Chapter 43: Dragontrooper Audit
We left our heroes in the dining room, talking to a mixed group of six
nephilim and humans whom they have just plucked from the Battle of
Destine. We've explained that efforts to repel the invaders are going
to fail. The Destinos feels depressed about this, naturally, but also
don't feel like running out on their countrymen. So they decide to go
back and fight, but with the object of living through the mass abduction
and thus providing us with psychic targets to make it easier for us to
locate and rescue the Destinos.
To cement the psychic connection, Tom briefly telepaths each of them. Telepathing the nephilim is almost as bad as telepathing Braeta -- there's a painful zing to the contact. Tom also asks for tokens. Their scout, who is part nephil, gives him a small leather pouch that he's had all his life, abjuring Tom not to open it or spill anything out. Tom readily agrees. Another gives a pocket knife. They let us keep the blood samples our autodoc acquired while healing up one of their number.
We ask them about their elfblood population. They were on Destine for the same reason the nephilim and their followers were -- trying to escape (or obey) the Ban that the Eretsarin have placed on arcane folk on Earth.
Then, after being rested, fed, and healed, they troop back into the pantope and we drop them back into the battle. Keeping the locale in freeze-frame, we hunt around and let them pick out a desirable place, where they can hope to take out a lot of dragontroopers before being captured.
Once they disembark, we take our window up to a vantage over the nearby streets, and watch the action. We plan to pick up a straggler from among the dragontroopers next time our friends cause a little mayhem.
We don't have to wait long. A convoy comes along, featuring a couple of huge pallets heavily loaded with mysterious lumps under wraps, some trucks that can probably fly if they to, some jeep-like things, a staff car, and lots of dragontroopers on foot, guns at the ready.
Our guerillas apparently manage to spread themselves out, for they attack by sniping from several vantages at once. They then shoot a mortar shell under one of the big pallets, which explodes. Our guys then pepper the resulting pandemonium with more fire.
We slow our window to quarter speed and watch the slow-motion results as one of our boys (Hector) blows a hole in the last truck of the convoy. Hm. Freeze-frame. Rewind.
We back up to just before the explosion and look into the truck. There are a couple of dragontroopers, one driving, one passenger. Since these guys are going to be in an exploding truck, we decide we can extract one for questioning without raising any attention. We poise several of our own number near the window for the moment when we make it into a door and drag the passenger through it. Markel and the gargoyle will do the dragging, while Robbie and Gannar with throw stunner fire in at both dragontroopers.
No, that's not the mortar shell that takes out the truck. That's a smaller boom caused when our door appears, cutting the chemical bonds in the seat and door of the truck, next to the passenger. We weren't expecting that, but Markel still drags the guy through and--
That was the mortar shell. Markel and the trooper are sent flying, and recoil against the wall of the nearby airlock hut. Markel is knocked out. Tom slams the door shut, dropping the connection.
Oops. He slammed it shut a little too fast. A chunk of the trooper's left leg and a bit of his hand got left behind. He's bleeding profusely. He is also writhing, but quite thoroughly stunned, so it's no more than an inconvenience. We drag him into the tent in the pantope, and put him into the field autodoc. (Markel is, meanwhile, hustled off to the autodoc back in the house infirmary. Handy gadgets, autodocs.)
The autodoc immediately complains about having an unknown alien organism stuffed in it. Gannar tells it to treat it as a combination of human and reptile, and improvise. The autodoc registers a certain amount of incredulity, but does its best.
When the autodoc has the bleeding under control and thinks the trooper is unconscious, Tom tries making telepathic contact, for a memory audit.
Conscious or unconscious, it's in too much pain for Tom to stand reading it. He backs out, panting, and demands the autodoc load it with painkillers. The autodoc inquires as to its biosphere. Probably Terran. It registers some more incredulity. After looking the situation over, it says that any guesses it might make about painkillers could be hazardous to the patient's health and it could only administer them if we are willing to override its medical ethics program, thereby relieving the manufacturer of all responsibility, etc., etc., sign here. Tom signs.
The autodoc tries, but fails to notice much change. Kate eases into the contact while Tom tries to get over the sympathetic throbbing down his left side. She only goes as deep as the emotional level. A stolid passivity. She goes to Verbal. Nothing.
She then turns the task over to Tom, who takes the contact down to Sensory. Agony again.
Tom staggers over to the connection to the house and fast-forwards it by a few hours, to give Markel time to get out of the house autodoc. We then transfer the trooper to this autodoc, which is more sophisticated.
But not really enough. It, too, dislikes doing biochemistry on unknown species, even with hints like "probably Terran" and "a cross between elf and reptile, maybe archosaur." We sign some more waiver forms and it tries pumping in some other painkillers. It looks at the result and says this is probably life-threatening. We let it back off a little and Tom goes in again.
This time the agony is endurable. Whee. Any human would be numb and in shock, well before the painkillers, but not this guy. Looking over his memory, Tom starts to see why. He's not about thought or emotion, he's about sensation. Is he stupid? Yes. No. Hard to say. He doesn't bother to think (or emote) if there's no call for it. He senses, all the time, and in great detail. In his tight focus, he is reminiscent of the dragon-spies of Patala we intercepted back in Faerie. Tom's efforts at a memory audit are frustrated by masses and masses of vividly-recalled sensory detail -- the most recent bits of it highly unpleasant, at least to Tom.
Tom's efforts are not helped by the alien senses that all this data came through. The guy may taste with his skin or something. His color sense is very vivid and not really human. His vision picks up very quickly on motion. And he was hurting even before we got him, from an early blaster shot, some hours before. But he isn't concerned about it.
Looking for something specifically military, Tom back up along the memory trail until he comes to an officer telling this trooper "get in the truck." The trooper has vivid memories of the guy's insignia. There were lots of them, and each of them meant something, though Tom can't sort out what. The upshot of them was that, here and now, he was to be obeyed.
Tom looks for associative paths for things like goals and policies. Very little. that's too cognitive. Mostly, this guy just obeys, it seems, when someone with the right insignia for the context issues an order. Tom reflects that the trooper may very well have no idea what this battle is about.
Tom looks for an early memory. He finds a pleasant memory of a very hot day in the desert. Like unto Death Valley. (Well, it's pleasant if you're a reptile.) Lots of dragonfolk frantically dashing about, excited. A big cobra-man rearing up making a speech or something, with blazing orange eyes. The details are relatively fuzzy, since it's a very old memory.
Tom goes back to the issue of insignia. They reflect all kinds of things: rank, family, service history, myriad specializations of service. The trooper caught a glimpse of the officers in the convoy staff car. They were all quite different, one from another.
What about expectations? He has some. There's a picture (presumably synthetic in some way) of a big machine creating the dimensional gateway we've dubbed the Great Sucking Noise. Maybe the convoy was carrying part of the machine. In that case, they got along without it.
But he has no expectations beyond that point of delivering the machine. We give up. What to do with him? With some slight pangs of conscience, we drop him back under the wrappings of the doomed pallet, seconds before it gets blown up, giving him a death more painless than his last hour or so has been.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.