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26 August 2015 @ 12:55 am
_Project Dystopia_ part 13  

"Right." He eyed the ruins that stretched to the coast. There was greenery everywhere. Large trees. The buildings below looked as if they'd suffered less from the initial disaster and more from time, weather and attack by plants. "So, was the extreme damage back there due to proximity to whatever, or a local effect?"

"I think, being wetter, it may have just burned less."

Ebsa popped his last bite into his mouth and headed down the top hatch. "Ra'd says the proper thing to say in these situations is . . . "

"Hold my beer and watch this." Paer snorted. "I remember the look on Ajha's face the first time you said that. How is it that the stiffest prick in the directorate has all these pithy sayings?"

"It's his bad upbringing, hanging around all those old twenty second century 'Americans.' Otherwise known as the New Prophets. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that man drunk enough to start reminiscing?"

Paer eyed him. "I didn't think he drank at all, and how drunk were you?"

"He had a bad case of missing Nighthawk. I took advantage of his mood, and stayed as sober as possible . . . just in case he was a mean drunk."

Paer gave him a baleful stare, and strapped into the navigators chair. "Why are you grinning?"

"I always wondered why you and Ra'd never hit it off. I mean, he was a bit stiff when I met him, but he's . . . "

"Still a stiff prick. And still arrogant and defensive. Ebsa . . . you think he's bad now? You should have seen him when he was fifteen. Straight off the battlefield and into this sissy civ full of people who thought he must be a colonial, and probably an upcomer, and looked down on the son of Nicholas and grandson of Emre and Elif. And he wasn't allowed to beat them up."

Ebsa paused . . . "So, he's not . . . umm . . ."

"Mixed with the Multitude? Nope, the jerk is one hundred percent New Prophet. Born and raised, until his mother died, then, well, you've met Umaya. She took over trying to raise him when her sister-wife died. Ra'd was thirteen, it didn't set well, and he was stuck into the Warrior trainees as early as possible. He said he'd scout for them. Dress up like a local boy and eavesdrop on the Chinese, or give them bad directions and disinformation. Then he got stuck in a suburban high school and treated like a poorly educated child."


"Yeah. Urfa said he really didn't want to see a three-quarters trained Warrior turn into a juvenile delinquent. So he switched to an online school, with Rael coaching him at the same time she was gigging me to study . . . we got pretty competitive . . . "

"Oh kay, as Ra'd says. I hate to tell you this, but guys don't really need to know all that much about their friends' lives."

"Men! Well, with the Olympics and all, I let a lot of stuff slide, so I hated him for beating me."

"Oh, you were pulling down straight A's as a senior."

"Yeah . . . three quarters of the way through college and I finally found something I wanted badly enough to really work hard at it." Paer sighed. "So I wind up mopping the floor and carrying anti-spider-venom."

Ebsa grinned. "Just wait till you wind up assigned with a doctor who's seen you in action. Then you'll start getting some respect." He shifted all wheels forward and turned onto the bulldozed path downward.

It was steep. He switched all the motors to charging and let them do half the work of controlling their speed. The hairpin turn was tight. The next stretch was nearly level, the turn not bad . . . then a very steep decline to an impossible curve.

"Time to walk?" Paer looked out the side window and down.

"Not yet, but I need to check out this corner on foot before I get stuck. Maybe move a few rocks."

He paced out the width of the road at the curve, eyed the crimp in the middle. A half meter drop, from upper leg to lower, that he'd have to get the back end around. But nearly twelve meters from there to the bulldozed rubble pile at the head of the curve

"Ebsa, the crawler won't fit." Paer had paced across the turn. "Eight meters! How did they get the trailer around this corner?"

Ebsa tried to look serious, gave up and snickered. "Let me show you this neat little trick." She looked apprehensive, but followed him back aboard. He switched the motors back to drive and backed up, getting cozy with the cliff to the left. Drove back down, and turned gently across the corner, then hard back to the left, tapping the bulldozed rubble pile with the front bumper, slightly uphill of center. Perfect.

"Umm, Ebsa?"

He checked the mirrors, grinned and put all wheels in reverse. Backed onto the lower leg and kept backing.

Paer peered out the windows and shook her head. "I've got to admit that not turning at the turn would not have occurred to me. How far . . . so we'll go forward at the next turn?"

"I sincerely hope so. Backing up can get tedious."

There were only two more switchbacks he couldn't turn on, so really, it only took an hour to drop down three hundred meters. The sun was getting low as they finally reached flat ground again. The road wound around buildings; some of the lower ones looked almost intact, apart from collapsed roofs and empty windows. The old roads were obstructed by heaps of fallen brick and stone. The bulldozed path was obvious.

The explorers had camped in an open area surrounded by the remains of large buildings.

Ebsa eyed the broad high flight of steps leading to ruins and piles of shattered marble. "Bet that was their capital building, and this was a park." He eased up to the camp. A flimsy wall of corrugated metal sheets surrounded it. A man with a gun stepped out cautiously, sweeping the area for spiders before he swung the gate open and let them in. He knelt and looked at the undercarriage as they rolled past, Then got back up and closed the gate.

"I'll go anti-chitin everything, you go check your patient." They both grabbed weapons as they stepped out.

The guard was checking the Junkyard over. Ebsa joined him, sweeping the spell over and under the whole machine.

"What the hell is that?"

"It destroys chitin, the insects' exoskelton. Then they can't do anything. They die fairly soon, or you can stomp them."

"Huh. Like I'd believe a crazy man like you? I can't believe you got a crawler around those curves." He looked worriedly toward the trailer. "Damned roaches have swarmed the last two nights. Why didn't Dr. Atly come?"

"Paer's better at bones. So . . . want to change some tires . . . " Ebsa frowned from ute to trailer.

"We took the wheels off and put them inside. We'll put on the new tires tomorrow morning, one less night we'll have to defend them from the damned bugs." He jerked a thumb at the trailer. "Go on in, and talk to the boss. Talk him into getting out of here. This isn't just a swarm because they chowed down on some tires. Every kind of cockroach here is starting to swarm."

"Great, what about the spiders?"

"They've started spinning webs and catching roaches. Carrying them down underground to feed their babies when they hatch."

"Oh. Umm . . . how big . . . No, never mind. I don't think I want to know how big the mommy spiders are."