Battle of Haibi Chapter 27

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Previous: Battle of Haibi Chapter 26: The Flood

Chapter 27: Hightail

"Speaker," he asks softly, "Where am I?"

<Sector Four Mid,> the computer says, adding a much more precise reference before finishing, <Ashfeather Pumpkin, you are at a depth of six metres under the water surface.>

"Water surface," he gasps, starting to swim towards the surface as he continues to speak, "The aqueduct?"

<The aqueduct is breached near its entrance, just east of Defense Tower Four, which is now flooded up to its third storey>

"Survivors?" he grunts as he breaks the surface, hearing his armor's air vents open, realizes he's in a rapid current and that the position the computer gave him is quite outdated ... probably ... there is nothing nearby that he recognizes. The whole city is underwater.

<Defense Tower Four has 414 survivors within its structure.>

"What time is it?"

<Haibi year seventy-six, twelfth month, twenty-first day, afternoon first hour, third minute.>

"At least I'm well rested," he says as he tosses his flyer pack into the air, whence it deploys and lifts him from the water, "Crud, I don't have my rifle."

Nick lies on his side, as though dead, beside Roku's head. Alone in the tiny room, he can do nothing.

Something touches his feet. He reaches out and grips it, and his eyes pop open. He pulls himself up onto the the thickly gloved finger, then starts screaming and flapping his wings furiously, trying to lift it.

Roku plunks her head back down onto the floor, her mask scarred, and no longer aglow with its red light.

She reaches out and touches the screen of the kiosk, finding a control, it switches from full color to a deep red. Then she pulls the mask from her face and looks at the excited bird.

"Are you alright?" Nick signs.

"Yes," she says aloud, "But my suit is toast,"

She looks up at the screen and recognizes it's Latin time display mode:

"SCD+76yr Dec 21 13:14"

"You scared me, Nick," she sighs, "I thought you were dead."

The bird freaks, flapping his wings furiously and squawking so loud that it almost hurts her ears.

She smiles, then wonders, "So, you know who I am?"

The bird extends his left wing, then turns to the kiosk.

"Speaker," she says softly, "Um... how close in physical form are haibane to their precursors?"

"Unknown," the computer intones, "No cocoon haibane precursor has ever been positively identified."

"Clues?" Roku grasps, "How about from cocoon dream details?"

"Unlikely," the computer says, "Some cocoon dreams indicate vast differences between precursor physical characteristics and those of the haibane."

"Such as?" Roku asks.

"Kabocha is the most extreme example," the display shows his haibane guise, much as a Japanese man, but with deep brown eyes, "His precursor was most likely Negroid, likely he or his parents migrated from Africa to North America under force."

"The eyes?" Roku asks.

After a moment, the kiosk answers, "Good observation, Roku. Haibane Kabocha's eyes are consistent with a Negroid heritage."

"If the Soul Cube met someone, and that person was to reappear as a haibane," Roku asks, "Would it be possible to find a match based on eye details?"

"Possibly," the Speaker says, "Sensor resolution is sufficient in many cases. Ashfeather Six, do you have a candidate in mind?"

"Yes," she stares at the screen, "Compare the details of my eyes with those of the members of the mercenary combat team, Operation Tatakai."

After a minute, the computer says, "Except for the effects of the injury you incurred three days ago, Ashfeather Six, your eyes are a perfect match to Juice Hightail, pilot and rifleman."

Roku gasps, seeing the red outline in the screen. She first configures it to show the sensor's image of her beside the still portrait of Juice, then blinks a couple of times, closes her eyes, and returns the screen to full color.

Opening them, she recognizes herself in the face of the historic mercenary for the first time, her sore eyes glancing back and forth from the muscularly overweight rifleman to her own much more slender face. Her hair is neat today, but a mess back then, but nevertheless exactly the same shade of auburn.

She closes her eyes, falls to her face and cries, asking to hear the voice of Juice, the warrior she was before.

"Dang security on the You-Eee-Jee's biggest newcleeare sub are a bunch of cheeekain's," she drawls in a language Roku barely understands, and an accent she can barely tolerate.

The bird taps her on the shoulder as another voice, "Juice, try to stick to slugs for those four forward tubes, it'll take at least forty seconds for their reinforcements get back from the forward end."

"That's 'cus they're just too cheeeekain!" Juice laughs.

"Let's see if we can get Praeleanthor her sample," a third voice, a woman, says, "Nick can you dog that hatch and pressurize this side? Lock them out of the missile compartment?"

"Yes," comes the response. Roku bawls anew as she realizes it is the same soul that nibbles on her hood as a humble crow, but rears her head to watch the video. "Can do one better and fuse it with a plasma LSC."

As the video plays, a wobbly, wide field image shows the interior of what must be the UEDS Fenton Nobell. The two people in the foreground, with their backs to the "camera" are obviously Jack and Devon Campbell, busting into compartments where fifty-four centimetre wide cruise missiles are stacked twelve at a time like matchsticks.

"Nick, once you have that hatch sealed," it's Jack, "We'll need you to sever the command harness on the keel line on B-deck and isolate the lateral sonar arrays."

"How fast?" Nick asks, "If you need it in thirty seconds, I'll have to make a big bang. The torch will take at least three minutes, 'cus they look after that wiring trunk pretty good."

"ASAP!" a new voice calls out, "They almost have us cracked." It was the mysterious Echo.

"I've got the Bee-Eff-Gee," Juice calls out, "Nikki, could you mark the spot? Mebbe eye can smack her from the catwawk."

A couple of bullets, "There?" the crow-to-be asks.

"Take cuvver, buddy!" she calls out. The image pans to show a blurry figure effortlessly wielding an enormous cannon twice as big as even the long range Haibi rifle. She swings it over the edge of a railing towards the floor of the deck below. From it emits a quaint, but recognizable version of the.Mode B missile.

Squishing her sore eyes shut, Roku enters the memory. She sees the explosion in high-resolution surround sound and rich color. I was really here! She feels the inertia of her limbs and the weapon as she claps the foregrip handle closed, locks it into her armor, and pulls a shotgun off her right side.

"Did I get it, Nick?" suddenly the strange accent and the language are her native tongue.

"Perfect shot," her friend congratulates her as she loads slugs into her shotgun from a bandolier hanging over her left breast, "I just need to make sure it went through, and if it didn't, I can look after it."

"I'm going to go on fragging nukes," she says, "Say hi to the chickens for me." Roku knows exactly where to point her shotgun at the cylinders. Knows that to hit an inch too low and bust open the cruise missile's battery compartment would mean certain death for her and all four of her closest friends, yet she does not hesitate. Roku knows exactly where inside the smooth-skinned missile the ignition box is and blows it away with a perfect blast. In only two seconds, the amazed lucid passenger of this vivid dream feels herself think about the process of this battle, the possibility of an unlucky technician hiding behind the next tube with a handgun, and dismisses it. Another nuclear warhead is destroyed, and another. Roku is amazed that she is so familiar with a device that she has never seen before, never held as a haibane, as she reloads the shotgun. She is able to picture the action rod connected to the foregrip with a "clutch", and a superconducting linear solenoid in the shoulder stock, the adjustable forcing cone and choke. She suddenly knows it better than Haibi's much more complicated plasma rifles.

"Devon, Juice, fragged four and five port, all missiles, no inadvertent damage," she drawls with a hint of pride at a job progressing very well. She hears through her haibane ears the way Devon chuckled at the way "inadvertent" was mutilated by the bizarre accent.

"Both forward and aft trapped crew are headed for the floaters," Echo says as Roku continues to reduce the United Earth Deterrent Force along the left side of the huge submarine. Floaters, she knows, refer to two of the vessel's three evacuation rafts, each of which can save the entire crew.

"Chickens," Roku laughs heartily.

"Trouble!" Jack warns, "It means that they've decided correctly that the best way to deal with us is with the scuttling charges. We have to frag these nukes before we leave."

Roku's flawlessly wasted ten more cruise missiles while he was speaking, "They're still chicken," she says, "Hey Echo, am I past my bag limit yet? That's sixty," she says just before she blasts the igniter out of a missile, and slews the nimble shotgun to another as she says, "sixty-one."

"Let's say it's two-forty," Devon says almost melodically, "Juice, you're doing great." Roku knows both listening to the video as a haibane and experiencing her memory, that Jack and Devon are destroying the warheads on the other side of the submarine.

"Two-thirty-nine," Jack says, "Praeleanthor wants one."

Roku, remembering that the sub has "only" 240 nuclear weapons on board, chuckles, then says, "Sounds good, boss." Suddenly, she recalls that she actually got a hundred and five.

Roku finds herself with her hand on the kiosk screen, correct in realizing that if she stopped the replay of the Soul Cube's recording, she would stop reliving her dream and be able to admire the crow. Her friend for eighty-five years.

Roku smiles as she realizes that her dream persona did not have the faintest idea what Jack and Devon were referring to when they said 'Praeleanthor.'

Next: Battle of Haibi Chapter 28: Tailoring the Defense

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