Author: Punctuator PM
Brief premission training tale featuring Mace and Capa. Written well before the film's release. Manly implications but no slash. Rated T for coarse language and random acts of indigestion. Forward!Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Words: 1,820 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 13 - Published: 11-19-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3901558
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
He was cold. A normal state of being.
Finding chilly spots on Earth was less than difficult now, even late in May. This spot might have been frigid nonetheless: it was above the fortieth parallel and North American and well away from any body of water that might have offered atmospheric stabilization. Still, it was near a lake, and one large enough to be a sea; so Capa had had hopes of the "lake effect" going in to the exercise. Only yesterday he'd remembered that the benevolent lake-effect lake in the chain was warming land nine hundred miles to the east.
Teamwork exercises. Implying, as that phrase did, necessary human contact, Capa had little use for such. Still: necessary. Less than desirable: the source of human contact with whom he found himself paired. Those deciding the teams had their sense of humor. To call Mace his opposite was a polite understatement.
Their goal: a black box with a blood-red blinking light on top. Their job was to find the box and to key in a numerical code that would cause the light to change from red to green and would send a signal to a pickup team in a helicopter. Each of them had been given half the code. Between them and the box lurked two minders armed with rifles that fired ampules of a chemical that replicated the effects of old-fashioned space-sickness: breathlessness to the point of unconsciousness, deep nausea. Highly absorbent, the chemical was equally effective on fabric or skin. Capa and Mace carried as part of their packs of survival gear ampules of antidote: one apiece. Not a total cure: just enough of a fix to keep the user from passing out.
Also standing between them and the box were cold and exhaustion. They'd been making their way through rough, hilly pine forest for two days. Their outerwear was barely adequate; they'd been loath to light campfires, for fear of alerting the minders and whatever infrared gear the ghouls might have at their disposal. Capa couldn't shake the chill from his bones; it had lodged in the muscles of his shoulders and neck and translated itself into a tenacious, grumbling headache. But he was thinking clearly; he was functioning. And according to their coordinates and their compasses, they were less than half a day from their goal.
This, the late afternoon of their third day, and Mace said, "Happy birthday."
Capa had been watching the forest around them, the dark patches beneath the coarse-barked trees. "What?"
"Your birthday, isn't it? Today?"
"Well, then-- Hell. Here's your present: 009211921716."
Capa thought, realized: "That's your half of the code."
"You got it?"
"Okay. That's good. Thought you'd better have it: I'm bad with numbers."
"Been meaning to ask: do you try to sound like a smartass, or is it by accident?"
"Right. So where are we, smartass?"
"More a question of where we need to be, isn't it?"
"I might end up knocking you on your can after this is over. Just so you know. So where do we need to be?"
Capa checked his compass. "That way."
They prowled on. After a time, Capa said, "It's really a question of compensation, isn't it?"
"We're both reticent men. Still: I am moreso. So you feel compelled to talk more to compensate."
"Anyone ever tell you you don't make any damn sense half the time?"
"More than half the time they tell me they didn't understand a word I just said."
"That was so close to a joke I'll give you credit for it."
"What about her?"
"You mad they didn't pair you up with her?"
"I'm certain Pilot Cassidy and Navigator Trey are doing very well as a team."
"'Pilot.' Would you get a load of-- That's not what I asked, and you know it."
"It's going to be a long trip, Mr. Mace. I'm sure any of us who are so inclined will become better acquainted."
"Not sure I like what you're implying."
"It's a simple fact. You don't have to like it."
The forest ended; the lake lay before and below them. They checked their coordinates; Capa looked toward the slate-blue sea and said, "It's there."
More specifically, he was looking toward the dark beach at the water's edge. Mace nodded. "Past the rocks."
Not exactly rocks: a field of giant boulders, lying between them and the beach. A tumbled joke of glacial engineering. Even at this distance, they were huge. It was as though something had shattered a small mountain and left the chunks for the janitor to clear away.
Mace looked at the boulders and at the shadows creeping from behind them, from the west, out across the smooth dark surface of the lake.
"It's getting late," he said. "I say we go over 'em. It'll be faster."
Capa shook his head. "We should go through. They can fire at us from a distance. We'd be wide open on top, and the tops will be slick. We slip, we fall, we break a leg: it's all over. Conversely, the moisture will help us pass through."
"Doesn't work, you take the blame."
"I'll take the blame."
They edged down the hill, started through the boulders. Hardly smooth going, but hardly impossible. They stepped carefully across lichen, wet rock, pockets of gray water; they squeezed through jagged passages, dropped to their knees to ease themselves through others. The rocks tightened the farther in they went. When they could again see the beach, a wide strip of coarse gravel on the far edge of which the water hissed and whispered, Mace looked at their final passage and said, "You're kidding."
It was narrow. Even Capa, who without shame could admit to being roughly two-thirds Mace's size, could see that. Without a word, he breathed out and squeezed and twisted his way through.
He kept close to the rock on the far side of the passage. He gestured to Mace. "Come on."
Mace frowned. "I'm gonna get stuck."
"Then you get stuck."
"Up yours, Brainiac." Mace squeezed in. The crevice squeezed back. Capa looked out at the beach, checked for movement. Nothing. He looked back at Mace, saw Mace's right arm, his head, just a chunk of his jacketed chest wedged between those black opposing slabs. He saw concentration and frustration on Mace's face. Then Mace shoved himself against the rock and grunted, and Capa saw something else--
"I'm stuck," Mace said. He was trying to control his breathing. "God damn it."
Said Capa, drily: "Perhaps if it weren't for your manly shoulders--"
"What--?" Mace stopped trying not to panic long enough to shoot him a scowl. "You little fruit--"
Capa looked casually back at the beach. "Or your fat head--"
"Son of a--" Mace growled, groaned, and pushed through, scraping himself mightily in the process. He half-stumbled out next to Capa, righted himself. "Okay, now I'm gonna--"
Capa looked calmly past Mace's lifted fist. "You're through."
Mace blinked. "I'm through," he said.
Capa smiled, nodded north up the beach. "Let's go. It should be roughly ninety meters that way."
They kept close to the boulder field, moving north. Mace saw it first, past a lower handful of boulders just off the water: a tiny flash of red light.
"There it is--" he said, moving away from their sheltering rocks.
Capa held back. "Mace: wait--"
But Mace had had enough of boulders and creeping and caution: he was into the open and running for the box. He lifted it, straining-- obviously, it was heavier than it looked-- and ran back toward Capa. Then, suddenly, he was hit: two sickly green splotches splashed out across his chest. The minders had been to the south, down the beach. Mace grimaced, kept running. He stumbled; Capa took a deep breath, ducked down, ran to help him. Mace held grimly on to the box, leaning on Capa, who made for the lower fall of boulders, near the water. Capa threw himself flat as a toxin shell burst and splattered a boulder to their right. Mace slumped over next to him, nearly dropping the box.
"Not good--" Mace gasped. "Oh, Christ--" He was turning blue and green at the same time. "I'm gonna-- Shit--"
Breathless, Capa reached into his pack, pulled out his vial of antidote. Then he wrestled Mace's pack clear and opened it. "One gets you back on your feet. Two should get you fighting."
"The second one should inoculate you. Here." He broke open the first ampule, poured the contents into Mace's gasping mouth. "Swallow." He broke the second ampule. Footsteps crunched rapidly toward them on the gravelly beach. Capa dumped the contents of the second ampule into Mace's mouth. "And: swallow."
Mace swallowed. "Thanks, man." Then, even as his color came back, he was on his feet. He barreled out around the rocks. Shouts of surprise, misfirings, sounds of a fight. Capa focused on the box, the code. The easy part. He unlocked the keypad, typed, smiled thinly as the light changed from red to green.
Mace came back around the rocks. "Sissies." He smiled at Capa. "We good?"
Mace offered him a hand up. "Good job, man. Lucky you weren't hit."
"Sometimes being the skinny geek has its advantages."
"Heh." Mace turned to scan the dusky lake. "They said something about pickup being just minutes out, right?"
"Right." Capa leaned-- no, he slumped-- back against the rocks. He was panting.
Mace looked back at him. Capa's color wasn't good. "Hey, man, what's the--"
Then he saw the neon-yellow splotch on the jacket over Capa's left shoulder blade.
Said Capa, folding at his midsection and focusing hard on the ground: "Mace--"
"Sorry about your boots."
And Capa lost his last meal all over Mace's shoes.
"'Manly shoulders.' You really think so?"
Capa indulged in a wink. "And the chest. Don't forget the burly chest."
"Well, that tells me something--"
Neither of them had noticed her. Cassie. She'd been right there, studying schematics on the screen of a laptop. She raised her eyebrows at them and walked away. Mace and Capa looked at each other, wide-eyed. Then came the chorus--
"Wait-- Pilot Cass-- Cassie, it's not what you-- Cassie: wait--"