Dan Makes a New Friend and Wins a Battle

[StoryADay May Prompt: “When Your Character is Not Like You“]

Colin Amos told her after the skirmish that her skin was as tough as animal hide, and though he thought he was complimenting her, she nodded her head and then punched him in his racist fucking face. “Damn right, I’m tough, and you compare me to an animal again I’ll skin you.”

Making friends was just as tough for her, and in training Daniella “Dan” Morton decided to do something about it. She let Colin stew for several hours and then after they were supposed to be locked down for the night and she was certain he was plotting something violent and awful, she made her way to his bunk with a bottle of whiskey and asked him to drink with her. She explained, politely this time, why he was a racist fuckface, he tried to argue, she didn’t let him, and an hour later they were comparing scars. Most of hers were just variations in her pigmentation, but he didn’t have to know that, and the ones that really were her scars were worth bragging about.

So Dan made her first friend, Colin started whitesplaining racism to everyone, and over time her bootcamp cohort got closer. Then they got packed in.

“Training’s over,” the mech growled, off-putting except for the way everyone found the bot cute as hell. Big, agile, able to whip around humans like some kind of superhero octopus, it sometimes looked like a dog with dreadlocks and often looked like a cat trying to be a lion, except it looked nothing like either domesticated animal and besides it couldn’t be owned. “You’re going out on your first mission, downworld, and you’re not likely to come back, even in body bags. Happy graduation.”

More meat for the war effort. Dan and Colin sat together onboard the dropship, and the topic was sexism. “You ask too many questions, asshole,” Dan remarked.

“You opened my eyes.”

“And you still don’t see a thing. What am I, your manners teacher? Just don’t make assumptions about people, don’t compare them to animals or food, and, dammit, stop believing you’re in any way better than me or anyone. Including women. Got it?”

They dropped. As long as they were dropping, Dan’s stomach was in her throat but at least it was in her body. She had frequently dreamed about her body exploding, the dreams ending with exploding graphically. That’s what she had to look forward to: the casual and mechanical racism of a military complex that sent multitudes of brown to black people to bootcamp, a few racist poor whites in the mix, and grizzly death on a distant planet controlled by the Hive Minders.

She had made it.

The armored doors popped open as soon as the dropship hit the surface and three thousand soldiers in exoskeletons leaped out into the dark, the helmets over their heads marking them not at all adapted to the thin hydrogen exosphere and occasional concentrated acid bubbles that erupted from the ground. Proximity sensors warned them about impending bubbles and the suits protected them well enough, but given long enough exposure, all of them would eventually melt down. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait that long. The Hive Minders were on them almost immediately.

Dan blasted three of them before one slipped by and got close enough for her to see just what they looked like: exactly like they looked in holo and hand-to-hand combat training simulations, except not at all. The same segmented but warm-blooded bodies, as varied in color as human skin, except leaning toward primary yellow to primary red. The same two and a half arms, the latter with an evolved ramming feature that kept astrobiologists dropping their jaws and Dan focused on avoiding it, just like she trained. The legs made little sense at all, four knees leading down to jackhammer-like toes not covered by their suits and giving the Hive Minders great speed and jumping abilities. What was different was the hate in their two sweeping off-white eyes on their squat black heads. They were going to kill her because they hated. That is what they did. They were going to kill everyone.

Training hadn’t helped. She saw soldiers try to avoid the grasping arms and the jackhammer arm as the Hive Minders pivoted and leaped and scurried in complex patterns across the planet’s slag surface and tiny deep pits. “Stay on your feet,” they had learned, but the aliens just has better feet, and it was impossible to keep up with them. The best strategy was to keep your distance, but the Hive Minders swarmed. It’s just what they did and there was not usually distance enough.

Dan fired and marched and tried to keep the Hive Minders off her and the soldiers nearest to her, without shooting one of her own. The soldiers marched parallel lines separated by just a couple feet out of the ship, waves of soldiers that pushed through the Hive Minders much more chaotic attacks. It might have worked if they could keep the space between each row clear, but as soon as one Hive Minder made it between two rows, then the local confusion spread rapidly down the line and began to affect the rows in front and in back. So the dropships kept coming and the forward rows turned inevitably wave-like and then splintered, ending in death, while new rows lined up behind.

And now she was in a row just about to be invaded and destroyed.

Colin had somehow ended up beside her and she fleetingly thought that if this was a crush, she’d better put an end to it soon. The Hive Minders were going to do that for her, though. She watched as her row to the right and left began to deal with Hive Minders making their way in and grabbing at whoever they could hold first. Most of the Hive Minders died in a barrage of energy blasts, but a few grabbed hold of soldiers, pummeled them to death with their rammers, and took advantage of the breaking line to grab other soldiers.

One of them reached for Colin.

“Jab at it, Colin,” she screamed and fired. She nicked it in the shoulder just as it made contact with the ground in front of him. It spun away, only to grab at whoever it was spinning by. Another soldier down.

Colin yelled “Thanks!” and then “What?” and she had no time to explain but repeated her order. Instead of firing her gun, she reached out for the incoming Hive Minder and yelled at Colin to jab at it, and fire close range. She grabbed hold of one of its arms. Colin shoved his rifle at it. Its rammer tried to put a hole in his suit, and he fired.

Obliterated. “Again,” she screamed, reaching and yelling at another soldier to help her. Two of them reached out to snatch a Hive Minder out of the air and Colin repeated his trick with his rifle.

“Again!”

They found a pattern, even though the Hive Minders were faster. Two soldiers focused on grabbing the damn things, and a third shoved the rifle at a weak spot and pulled the trigger. The soldiers quickly reorganized as the trick spread from Dan’s row, and new variations quickly followed, including three grabbers and two shooters. Dan thought of it like a dance, or a fish toss, or whatever synchronized human activity she had watched in the past and wondered how small groups of people worked so well together. There was something relaxing about the activity, the focus, the dependence on others. More dropships dropped more soldiers who quickly picked up the pattern and soon the Hive Minders’ speed was working against them. It was easy to find a rhythm and snatch them from the air when you didn’t also have to worry about your gun. And the shooters only aimed to killed, with a quick jab and quick trigger fingers and the group regrouped to take down the next Hive Minder.

It was exhausting, but soldiers stopped dying so quickly and rotations started spontaneously, the grabbers taking turns as shooters, and groups rotating into more infested locations and rotating out after massacres to let fresher groups in. The mechs started preparing the incoming soldiers for their new roles and as the battle progressed, the humans began to advance, not just holding lines and preventing new assaults, but working offense, sending out fingers of the new combat units across the surface of the battle area and into Hive Minder territories.

The offensive spread around the planet and went on for days. There were too many Hive Minders, so many of them on this world for no apparent reasons, just like most of the planets they controlled. But here, on the desolate acid-blowing surface, the soldiers slowly overwhelmed the Hive Minders, and they did not stop until every last one of the fuckers were obliterated.

“You want to fuck?” Colin asked her later, after the debriefings and celebrating and exhaustion and sleeping and recovering as they headed toward another planet controlled by the Hive Minders.

“Go fuck yourself, Colin,” Dan said. He wanted an explanation, but she wanted to go practice the new moves in simulation. There was a war to win and she didn’t have time to teach him how to treat a lady while also teaching him how to be a better soldier. The sexist fuckface.

There were bound to be much better men around, anyway, if that’s what she wanted, now that she might live a decent amount of time, now that they had time and a strategy.

A chance.

She got to work.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 6