plastic, soldiers' arms of blood and sinew
, blood accepting mold
injected via plastic into veins. Try to save the flesh and bone, hands moving in the frantic dance with fingers that must needs weep for you; there is no water nor time to spare. Sulfa
here, powdered chitin
packed within the rubbery confines of the wound lines where it will expand and seal.
The destinations waver in the heat. The front, the rear; they switch off in the haze above the LZ with the slickness of a dollar slot spin. The gear or the fear. Two steps forward, three steps back?
Shouting in the twilight heat, with staccato sounds of gunfire for emphasis. There are chittering noises out there as well, the mechs swarming over the barricades into the streams of wavering projectiles. Metal meets metal, and plastic, and ceramics; mechanical physics equations solve themselves into showers of fragments and toppling shapes intermingled with screams of pain, fear, malfunctioning systems.
The dustoff is almost complete. Heavylift flitters loft suddenly from the sand, cargo of bleeding patchwork humans nestled in their bellies, turning on columns of fan thrust to head for the illusion of safety back behind the wall of interdiction. CP fire laces the darkening sky, missing the unlit shapes by grace of surely absent Gods; the medevacs drop back to hug the terrain, slide out of sight. The position no longer important, soldiers begin to filter back through the clearing, flowing around the edges, retreating back into the foothills now that the wounded have been taken off. Shouts and commands, whispers of comlink traffic, occasional slicing phosphorescence of tracer fire across the crushed and flattened sawgrass. Somewhere back in the direction of the hastily-erected breastworks they abandon, there comes the rising sound of mechanical destruction as the barricades are pulled down by swarms of small and cheap machines.
There are two stretchers on the field near the rubble and the imprints left by the flitters. One is empty, handles broken; one is occupied, a form still under foil blankets huddled waiting for the flight that has come and gone. Soldiers grimace as they pass, unable to help or even stop to check the abandoned husk; survival has all their moments now. Fingers absently gathering what they can from the scattered supplies, the 14th Detechnic Rangers pass through the LZ on their way to the denser scrub of the foothills where the machines have trouble moving quietly, silently; where the flicker and the mode clash with the simple silence of the trees. Humans can tap the silent years, move back inside their heads; brachiate if required, carrying their technology, but the machines - the machines are still baffled by kudzu and by wet rot, by fungus and fallen logs.
The soldiers move out, past the last of the concrete. Machinery moves in behind them, reaches the clearing; sensors myriad and varied lock on the stretcher lying near the center. There is a pause as a last human noncom pauses by the shape, startles; makes an aborted gesture towards it, but then pauses. Looks back, sees the silent mass of machines, and with a snarl both silent and streaked with tears turns and lopes for the clearing's edge, weapons clutched. The scavengers move in, analogues of exultation in their chittering flow, to surround the corpse and the bundles of equipment that it lies within.
Two command nodes, rare this far out from City Center and precious, await the quieting of the clearing, approach to evaluate the find. The scavengers have begun to cart away small packages from the piles, moving aside cardboard and cloth in their search, but none have disturbed the body. There is nothing there the machines need save perhaps information, and the command nodes will interpret that - remote units scavenging for them as they wait at the edge of the clearing, now, small shapes scurrying towards the blanket with lights and manipulators. Clacking eagerness, orders, maps, even unit identification; all will tell a tale.
The blanket comes back from the torso. Blood is smeared across the chest and face; the eyes are closed, the expression one of pain and anger at the last. The remotes confer, line up, and push to roll the body up onto its side-
It rotates slowly, face coming into direct view of the command nodes parked some twenty meters back, awaiting the contents of its pockets with cold patience. As it turns fully on its side, the eyes-
The eyes open, click.
A line, a neat line, of plastic shapes, olive drab, lined up along its leg as the blanket is whipped away; one hand gripped tight, and then a rictus smile-
FRONT TOWARD ENEMY.