Assault Squad 13 has been sent to Dryza to help a colony they believe might be under attack from the Snarls. Rasa and Triana have been paired to search abandoned mining tunnels.
It had also been over two hours of silence. Aside from a brief order telling me to glance around a dead end corner, Rasa said nothing. She always walked around generally stoic anyway but now I kept imagining her behavior as something that was personal against me. Sabina was her friend, quite possibly her only friend, and dealing with her loss couldn't be easy out here. That was assuming she felt anything. I'm not quite certain how Decanites really deal with death.
Aside from the silence, Rasa's orders were a little strange. Instead of allowing me to partner in the search, she was often a step ahead. I wanted to say something to her but my stomach was already in knots. So instead of talking about it, I decided to just take the initiative. I stepped beside of her, intent on covering the alternate side of a T-junction we were coming to.
"Get back to where you were, Sergeant."
"With all due respect, you can't cover everything yourself."
"How did you cover Doubek?"
She didn't sound angry and that's what threw me off guard. "I asked how you covered Doubek. I do not believe you misunderstood me."
Thinking your crew feels you are responsible for the death of your own is nothing compared to actually hearing it out of their mouths. Even though I was afraid they thought badly of me, I never believed any of them would really blame me. The emotional stab to my heart was horrible.
"I had no choice. I had to go ahead. They ordered me to restore power."
"And did you succeed?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did you succeed in restoring power?"
"You know the answer to that." My stomach flopped.
She came within centimeters from my face. She had a mild pasty smell to her. I tried not to breathe in her scent as I stared at her eyes. They weren't actually all white as I'd previously thought. There was a slight cream color in the middle, so slight that it was almost unnoticeable... well, at least not noticeable unless you were close enough to feel her hot breath on your nose. If I ended up throwing up on her at this distance, I think I'd just resign.
Her tone sharpened. "You were useless. You neither helped your partner nor did you accomplish your other objective. Now your partner is dead. Do not expect me to have faith that you have my back if we get into an incident with the enemy."
She moved away and continued the search while I stood there like an idiot with tears welling in my eyes. I wanted to cry, I really did, but I didn't want her to see me cry. It wasn't that my feelings were hurt (although that was part of it), it was that I was angry. And when I get angry, for some stupid reason, I tend to cry. The only purpose that serves, other than humiliating me, is to further fuel my antagonist. I held back to my original position and hung my head to hide the temperature change in my face. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering that not everyone can see like I can.
Somewhere in the middle of my self loathing, a small dot of heat caught my attention along the route of the opposite side of the T-junction. There was a slight noise coming from that direction that I couldn't identify.
My misgivings temporarily forgotten, I asked, "Sergeant Rasa, do you hear that?
"There is something down there."
She appeared at my side and shined her light down the tunnel. "I see nothing."
"I see the heat coming off of it."
"No. It's too small. It's probably an animal."
"Unlikely," she said as she cautiously led the way. "There isn't a water or food source this far in. If it is an animal, it is displaced. We will need to return it to the outside."
"Agreed." I hadn't been aware that she was so compassionate.
On average, a Roen's hearing is better than a Decanite. Rasa was just starting to hear the noise.
"It sounds like a baby," I commented.
"What kind of baby?"
"A humanoid baby," I mused. Really, what other kind of baby would I be talking about? "Haven't you ever heard a baby cry?"
"Once, standing in a transport line. The damn thing was oozing mucus from its nostrils, salivating at the mouth, and would not stop bellowing. Alien babies are annoying and disgusting."
I couldn't help but laugh.
"I do not see what you find amusing."
"You don't have babies on Decan?"
"Our hatchlings are sent to centers for transition. They do not rejoin their parental units until they are pre-pubescent."
While we walked, the crying grew louder. There was no mistaking that it was a humanoid baby.
"There is someone else down there. Do you see the heat signature?"
"No, I just see the baby's. Are you sure it's a person?"
I saw what she was talking about only a minute later as my flashlight hit the back of a UA uniform. Someone was lying on the ground on their side with their back to us.
When we reached them, Rasa checked the body while I picked up the crying infant. It was covered in a standard issue United Alliance thermal blanket. The skin tint was orange. But it wasn't Human or Jeviet. Its nose was flattened, almost bird-like and its thin red hair was soft down.
I calmed the little one down by talking to it softly and bouncing slightly. "I don't recognize this species. There's avian and humanoid characteristics."
"This officer is Major Idel Joshen, currently assigned to HQ, special tactics division. Looks like a level 5 pellet discharge."
I wondered if Rasa was thinking the same thing I was. This whole scenario made no sense. What the hell was a special tactics officer doing out here with an infant? But we weren't allowed to speculate. We knew that if we were to talk about it, conspiracy theories might start rumors and rumors were dangerous in our line of work.
Rasa marked the location, took a video, and picked the body up as if it weighed no more than a suitcase. The baby started to fall asleep, soothed by the movement of my walk. It watched me with the most striking pair of green eyes I'd ever seen and I couldn't help but stroke its head and smile.
"Avoid attachment, Sergeant," Rasa ordered.
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