“Junebug, do you have any family?” Taya’s voice sounded in her ear. Sweating profusely in the hot afternoon sun, Sayeeda lifted the rivet gun attached to her breastplate, pressed it against the rock face and pulled the trigger. The gun fired the rivet into the volcanic stone with a satisfying cha-chunk sound. Letting the gun hang from its attachment point Junebug fed the length of polymer rope she was belayed with and snapped the carabiner like closure shut.
“Not really mission critical Taya,” she responded, pausing to let the rope take her weight and drink from the canteen on her webbing belt. At the moment she was halfway up the side of the volcano that the locals apparently worshiped. A hundred meters or so below her, on the highest point reachable by gun jeep Taya was keeping a look out. Junebug had made the assent using the rivets as improvised pinions. In normal operation the tool would have been used to hard bolt electrical or fiberoptic cabling to the hull, but any tool which could fire a two inch rivet into the hull of a starship would work just fine for a little improvised mountain climbing.
“Humor me,” the girl radioed back. Climbing another four or five meters she attached the next rivet and belayed herself to it. With her magnified helmet view she could see that the girl was doing as she was supposed to, sitting in the back of the gun jeep watching the sensor box for movement. Their objective was to place a half dozen bundled charges as close to the mouth of the volcano as was practical. With Loney’s helpful if annoying input Sayeeda had been able to convert a number of emergency countermeasure flares into improvised explosives that should be really damn impressive when the went off. She had bought Taya along because she really did need a look out and the girl was an ace at setting up the communications system they would need for this particular gambit. Neil, ordinarily her first choice, she had opted to leave behind to work on his speech with Zalli. She had the impression that progress was slow and had instructed Lonny to hit Neil with a sleep learning packet of Zil, the closest language to the database had to what the natives used, the very next time he took a nap.
“Fine, my parents and my brother and sister are back on BLANK, my homeworld,” she said, ascending another three meters before driving another rivet. It had been over five -or seven now that she thought about it - years since she had spoken to any of them.
“What do they do?” Taya pressed. Junebug judged that another ten or fifteen meters would bring her to a sufficient height and she continued to climb the rockface, carefully seeking out hand holds as she went. The view from up here was spectacular, she could see far out over the see of greenish blue jungle, the horizons slightly shimmery in the hot afternoon air.
“My father is a human resource manager for one of the big conglomerates and my mother is an anthropologist. My sister is a doctor and my brother is a lawyer… an advocate maybe you would say,” she went on, cursing viciously as a rock gave way beneath her hand but able to distribute the weight to the other three points of contact. Her lithe muscles bunched as she levered herself higher.
“Oh,” Taya responded disappointment clear over the radio link.
“Not what you were expecting?” Junebug asked. The HUD in her helmet marked her as within three meters of the site they had chosen for the first charge, she added two more rivets and attached her line to both points before taking a second spool of rope from her webbing and tying the end of it around a metal weight.
“Uhh, I guess I was expecting space pirates or something,” Taya admitted. Junebug attached the spool to one of the free rivets and tossed the weight out and away from her.
“Line away!” she called as she swung slightly outward on her safety rope. The polymer cord paid out of the spool with a soft whirring sound as the weight bounced down the slope. Far below she saw Taya scramble out of the jeep watching the rope coming down the mountain side towards her.
“Do you ever talk to them?” the girl persisted. Junebug was about to snap a rebuke but then thought of the girl, far from everyone she knew, with no certaininty if her family were alive or dead. Junebugs credits were on the later, either eaten by alien bug creatures or executed in the millitary coup detat that her fathers foolish gambit had made inevitable.
“No not really,” she replied somberly. Below her she saw Taya climb the few meters up the steeply sloped ground to where the improvised weight had lodged in an irregularity in the rocks. Pulling it free and flashing Junebug a thumbs up that she could only see due to the image magnifcation in her helmet she started back down towards the jeep.
“Why don’t you talk to them?” Taya went on. Junebug rolled her eyes wondering if this was some teenage preoccupation with family drama.
“I went home about five years after I signed on with the Armored, five months leave,” she explained, watching as the younger woman lifted a heavy satchel, packed with explosives from the gun jeep and attached the pack to the line.
“Hooked up,” Taya reported.
“Stand clear,” Junebug replied and hit the retrieval switch on the spool. The thing had an internal power supply and began to turn on its improvised mount drawing the cord back into itself. After a few seconds of picking up slack the cord went taught and it began to haul the pack up the side of the mountain. Uncertain how much power the thing had Junebug grabbed handfuls of the rope every so often, lifting the weight, not inconsiderable but hardly unmanageable, to take the strain of the motor.
“As you pointed out my family are fairly conventional people, they didn’t really understand who I was anymore,” she expounded. It had been a tough time, the other veterans had warned her it would be. After five years in the field she couldn’t relax amidst the peaceful surrounds of her homeworld, constantly looking for threats that weren't there, enduring hours of conversation about people she didn’t and couldn’t care about any more. One night, when she had been really drunk, her brother had found her foot locker which had been stenciled ‘Junebug Cykali’ and asked her how she had come by the sobriquet. She had used her helmet cam to show some panoramic views of foreign worlds she had visited before, but drunk and depressed she had called up the footage. They had all seen it. Watched from Sayeeda’s point of view as she rushed through the vast star ships. Watched as she had gunned down a half dozen federals who maybe were surrendering, not that she had time to figure that out before she pulled the trigger and stars, even if she had, what other choice did she have? They had seen her gun drunk, weapon jammed with the sludge of melted empty as she beat another adversary to death with the butt of the rifle. Seen Raya, the plump corporal of second squad, take a shell through a bulkhead splattering the camera with blood and brains. Seen her soldiers sitting among the dead laughing and smoking cigarettes. It was the same story she had told Neil but Neil had been a soldier, he had some context for what he was seeing. To her family it had been a stomach churning exhibition of what war really was. They had never looked at her the same way again. Oh they were polite, but she could read the disgust and the horror in their eyes.
“Junebug?” Sayeeda blinked back into focus and realised that the satchel of charges was snug up against the spool.
“You ok?” asked an anxious Taya. She must have spaced again. For a moment she was disoriented and it took her a few seconds to collect herself. That wasn’t good.
“Got it Taya,” she radioed back seizing the bag and drawing the first charge from the bag.
“I’m going to start planting, give me a radio check on each charge.” It was going to be one hell of a night.@POOHEAD189