No Way Back – Chapter 26 – Short, but Ready.

I’m still in a weird funk.  I’m trying to write, but it’s just not happening so well.  I did, however, get past a specific hump with this chapter, yay! 

However, there’s been some suggestion that I stop posting my chapters and, instead, show excerpts to give people reasons to buy the book if it gets published.  So, maybe, just maybe, this is the last FULL chapter that will see the light of interwebz.  Enjoy!

Chapter 26

 It took a few minutes for Chi’bi to finally calm herself. It apparently helped that I was trying to not be angry with the woman as it almost seemed that she could feel my mood shift. Shortly after, and for the next few hours, she began teaching me the differences between the control scheme that I was used to and the standard configuration on the ‘Bots. It really wasn’t a lot, mostly certain controls were placed to be obviously used as last-resort options. Another large difference was the connectivity to the nanite grouping that Nishka had implanted earlier. Another implant and a zap later and I was ready to link live with the machine directly. Chi’bi explained that many of the “hardcore” pilots actually had a dataport installed into their skulls to connect directly to the machines. Apparently the physical connection reduced the already miniscule latency that came from the short wireless connection. When I asked how much of a difference, she wouldn’t tell me. All I could get from her was, until I’m more used to the physical machine’s workings, it would not help me in any real way.

I close my eyes and think about turning off the emulation suite that, between Chi’bi and Dharcia, had been set up in one of the medical bay’s isolation chambers. After a moment, the holographic displays wink out and the room lights warm to about half intensity. They would slowly become brighter to the ship’s lighting average of about eighty-five percent of capacity, but that didn’t matter to me. I stand from the bed that I had recognized earlier as the one that I woke up on the second time and walk briskly to the door. It slides open as I near it and I turn quickly left and head down the hall at a near run. I count the doors, one, two, three, as I run, and stop, snapping another quick left. The door barely opens in time as I dive in–

My body suddenly reacts as it has the past three times that I’d been running the simulator. At least this time I reach the lavatory bench before my stomach releases its contents in a loud and undignified retch. The wave of nausea finally subsides and I rest my head against the cold metal of what I’ve come to accept is a toilet. Between the stench of my bile and the taste of acid in my mouth, all I can wonder is whether or not I’ll be able to stay active long enough to START my mission!

Behind me and through the open door, I hear the heavy footfalls of several people. The voices that I barely hear are definitely Dharcia, Ter’link, and Not-Allessa, but the roaring in my ears makes it hard for me to hear a word they’re saying. I start to turn around to see them as they reach the door, then give up and rest again against the cooling and blessed metal, gasping for breath as my chest heaves for air.

“. . . plants were not designed for this, Nishka. You gave him the basic class for identification and communications!”

The feline doctor, who I hadn’t heard, suddenly speaks up. “I know! I told you not to mix them, Lieutenant Ng’Baiel! You could have killed him!”

Allessa retorts quickly in her own defense, but her words remind me that she is definitely no longer the human that I thought I heard a moment prior. She did little to hide her irritation at being given blame for the incompatability. “Doctor, it’s not my fault you didn’t anticipate putting him into a military service! Is there a way to reprogram–”

“Shut up!” I manage to yell before coughing up the last of the mucus that hasn’t made its way through my throat and spitting it into the brushed toilet. I slowly stand and feel Ter’l’s paws helping me steady myself. I glower at the arguing women who’ve all taken a step back from the door, either from shock or an expectance of me to throw up once again. I raise my head and take in a deep breath, the release it and look Chi’bi square in the eye. “How long do I have left before I have to face him?”

“Uhm… About two hours?”

I turn to the doctor to find her casting an irritated glance at the female rabbit. “And you. What can we do to keep me from throwing up long enough to complete the match?”

Nishka’s gold eyes quickly find me as she responds. “It seems that the nanites have settled into an unusual pattern that’s throwing off your equilibrium when they go active.”

“That’s not answering my question.”

“You’re right. Since the machines you have are not entirely compatable, we can’t get it perfect. However, we can try to initiate an internal reconfiguration. It’d take a few minutes–”

“Good, do it.” I turn to Dharcia before the feline can respond. “Dharcia, I know you’re worried about me, but you’ll be more worried if I’m on sewage duty. Trust these people to get me right so we can go to the park again without me smelling like garbage!”

She says nothing and just looks away with a slight reddish tinge to her purple cheeks.

Ter’l finally speaks up, “What about me, little man? What can I do?”

“You can help get me back into the simulator because I have to do this.”

The pink-furred male throws a mock-salute over a sarcastic smile. “Yes, sir!”

– –

With ten minutes to go before the bout, I finally begin the quick march towards the ‘Bot hangar. My head is going a mile a minute, not from what’s to come, but from the fact that I did get two full runs through the training simulations while holding in what little food that I had eaten after they reset the nanites. Only just barely.

It is so much easier but so much harder without my keyboard! So many key placements where I don’t want them and so many controls now thought-activated. Trying to remember where some of my controls are is going to be tricky, but I anticipate being able to quickly adjust, At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

Chi’bi follows close behind and continues to give me information about Grai’gahrd’s preferred method of combat. I catch that he prefers the heavier Bots and that he tries to pummel enemies down with long-range attacks, and ususally before they can be seen very well. Other than that, all I could really hear was the rush of the blood pumping through my ears.

 So much is weighing on me for this. Chi’bi’s got her career. I have my existence on this ship on the line. Dharcia’s attempt to prove humans belong here. If I don’t do this, I’ll be letting everyone down. Everyone.

I feel a hand land on my shoulder and look to find Nishka’s feline paw-hand there. I follow it to its owner and see her smiling. “Robert, have you heard a word that we’ve said?”

I smile wide before I respond. “Of course! Heavy Bots, long ranges, don’t puke on the controls.”

Chi’bi and Dharcia both laugh before the purple mephit steps forward and gently kisses my cheek. “For luck,” she whispers. Chi’bi shuffles behind her in what almost seems like irritation as I gasp, looking over Dharcia with confusion. When she realizes my surprise, her eyes drop and her ears flatten against her hair. “Uh… That’s what we do. Is it wrong for you?”

“N-no, not really… It’s just something that’s usually held for people who are–”

The door slides open and Ter’link gives me a small push as he grumbles. “Dharcia, don’t mess with his head more than it already is. He’s still gotta do this.”

I partially stumble into the hangar to find its open space filled with a pare of large, golden metal orbs suspended above some kind of rig that looked almost like a car suspension. Between them, Commander Grai’gahrd stood supervising their assembly. Having regained my balance, I walk across the deck and come to attention behind the wolf. With a quick snap of a salute, I announce myself. “Ensign Anderson reporting as requested, sir!”

The Ru’therian jumps in surprise before he turns in my direction, eliciting a few snickers from both the assembly crew and the four aliens that had come with me. “I see you’ve gathered a following. Good.” He finally offers an abbreviated salute, allowing me to drop mine, then turns back to the globes and extends his arms wide as if to hug them at range. “These are what we use in full simulation, training, and competitive actions. They mimic movement, physical activities such as impacts, heat, cold, basically giving us an exact replication of real combat.” His arms finally fall to his sides as he looks over his shoulder with a predatory grin. “I expect you can handle this.”

I nod smartly. “Of course, sir.”

“I object… Sir.” Chi’bi snarls her opinion from behind me. “He’s trained on fixed simulation platforms! You and I both know that he isn’t ready for this kind of session.”

Grai’gahrd turns and storms over to the Eil’phae who doesn’t back down. “You better hope you’re wrong, rabbit, because he’s going into them!”

Ter’link spent the whole conversation looking over the rigs, inspecting them for foul play, when he voices a realization. “Oh! You’ve linked the broadcasting units!”

The ship commander chuckles as he finally walks away from Chi’bi and back towards the units. “Of course. I wanted to display to those interested that humans really cannot be trusted to operate our equipment.”

“I suppose this means full competition rules, then, Commander?” I look over to find Dharcia’s stepped next to me to be seen, while Nishka herself begins verifying the medical monitoring equipment.

The commander seems surprised by her words but answers quickly. “I suppose. It’s not like I have anything to worry about there.”

“So, if he wins, he gets a double-promotion?” Dharcia seems to be on to something, but I still have no idea what she’s referring to. I do, however, see her smile the smile that says, “I have you now!”

“Yes, yes. Now, get him into the unit. I have a match to win.”

Dharcia gives a quick salute, then steps back and whispers into my ear, “Go get’em, Lieutenant.”

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