Bird’s Eye View #1: Shipping Not Included (V2)

Alright, so this was supposed to be posted Tuesday at 11 AM but this week has been a sleep-deprived comedy of errors. Then I tried to post it behind schedule yesterday, but despite having read in the past that WordPress treats new posts of old drafts as new posts, it didn’t do any such thing. Of course I went merrily on to other projects yesterday without realizing it, and thus I’ve had to copy-paste all this and repost it properly.

Anyway, here’s the first instalment of the revised, cleaned-up “Bird’s Eye View” run–not too many changes this time around but it should still be enjoyable for first-time readers!

***

Freezing gusts lanced through cracks and battered the outpost’s door. They threatened to snuff the oil lamps scattered near worn mattresses. A bundle of sweaters and defaced armor at the radio might pass for loose gear; only, a pale right hand snaked out sometimes to keep the radio on.

Captain Peregrine sagged under desperate boredom. At times, he twitched his hand towards this or that device and pulled it back just before his fingers reached it. He told himself it was reflex and fine-motor training.

Peregrine wore his history on the outside. History meant credibility, which meant pay. His innermost shirt bore an old divisional patch, reduced to a rip of blue and red threads by time and an errant bullet. Old burns blotted his face’s left side. Scars adorned him all across. His good eye–washed-out green–glared, befitting his namesake.

Peregrine stood, grunted, and pushed the chair aside. He started his ritual approach on the stimulant rack. Peregrine’s partner raised his eyebrows without looking from his own work. The Japanese man tapped polishing powder onto his dagger’s blade and lifted oily paper to swab it down.

Washi was newer in two ways. First, he was twenty years the junior. Second, and more to the point, he was a cyborg–a proper elegant one with the cybernetics well-fitted to his original body. No whirring joints or bolts in his jaw for him, though one almond eye betrayed silvery trim in place of a lid. He also broke the odd mug or bent a fork when waking up and woozy. Peregrine liked to pretend that made up for the lad having superhuman strength.

The dagger clicked to its scabbard clean and dry. It was forged from rustproof alloy, so oil was pure mess. Washi set it in front of him and leaned to grab a book from the slanted, beaten shelf next to his cot. Of course he sneaked in some banter; the lad couldn’t appreciate a good gale.
“Those stims’ll kill you early, Peregrine.” Washi flipped pages back and forth until he found his place.

“Earlier than being thick if a call comes in?” Peregrine countered. He snapped up a syringe and pulsed its contents into his arm. He shook himself while they took effect. The haze cleared from his head and his sight no longer felt trimmed clean from his body. “Besides,” he continued dryly, “rest of us never got to be cyborgs before it all went tits-up.”

Washi waved a hand side to side. After a few seconds skimming yellowed pages, he heaved a sigh and let the text fall–either Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings or Washi’s ‘personalized’ copy of The Lord of the Rings. Washi put the same cover on both for added confusion, a page marked “Puns” in smudged pencil. Worries me he’s never given up that joke, Peregrine thought.

The radio crackled to a semblance of life, squawking the same rhythm several times before resolving to, “–aven Outpost, this is Adlersberg. Come in, you lazy schweine! Bist du ein kleiner Erkältung mitgefallen, Wanderfalken?” Peregrine exchanged a glance and eye-roll with Washi before keying in. He ignored the jab at his health.

“Good morning, Gottfied. Last I’d heard, HQ was Redoubt Raptor. You take over while we weren’t watching?” Peregrine asked. He could just about see Gotffied’s gaunt features spread in a grin on the other end, that damn strand of oily black hair over one brown eye.

“Ha, kein Chance! You know our illustrious leader would never let me leave my desk.” Gottfied fiddled with papers, muttering quiet nothings. “Ah, hier ist es! We have a contract for your consideration today. It’ll take the two of you somewhere warmer, if that’s of interest. Of course, I could always hand it off to Hauptmann Kerensky–“

“Kerensky wouldn’t like sunshine if it came with complimentary cocaine and enough vodka to drown the lower Wavelands,” Washi cut in, a twitch too quick. Gotffied couldn’t hand contracts down the line until the original addressees refused them.
“Ha, I take it you tire of the far North, kamerad? Mach dir keine sorgen. We’ll have you out within the hour if you accept,” Gottfied said.

Peregrine and Washi exchanged another look. As Raptors, ‘within the hour’ was a subtle hint: the contract was signed, the money in the company vault, and their decision? Piss to vapor on the winds. Peregrine took it as a vote of confidence, or that this job meant something more for the company as a whole.
“Alright, Gotffied,” Peregrine asked. “Who’s crying for help? The Defeds? I don’t like working with pirates. Bastards always pay in favors.”

Nein, nein, sicher nicht. This one’s from the Upper Commonwealth. Ever been?” Gottfied asked. That was a little like asking if someone remembered Earth. No outsiders knew the third continent.
“Of course not,” Peregrine lied. “What’re we bringing?”
“Please say sunblock,” Washi cut in.

Mein guter Gott, Washi, weinen sie nicht mehr,” Gottfied said. “You know C-3 is on Savar’s equator. You’ll get your fill of heat. Na, gut… I would advise you bring a sniper rifle, Peregrine, and your best armor. Sidearm of your discretion, though we’re talking the Upper Commonwealth so something with sehhhhhrrr grosse kugeln–”
“Bugger the German, Gottfied. We’re fit to die already,” Peregrine interrupted. “Sniper rifle, best armor, large-caliber handgun. You going to recommend me something I don’t normally bring?”

“Extra field dressings and rations,” Gottfied said. “And possibly money, because you’d better buy some patience. It’s an escort mission, kamer--my friend.”
Washi stared dully through a firing slit. “An escort mission. No pay unless we stop some drooling civvy from dying.”
“You heard me, gentlemen,” Gottfied said. “You did hear that part, right? ‘Within the hour?'”

“We heard,” Peregrine said. “Pilot on his way?”
“Hers. First Lieutenant Ludmilla was already in sector. Should be touching down, mm, five minutes,” Gottfied said. Peregrine exchanged a glance with Washi.
“I assume we’ll get details at HQ?” Peregrine asked.
“Sound assumption,” Gottfied answered.
“Then there’s no more to discuss. We’ve packing to do, so bleed someone else’s ears out,” Peregrine said, and cut the comms. He turned to Washi. “Wait one…” There was no call-back. “Right, get your gear.”

(Episode Two Forthcoming)

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