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Lost Boy
((Continued from))

Nika was and then she wasn’t, simple as that.

Upon activation the tree birthed light that might have been seen from space if you were looking.  ...and the dense canopy didn’t make everything aerial impossible.  The obsidian egg absorbed it all as was its design and gifted it to the being inside.  Purpose served, the encasement’s shell parted into slats starting at the top, which then folded over and over itself until it was again contained within the small pack.  The form within shifted forward and once the egg no longer had walls, poured bonelessly onto the forest floor.

The defib activated and her heart remembered it had a job once.  The pump restarted merrily like a dumb yellow dog locating a ball lost in tall grass.

Doc Freeman and Hatch’s spaz dart saw to it that Nika remained…pacified…until the VR program was ready to run.

Jorge hooked in with her as a guide while Doc and Suggs monitored and manipulated the program and Nika’s vitals externally.  The program itself had been meticulously built using real body and helmet cam footage from the actual mission all those years ago.


Nika blinked back with a short hiss of breath through her nose.  Her nearly black eyes took their time fine-tuning focus.  

“Now is not the time to lie on your ass.”  

The voice was one she’d not heard in a long while.  She swallowed around a dry throat and attempted to sit up but failed.

Fire.  Heat like she’d never known raced along her nerve endings.  Her vision briefly eclipsed before white suns alternated separate dawns.  She dared not breathe or make a sound.  In her head she screamed.  The wave passed as quickly as it appeared.  Bizarre.  The sensations left her breathless.

“We must move out of range!”  

The voice was urgent rather than mean.  He was right, she had to listen.  The warlord apparently had suicide drones, which were highly illegal, but then so was assassination.  

A massive weight exerted pressure, it seemed, over her entire form so that she could not localize anything.  Nika moved with great difficulty; every action was purposeful, deliberate and calculated.  Willpower alone forced her body to comply; muscle motor memory saw the movements actually happen.

The shocks came and went without warning.  Nika stumbled almost imperceptibly as the nerves in her knee flared to uselessness and her leg gave way.  The exoskeleton suit kept her from actually falling, taking up the slack when it sensed weakness.  The civilian version was worn by those with spinal afflictions; the military version kept a soldier mobile long after in-action wounds became incapacitating.  

Nika held her sidearm in a double grip both to support her weapon should one hand or the other fail and to give herself something to squeeze for the pain.  She was trying very hard not to crack teeth when the flares came…
Back in the real world the eUTV had lumbered to the evac point without incident.  It was an oddity having her crew so quiet behind her beyond scripted lines and status updates.  They were focused on their jobs, sure, but it was strange regardless.  She smiled, feeling proud of them and how far they’d come as a unit.  Still, they were missing a member…even if she was tied up three feet away.  Mistakes and consequences.

It sounded like the program was working.  Originally Doc was going to have to administer a concerning amount of experimental drugs for the restarts since there was only so much footage to play through on this one but as the kid kept passing out, that turned out to be unnecessary.  Testing, the next phase, only worked if the kid didn’t know she was being tested so surprise was essential.  The reality-altering serum reacted poorly to excessive amounts of knockout drugs and they didn’t want to keep bashing her over the head.  Of course it was more complicated than that but for brevity’s sake, here they were.  

“Restart,” Freeman said, eyes glued to his screen.

Suggs replied, “You’re sure?”

“Yes, you can’t fake out the monitoring equipment.”

“She okay?  That’s seven times now.”

“She’ll be fine, Sarge.  How are you doing?  Need a break?  I can take her out for a bit.”

“No, I’m fine.” Then  “…little queasy.”

“Sit tight, I’ll put a patch on to help with that.”

“Thanks Doc.”

“Five seconds?  I’ve got a bird with two heads I need to debug.”

“Yeah, you got it.”

So all-in-all, great.  With Hatch on temporary additional duty it fell to Akari to take up his slack.  She made sure everything was tied down, stowed and secured then signaled their recall transport.  30 seconds later they were in the air headed to an alpha site.

Good times.

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