you're up to something," then leaves before she can answer.

The crows practice popping the lids off and drinking from the pill containers, and sound very happy. They are in a mad rush to eat, and are soon scratching at the window to get back out. Roku obliges, and wonders. "Juuyonban, Juunanaban, will I ever see you again?" Then she chuckles, "Maybe we should call ourselves the numbered ones."

Next: Battle of Haibi Chapter 19: Battlestations!

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