Buck Who? Chapter 30

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 30: End Result

May 16th, 2668 – The Installation

            The androids attended the wounded to the best of their ability, allowing the humans, Exotics, and mutants which had fought alongside them, all the rest they needed. Fortunately over the many long centuries the androids had accumulated a massive stockpile of medical drugs, which they rarely had any reason to use.

            The fighters benefitted from this.

            Max was the first to get off his bed and get dressed. The surgery, combined with the healing reagent they had used on him had quickly healed his wounds. It was nearly as good as the paste they used back at the community.

            He checked on the status of his daughter, Tara, Declan and even the man Joey. Not a single person from the community had come through the battle unscathed, and he would be returning home with too many bodies. That hurt, far more than he could have imagined. Every single person in the community was like family to him. After all, he had seen each come into the world.

            The fact he would have to break so many hearts with the tragic news weighed heavily upon his shoulders. He was not certain he would be able to bear it. Max had absolutely no choice but to. It had been his decision to offer his help to the androids, and he had asked for volunteers.

            So many of the members of the community had offered, and yet he took only who he considered to be the best.

            “Dad?”

            The sound of his daughter’s voice broke through the black cloud of grief and despair he was under. He turned to see she too had dressed and was standing only a meter or so from him. Her eyes were bright, and he realized it had to have been from the drugs to dull the pain. She looked as bad as he felt, and had many new scars to show for their folly. “What is it?”

            “You’ve got that look,” she said and looked away, letting her gaze fall upon Declan and Tara. Both were still asleep, allowing the drugs to work their healing magic. The androids said they could do something about Declan’s missing leg, but wanted to wait to discuss it with him once he woke.

            Max’s scalp itched something fierce and he wanted to dig his fingers in it, to get right down to the bone, but he had been warned to avoid that. The radiation burns were healing and there was no chromosomal damage, but it would take time for his flesh to properly mend. “I know, I know…” he sighed.

            “You can’t blame yourself dad,” Ra’naa reached out and took his hands in hers, forcing him to look at her. “We all volunteered for this.”

            Max sighed and nodded. “It’s easier said than done, Ra’naa.”

            They sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts for several minutes. Finally she cleared her throat. “I’ve talked to the androids about Declan.”

            Max looked up from his lap. “And?”

            They are going to give him a new leg, a cybernetic limb. They can’t regrow organic limbs, but they have a large stockpile of replacements for their bodies.”

            “I wonder how he’s going to react to that news?”

            She shrugged. “At least he’s still alive; he will have to remember that.”

            Max rubbed the bridge of his nose and then stroked his horns. “Tara’s going to lose it.”

            Ra’naa nodded and grinned slight. “When does she not lose her shit when things don’t go her way?”

            “True enough,” Max conceded.  There was a slight commotion from further down the ward and both turned to see the Exotic woman Kate sit up and look about in confusion. She had knocked an IV tree over and was staring at the lines snaking across her body in confusion. Ra’naa, already feeling much better got out of bed and walked over to her. She helped straighten the tree and sat on the bed next to the other Exotic.

            “Fuck me,” Declan groaned and rubbed his face with one hand. “That’s the last time I stay up all night drinking,” he slurred.

            Max looked over at the pilot and waited, knowing it would not be long before the man realized exactly where he was and what had happened. “How you feeling, Declan?”

            “Like shit, Ahteen,” he groaned and a split second his eyes snapped open and he took in his surroundings. “Son of a bitch…” then he looked down at the bandaged stump that ended just above his right knee. “Oh son of a bitch… what the fuck?”

            “You’ll be fine, flyboy,” Max tried to assure the distraught man. “The androids said they can give you a prosthetic, so you’ll be as good as new in no time.”

            Declan glared at Max, although his face was slightly slack and he had the same glassy-eyed look. “Yeah? Being part fucking machine?”

            Max did not know what to say to try and relieve the stress the pilot was feeling, so he shrugged. “Plenty of soldiers had cybernetics before the end of the wars and they coped just fine. Maybe we can head down to Scav Haven after this is settled and see about purchasing some regen drugs or maybe some medical equipment. I’ve been thinking of upgrading the infirmary at the community anyhow.”

            “Whatever,” Declan growled sullenly. He looked at the wires and tubes attached to his body and tried to push up into a sitting position, but found he was too weak. “Where’s Babs?”

            At that moment, Max was very glad Tara was still unconscious. She would have reacted poorly to Declan asking for his AI companion before her. “I’m not sure; you’ll have to ask the androids. They could tell you more.”

            Declan slipped into silence as he stared at the stump where his leg used to be. He moved his body and tilted his head, as if he could still see the limb and feel it. That was a phenomenon which Max had heard a great deal about, the phantom limb. Even though it was gone, the victim could swear it was still there.

            Awoan came in, looking as if she had just stepped out of a beauty salon instead of having co-ordinated a major defensive campaign. Her clothing was clean and neatly pressed and her hair was perfect. She stopped in her tracks when she noticed how many of the fighters were now awake, every eye locked in on her. Her artificial but beautiful face remained impassive as she strode down the rows of beds to stand before Max.

            “You have my eternal gratitude for your sacrifice in defending our home,” she said without fanfare or ceremony.

            “How many androids did you lose?” He asked.

            “We’re down to forty-nine percent of what he had before the Purists attacked. We also lost ninety percent of our human companions.”

            Max, hell, everyone within earshot winced at the numbers. One out of every ten humans survived, and more than half of the androids had been destroyed. As for the humans, it could not be more than three or four then. “I’m sorry,” Max said earnestly.

            Awoan had a look of genuine pain on her face and tears began to flow down her cheeks. “If you and your people had not been here, we would surely have lost.”

            “Well, you’re in the fight with us, for better or worse. Can any of your losses be rebuilt?” Max asked.

            She shrugged. “It’s possible, only time will tell. At least many of our skilled techs survived, and with them working around the clock,” she held up her hands in a helpless gesture.

            Ra’naa looked at her father and he knew exactly what she was thinking. Maybe Otres would be willing to help. After what he had learned with the way the little Uplift had repaired Babs, and how long it took him to recover, he was not sure if the Uplift would be willing to.  Or for that matter be even capable repairing the lost androids.

            “Awoan, we appreciate the help you’re giving our wounded, but once everyone is mobile enough, we need to return to our home. Our boats are waiting and we all know the Purists will not be sitting back to lick their wounds. I know we inflicted at least ninety-percent casualties on the force they sent, and they’re going to want some payback.”

            “You have our full support,” Awoan began, but stopped when Max held up his hand.

            “And we’re grateful, but for now, do what you can to repair your lost friends, and we’ll see what we can do on our end. We have an ace in the hole and he might be willing to assist you,” he waved the same hand at the android.

            “The Uplift,” Awoan suggested.

            Max barely kept the surprise from his face. “Yes exactly,” he managed to keep his voice level and without inflection indicating his surprise. Looking around, his eyes fell upon Declan, who was still staring at the stump of his leg. “You mentioned something about a prosthetic or cyber replacement for my man’s lost leg?”

            She tuned and followed his gaze, allowing her own to rest upon the one-legged pilot. “Yes, it is a simple procedure. We can prepare him right away, if that is his desire.”

            “You’ll need to speak to him about that,” Max looked thoughtful. “And what happened to the android we brought with us, Babs?”

            Awoan pulled her eyes from the wounded pilot. “She’s being repaired at this very moment. Her spine was snapped and she sustained severe structural damage during the battle.”

            The frown on his face deepened. “Can she be fixed?”

            “Oh yes,” Awoan reassured him. “Sadly, unlike organics such as yourself and your companions, almost any damage we sustain can be repaired. If worst comes to worst, we can simply transfer out the positronic brains and install them into new bodies.

            The implications of what she was saying hit him hard. Many of the androids must have had their brains damaged or destroyed. That was what prevented them from being repaired – or at least, brought back to some semblance of functionality. He figured a lot would end up becoming spare parts for the rest.

            “Okay, thanks. Send Babs up to see us as soon as she is mobile. If you can’t repair her, then don’t fret, our Uplift friend will take care of it for us.”

            Awoan nodded and then bowed to him. She turned and walked over to speak to Declan, leaving Max to his contemplations.

***
May 16th, 2668 – Halfway between the community and Scav Haven

            The discussion with his father had been bitter and thankfully brief. Bradly was still suffering from the effects of the wounds, but he was recovering quickly. In some ways it was a relief to get the dreaded communication over with and a bigger relief when his father did not hold the defeat against him.

            Martin had admitted they did not properly plan the campaign out, and the lack of intelligence on the enemy forces had played against them. They had been too eager to get in and attack, and the butchers bill had been nearly too much to swallow.

            Still, over the past month the ranks of their forces had swelled by almost three hundred troops, and since they allowed women into the ranks, they had gained another one hundred fighters. The loss of vehicles and armament was a hard pill to swallow, but they were not as bad off as they could have been.

            After the link had been severed, Bradly felt something dangerously akin to hope. It was a hell of a setback to be certain, but no commander in the history of war, at least to his knowledge, had ever won every encounter.

            It was cold comfort.

            Bradly was returning home in disgrace, no matter what his father had said. He could not recall ever feeling quite as downtrodden and useless as he did at that moment. The events of the past evening played through his mind, over and over again. He could see where so many mistakes had been made and what could have been done to correct each one.

            Hindsight is twenty-twenty, after all.

            At least their flight from the battlefield and the installation had been uneventful. Everyone was exhausted but he was the only member of the crew who had suffered any injuries. That in on itself was nothing short of miraculous.

            His father had not been angry at him, but it did not matter to Bradly. He had failed and failed on what could only be described as an epic level. There was no way he could ever possibly make up for the debacle, the loss of life and equipment. Somehow he had to make it up to his father.

            The kilometers disappeared unnoticed as he brooded and planned.

***
May 16th, 2668 – The community

            When Otres woke, he discovered the girl Arleen was gone. He lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling of Ra’naa’s cabin, lost in the intense memories of the night’s events. The smell that permeated the cabin was very reminiscent of the scents he picked up from Tara and Declan.

            This time it came from him and he had no idea how to react.

            For his first time ever, he now fully understood the sexual act and how badly he had wanted it, although he never found the right female. Even Ra’naa was not right for him, despite how much he loved her. Theirs was a relationship more akin to siblings, although it was a little twisted he came to realize.

            Arleen though… she appeared to be so human, and yet she was also very much an animal. She smelled right, she tasted right, and most importantly, she felt right. He had no idea how to explain it, but everything about mating with her was right, it was perfectly natural. She could not be an Exotic, he realized with a start – she had to be one of the most human appearing Uplifts. That could be the only way to explain it.

            As he considered her, Otres climbed out of bed and was disgusted to see how stained the sheets had become with their mixed body fluids. He would have to get the sheets cleaned, or maybe replaced, before Ra’naa returned.

            Otres’s belly rumbled in anticipation as he cleaned his fur and made himself presentable. He used Ra’naa’s mirror to ensure there was no remaining evidence of his nocturnal activities. Just as he was about to leave the cabin and go look for the young woman, the door opened and she entered.

            “Hello Otres,” she called out in a cheerful voice.

            Hi Arleen, he thought. I was surprised when I found you were gone.

            She was carrying a large tray, covered in by a thick cloth. The smell of freshly baked bread, fried eggs, sausage, combined with raw fish, made his belly rumble so loudly Arleen could hear it.  She shook her head as she laughed and sat down, patting a chair right beside her.

            He joined her as she pulled the blanket off the food. There was enough for an entire family and it was not just what he had sensed, there was also beer and fresh fruit, not to mention butter and other condiments. Arleen began to take what she wanted and indicated he should do likewise.

            They sat in silence for nearly fifteen minutes, enjoying the repast and one another’s company. Otres realized he was perfectly comfortable with the young woman, unlike the other times he had encountered her.  Like the sex the night before, spending the time with her felt perfectly natural, as if they had been doing this for years.

            Sensing him studying her, she put down the slice of bread she was eating and regarded him curiously. Her whiskers twitched and her ears swivelled so they were facing him. “What are you thinking?”

            About last night, about us. He answered her. Last night was incredible, so thank you.

            She looked down at the table, clearly embarrassed. “You’re welcome, Otres. That’s the first time I’ve ever willingly had sex with a man – every other time it was for money.”

            Otres did not know how to answer her, so he slurped down a large sausage and then grabbed some chunks of raw fish. He did enjoy fish, and attributed it to his genetic heritage.

            “That was your first time, wasn’t it?” She asked after she looked up.

            If he could blush, he would have turned the entire room red. It was pretty obvious, wasn’t it?

            Arleen smiled and stroked the fur on his back, letting it linger on his shoulder. “I’ve had a few first-timers, and usually they’re clumsy and have no idea what they’re doing. You, well…” she paused, clearly not wanting to make him any more uncomfortable than he already was. “You finished very quickly, and that’s always a dead giveaway.”

            He chewed and swallowed the fish. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t had it in a long time?

            “Oh I’ve seen those too and there is a difference,” she leaned over and kissed him on the top of his head.

            So, how is your friend Andy going to take this?

            “He will be happy for both of us, and no he won’t try to kill you or take me away from you. He treats me like his little sister, and unless you mistreat me, he’ll never try to harm you,” she stared down at him, her hand still resting on his back and shoulder. “You wouldn’t try to hurt me, would you?”

            He looked horrified and appalled. No, never, certainly not intentionally.

            She studied his face, searching for something he could not identify. This young woman, either an Exotic or Uplift, had seen so much and been through even worse. He had enjoyed a good life, albeit lonely, until only a few months ago. Otres could see the need for love and acceptance on Arleen, so strong he could almost reach out and touch it.

            “So where do we go from here?” She asked softly, a trace of fear mingled with hope in her tone.

            I really don’t know, he admitted. Why don’t we just take it nice and slow and see what happens? After all, he waved one hand towards the distant installation to the north and then bobbed his chin to the south. The war Max Ahteen had been talking about has begun, and no one knows how long it’s going to last.

            “Then don’t you think maybe we should grab the moment and live our lives to their fullest?” She turned so that she was facing him directly. 

            She was a good thirty centimeters taller than he was, and as such he had to look up to her. I guess you’re right, He conceded.

            “Do you want to share a home with me?” She asked suddenly, looking hopeful.

            Otres blinked. That was the last thing he had expected to hear. It was strange how he ended up living with Ra’naa so suddenly after coming to the community. And suddenly after he had sex with the young woman beside him, now she was asking if he would like to live with her.

            He stared up at her, searching her face. Otres knew it was too soon for him, and yet – it sort of felt right. I think it’s too soon, Arleen.

            Her face fell and she looked away, concentrating on the food spread out on the table. She lifted one of the sausages and chewed on it, clearly uncomfortable as she realized how desperate she must have sounded.

            Outside, the community was coming to life. People were out and about, heading to their jobs or beginning their daily chores. It was a comfortable sound, one of peace and prosperity, so utterly different from the raucous sounds he had become used to hearing in Scav Haven.  Otres compared the noises to those he had been used to while he was living alone. Nature was peaceful, even with the occasional cry of pain or triumph from the predators and prey. It always spoke to him, even when he slept. In some ways the little Uplift missed it, but even in the community, he could still catch the occasional musical note, sent to him on the wind by nature herself.

            Otres slid off his chair and slid his head and shoulders under her outstretched arm. He looked up at her with his big, soulful brown eyes and quietly squeaked, placing one hand on her leg. Let’s just take it slow, Arleen. I can’t promise that you’ll get what you want, but only time will tell.

            She considered him for several seconds before reaching out and stroking the side of his head with one hand. “Alright.”

***
May 16th, 2668 – The Installation

            Babs insisted rather loudly that the androids work on their own first. They had found her and brought her battered and broken body into the installation as soon as the smoke cleared and the surviving Purists had been hunted down.

            Amazingly, there had been survivors. A few scattered soldiers here and there, who were desperately trying to get out of the battlefield. Their morale had been shattered and they were running for their lives. Many threw away their weapons and one even tried to surrender.

            That one was taken alive. He was badly wounded, but the androids would nurse him back to health – after all, he could prove to be a valuable source of intelligence. No matter what, the man would never leave the installation. Once they were finished with him, Babs was certain the androids would quietly and humanely dispose of him.

            All the other survivors, the ones they found, were either taken prisoner, or put to death, depending on how badly they were injured. The androids did not have any desire to waste medical drugs or supplies on the prisoners – no that was to be used for their own people.  Everyone was certain at least a few managed to slip through the cracks.

            It was fine with them. The story of the battle of the Installation would spread across the coastline, and the first major victory against the Purists would do far more good than harm. The mutant-hating faction would no longer be an inevitable machine of destruction, rolling over communities and killing indiscriminately. No, those who had doubted anyone could stand up against their might will suddenly see they are not indestructible.

            She consulted her internal chronometer. Over six hours had passed since she had been brought in and the technician had worked non-stop, removing and replacing damaged and broken parts. They must have had a lot of spare parts to be able to easily replace the ruined components.

            “How much longer?” She asked, feeling the technician working. It felt strange, it was not pain, but she could feel the sensations of his fingers working and manipulating her internal structure.

            “I am finished the major reconstructive work,” the android said in his neutral tone. “I am just reconnecting the circuits and wiring, and…” he paused, and she felt a final click and then power coursed through her spine and into her legs. “You are finished. Give me three minutes, twenty seconds to seal the synth-flesh on your back.”

            She counted the seconds and at exactly three minutes and twenty seconds he pulled his hands away from her back. “You are repaired. I would not say you are as good as new, but you are once again fully functional.”

            She rolled over and sat up and looked down at her body. She was naked, but unlike an organic creature, her body was purely functional, not meant to be sexual or attractive. She had chosen to mold it into a female form, to match her persona, the problem was when she was damaged her form returned to its gender-neutral state.

            Babs slid off the table and took several tentative steps. Everything was working, as far as she could tell. She brought up the appropriate programs and ran a diagnostic. All the systems that had been yellow or red were now in the green and her systems were running at optimal levels.

            “Thanks,” she said as she commanded her synthetic flesh to begin rearranging and reforming to conform to her desires.

            The technician bowed his head in respect. “Thank you for your sacrifice in defending our home.”

            She waved away the praise. “Go tend to your brothers and sisters,” she insisted. She could have waited for the repairs and it still irked her they had given her top priority.

            “As you wish,” the technician replied, still bowing, and left.

            Babs found her clothing and armor and got dressed. Everything would need to be washed and her weapons would require a thorough cleaning, but she felt more comfortable once she was dressed.

            “Babs, I am pleased to see you are fully functional,” Awoan called out to her from across the room. The leader of the androids had just entered the repair facilities and was striding towards her.

            “Yes and thanks, but your tech should have worked on your own people first,” she repeated for what felt like the hundredth time in the past six hours. She pulled out her handgun and ejected the magazine. There were only a couple of rounds left so she set about refilling it.

            The beautiful pleasure-android shook her head. “No, not this time – it has been said numerous times already, you and your friends sacrificed much to help us. You are our top priority.”

            Babs knew it was pointless to argue. The androids were too stubborn in that aspect – typically once they set their positronic minds upon a path, it was all but impossible to deviate. “How’s Declan?”

            “He’s resting. We have cleaned the wound and are prepared to take him to surgery. It will be a simple procedure to attach a cybernetic limb. I have been told barring any complications, the procedure will be complete in less than ninety minutes.”

            She felt a pang of guilt and unconsciously rubbed her own right leg. The fact her best friend, the human who she loved, was injured, was nearly too much to bear. When she had first learned of his injury, she wanted to leave and be by his side.

            The problem was her body was too badly damaged to function enough for her to walk, and she had no choice but to wait until the repairs were completed. She should have left already, but the appearance of the installations leader pushed that aside.

            “Can I see him now?”

            Awoan studied her, the woman’s artificial eyes searching and judging – what, Babs had no idea. After a long hesitant second, the android nodded. “Yes, he’s resting and waiting as we prepare him for the surgery,” she tilted her head to one side and put her hand against her chin. “Why do you care, you were not programmed to feel emotions.”

            Babs bristled at the comment. “That’s where you’re wrong,” she said heatedly. “I was programmed for emotion and he’s my best friend,” she left out the part how much she wanted him to love her the way he loves Tara.

            The pleasure android crossed her arms under her breasts and stared. “How odd, but who are we to stand in your way, after what you have sacrificed for us.”

            “Damn straight, sister,” Babs nodded curtly. “Take me to him,” it did not come out as a request, and that was exactly what she had intended.

***
May 16th, 2668 – The Installation

            Declan lay on his bed and gently massaged the flesh around the stump of his leg. Tara was still out cold, and showed no signs of waking up anytime soon. The androids were at a loss when it came to the reasons why. She had sustained injuries, but none of which should have put her in the coma.

            The former pilot knew he should have been worried – after all, his mate was injured and would not waken. Yet… he was not worried. He sighed and looked at the bandage covering the stump. When Awoan had told him how simple it would be to attach a prosthetic to his body, he blanched at the thought.

            The question nagged him – why had he almost refused? If he did not accept the limb, he would be a cripple for the rest of his life. He looked over at the sleeping form of Tara, watched as her chest rose and fell with each inhalation, her large breasts pushing against the blanket. No, he did not want to be a burden to the woman. Declan did not want to be a burden to anyone. The thought of becoming part machine, that was repulsive. He dearly wished they had access to regeneration equipment or even a cloning tank. They could just regrow the limb in that case and then attach it to his body.

            The miracles and wonders of the life he once led were nothing more than radioactive dust-choked dreams. The technology was now lost, swirling on the hot eddies, blown by the winds of war.

            There was a noise at the entrance to the ward and when he looked, a smile crossed his haggard face. Babs was on her feet, dressed and looking ready to kick ass and chew bubble-gum. Her armor was filthy, coated in ash and he was quite sure it was radiating rads like a melted-down nuclear reactor, but he held his tongue. It was good to see her, that’s all he cared about.

            “Hey Doc,” she greeted him with a gentle smile. In only a couple of steps she was standing next to him, staring down. Her hand automatically snaked out and took his. She brought it up to her artificial lips and kissed it. “How you holding out?”

            Declan did not pull his hand away, but he did cast a furtive glance at where Tara lay unconscious. “Scared and pissed off,” he admitted. “I am not looking forward to this.”

            Babs smiled and brushed a strand of artificial hair from her eyes. “At least you’ll be up and running in no time, right? It can’t be all that bad.”

            “Yeah, it can be,” he said somewhat impetuously. “I would rather have a real leg, not something you would use.”

            The android felt her temper starting to bubble and boil. She rarely ever got angry with Declan, except when he did something really stupid, or acted irrationally. Right now the former fighter-jock was acting very irrationally. She forced herself to look at it from his point of view. He had just lost a limb, which in on itself was an exceptionally traumatic experience for a human. If what happened to him had inflicted her, she would have shrugged it off. After all, she had her spine broken but she was now as good as new. “I wouldn’t worry about it,” she smiled and squeezed his hand. “It’s a huge world and I’m willing to bet we can come across a regenerator or a cloning tank somewhere.”

            The words brought a slight smile to his face. “Thanks Babs, you always know the right thing to say.”

            Several minutes passed as they made small-talk. Babs compared notes with him on what they had been told and the butcher’s bill for the defense of the installation was horrible. Many people would not be returning to the community, and few of those who were sustained injuries.

            They were interrupted when a pair of androids, one medical and the other a technician, entered the room. They came over to Declan and the medic gave him a reassuring smile. This particular model had been designed to look young and had pleasant features and a soft, gentle, soothing demeanor. “Mr. Starrett, are you ready?”

            Declan shook his head, feeling a wellspring of fear bubbling inside. “No I’m not, but if we don’t get this over with, I never will be.”

            The medic smiled again and placed a warm hand on Declan’s shoulder. “The procedure will be complete before you know it,” he reassured. “In a few hours, you’ll be up and running as if nothing had ever happened.”

            The technician began to adjust the bed and suddenly it separated from the frame and floated free. Declan had a sensation of free-fall for a fraction of a second and it caused his gorge to rise. He nearly hurled, but somehow he managed to keep it down. The medic saw his distress and looked over at Babs. “You are welcome to come with us,” he offered.

            “Declan?” She asked, unsure.

            To everyone’s surprise, and more so to Declan, he shook his head. “Thanks Babs, but what I really need is for you to stay here and be there for Tara once she wakes up.”

            Babs could not have looked more surprised if someone had just announced she was going to give birth. “Wait, what? Seriously?”

            He nodded. “She’s probably going to be scared and confused, and I would like it if a familiar face was there for her, so you could tell her what happened to me if she wakes before I return.”

            Licking her artificial lips, Babs stared at the unconscious woman. “What about Ra’naa?”

            “It has to be you,” Declan insisted. “She sees you as a rival, and if she found out you were in the operating theater with me, well…” He let the sentence hang over the abyss.

            “Humans,” she grunted but acquiesced at the same time. “For you,” she stated.

            At the mention of her name, Ra’naa came over to them. Her father was on her heels and they stood next to the hovering bed. “Good luck,” Ra’naa leaned in and kissed Declan on the forehead. It brought a genuine smile to his fatigued face.

            She stepped aside and Max took her place. When he leaned in, Declan held up a single finger and growled at him. “Don’t you dare try and kiss me!”

            That drew laughter from everyone, including the two androids about to take him off to surgery. Max shook his head and offered his hand. Declan took it and the two men shook. “You’ll be fine,” Max assured him.

            Declan nodded and then returned his attention to Babs. They locked eyes as the two androids floated him out of the room to the waiting surgical suite.

***
May 16th, 2668 – The Community

            Momma Rathbourne sat in the rocking chair on the porch of her tidy little home, enjoying the cool breeze and the scents of the impending summer. She had to laugh lightly, it was not even the second full month of spring, and yet she was looking forward to the heat of the summer days.

            All around her the town bustled with life. Children played in the large park across the street from her little shop. It was close to their homes and the youngsters were watched by elder siblings or a parent who was not currently busy. Humans, Mutants, Damaged and Exotics, they did not care about one another’s genetic heritage, they were friends and that’s all that mattered to them.

            It was pleasantly warm and the ground had become dusty over the past several days. It had finally stopped raining and everywhere plants were lush and green, many in full bloom and would remain so until the fall. Large bees flitted from plant to plant, looking for nectar and pollinating as they travelled, continuing the cycle of life.

            Despite the warmth and the pleasant breeze, the old woman shuddered as if freezing and she pulled her ancient shawl around her shoulders. She had witnessed the battle at the Installation and already knew the outcome. She had known several hours before it had taken place. The images of death and blood, the terrible wounds and the dying still haunted her mind. It was so bad she was incapable of cooking, nothing, including the beautiful day laid out before her could shake the cold.

            Her eyes were drawn to the children once again. Pain stabbed her deep in the heart as she looked at the youngsters who would be soon learning of a parents passing. Too many of the men and women who had travelled to fight with the androids would never be coming home.

            The smiling, carefree faces – she could already see the confusion and then the hurt. By this time tomorrow, the laughter would be gone, replaced by grief and weeping. How many widows would be cursing Max Ahteen for leading their loved-ones off to a battle which was not their own? Momma Rathbourne figured her gift, or curse – would soon tell her.

            Reaching out with her wizened hand, she picked up the clear glass filled to the top with liquid and brought it to her lips. Few people in the community knew about her indulgence, and she kept it that way on purpose. The alcohol burned her mouth and throat as she took a hefty swallow, moving like molten lava until it hit her stomach. There it continued to blaze, a raging fire. It was not painful, quite the opposite, it was pleasant and it helped ease the pain she was suffering.

            Not physical pain – emotional pain. Part of her gift always left her drained, especially when she witnessed tragic events like the battle for the installation. Often she would drink herself into a stupor at night, as it was the only way she could sleep peacefully. The alcohol dulled her senses and the visions which came every night were often forgotten as quickly as they occurred.  Sleep was often a curse, and she had grown used to getting very little as the years flowed past. She made due by having cat-naps during the day, where her dreams rarely had a chance to intrude upon her mind.

            Her husband, god rest his soul, understood and night after night used to hold her, stroking her hair or back and rocking her in his powerful arms. Sometimes they would make love, the release of pleasure helped dull the ache and pains leftover by the visions. A single tear crept down her cheek as she remembered Henry, gone all these years. Their children were grown and gone as well, scattered across the coastline, living their lives away from the community and her.

            Days like today the old woman desperately wanted to join her husband in whatever rewards lay beyond the veil. How easy it would be to pick the right time and just ignore the dangers her visions showed her, to allow the events to take place.

            Someday the time would come and she could join Henry. She would know it when it was the right time and place. All these years it never felt right and momma Rathbourne knew if she gave into the nearly overpowering temptation, god would not allow her to join her husband. They would spend the rest of eternity separated.

            Lifting her hand, momma Rathbourne wiped the tear away and took another sip of the strong alcohol.

            “Are you alright?”

            The old woman nearly jumped out of her seat at the sound of the voice. She whipped her head towards the voice so quickly she felt the muscles and tendons creak under the strain. “Oh hello, dear,” she smiled. “I’m perfectly fine, just enjoying the weather and watching the youngsters,” she lifted her wrinkled and liver-spotted hand and waved it at the group of children playing in the park across the street. “They’re having a wonderful time!”

            Arleen stood only a few meters away, her long hair rustled by the slight breeze. She was dressed in the manner of the majority of the women in the community, a long white dress hugging her curves and flowers festooning her hair. The former prostitute’s eyes followed where the old woman was indicating and she nodded. “Yes they are.”

            “What did this old woman do to deserve a visit from such a lovely young creature such as yourself?” Momma Rathbourne smiled widely and patted the empty chair next to her. “Come and sit a while, Arleen.”

            The young woman did as she was bid and she sat demurely on the chair, carefully arranging her dress so it covered her legs and hid her curves. She no longer wanted to display her body for the people, now that she had a choice. “I wanted to thank you for the food you’ve been providing Otres and me.”

            “I, dear, Otres and I,” momma Rathbourne corrected with a twinkle in her old eyes. “How is our little squeak-toy?”

            Arleen winced but could not completely cover the smile the phrase brought to her face. Ever since Declan had called the little Uplift a squeak toy, the name had gotten around the small community and it had stuck. “He’s working as hard as he can, and the food you’ve been giving us is helping him keep his energy levels up.

            “And you’ve had a chance to be intimate with him?”

            That question took the young woman completely off guard. She stared at momma Rathbourne, her eyes huge and her mouth open in stunned silence. The old woman reached out laughing, and closed Arleen’s mouth. “Careful dear, you’ll swallow a bug.”

            Arleen felt her skin warm beneath her fur, and knew how embarrassed she was. For a second she considered lying to the elder woman, but quickly discarded the thought. With what she knew about the old woman, she was in fact a mutant – one who could see the future. Otres had explained that many times. So the odds were in her favor she knew about it. “Yes ma’am,” she replied hesitantly, keeping her eyes low to the ground.

            “Good, good!” The old mutant laughed. “if he didn’t get some soon, I was afraid he was going to have a heart attack!”

            “Why didn’t he have sex with Ra’naa then?” She asked. Arleen understood the relationship between Otres and the Exotic, and she just could not quite fathom why they never enjoyed one another. The Uplift had explained it to her, or at least attempted to do so, but Arleen just did not comprehend it.  She figured it had to do with her former profession. Everyone had sex with everything. There were those who even enjoyed having sex with the mutant plants.

            The old mutant reached out and grasped her hand. Momma Rathbourne’s hand was strong; the flesh was still soft and warm. She squeezed Arleen’s hand and smiled. “They’re like siblings, and there is the difference in species.”

            “So why is it different between us? Is it because I look like an Otter?”

            “No dear,” Momma Rathbourne continued to smile. “It’s because you and Otres are the same species.”

***
May 16th, 2668 – The Installation

            One minute, Tara was sleeping, trapped within the confines of a coma which on one could explain. The next moment, she was awake, sitting up in the bed and clutching at her stomach. The Tiger-Exotic whipped her head around, her green eyes wild with confusion and pain. She growled and alternately whimpered, unable to push back the fear.

            When Ra’naa wrapped her arms around the woman, Tara nearly lashed out with her claws. She stopped just millimetres from Ra’naa’s throat, pulling away at the very last instant. “Sorry,” she mumbled, and then returned the embrace, nuzzling her friend’s hair, drinking in her familiar scent. It was an anchor to reality, a beacon she used to pull her mind out of the grasping claws of confusion and the waiting darkness.

            “No harm done,” Ra’naa half chuckled as she stroked Tara’s back. The fur felt soft beneath her calloused hands and Tara relaxed, allowing the tension to drain out of her.

            The Tiger-Exotic sniffed and pulled away, still holding Ra’naa by the arms. “Where are we?” She looked around and spotted the android Babs standing close by. “What are you doing here?” Tara growled.

            “Declan wanted me to be here when you woke,” Babs informed her. “He wanted me to let you know he was worried about you.”

            Ra’naa chose that moment to interrupt. She waved a hand around the expansive ward. “Deep inside the installation. You and many others were wounded. We found you on the battlefield, unconscious. Do you remember what happened?”

            Tara was still staring at Babs as she shook her head. Tara’s long, nearly white hair flowing with the movements. The dye from the ambusher was finally gone. “Not really,” she looked at her hands and her body, barely concealed by the thin smock the androids had provided. “Something about an explosion, and a powerful one at that, it’s all I can recall.”

            Babs kept a respectful distance and looked towards Ra’naa. When the other Exotic returned the gaze, a silent conversation took place. Without further hesitation, Babs began to speak. “From the way the androids tell it, you turned the tide. You got your hands on the micro nuke launcher the Purists brought and took out what was left of their forces.”

            She blinked rapidly, the confusion spreading instead of retreating. “I did?”

            Babs managed a wide smile and nodded. “Yeah you are the hero of the day!”

            Ra’naa lifted her hand and stroked Tara’s cheek, the way a mother would a child. “Oh yeah,” she agreed with Babs. “After the nuke went off, you broke the backs of the Purists. Only the C&C vehicle escaped. We did manage to take a couple of prisoners though.”

            Tara lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. “Why don’t I remember any of it?”

            “Who knows,” shrugged Ra’naa. “Might have something to do with the way you were found. You sustained quite a dose of radiation, and the androids were able to purge it from you and repair the cellular damage. Maybe it’s your mind’s way of coping?”

            As Ra’naa spoke, Tara’s hand caressed her belly, moving in slow circles. Her green eyes were bright with unshed tears as she turned her face to look at her friend. “And my baby?”

            “What baby?” Both Babs and Ra’naa gasped at the same time, both stunned by the revelation.

            “The baby Declan and I made,” she stated as if talking to a simpleton.

            “You never said you were pregnant!” Ra’naa cried.

            Tara smiled, despite the tears flowing from her eyes. “I know I am, or at least I was. I did not want to tell anyone, especially Declan,” she sat up again, searching the room. “Where is he?”

            “He’s in recovery. The androids had to operate on him. He lost his right leg,” Babs said when Tara grabbed Ra’naa’s shoulder and pulled her so hard the other woman was pulled off her feet. Tara held her and brought her face so they were only about three centimeters apart. “He what?” She glared at Babs even though she was holding Ra’naa.

            Ra’naa reached up and used her superior strength to pry Tara’s hands apart. She could have been a lot rougher, but after the revelation, she did not want to risk hurting her friend. “He lost his right leg during the battle, and he lost a great deal of blood. They’ve replaced it with a cybernetic leg, and from the way I understand it, he’ll be as good as new in a few hours.”

            Tara swung her legs off the bed and tried to stand. A second later a wave of vertigo swept away her balance and her inner-ear went wild. She threw up a mixture of bile and water, the contents of her stomach splashing and discoloring the bedding she had just been laying on. There were black flecks mixed in with the biological mess and it caused both women to stop.

            “Is that blood?” Tara asked, although her head was still spinning and her throat was burned from the stomach acids and the act of vomiting.

            One of the medical androids was next to both, gently grasping Tara’s arms and helping Ra’naa steady the woman. “You should not be off your feet,” the female android said in a matter of fact tone.

            “Ya think?” Tara groaned in a raspy voice. “I don’t care, need to see my man!”

            The medical android turned her eyes towards Ra’naa. “Her man?”

            “Declan,” Babs and Ra’naa stated at the same time. In any other situation it would have been comical.

            The android nodded. “Here - at the very least, sit down,” she helped the weak and dizzy woman into a chair next to the soiled bed. It was far more comfortable than it looked and Tara sank into it, looking miserable. “I’ll get a hover-chair for you and we will take you to see Declan Starrett,” she announced and a moment later, left the two old friends alone.

            Ra’naa grabbed a cloth and the jug of water, which had been left next to Tara’s bed and began to clean the other woman’s face and mouth. She looked at the smock and shook her head. Much of the vomit had splashed and was now covering the thin material. “We need to get you a new one,” she pointed at the mess.

            Still weak, Tara tore the garment from her body and threw it to the floor. She was otherwise naked, only the fur covering her and giving her a modicum of dignity. “I don’t care, I want to see Declan!”

            Ra’naa knew her friend all too well. Once the Tiger-Exotic set her mind on a certain path, there was no deviating.

            Naked or not.

            She turned to look at Babs, who could only stand by helplessly. The android shrugged, but at least she looked sympathetic.

            The medic watched impassively, and when Ra’naa turned her pleading eyes to the female android, she gave a slight nod, knowing exactly what Ra’naa was about to ask. “Do you wish to get a clean change of clothing?”

            “No!” Tara practically screamed, her green eyes narrowed to mere slits. “I want to see my man, and now!”

            Unperturbed, the android bowed her head slightly and then said, “Follow me, please.”

            Tara found she had to lean on Ra’naa for support. When Babs offered her arm, Tara growled but reluctantly accepted the help. Tara’s legs felt like they were made of jelly and she felt as weak as a kitten. The thought brought the barest of smiles to her face, all things considered. And she knew she would be giving birth to Declan’s babies, hopefully many of them.

            The Android led them down a short corridor, which was featureless and painted a blazingly bright white. Only the occasional door marred the perfection of the corridor itself, breaking up what would have been monotonous in anyone but an android’s eye.

            She brought the pair to one of the doors, which like all the others in the corridor, was unmarked and unadorned in any way. There was no way to tell what lay beyond, unless you happened to know your way around the facilities. It opened to a small room, with several beds and monitoring equipment. Only one of the beds was currently occupied, and upon seeing Declan, Tara let go of both Ra’naa’s and Bab’s arms and went over to him.

            Declan Starrett, former fighter pilot, lost in time and living in a strange yet deadly new world, lay sleeping peacefully.

            “Declan!” Tara cried as she leaned heavily against the bed. She reached down with both hands and stroked his face and head before leaning in to kiss him on the lips. “Baby, are you awake?”

            He shifted on the bed and groaned lightly. His eyes fluttered open and he looked at Tara. For the briefest of seconds there was no sign of recognition in his face, just confusion. Then he reached up with both arms and took his mate in an embrace. “You’re awake,” he said groggily.

            “And you got shot to shit!” She laughed, tears streaming from her eyes. “Why did you have to go and get your leg blown off?”

            “Why are you naked?” He asked, feeling her soft fur and the weight of her breasts against his chest.

            “Answer my question first!” Tara demanded, her tone was harsh but the smile on her face proved she did not mean it. “I puked on my gown, so I just left it in the room.”

            “Well,” he said, still groggy and slightly out of it, “I guess I wanted to see what it would be like to have a peg-leg. You know, like old-time pirates?”

            She pulled away and swayed until Ra’naa helped steady her. The Tiger-Exotic reached out and took the covers, pulling them away from Declan. Like her, he was naked and everyone had a good look at his physical enhancement. The right leg looked nearly perfect, except for the angry red flesh where the prosthetic had been attached.

            Everyone stared, and Declan chuckled drunkenly. “Well, that’s going to take some time to get used to.”