Free Story Friday (11-23-18) – That Last Step

Free Story Friday – 11-23-18 (That Last Step – A Mimic War Story)

Sorry this has been so long in coming. It has been many many sleeps since I last posted a short story here. This one has been rattling around in the brain-pan for a few months, and I finally decided to get it done and put it up for free. At the last minute, I decided to tie it into an existing universe that I had created for a submission earlier in the year. It was born from a joke I made in a Facebook post involving the planet Uranus, hentai, and Space Mimics. That story is still floating in submission limbo, and if it doesn’t get some traction soon, will get yanked back and turned into a novella… because I gots idears!

Anyway, Enjoy the story! Stick around for some research stuff at the tail end of the post, and leave me some comments!


That Last Step – A Mimic War Story

© 2018 by J.D. Beckwith

The sound of his shoulder and helmet slamming into the rock face echoed eerily around the chasm walls. Valentine struggled to regain the breath that had been punched from his lungs while straining to hold his place on the belay line. He swung in a wide curving arc on the end of his rope. The narrow view of the sun-lit valley blinked past his vision in an ever slowing pattern as he spun. The adrenaline pumping through his system was the only thing keeping him from a full-on barf as the gray-brown of the rock face swirled around him. He looked down to try to get his bearings, but the height itself—jagged rocks jutting from below and along the sides of the narrow chasm—made him dizzier.

He closed his eyes and focused on drawing in a slow deep breath. The oxygen in the air at this altitude was thin enough without struggling to make his diaphragm remember how to do its job. Once it did, he forced himself to inhale as deeply as possible before letting it out. Soon he was feeling less like he was about to pass out or throw up.

Climbing the peaks of the Davis Mountains back home had never been this interesting. And Valentine, Texas—the source of his moniker—was nothing like rural China. Someone had to dig the last of those godforsaken shape-shifters out of the planet, though, so that’s why they were climbing this peak. Or, at least they had been, before the mountain decided to fall down on their heads. Everyone else had retreated down to the valley, but he was the Ranger Team’s Corpsman, and he had a man to save.

He opened his eyes again. He was still spinning and swinging, but he could finally focus on what was left of the ledge below him. “Aww, crap.”

The voice of his sergeant, Gil Martin, squawked in his ear. “Valentine, we have eyes-on from below. What’s your status? Do I need to turn the chopper back?”

“Negative, Sarge!” Valentine gave a grunt a he lunged for the trailing line still attached to the crumbling mountain-side above. A large-ish stone smacked the side of his helmet loudly as his efforts shook it loose from the pile that now covered the perch from where he had begun his descent. “Everything just fell in up there. There’s no place to even offload anymore. It’s too dangerous to try that updraft again anyway.” He used the second rope to stop his swinging spin.

“Copy that, Valentine. How’s Andrews looking? We can’t see him from here.”

Valentine looked down. Rubble now covered the outer portion of the ledge he was headed for. He could see the prone form of Ranger David Andrews where he lay just inward of the jutting flat spot. He had crawled away from the crumbling edge where he’d landed when the first rock slide had knocked him off the side. He had been unresponsive for the last few minutes, and Valentine could see the newest debris had landed on his legs.

“He hasn’t moved, and it looks like he took some hits from that last rock fall. I’ve got to get down there fast.”

“Roger that, Valentine, but don’t be stupid. I don’t want to lose both of you.”

“Aww, Sarge! You DO care!” Valentine hoisted himself upward on the ropes, placed his knees under him, then his feet. With a bouncing push he stood horizontally from the overhang once more. Small stones from the ledge above continued to bounce past him. He looked down to gauge his position one last time. “Hear that, Andrews!? The Sarge really does love us, man! So you can’t die until you give him a big ole hug!” There was no response.

Valentine bounced sideways a fraction then took three deep breaths. One last look down, and he sprang outward with as much force as his legs could exert, letting the rope sing through his gloves as he sailed into empty space. The freefall lasted only a split second before he judges that enough rope had played out. He gripped it hard below his crotch and applied the gripping brake to the line above him. The heat through his gloves was just noticeable as the rope stopped sliding.

The swing inward began. The ledge sprang toward him as if he had been shot toward it from a cannon. As he curved inward, he saw that he had misjudged. He was going to hit below the ledge instead of land on it. A split second’s thought of breaking a leg made him tuck up into a ball. His speed increased as he flew over the ledge into the shallow cave mouth. He let go of his grip on the rope and hit the rough surface, bouncing to the rear and colliding with the in-sloping rear wall. His helmet smacked against it, deflected him backward. Off balance, he fell backward and smacked his head against the floor as well.

Prone and panting, he took stock of himself. His bell had been rung, but other than that, he didn’t seem any worse for wear. Panting, he forced himself to roll over onto all fours and slow his breathing. The cave-like ledge was dim compared to the outside, and it took his eyes a moment to adjust. A small crack running through the ceiling above projected a jagged pattern of light from the noon sun above through to the floor of the cave. Valentine followed it toward the outer edge right up to the prone form of his fellow Ranger.

“Valentine, report!”

“I’m here, Sarge. Eight ball in the side pocket!” He moved toward Andrews to begin assessing his condition. He couldn’t stand in the tight space, so he crawled. His pack snagged on a small stalactite almost immediately, so he shrugged it off and pulled it behind him. Once he reached the other man, he quickly checked for a pulse. It was present but weak. “Sarge, I’ve got Andrews. Weak pulse. I’m unpacking the kit.”

“Copy that. We’re setting up the PUMP, now. Relay vitals when you can.” The PUMP—Pop Up Medical Post—was a rapid deploy, light-weight, hardened cloth facility with built-in instrumentation for detailed medical diagnosis and surgical needs. Each deployed Ranger Team had one with them, thanks to their alien benefactors. They could be unrolled, set up and tied down in a matter of minutes. They had seen routine use since the clean-up effort in China began. Mimics were nasty critters, and if they weren’t dealt with quickly after latching onto a victim, they were invariably deadly.

Valentine was zoning in on his patient, so he didn’t spare much brain activity for a distracted reply. “Roger that, Sarge.” He cleared away stones that had piled up around Andews’ legs and ankles, tossing them over the edge. Rocks continued to clatter down from above, so he pulled the man back into the cave, cradling his neck as much as possible. He sat up, cross-legged, and began unpacking his kit.

Frist, he slapped a velcroed wrist-band onto his left arm which began beeping and calibrating itself as it took vitals like BP, heart rate, body temperature, etc. Next, he hauled a gray two-handled device about the size of a small briefcase out of his pack and swept it over Andrews’ body from head to toe. The screen on its side lit up with a display of Andrews’ muscular system, skeletal structure and internals. It linked with the wrist band and immediately began to highlight trauma areas. It showed a skull fracture, a broken ankle, two broken fingers and a dislocated left shoulder. It also began to beep urgently that the patient had internal bleeding somewhere in the lower abdomen, but could not pinpoint it.

“Crap. Sarge, you got a copy on these vitals?”

“Roger, Valentine. Can you stabilize?”

“No clue. I’m going to go for the Gut-Leak foam. You better send the rescue UAV. There’s no way we can wait for the slow ride down via rope.” Valentine pulled out a Y-shaped syringe from his kit and two vials. He popped one vial into each side of the syringe and then pulled back Andrews’ tack vest to expose his midriff.

“Copy that. RUAV will be on its way in five.”

Taking care to get his angle just so, he pinched the upper side of his belly-button and sank the needle into his abdomen. Once in, he slowly forced the central plunger downward, injecting the contents of the two vials to mix together internally.

Valentine monitored Andrews as the skin of his stomach begin to tighten and crawl as the foam activated and expanded. It would flow around all his internal organs—intestines, liver, kidneys—then hardening into a stiff plate-like shield that would hopefully put enough pressure on the location of the bleed until surgery could be performed to fix it. Val had to get him off the mountain first though.

Satisfied with the progress of the foam, Val took out two induction plates and put them on Andrew’s temples. Once activated, they would keep him asleep. Waking up right now would be most unpleasant. He adjusted the wrist-band and synced it with the induction plates.

The next order of business was that leg. Val turned to get a splint for Andrew’s ankle pack, but before he could the mountain began to shake again. The crack that let in the narrow jag of light suddenly widened, and the ledge titled sickeningly before stopping. He swung himself over Andrews, acting as a body shield for the loose rocks that fell from the ceiling.

“Valintine! I just got word from the captain! Those damned Shifters booby-trapped the mountain! They set off three nukes under our asses, and that last one collapsed the surface. We have fall-out incoming! Repeat! Fall-out imminent!”

“Copy, Sarge! I’m afraid I forgot my lead undies this trip, so I sure would appreciate some expeditiousness on that RUAV!”

Valentine tapped out a few commands on his wrist-comp, activating the built in Geiger counter. The Squids—Hexapoids being the official designation—had really done wonders for the human tech infrastructure since they arrived. That include the Medi-Blade he had used before, and his wrist-comp. Sub-micro-miniaturization had made life much easier for the survivors of the human race to haul all the tech they needed to take the fight to the Mimics around the globe.

The tell-tale click of rising radiation levels told Val that his time was extremely short. He had to get Andrews and himself down to the PUMP and its radiation-proof walls ASAP. The rocks stopped bounding through the widened cleft above, so he shifted back to the side and continued to hunt for the splint. He hurried to get Andrews ready for the incoming ride as the sound of clicking grew more and more insistent.

The humming electrical-powered rotors told him the RUAV was getting close. There was no place to land it, so he was just going to have to slide Andrews into the unit’s maw as it hovered. To do that, he needed to spin him and get a board under him for the retraction winch to pull inside. By the time he managed to do both, the unit was floating just outside the ledge with its hatch lowering like a hungry dragonfly. The six rotors growled like a planet full of angry hornets as it wobbled back and forth in the gusty updraft.

“Sarge, keep the controls until I get him hooked up.”

“…K, but… getting a lot …ferrence from the …diation.”

“Copy choppy coms boss. That’s OK, I’m in a hurry myself.”

Val scooted sideways toward the far end of the ledge pulling the strapped down body of Andrews behind him. He grabbed a cable from the inner lip of the RUAV’s ‘jaw,’ released it, and pulled it to the small hook on the portable travois. A sudden gust blew the craft sideways, sliding Andrews outward to hang off the edge. Val grabbed the travois handle with one hand and a stalagmite with the other. “No you friggin’ don’t! You still owe me fifty creds, Andrews!” He pulled, straining harder than he ever remembered, possibly tearing something in his shoulder in the process. Still, he managed to hang on until he finally won the life-or-death tug-of-war as the craft swung back into position.

He wasted no time hoisting Andrews’ travois up onto the tracks in the vehicle’s mouth and hitting the ‘load’ button. He guided the rear until the RUAV’s engines revved even higher as they took the full load of the man’s weight.

“Alright, he’s on, Sarge! RTB is all you!”

“…gative… too much …control to you… opy? Re….t… Vehicle control…. you!”

“Crap! Copy, Sarge! RUAV control to me!” Val tapped his wrist-comp and requested linkup to the RUAV. It quickly synced, and Val sat and guided it away from the ledge. He was worried about more falling rocks. As he moved it away from him, the signal strength rapidly decreased. He instantly knew the reason as his wrist-comp began to flash a radiation warning at him. He had less than ten minutes at current levels before decontamination was going to become an issue for both himself and his patient.

“Only one thing left to do then.” He started unzipping seams along the insides of the thighs of his jumpsuit, exposing rolled up flaps of cloth which he quickly zipped together along a central seam. He repeated the procedure with seams along his outer thighs and inner arms. Next, he split his medical pack into two pieces. One he strapped onto his chest, but the other when onto his back. All this took him about three minutes, a record even for him. Finally ready, he stood at the ledge and put the RUAV to follow mode.

He placed a set of goggles on his face and took one last deep breath. “God, if you’re there, don’t let me screw this up!”

He jumped.

##########################

“Rads are still climbing, Sarge. Should go wait in the entry hall?”

Sergeant Martin watched the dust plume—originating from the venting of the underground explosion to the west—slowly grow closer to the mountain in front of them. The orange material of the PUMP with the red cross on its top and sides fluttered noisily in the rising winds. “Negative, Ranger Dawson. Hold here. When he hits ground, we’re going to have to get him and Andrews hustled inside PDQ.” He shot a quick grin at the woman at his side. “You’re not gonna lose that pretty hair of yours, don’t you worry.”

He put his binoculars up and focused on the ledge where Valentine stood just in time to see him leap away. He watched him fall a short distance before spreading his arms and legs to reveal the web-like materials of the wing-suit conversion of his tac-suit. As the updraft of the narrow cleft caught him, he shot upward and outward away from the sheer face he had been standing on moments before.

“Here he comes. Hell, he might even have a minute to spare before he can’t have kids anymore.”

The ground shook again, and everyone swayed. The entire side of the mountain shifted and began sliding downward. Gil could just see the yellow-green tint of the wing-suit webbing against the backdrop of dust and rock that roiled like thunder down the side of the shrinking mountain face. The RUAV matched the form of Valentine motion from motion as he rode the churning air. Then the dust plume overtook the craft, and eventually Valentine as well.

Gil held his breath as he waited for a glimpse of the man. The dust from the mountain slide billowed toward the encampment at a rapid pace. He wasn’t certain if the RUAV could handle that much debris through its turbines. And Valentine was still nowhere to be seen.

Gil mumbled under his breath as he continued to scan the skyline. “Come on, Valentine. Don’t you make me have to tell your wife you died out here.”

“Yeah, she’d probably kick your ass, Sarge.” Valentine’s voice sounded clear over the comms, even though it had a harried tinge to its usual smartass tone. The bright colors of the wing-suit flashed as Valentine cleared the dust cloud. He glided toward them hanging from beneath the expanded canopy of a red-white-and-blue parasail chute with a huge Texas Ranger star showing clearly in the afternoon sun. Behind it, the RUAV with Andrews burst forth as well. “Any chance you could get them to stop setting nukes off under me, boss? I’m starting to feel a bit put upon.”

Martin hid a grin, but didn’t bother replying, he just ushered the other Rangers forward toward the probable landing site. He turned his head toward the PUMP tent and yelled inside.

“Alright, folks, I’m going to need your A-game! We got incoming hot and bothered Rangers, and it looks like the sunset’s going to be just beautiful!”

~~~~ THE END ~~~~


Some of the research for this story came from…

Numerous wingsuit flight videos… and then I ended up not putting the swooosh in the story… sorry. But watch this and you’ll get an idea of what Val ends up doing.

The RUAV was originally thought of when I read about the Dubai police getting some new hoverbikes.

But looking for ‘rescue drones’ brought up a more practical design for moving a disabled person.

And then, in case you doubted it, the internal bleeding foam really does exist and is currently undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. in 2018. It is called ResQFoam.


If you like this story because new technologies mixed with adventure is your thing, you should really check out my Science Fiction Space Adventure anthology, Horizons Unlimited: Volume 1.

Oh, and if you happen to like intrigue mixed with high tech and a good bit of humor, you can also get my techno-thriller novel, eConscience Beta on Amazon.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

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