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Excerpt - WIP

Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Teacher
I normally don't share rough draft, or as I usually call it really-rough draft, but just for grins...

The image relates to the story in that the person on the left is who went off to serve while the person on the right is who (or what) came back.

Apologies if it's a bit choppy.

The ground transport kept as good a pace as possible as it traveled the unpaved road on the fringe of hill and canyon country that bordered mountains, slowed from completing its mission whenever it had to plow through minor obstructions small machines or animals simply went over or around.  The transport slowed only to veer around rocky outcrops or boulders that would have damaged it, otherwise it bored forward toward its destination.

The person who nominally would have been considered the driver of a comparable civilian vehicle checked the transport’s autopilot settings before he glanced over at what was normally the relief driver’s seat.  The seat’s occupant swayed with the vehicle and stared blankly at the forward viewscreen as if the enhanced image of the outside world meant nothing.  And as far as the driver knew, the world outside the transport might have meant nothing to the person who hadn’t said a word over the last several hours.

The driver shrugged as he turned his attention back to the viewscreen to watch the road ahead just in case he needed to override the autopilot and drive manually.  He had one last drop to make with one last soldier to return to a home of record before returning to the ship that would take him away from Limbo, he hoped forever.  He glanced over at his last passenger, who unlike his last few deliveries appeared physically unmarked.  She simply stared vacuously as if her mind had fled during whatever battle had marked her soul.

A green light flashed on the instrument panel as the ground transport slowed to negotiate a turn into a smaller track that was rougher than the previous road had been.  The ground transport bulled its way down the track, which was far smoother after its passage.

“You’re almost home.”  He moved to ease a kink in his back as the transport moved forward in the darkness.  “I’d imagine you’ll be glad to get there.”

When there was no response he sighed.  “How much do you actually remember?”

“Nothing, I remember nothing before waking up in the hospital.  How do I know this is my home?”  Her tone held no emotion nor did she turn to face her companion.  “How do you know to bring me here?”

“I guess the medics didn’t bother explaining what happened to you either, which has to be a skull-f****er to deal with.”  He shifted in his seat as the transport slowed.  “As for how to know this is your home, it was part of the info coded into your records, which I verified when I checked your ident smart card.”

“All I was told was I got injured in a firefight and I was one of the lucky ones who lived.”  She blinked as the image on the viewscreen showed the track passing through a narrow defile.

“Yeah, I’ve seen a few almost like you on this voyage, though they were guys and they were told what had happened to them.  UAC doesn’t deny women their right to fight for the corporation and their world but sometimes…well at any rate you’re almost home.”

“Am I, almost home?  Isn’t home something you’re supposed to remember – a place where you once belonged and hope to belong again?  I don’t recognize this place, it doesn’t feel real to me.  How will the people here recognize me?”

“Look, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, you going home.  When I finally get the chance to walk through my own door I won’t be the guy who left and my family won’t be the people I remember leaving behind – they’ve changed and I’ve changed and we’ll have to get to know each other again.”  The driver felt the ground transport sway as it maneuvered into a clearing, stopped, and went to standby mode.  “Listen, give me a second to program my return trip to the orbital shuttle and I’ll help you with your stuff.”

“What if I said I wanted to go back with you, back to do my duty, would you take me?”

“Uhm, no, because I can’t.”  The driver punched keys, paused, and waited while the transport began devising the best return route.  “UACS Redeemer did its job by you, you are as physically and mentally fit as can be expected after your service related injuries, but the primary war is over and you still have some recovering to do.  Another thing to consider, the First Corporate Interplanetary War may be over but the fallout hasn’t really started, yet.  Your family or next of kin, whoever these people are, may need you more here.”

“Why?  I don’t remember them, and even if they do remember who I was, why would they need me now if I’m not fit for military service?”

“Okay, route set.”  The driver looked over at his soon to be delivered passenger.  “Maybe I shouldn’t say this but…the end of this war doesn’t mean everybody is happy and we all go home.  The scuttlebutt is we are now short a couple interstellar corporations, as well as a few planets, if not more.  There will be at least a few corporate warships with no home base to return to.

“UAC survived, for now, but as far as protecting every planet under its umbrella you can forget it.  Maybe if Limbo were out on the settlement fringes it would be forgotten by everyone for a few generations, maybe not.  But Limbo is one of those gray zone planets, not out on the far fringes but not close in to the other older systems.  You’ve got an orbital repair station, lightly defended, plenty of food, a lot of untapped resources, and a relatively low population.”

“So, I’m being dropped off to die with my relatives when they die.”

“No, you’re being dropped off to finish recuperating, and if worse comes to worse, to try to help defend your planet.  For now take it a day at a time and who knows, you might get lucky and you’ll have one of those happily ever after lives.”  The driver hit a button on the transport’s instrument panel, which was followed by the clunking sound of several locking bolts, as they were withdrawn.  “Exit through your door and I’ll help you unload your gear.”

She watched the transport as it all but squeaked its bulk through a narrow gap between rock formations and disappeared into the moonlit semi-darkness.  After a few moments she turned back to face the expanse of ground that lay between her and what she had to assume was a dwelling of some sort, even though all she could see was a dimly lit recessed doorway flanked by shadowy walls or banks.

She looked down at the field pack, duffel bag, and jump bag at her feet, then looked up as the spot where she stood brightened.  She wavered between simply walking away and calling out before her legs folded and she sat down hard.

“Is something wrong?”  The voice that called from the other side of the light was either very young or female.  “Do you need something?”

She stared numbly at the light washed ground beyond her boots even as a long shadow approached and stopped a few feet away.

“Jarvis?  Jarvis!  Come back to the house!”  The second voice was older, female, and sounded upset.  “I told you to wait!”

“But Mom, it’s a woman and she’s hurt or something.”

She looked up dully at the backlit form though all she could see of the child’s face were shadows.  Moments later a second larger shadow with a hunting rifle stood next to the child.

“Who are you?  And why would someone drop you off at our place?”  The woman’s voice was full of suspicion when she continued.  “If your friends are waiting for you to make your move before they come back to load up they’ve got another think coming.”

“I really don’t know who I am – back onboard the Redeemer they told me I had a name but it could be someone else’s.”  Her gaze wandered across the light faded dirt away from the shadows that confronted her.  “The driver dropped me off here because this was listed as my home or next of kin in my file.”

“The only person who should have been dropped off here is my husband, and you quite obviously aren’t him.  You need to call your friends to come pick…”

“But Mom, she has our last name, see the name tape on her uniform?  What if she’s related to Dad?”

“Your father didn’t have any sisters, Jarvis, and he never mentioned any near cousins…”

“If you’re going to shoot me, just shoot me.”  She gestured wearily at her gear.  “You might find something useful in what I leave behind.”

“Mom isn’t going to shoot you, are you, Mom.”  The child moved a few steps closer and offered a hand.  “I’ll help you take your stuff inside.”

“Jarvis, not one step closer to that woman until…tell me why we should just take you into our home.  How do we know you aren’t a threat.”  The woman’s mistrust was stronger.
Even though she heard the woman’s hissed 'Jarvis', when the child took her hand she got to her feet.  She looked down at the field pack as if it were an anchor.  “Odd, I can’t remember who I am any more than I remember who I was or what my life was like before whatever happened.  I woke up on a hospital ship, and subconsciously I guess I remember some things, like how to eat, but not the things that would make me a person.”

“Listen, I’m sorry you got injured in the war, but they helped you heal well so you were lucky.  My husband got injured in a firefight, he was listed as missing, then listed as found but critically injured, and a few days ago I was notified he’d…so if someone in the UAC military thought it would be funny to drop off some…”

“Mom!  Can’t we just take her in and give her some soup or something?  She looks like she going to fall over.”

The sheltering asylum of darkness that enfolded her grudgingly gave way to a dim rosy glow.  Sound returned slowly before a sigh of breath told her she wasn’t alone.  Her eyelids parted enough to reveal a ceiling overhead.

“Welcome back to the land of the living.  You had Jarvis pretty worried.”

She turned her head enough to face the speaker and saw a man about thirty years old, whose black hair and blue eyes were in contrast with his tanned olive complexion.  The faint lines that bracketed his mouth hinted the man spent more time smiling than frowning.

“My sister called me on the comm unit last night, asked me to come over here and help her keep a psych-disturbed soldier from invading her home and taking over.”  The man leaned forward in his chair.  “I get the feeling the only thing you’re up to invading is a bed and several solid meals a day.”

“You could just shoot me, since I’m so disturbed and dangerous.”  She looked from the man’s face down to where his hands rested on the stained fabric that covered his thighs.  “Or you could simply strangle me…”

“Ah, I’ll have to say no to both of those suggestions, though if you’re up to a ride a little later I’ll take you down to the settlement so we can sort things out.  You have to understand, my sister is normally a lot more hospitable, but the way you were dropped off so early in the morning…”

“Because the driver needed to get back to the Redeemer before it leaves orbit…he wanted to go home as well.”  She realized how little past she had and after a moment sat up.  She looked around for a moment, then swung her legs over the edge of the couch she’d been lying on to face the face.  “I think I have an ident in my pocket.”

“Yes, you did have an ident in the left breast pocket of your coveralls, and your face matches the picture on it.  You have my apologies, but my sister checked your pockets for that.”  He looked down at the floor beneath his shoes for a moment before he looked back up at her face.  “Jillian Sadb O’Neill, I’m Rick Keelan.  If you feel the need to clean up, eat a bit, no rush.  We can take it easy when we go into Dragon-ass, that’s the closest village, to see the marshal.”

“Dragon ass?”  She closed her eyes as she covered her face with her hands.  “Wouldn’t a bullet be more merciful?”

“Oh, sorry, the place was kind of named by the first person to get there and the ones who arrived just afterward.  As for the marshal, he’s one of the better UAC appointees, as is the judge; justice is pretty equal in the village and within its administrative boundaries.  So, what do you prefer to be called?”

“I don’t know…my name doesn’t feel real to me.”  Her eyes drifted to fix on a spot to one side of the man who faced her.  “Call me whatever you want, I don’t care.”

“Okay, I’ll call you Jill for now.”  He stood up and held out his right hand.  “Why don’t we see about feeding you?”


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