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Log of the Month for November, 2009

Fight or Flight
Posted on November 9th, 2009 by Douglas McKnight and Kuari

Douglas McKnight and Kuari

Kuari bounded through the silent corridor, her hind footfalls against the deck plating the only sounds to accompany her labored breathing. This was very different from her training practices of recent years, as she was completely free of her usual gear. In fact, she had even stripped her uniform in an effort to better play the part. Kuari thought back. It had been a long, long time since she had run this way. The last time had been on Ruka, alongside her fellow Rucara…

No, she couldn’t be distracted by memories now. She had to concentrate on survival, if only for a more realistic exercise.

The musk of human sweat alerted her of a nearby presence, and she slowed enough to quiet her approach. The doorway ahead and to the right was open. She knew they were in there. Turning back the other way was not an option, as she knew a team to be right behind her. If she sped past, they would notice and surely peg her from around the corner before she got out of range.

Swerving to the right, just before the doorway, Kuari jumped at the wall across from the entrance and planted her feet against the bulkhead. Simultaneously, she located the back of a marine just inside the room and launched herself into him, repressing the urge to unsheathe her claws. The holodeck could be programmed to soften one’s fall for the specific fighting style of a Rucara, but it could do nothing about her accidentally gouging a fellow marine by accident. The man went down with a surprised cry, but she didn’t take the time to restrain him as she quickly spotted his partner on the other side of the doorway and sprang for him. He had just enough time to aim his rifle, but not enough time to fire before she had landed him, too.

There were more nearby, but none close enough to attack. The room was some kind of double-story storage bay, but it was mostly empty. Needing to find cover quickly, Kuari ran full pelt for the nearest support pillar. A stack of empty containers caught her attention, and she was about to divert her course, but rifle blasts slammed into the wall behind her, and she kept on until she had reached the pillar’s safety.

Unfortunately, a momentary shield against direct fire did not constitute safety or anything close to it; not if Sergeant Brian McGann had anything to say about it. And as he advanced on the pillar, pulse rifle steadied securely against his shoulder as he kept up a steady barrage on burst fire, he reckoned he had quite a bit to say about it. “Philips, Tucker, get off your goddam asses and get those rifles up, because if I wind up looking like an idiot because you got caught daydreaming about donuts, you’re going to be wishing she went for the jugular!”

At that, McGann dashed off to the right, and this time, Philips and Tucker responded with a newfound urgency borne of their sudden humiliation. Kuari was still under cover, but once they’d gotten their bearings, their training ensured that they didn’t need to be told aloud what their Sergeant had in mind. Immediately after McGann was clear, they opened fire, then simply kept up a barrage on both sides of the support pillar as they made their way to rudimentary cover of their own, effectively boxing the Rucara in while McGann got into the position he judged ideal. Corporal Rogers, this particular team’s fourth marine, had considerably less to be embarassed about, but she nevertheless followed their lead without delay. McGann’s ideal position, as it happened, was the opposite doorway, from which he took advantage of the cover to get on the radio before adding to the fire as well.

“McGann to all points! Enemy contact in cargo bay 2, deck 7, section G! Move in! And double time it, because the target’s about to be in a pretty fucking big hurry!”

It was at that point that Kuari would learn, to her likely displeasure, just what McGann judged ideal about his current position. It provided perfect cover from the blast of the photon grenade he armed and hurled into their opponent’s hoped for place of refuge. It was set to emit a stun pulse of course, like it would be when they did the real thing, and set to minimum power, quite unlike how it would be when that fateful moment came, but nevertheless, it was enough of a wallop to ensure she wouldn’t be happy if she was still there when it went off. Thus, she was forced into the unpleasant choice between a point blank grenade detonation to the face, or a sprint out into a hail of phaser fire. And regardless, there were more armed marines on their way from all sides.

Kuari couldn’t remember the last time she had suffered the amount of destructive attention and terrible noise that surrounded her now. Her heart hammered wildly as she tucked her wings tightly against her sides, and she fought hard to keep her instincts in check. It’s just a drill. They aren’t real weapons. It’s just a drill! She had already gone through an attempted reversion to her training by reaching for her rifle, but it was of course not there. The lack of this physical anchor, and the nature of the drill where she was supposed to be fighting Rucara-style made the reversion fail. Second Lieutenant Kuari was a trained marine, and she could guess what the marines around her were doing by a shared amount of training, but right now, many more years of Rucaran technique were screaming at her.

With both sides blocked by pulse fire, Kuari looked up. She jumped at the pillar with her claws, but the holographic surface was too smooth to gain purchase. Setting her legs, she tried again, this time with intentions of going further, and managed to scale high enough to secure her jaws around a metal support bar on the underside of the catwalk that ringed the room. She swung her feet and tail up and grabbed hold, then began to crawl away from the pillar, hugging the underside of the catwalk towards the cargo containers. She had moved quickly despite the lack of cover, but so far, no one had shot closer to her. Assuming they hadn’t noticed her shift in altitude and were concentrating on the pillar, Kuari became hopeful she would make the cover of her next destination.

She had made it halfway when it felt like the very air itself slammed into her. Everything went white, and when she was aware of herself again, she found her back painfully colliding with what could only have been the floor. Kuari knew she could have easily sprained a wing from the fall had it not been for the holodeck’s safety systems being online. As for the blast, it was obvious had she been any closer, she would have been considered captured. Flipping herself over, she found herself in plain view, and could hear shouting and the ceasing of weapon fire as she took advantage of the surprise moment to reach the cover of the containers.

The mere sight of such a creature tumbling to the ground in such a stricken manner might well have been outlandish enough to give the marines some pause, but even seemingly safe drills occasionally yielded very real injuries, and the concern that one of them had befallen a fellow soldier gave Kuari more than enough time to get moving before the phaser rifle beams and the pulses of the longer ranged weapons once more began to fill the air. Start up again they did, however, with such renewed intensity that the sheer volume would likely drown out the reason they eventually stopped a minute or so later. By then, the reinforcements McGann called in had arrived in full; new marines stood in both doorways exiting the room at this level, and the catwalk she had found useful earlier had now betrayed her by providing an elevated position from which the third group could cover her position.

As for McGann’s group, they now began to advance methodically on Kuari’s collection of storage crates from both sides, in prime position to flank her properly. PFC Philips, however, still eager to avenge his earlier embarrassment at being found easy prey, proved a bit more impetuous than the others, and surged forward of the group.

“Head around the other side! I’ll flush her out, Sarge!” Before McGann could properly even find the words to ask how Philips had never heard the phrase ‘And no heroes, dumbass.’, Philips had already dashed into position, such that he now had a clear line of sight behind the storage crates. The phaser Type III he leveled was an aging weapon, but its design was still worthy, and Philips was confident its menace was still profound as he advanced, being careful, at least, to stay out of grappling range.

“Okay, that’s it! You had your fun, now say Uncle!”

Kuari had been caught pushing on the second row of containers, trying to tip them over, when Philips had come around the corner. She had immediately dropped to all fours, snarling with bared teeth, but at the sight of the gun aimed steadily at her, she collapsed into a defensive position, facing away from him. She tucked her tail and wings as close as she could, baring her shelled back towards the threat. She could hear them all over the room, most of them out of sight, but they were there, swarming around her. They all had deadly rifles, coming closer, closing in. She was trapped, now, with nothing left to do but defend herself. Their words became confusing, meaningless, as she struggled to keep track of those closest to her. She was panting hard and looking backwards, trying to keep her head steady, her horn aimed properly at the man behind her. If he came any closer…

He wouldn’t. Just then, a new sound assaulted the ears of those present, high pitched and out of place. Almost immediately after those marines gathered here recognized the sound of a whistle, their quickly shifted focus would reveal that the holodeck doors had opened, breaking up this recreation of Outpost Mayflower taken from computer schematics with a view of the Arch, as well as the ship’s corridor beyond. There Colonel McKnight stood, a frown on his bearded face as he dropped the whistle back to where it hung from his neck and strode forward purposefully. He could also be seen holding an old fashioned stop watch in his left hand, but he seemed to pay it no mind for now as he made for Kuari, muttering an almost absent-minded ‘At ease’ to every other marine in the bay, who had all immediately assumed their most properly rigid postures at the arrival of their CO.

Sadly, it soon proved obvious that the exact opposite sentiment would be required in the case of the one marine who most needed to be calm just now. Granted, he didn’t much like the idea of further agitating someone already that agitated, especially not someone that dangerous when agitated. But he was pretty sure he’d recognized the signs from her medical file in time, the fact that her pupils had contracted into vertical slits confirmed it, and he absolutely couldn’t approach the Rucara as she was now. Thus, once he stood about five feet or so behind Philips, and thus safe from what was almost Philips’ fate, he gave another shrill blast from his whistle.

“Lieutenant Kuari! You will stand at attention!”

At the whistle sound, Kuari’s head immediately swiveled sideways and bird-like. She stretched up further, looking over her shoulder at McKnight in alarm and confusion.

With a mildly exasperated sigh, McKnight figured that was probably the best he was going to get. At least she wasn’t obviously looking for some place to lodge a bone bullet anymore, and so he continued to approach, slowly and with both hands splayed wide open at his side to demonstrate he wasn’t going to reach for the hand phaser at his side.

“Look, just calm down. Just practice, remember? Obviously, we left the grenades a little more punch than we should have, but no one’s going to hurt you. None of their weapons CAN hurt you, remember? We switched out the power packs for just that reason. So how about we just call it a day, alright? We’re all on the same side again. Just a bunch of friends who play a little rough now and again.”

As he spoke, Kuari stared at him, until finally she turned completely around and cocked her head curiously. It seemed to take effort to form the word, “Sir?”

“Okay, welcome back.” At that, McKnight came still closer, and knelt down so that he could converse with her at a private volume, at face level. “Lieutenant, I need you to pull yourself together, and I need you to do it fast. I know you volunteered for this mission for personal reasons, but I can only use professionals. And if you can’t promise both me and these marines that you can hold it together next time, then I can’t in good conscience bring you along. I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is. So, how’s it gonna go? Semper Fi?”

Kuari blinked at McKnight as he spoke to her, and over the course of half a minute, her eyes relaxed noticeably. She looked around him at the marines behind, who still stood at attention, and suddenly seemed to remember herself. Stretching as tall as she could while still sitting, Kuari went rigid, too. “Sorry, sir. I promise I won’t let you or the others down, sir. Thank you, sir!”

Nodding silently, McKnight stood back to his own full height, and backed away. Words were a slim guarantee of how things would go in the field, and there was no substitute for the actual experience to back them up. But raw determination wasn’t to be discounted, and besides, there came a time when you simply had to trust the people around you to do their jobs. So, though he made a mental note to keep a close eye on her when they got to Mayflower, he’d trust Kuari for now. Now, as for everyone else…

“17 minutes, 39 seconds! Best time so far! Too bad that’s only because 17 minutes, 39 seconds is the time when Lieutenant Kuari chose to attack a clustered group of armed marines. Worse that it actually worked that well. It SHOULD be the biggest mistake our real target could possibly make. Take a good look, marines! Good, she may be. A Founder, she is not. She can’t blend into the walls or ooze through the smallest of cracks. She needs a more or less human sized entrance, just like the rest of us. Sergeant McGann, please tell me what that means.”

“She never should have gotten that close, sir.” McGann replied dutifully and without hesitation, though of course looking none to pleased about it.

“No, she shouldn’t have. And I know that by the time we get to our destination, there’ll be no risk of anyone forgetting that. The Rukagru is stronger than most of us, and the wings ensure he’s faster as well in any open space. So keep your eyes open, and for the last time, stay in your formations until ordered otherwise! Oh, and Philips?” Turning to the already visibly chastened marine, he added a bit more for good measure, confident that Sergeant McGann would very enthusiastically stress the previous points further after they were dismissed. “If you’re gonna shoot, shoot. Don’t talk. If you read the briefing a little more closely, I think you’ll find the part about the natural projectile horn especially interesting.”

At that, seeing no need to directly acknowledge the embarassed “Yes, sir.” he turned to partially face Kuari, so as to make it clear Philips was off the hot seat and his next words applied to all present.

“Okay, then! We’re due to arrive at Mayflower late tomorrow afternoon, so I want one last drill before we do this for real. All of you, right back here at 1000 hours. Dismissed!”

A few stayed behind, speaking to each other in low voices, but most of the marines began filing out of the holodeck. Kuari was one of those exiting, trotting behind the throng of uniforms and rifles and jostling gear. She would normally find herself content to stay, but right now, she needed to move.

Several turns of the corridors later, Kuari found herself fairly alone and continued to walk aimlessly.

She had kept her head throughout her four years at the Academy. On her first special assignment, she had lost it. It hadn’t even been in the field! It was just training!

No, it wasn’t just any marine training. She had been a lone Rucara, the marines against her. Hunted.

Kuari shuddered and stopped, mewling softly and leaning against the wall. The past would stay in the past. She told herself that these were special circumstances. Normally, she would have others marines with her. She thought of Colonel McKnight and the way he had calmed her. Kuari took in a reassuring breath and started walking again. These people needed her right now. It was her duty to stop the Rukagru.

She had to be strong, now, and as soon as this terrible business was finished, she wouldn’t have to worry about the past claiming her anymore.

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