|Author's Note: |
This story was originally to be named "Our's Not to Reason" which is, of course, a quote from "Charge of the Light Brigade" by Tennyson.
Ours is not to wonder whyBut I realized, about halfway through that "Ananke" was definitely a better name for this particular piece. "Ananke" is the Japanese Goddess of fate. So for those who were expecting the stories to follow the originally published outline.....sorry 'bout that. These things sometimes happen. "Our's Not to Reason" will now become the title of book 7, a story during McQueen's post AI War/POW period. The title is definitely more appropriate to that time.
The proceeding has been a work of fiction. All characters and content, except where previously noted are the property of Rion Wilhelm and Alter-Ego Productions and may not be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the express written permission of Rion Wilhelm except as provided by U.S. Copyright law. For further information contact Rion Wilhelm or E. Houston or write to E.Houston, 7272 Camino Colegio, Apartment 22, Rohnert Park, CA 94928. Oklili~hila(ShadowDancer)email@example.com Lt. Free Choctaw Air Force home:http://www.wco.com/~ehouston
The memories faded with the unwelcome dawn of reality. T.C had always feared he would never leave Omicron Draconis. Now the fear was fact. Many times, he had wondered if any InVitro ever returned to Earth or if it was just a fable, perpetuated to keep the laborers docile and obedient. All hope of finding out for certain had faded, buried under the unknown tons of rock that now covered him.
He sighed, then choked on the dry, dust laden air. An excruciating pain shot through his chest. A chill swept over his spare frame bringing more pain in its wake. He was cold...so cold. That wasn't right. Omicron Draconis was never even cool, let alone cold. He realized then that his body must be in shock. He knew the symptoms from the books he had read in Doc's office. Doc. T.C. didn't subscribe to the Natural Born's belief in another existence after death, at least not for InVitros. If he was wrong he hoped he would have the opportunity to admit it to Doc. That, in itself, would be more reward than he could let himself hope for. T.C. tried to shift his weight and gasped as the agony gripped him. Something was broken, not that it mattered anymore. His side felt wet and sticky. That, and the agony of breathing the thick, heavy air made him wonder if a rib had been broken, puncturing his lung. That didn't matter either. No matter how you died, dead was dead. Funny. His body was shutting down, but his mind had never been so clear. Unfortunately. Unconsciousness would have been preferable. Then he wouldn't have to think about being buried alive. Better to think about something else. Anything else..
"Alan, Charlie...can you hear me?"
His voice sounded oddly quiet, muffled by the rubble around him. T.C. tried not to think of how much debris might cover him.
"Alan, Charlie...Willie...are you there?"
Nothing. Would he even hear them if they answered? Could they hear him? Was that a sound? T.C. strained to listen. Nothing. No, of course there was nothing. What point? It was cheaper to replace four Tanks than to go to the effort to dig them out. And anyway, why search for them? They were sure to be injured and, as such, useless and unproductive. If they were rescued, Corolis would just be forced to expend time and money on their treatment. No, much better just to cover them over and leave them. More cost efficient.
He stared up in the darkness at.....what? He was secretly glad there was no light. He didn't want to see...to know for certain. No one, not InVitro, not Natural Born, should have to lie her and wait while death stalked them...helpless to take any action. Fate was a cruel mistress. He had read that in a book once, and it was never so true as now. What crueller death could there be for an InVitro than to be buried alive suffocating to death slowly. But cruel or not, fate was the only mistress he would ever have. He had seen pictures of girls, of course. He had looked forward to that... girls. Three Months. An eternity.
T.C tried to move his right arm. Nothing. No movement but no pain either. T.C. fought down the panic. Was his back broken? He had seen an InVitro with a broken back once. He had been under a weakened cross timber when it collapsed. The guards hadn't even stopped to check him. They stepped over his writhing body, ignoring his pitiful cries. No one had dared to help him. Finally, just before dusk, the sobs had mercifully stopped. When they entered the mine the next morning, the body was gone. T.C. held his breath and tried his other arm, this time successfully. He breathed a sigh of relief as the uncomfortable tingling warned him that the circulation was returning to the extremity. At least he would be spared that indignity. T.C. explored his deadened right arm. His questing fingers felt along the flat slab of rock that pinned him then drew back sharply as they encountered sharp bone and torn flesh. He immediately felt light headed, dizzy. His arm was broken, badly broken. He forced his mind away from it. There was nothing he could do. He extended his left arm as far as he could to the other side, anything to keep it from wandering back to his mangled right. His fingertips brushed dirt, rock, a fragment of timber and......an arm. The flesh was cold and strangely hard. He ran his hand down the arm searching for the wrist. He curled his fingers around it and concentrated. There was no pulse. He hadn't expected one. Who? T.C. touched the back of the hand. No scar. It wasn't Charlie. He felt further. Three fingers. The little finger was missing. Alan.
T.C. let his head rest against the rock behind him. He felt more than heard the rumble emanating from the rocks. More of the mountain coming down. Still settling around him. While the darkness waited.
"Charlie! Willie! Are you there? Can you hear me? Please.....can anyone hear me?"
T.C. could hear the panic in his own voice. Was that a sound? More wishful thinking. The only sound in this nightmare was the sound of his own heartbeat. Ah, God. Why couldn't he just go to sleep. Why couldn't it just be over. His eyes drooped closed. And for a little while the pain seemed better.
Thirsty. Hungry, yes, but he'd often been hungry. He knew he could go without food for a while...but water... There! What was that? That had to be real...not his imagination. That scraping.
"Charlie! Willie! Is that you? I'm over here. I'm pinned, I can't move. Are you all right?"
He strained to hear in the darkness. Nothing. There was that scraping sound again. T.C. shivered. Some kind of animal, maybe. Oh, God, don't let it be rats. No, no, not rats. The dregs of Earth had come out here to the colonies, and with them, in keeping with tradition, had come the rats. The humans had difficulty adjusting to the harsh environment. No so the rats.
There it was again. Please, just let it be his imagination. What could he do if it came? He tugged experimentally at his pinned right arm and was rewarded with agonizing pain. He had read that animals would chew off their own limbs to escape a trap. Could he do this? Could he find the courage? The scraping came again. Much closer this time. He could feel the vibration through the rock. Rock. T.C. laughed mirthlessly, fighting down the hysteria that threatened to burst forth. Plenty of rock down here to throw. If only he could see to throw it. He picked up a chunk in his left hand and tried to sight in on the sound. There it was again....so close.
Dirt and rubble showered down into his eyes and he blinked frantically to clear them. Why? Nothing here but darkness. Something brushed against his shoulder. TC cried out in fear an swung the rock wildly.
"Hey, hey, easy there fella. Take it easy."
A hand grasped his shoulder and TC sobbed with relief. He felt a light touch on his hair.
"That's ok, son. We've got ya. Those bastards would have left you down here. It's ok, now."The voice was rough, slightly gravely, but soothing. "Hey,can we get some light over here? We've got a survivor here. And some water. Someone pass me a canteen. Can you move, son?"
"No. My right arm is pinned. It's broken. I think maybe a couple of ribs too."
"Well, you just lay still then,till we get someone to check you over. For Christ's sake, can we get some water here!"
"Ah!" T.C. gasped. The bright light after so long in darkness was a shock. It took his eyes a few minutes to adjust. He looked up at his rescuer. The black eyes that stared back seemed bottomless. T.C. didn't recognize the silver streaked hair and rough hewn features. Nor did he recognize the outfit the man wore. It wasn't the jumpsuit that most Corolis employees wore. The emblem wasn't familiar, a globe and an anchor. Military?
"Had a rough time of it, didn't you son? Your friends didn't make it. Sorry." He held out a canteen."Just a little now, until we can get a medic in here to check you over. Water doesn't go well with internal injuries." He leaned to look across T.C. "Yeah, that's a bad break,all right. But I've seen worse, son. If that's all you've got you're lucky, damned lucky. Could of been a hell of a lot worse."
T.C. looked up at him. "How long?"
"Eighteen hours. We were just about ready to give up. Didn't think there was any chance of anyone still being alive. But we could only find three bodies...we knew there was one more."
"Why bother? All this trouble for one Tank?"
"Son, I don't expect you to understand, but there are still some of us that judge a man on his own merits. Hell, I wouldn't wish this Corolis cesspool on my worst damn enemy. Damn! I wouldn't even send an AI down here, and we're at war with them!"
"War? AI's? I've read about AI's. I don't understand. How can you be at war with a machine?"
"Well, it's a long story, but the short of it is that one of those geek types threw a monkey wrench in the machinery, so to speak, and now we're all paying the price. Which has turned out to be a good thing for you. If it wasn't for this assignment, we wouldn't have been here and Corolis would have just sealed up this shaft and left you here.The bastards."
T.C. took another sip of the water. "I still don't understand."
"I'm with the US Marines, Son, a branch of the military. The war has been going pretty badly for us. Casualties are severe and our ranks are being thinned pretty rapidly. Then someone remembered you boys out here. You boys have a stake in this fight too and the Military can be a godsend to you son. The Military judges a man on his actions not on an accident of birth. Corolis Mining wasn't happy with this decision but quite frankly I don't give a rat's ass. So we were sent out here to get you."
"Get us? All of us? For the Marines?"
"Well, no, not the Marines. You'll most likely be assigned to the Army. Probably munitions work." He shook his head. "But it will be 100% improvement on conditions here. You'll have decent quarters, decent food, decent clothing and you'll be learning a trade you can use when you're released."
"Where will you be taking us?"
"Probably be Ft. Benning in Georgia."
"Georgia," T.C. whispered, "that's on Earth." He waited for confirmation. "We'll be going to Earth?"
The man nodded as he watched the light come back to the young InVitros' eyes.
"I've never been to Earth. There will be Symphonies and Libraries and Museums on Earth."
The man smiled softly. "How long do you have left, Son?"
"Three.....Six months." T.C. looked up quickly, "You'll still take me, won't you sir?"
Several other men had appeared and were busily digging the rubble away from his injured right side. T.C. jumped as he felt a sharp stick in his shoulder.
"Don't worry 'bout it, Son. Just a little something to make it a little easier on you while we dig you out. And don't worry about the other, either. We'll take you with us, don't you worry. You just rest now, and let the Corpsman do his job."
It was becoming difficult to keep his eyes open and the gruff voice seemed to come from a long way away. He felt a soft pat on his head as something prickly was pressed into his hand.
"Merry Christmas, Son. You're going to be fine. Hey, you just about ready there, guys? I don't think this kid has much left. Be a damnned shame to lose him now. "
T.C. was drifting. The always patient darkness advanced cautiously, unsure of its' welcome. T.C. went laughlingly to meet it.
T.C shielded his eyes against the midday sun. To say that Corolis Mining was unhappy at the prospect of loosing their cheap, plentiful labor force was to say the least. Workers had been restricted to quarters until today when they would be officially handed over to the Marines for transport. His injuries hadn't proven to be as severe as as was originally feared. He had been lucky. His right arm had been badly broken along with two ribs. But his lung hadn't been punctured and, outside of cuts and bruises, those were his only injuries. His ribs were taped and the bulky cast would probably be removed from his arm shortly after they landed on Earth. The gates swung open and T.C could see the five squat grey aircraft that crouched on the plain beyond, waiting. The Overseer grudgingly handed over the box containing the manifest and Indenture papers for his charges. T.C. took a deep breath and let his eyes wander around the camp, the only home he had ever known. Then it was time to go. On his way to the landing site, is eyes fell on the pile of rubble that marked the entrance to Shaft 37. TC removed the tiny sprig of holly from his pocket and placed it carefully on the mound. Replacing it with a small piece of green rock, he turned and walked toward the waiting ISSCV without a backward glance.
Previous : Part One
Edna Houston © 1996