Flesh and Blood is the sequel to Kriegsbrufte.
Tholker stood looking on at the assembly of different species enjoying their food. Some of it was trans-cultural, like the odd-looking Vernussian pasta, or simply some beef. Some were enjoyed by only one species, like the large, juicy insects being borderline inhaled by a small collection of Aphbrec at a far corner of the room. Indeed, a great many individuals were enjoying this brief respite from their arduous work. A certain Captain Zhevhyit, however, was not among them. He waited next to one of the exits, unmoving and with arms crossed, like the stereotypical stone-faced Eteno borderworld gunman. This was, to an extent, true, as he was both a gunman and of borderworld descent on the side of his mother. It was a common misconception that talking about an Eteno hailing from the borderworlds meant someone that inhabited, or was from, a colony on the border with the Kklxin, Dhragolon, or Karnasaurs. The borderworlds are actually a strip of worlds running from just outside the Sius system, all the way down to the Groxland Colonial Zone border. It was thin, but packed with densely-populated colonies, most of which produced food, or had some sort of prominent natural resource that was of value to the war machine.
Tholker eyed Karla consuming a plate of pasta, and then turned his attention to Etah, who was walking towards him from across the room.
"What does he want, shouldn't he be eating?" Zhevhyit thought to himself.
When he caught the sight of a small piece of some meat caught in his bestial teeth, Etah's intentions became a bit clearer. He'd already eaten, so whatever he wanted to talk about wasn't that important. When Etah drew closer, the change in his expression indicated that he had just found out what Tholker was thinking. Perhaps there was a weakness in retaining part of your brain.
"Tholker, I know that you think I'm just looking to chat you up, but I have something important on my mind right about now."
"Hm. 'Kay then, what's up?" Tholker's deceptively cold expression gave way to his normal partial smile.
"Well, what is it like, not really tasting or eating?" Etah was trying to be a bit sensitive about this, and it showed.
"What do you mean?" Tholker cocked his head inquisitively.
"I-I know that you can artificially experience it all, but do you ever miss being able to bite into a big piece of meat, and genuinely take in the response from all of your senses?"
"Hmm... I suppose one could regret not being able to fully experience life as a normal person would, in a way..."
"I didn't ask that-"
'Etah, you're astoundingly clever, but you're transparant. Positively transparant to me."
"Fine... so, why don't you make any attempt to... go... back to a normal life?"
Tholker's expression screamed 'are you kidding me?'.
"Well, two reasons, Colonel. First is that I wouldn't be as good of a soldier as I am now. I couldn't take down ten targets in two seconds with a pistol and fifty feet away if I was fully organic again, I would be vulnerable to fatigue, and I'd be incapable of quickly analyzing any situation and skipping over boring sentry work, perception-wise. Second reason is that to my knowledge, there's no easy way of going back."
"Tholker, you'd still be a great soldier if you were organic. Look at Ahrganot, he's organic, and a damn fine ninja."
"True, but would I be as good as I am now?"
"No, but you could come close with hard work."
"You speak my language, Etah. Fine, if I could get over the fact that I'd be a less competent member of the team, how would I go about rebuilding myself in a way that didn't divert large amounts of, and thus conspicuous, resources to our little headquarters here?"
"Well, there's something the KMF has developed that could fix you right up. Now, I know what you're thinking, how the hell do the Karnasaurs make something like this without too much public attention-"
'Wrong. For once, you didn't do a quick thought-check. I'm perfectly comfortable with your nation keeping secrets, and developing things in secret. We've all come to expect it. Still, just keep in mind that the SIS knows more than many think."
"So, you're telling me that you've got spies in my home?"
"Now when did I say that?"
"Y-you said that the SIS knows more than many think, that's inferring you have spies-"
"Nope. All I'm saying is that once in a while, an observant agent will take a quick look at a bit of tech that he comes across during a... leisurely stroll."
"OK Tholker, I'm gonna have to ask you-"
At this point, Tholker couldn't help but laugh.
"I'm just messing with you, Etah, we don't spy on your precious tech. At least, to my knowledge we don't."
"Fine, fine. Anyways... rebuilding you organically is fully possible, and it's easily done, might I add. So, you up to it?"
"Etah, we're standing in a lunchroom and you're asking me a potentially life-changing question."
"Well, it's just-"
"I'll think about it Etah. See you around."
"Sure, sure. See you around, Tholker."
Seven hours later...
"Tholker, if you have even the slightest thought in your head that life could be better for you overall if you do this, I say you should."
"Yes, yes, I understand that, but..."
"But what? You thought that being with me could hurt you, and that proved to be a baseless fear, didn't it?"
"Exactly. Fear is baseless, irrational. What I'm dealing with here is a clear choice between superior combat capability and perhaps a less-than-fantastic life, against diluted combat capability and the capacity for an utterly perfect, normal life. Now, it seems like an easy choice, but this is a big thing, my team. I make a point of trying to be humble, but if I dragged down this group, the fatherland could be in greater danger. I don't want that."
"Well, your Dhragolon friend isn't dragging your little club down, is he?"
"No, but he's literally spent decades of his life training. In the last two thirds of his training, I was born and raised by my parents. Speaking of age, he could've been my grandfather when he left his parents' home... and then that begs the question, how would a Dhragolon born in the EIT go about getting an education?"
"Tholker, don't go changing the subject. I think you should do this, very few people have and will have this kind of chance for quite some time. Don't waste it."
"I... well... Karla... I think you're right..."
"Oh, and Tholker?"
"Could you... ask your friend if... he can help two patients?"
Thirty seconds later...
A bit startled by the fist rapping on his door, Etah walked over to it. It was Tholker behind the piece of wood. He'd made his decision. The Colonel pulled the door open, a smug Tholker standing in front.
"Get your doctor's bag, you've got two patients."
An undefined period of time later...
"Removing my cybernetics, eh? What, you want to make me a talking head?"
"Mhmm. That's what these gentlemen are aiming for, at least, for the very first part of the procedure." Etah gestrued to two Sauran surgeons of similar height, nodding at the inquiring, short soldier.
"How do you plan to keep me alive when I'm separated from all of my life support equipment?"
"Normally, when this procedure takes place, the patient has enough of their original body left to sustain themselves, but you're a special case."
"Mostly a nutcase, but I digress. We'll have you on the barest of life support until your new body has formed enough so as to sustain you."
"Great. Same case with Karla, I assume?"
"Somewhat. Her head is still intact, so the setup will be a bit different. Not noticeably, though, we can expect near-everything to be the same in her case."
"Then when do we start?"
"Right now will do. Want to say something to your girlfriend before we put you under for a day?" Etah inquired, some of his previously-serious expression giving way to a seemingly-amused one.
"Yeah, I'll be right back."
Tholker turned to the imposing gray blast-resistant metal door to his left, a stark contrast to the sterile white medical chamber, and laid his hand on the red wheel. He turned it six or seven, the wheel making nothing but a small, persistent squeak, before the door popped open to reveal a surgeon talking to Karla. He was probably explaining the procedure she would go through after Tholker had tested it, first. Karla had desired to take the procedure simultaneously with Tholker, but the latter was adamant that he test its effects on Eteno first, lest something unfortunate happened to both of them. While Tholker had done a commendable job of convincing Karla, she was still peeved in no covert way about having to wait. Regardless, she acted as grateful and polite as she could.
"I'm going under soon. The next time you see me, there is a substantial chance that I will literally be a new man!"
"C'mon, you'll be fine, Tholker."
"Joking, I'm joking with you. I wouldn't do this if I thought I'd die, would I?"
"You might, but I'm pretty confident you'll be fine. So go ahead, get your new body."
"I will. See you tomorrow, miss Frankewitz."
"See you tomorrow, Captain Zhevhyit."
Tholker smiled as he re-entered the medical chamber, letting the metal door slam behind him.
"Let's begin." Etah said with a satisfied look on his face.
"Why are you so happy?"
"Science, my friend, science. This has never been performed on an Eteno before."
"You always know how to make me feel safe, Etah. So, I'll lay down on that table, while you guys saw off my cybernetics. Sounds legit, let's do it." Tholker pointed two fingers at the Sauran surgeons standing by a padded table surrounded by medical instruments.
He approached his bed for the next two days with an air of confidence. Any previous nervousness that may have been present seemed to be gone.
"Someone looks confident." A surgeon said as Tholker climbed onto the table, which was about one and a half times his height.
"Yeah, well, might as well try and trick myself. Honestly, I'm nervous as hell." Tholker replied with a wide grin.
"Good. Otherwise, I might accuse you of being a madman."
"Well, this hasn't been used on Eteno before..." The surgeon said as he began to fill the mixing basin hanging above Tholker's head.
"Got that one, yes."
"Also... there's normally a 20% chance for uneven growth."
"That one too, but just minor stuff, right?"
"Yes, but, with some calculation, my partner and I have concluded that for an Eteno this statistic is raised to about 53.7%."
"Great, did it take you ten seconds flat to figure that one out on a nap-"
Tholker was unable to finish as his artificial jaw was de-activated by the surgeon, followed shortly by the rest of his cybernetics.
"See you later, Tholker." Etah said as one of the surgeons placed a patch on one of the organic parts of Tholker's head, trying to push away the artificial light brown, buzz-cut hair folicles.
Quickly, vision in Tholker's organic eye began to haze up, until everything was just a sort of grey or white blur.
That was the last thing he could remember before going under.
Tholker, as always, expected a report on the status of his cybernetics. In that monotone computerized voice, he would get a wonderfully-crafted overview. However, this was not a day in which he would wake to his computer helper. Absentmindedly, he brought his hands to his face to rub his eyes. Both eyes. He could feel his digits pressing against his face. He could feel his digits. Tholker bent his toes, and stretched his legs. He could both hear and feel the satisfying cracking in his joints. As he slowly became aware of himself and his surroundings, the full weight of what had occured over the course of twenty-four hours hit him. His vision cleared up, and he held his arms in front of his face. He almost couldn't believe what he was seeing, and most importantly, feeling. Every inch of his body was warm and receptive, their nerve-endings functioning beautifully. His heart beat steadily in his chest, pumping blood all over his body. Each inhale introdouced fresh air to Tholker's lungs, and every exhale let out a degree of carbon. He raised his head, looking over his new body while feeling his bald skull with his right hand. Etah was right. Any uneven growth would be minor. Of course, since he didn't have the aid of a computer brain and eye, he'd be unable to tell exactly how much was present. After getting over the typhoon of realization and amazement, Tholker realized he was naked. It wasn't too much of a problem, as the surgeons and Etah had most likely been observing him for his whole time in treatment, but it still would be convenient to have some pants on, and maybe a shirt. He looked to the tables of medical equipment around him, seeking something to cover himself with. On one to his right lay a pair of underwear, some shorts, and a black shirt. His normal street clothes. That was nice of Etah. A quick once-over of his body ensured that there was no observation equipment attached to him, so Tholker rolled off of the table, and grabbed the clothes as he dropped. He hastily dressed himself, and saw Etah waving at him through an observation window. He waved back, and pointed at the door separating the medical chamber from the rest of The Bunker. Etah nodded, and walked away from the window. Randomly, it struck the short man that he hadn't checked his voice yet.
"Giant barrels of bullets, the drillman says will go boom." A common saying amongst those in the Imperial Armed Forces tasked with blowing things up.
It came out rather raspy, and it took a certain degree of effort to actually get the words out of his mouth, but Tholker continued to repeat the saying until his voice eventually became quite recognizable. His old voice. His voice. Deeper than his robotic one. The one he had used to dragoon a stray band of ruffians in Advances from abusing Nikolai. The one he had used to ward off many different people while perusing an old history book.
It also came to his mind that through some research and movie-watching, Tholker had found that a deeper voice was (or at least, stereotypically was) more attractive to females, at least of his species.
The metal door at the end of the room opened as Etah made a hissing noise to accompany it, as a joke.
"How do you feel?" Etah inquired excitedly, letting two surgeons enter the chamber before him.
"Never better." Tholker replied slowly. His Sauran was noticeably less eloquent.
"Great! These guys can give you a once-over, then we can get you out of here."
Tholker nodded sluggishly, and stretched his arms as the duo of statuesque Sauran surgeons peered all over his now-clothed body, taking special interest in his face. Satisfied they had obtained a suitable quantity of information, whatever it may be, the two surgeons regressed. It was at this moment a tremor spawned in his stomach, emitting an involuntary groan.
"I need some food, what's being served today?" Tholker had never needed to ask that in his time with the GSSOC. He could simply download the information from The Bunker's servers. Not anymore.
"Knowing you, I believe you'll fancy the meat option, today, my omnivorous friend. A spicy meat stew, but I don't really have any specifics."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll need a hell of a lot of protein and vitamin food, if I'm gonna-"
"Tholker, take a moment to look at yourself. I'm confident that you'll be able to survive not working out to exhaustion for a few days."
Now that Etah mentioned it, Tholker did see that he was... stalwart, to say the least. His arms and legs were herculean for an Eteno, and he found he might be able to convince someone he was wearing metal plating under his shirt after rapping his fist against his solar plexus.
"Alright. You aren't going to keep me from eating healthy, though."
"Oh no, am I a villain from some stupid healthy breakfast commercial for parents, now?"
A pointedly hearty and natural chuckle came from Tholker, sauntering out of the open chamber door with Etah. Karla lay sleeping on a bench, brown artificial hair dispersed over her face. "Karla... Karla, it's turning."
What was that?
This certainly wasn't expected... Tholker, an Eteno born and raised in a Luuschtuntski-speaking society...
An unintended side effect.
As Karla slowly began to rise, brushing away the hair splayed in front of her eyes, Tholker hurriedly searched around for a weapon.
"Etah, your pistol!"
"Hand it over!"
With a confused expression, Etah complied. Tholker tore it from his hand as soon as he offered the weapon, and started to run through a handful of basic actions. He chambered it. He fumbled and pinched his finger. It hurt, but now wasn't the time to be in awe of that fact. Again, he chambered the weapon. A little better this time. Next, he tried unloading it. While it wasn't the standard, fluid motion he was trained to perform without a thought, he caught the magazine, and held it against his hip. From there, he thrust it back in the pistol. Tholker botched it two or three times in his haste before managing to get it in smoothly and hear the satisfying click of a loaded magazine. Etah's face froze with Tholker's in sudden realisation.
"Great job with my brain, Etah, I can hardly load a gun!"
"Well, we told this hadn't been done on an Eteno before. However, I must admit I did not expect a side effect like this to arise..."
"Then what did you expect?"
"Nobody knew! It's just that neither the surgeons or myself expected such a severe side effect."
"I suspect that... whatever that was lost from the organic part of my brain is just... lost?"
"I'm afraid so. Fortunately, your predicament does not seem to severe, to be perfectly honest with you. I mean, you figured out your Sauran without much trouble, and got a hold of the pistol pretty quickly. You just need to practice... a little bit of everything."
"Right, right, so that's your solution. I'm just going to review every single thing I know, is that it?"
"Tholker, unfortunately for you, there's no other way. But think about it, anything not pertinent to your position, you can leave alone."
"I guess you're right. I mean, it can't be that bad! I just have to review all of my military knowledge. All of my military knowledge, and whatever else may possibly apply! Who knows what little thing is or isn't pertinent? What happens if I don't remember to review something?!"
"I don't think your brain is exactly degrading in respect to long-term memory, so I think you have some time to get a hold of some good military trainers for you-" Etah was cut off by a newcomer to the conversation.
"What're you guys arguing about?" Karla inquired to Tholker.
"Genius here's treatment messed up my brain." Zhevhyit replied, his Luuschtuntski not as broken as before.
"W-what... how bad?" She replied incredulously.
"It might've been worse, I suppose. What we've discovered so far is that a lot of things are... like I haven't practiced them for a long time. Fixable, however time-consuming it may be."
"Can the stuff these surgeons use for the treatment be modified so that doesn't happen?"
"Let me ask. Etah, can the solution be modified to not screw with Eteno brains?" Tholker asked in his now-normal Sauran.
"I should imagine modifying it would not be a matter of too great difficulty, once we identify the-"
"Then get it done."
"...with their victory at Zakuda. In other news, Lieutenant General Liudvikas Alink of the Imperial Marines has been reported as captured. Alink was allegedly leading his men from the front of an armoured column when an ambush devastated his force. Curiously, no automatic distress signals were reported to have come from any vehicles. High General Lyudmilia Voike reported earlier today that steps were being taken to recover Alink."
Before the mine, listening to military reporting was something of a mind-numbing comfort to Tolker. News, entertainment, and the occasional education segment made up the majority of what most soldiers and sailors listened to. In Imperial Armed Forces parlance, it was "morale mush". Not quite as entertaining or informative as ENN or the Institute of Public Academics, but it did its part to keep morale up, among other things. Of course, morale was never an issue with Tholker. He would do his duty whether he was happy or not, that's what the fatherland expected of him. That's what hept his morale up. Even when unhappy, he'd do his duty, which made him happy. Accordingly, he was never unhappy. If you asked any of his former supersoldier comrades, they would have told quite a different story. They'd have said he was a grump. A terrifyingly efficient, boring grump. He wouldn't smile, and he wouldn't socialize.
It was true to an extent that Tholker didn't smile or socialize, but he was neither boring or a grump. He was just quite professional, and of course, being professional and doing his duty made Tholker happy. Now, it wasn't just that that made him happy. A few weeks ago, he met his team. Ahrganot was a tad asocial, but not like Tholker used to be. He'd hang out with the team, but he'd also spend a good chunk of his time studying and training. Of course, so did everyone else, but they didn't do it alone. Pyro was the new guy. Tholker hadn't known him long enough to get a good sense of his personality, but he was nothing short of intriguing. At least, his race was intriguing.
Then there was Etah. Etah was that unique sort, the kind that went down in history as great leaders, geniuses, or artists. He was an easy-going comic one moment, and a brooding suicidal the next. Fortunately, the latter part of his personality came up much less than the former. He'd be a sly, crafty infiltrator during one part of a mission, and turn into an unstoppable pile of brute force the next. Marana only knew how many times he'd been shot at, knocked out, held at gunpoint, electrocuted, skewered alive by giant alien shapeshifters, dived out windows or fought off spiny alien incubi. For five thousand years he'd seen and experienced the galaxy, just about four thousand years older than the entire Eteno Imperial Triumvirate. Indeed, Etah was a unqiue one.
Not a member of the team, but now a major player in Tholker's life nontheless was Karla Frankewitz. Tholker'd hardly known her for a few weeks, and he was already in love with her. Perhaps that's what isolation from the other gender did to you, but there was no doubt in his mind that Karla was a unique one. She was smart, emotionally strong, nice, and... pretty. A pretty face, that is. A robotic body is generally not a reliable indicator for a future organic one, though it did cross Tholker's mind on more than once occasion now that he was organic that Karla would probably not be re-created with an unattractive physique. Tholker wouldn't even attempt to kid himself. He was certainly looking forward to Etah and his supposedly crack team to fix the solution for more reasons than one.
So, these were all the things that left Tholker relatively content, considering his rather unenviable position. With the sound of a military radio drama in his ear, he continued to take shots at distant wooden targets with one of the armory's many M20CRs. The first few shots for most of the guns he had fired that session were quite deplorable, but Tholker's accuracy improved steadily as he progressed through his two hours of target shooting. Luckily for him, the Model 20 Combat Rifle was the last firearm on the list for that session. Just another clip of ammunition, and he'd be through.
In but a single swift movement, Tholker dropped the banana magazine from the weapon with the pull of a small handle in front of the trigger guard. At the same time, he brought another magazine up and into the weapon from his left hip, before rapidly pulling back the bolt. In the course of three seconds, Tholker had conducted a flawless magazine swap. Considering his predicament, that was impressive. He brought the weapon up to his eyes, and subsequently rested his cheek on the stock. The wood was cool and comforting as Tholker stared down the iron sights at the target ahead of him. He aligned his weapon, and when he was sure that his rounds would be on target, Tholker let loose the entire magazine in controlled bursts of three shots. After going through a routine weapon check, Tholker ejected the magazine and set the rifle down on the table before him. He grasped the scope hanging on a small hook on the left side of the booth, and observed his target. His latest shots were all perfect. Well, mostly perfect. One or two were just outside of the centre red circle, but he would improve with time.
"Good shooting, Captain! Leave your gun, go get some dinner. I'll clean up the carts and put up the rifle for you." Petrov's cheery voice replaced the veritable white noise in Tholker's ear, "You heard about that LTG? Alink, I think it was?"
"Well... yeah. The news just broke. What, do you know anything?"
"Me? Nothing." Petrov chuckled, "I served under him for a year, though. I did munitions repair for the 925th Light Infantry Regiment. I think I was the grunt there with the most experience, all the regular guys were right out of the academy. Pretty cocky, too. One guy said his buddy took out no less than a hundred Kklxin in one battle." Petrov babbled as Tholker neared the metal doors leading to the constricting metal corridor connecting the range section of the training installation to the elevators.
"I'll talk to you later Petrov. See you around."
"Yeah, sure, but don't drop by too soon, you tore up half my targets."
Vague memories of the tastes of food had always lingered in Tholker's mind, but livid memories were infuriatingly elusive. Only a short time before Tholker's operation, he had given up the prospect of recalling the many different tastes of food entirely.
It made the experience of actually eating food with an organic mouth all that much more exhilerating. Plunging a fork and blade into a slab of dark bird meat was the act that blasted the dams holding back Tholker's saliva from flooding into his mouth. He wasted no time in cutting up his meat, and ravenously consumed it as Karla looked on with a smile from across the table. While there had been no doubt in his mind at all that food was... well... delicious, no memory or description could prepare him for that first bite. Sweet, none too chewy, and moist, it was what Tholker figured that a perfect piece of meat would be. The only pause in his unrelenting culinary onslaught was the occasional wiping of his mouth, serving as only a greater cassus belli for him to continue.
Karla asked with a smirk, "I take it you're enjoying the food?"
Tholker swallowed the food in his mouth, "Mhmm, it's fantastic. Etah was right, I really have been missing out. I almost can't wait for him to correct that horrid little error in his solution, so you can experience this as well."
"Oh... yeah, sorry. Forgot about your head. Still, walking around with your own legs and breathing out of your own lungs feels pretty good!"
"I should hope so, I'd want being dragged into a web of secret agent intrigue stuff to be worth it."
Tholker looked up from his food with a clearly-looked expression of hurt, "What, I wasn't reward enough for you?"
"No, no, I wouldn't have changed anything if it meant that I wouldn't be able to be here with you." Karla smiled.
"Aww, well thank you. Same here, even though it hasn't exactly been too challenging for me compared to you. I mean, your familiy, university and all."
"I'm not sure they even know of my disappearance. Around the time that everything started to happen with that gang and all, things started to get heated between myself and my father. Mother took his side, and everything just broke down." Karla looked down to her own food, her smile having diminished.
"I'm sorry to hear that. If you don't mind my asking, what was the issue?" Tholker leaned forward.
"I don't... really think I want to talk about it, but thank you. However, I don't think university will be much of a problem."
"Eh, now why's that?"
"Being here has changed my view of our military."
"Eh? Eteno hardly account for twenty percent of the staff, even if a lot of the stuff in the hangar is ours."
"Even so, I've seen some of the Eteno staff around here, and when I do, I notice the dedication with which they go about there work. Each one of them wore an Imperial Armed Forces uniform. Besides, you're in, aren't you?"
"Yeah, but I had no choice. Not that I wouldn't of signed up anyway, but I had no choice in the matter all the same. To get to a unit like this, you have to have gone through a lot of trials in your career, and us operatives have endured horrible suffering. It isn't something you sign up for just because it looks cool. You need dedication."
"Who says I can't be dedicated?"
"Nobody, but all I'm saying is that you should think things through before making actual decisions. Even if you are dedicated, which I'll believe, you'll notice there aren't any Eteno women in this bunker."
"That's right, I haven't seen any. But that doesn't make any sense, women are allowed to serve everywhere else."
"Yes, but men can do the jobs here, and we don't want to have to ship in any more drugs than we need."
"I suppose you raise a fair point... I could still sign up though, and serve."
"Indeed you could, and you'd be better for it! But you should really give thought to what you want to do before handing the next four years of your life over to the fatherland. Don't toss out university either, a lot of people don't get the opportunity to go to good school."
"Duly noted. I see that you finished your food, how about we unwind?"
"Unwind, eh? What do you mean by that?" Tholker grinned and waved his eyebrows suggestively.
"No, not that way! Even if that was possible in a place like this, I'm still a bot!"
"I know, I know, I was joking with you."
"I wasn't totally sure if you were or not. I meant that you should get some of your buddies, and we could have a couple drinks, as, at least in the movies, soldiers do."
"Make no mistake, Karla, we do. Just not when we're fighting. I like your idea, I haven't tasted alchohol in a good while. Let's just wait and see who'll get drunk first, though, Etah or me."
"I don't know anything about Karnasaurs, but if they have half of the alchohol resistance we do, it'll be a funny race, that's certain."
"Something tells me he's just going to lure me into getting myself plastered. Want to head to the bar? I can get the rest of the team."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea, Tholker. You may want to give yourself a minute. That was a large piece of meat you devoured."
"C'mon, can't be that bad, can it? I mean... oof... alright, you win. I'll rest for a bit."
"We can go when you feel good enough, maybe give it an hour or so."
"An hour? Fine."
Despite his portest and attempts to misle Karla into believing he was feeling well, Tholker remained in his seat across from Karla. To pass the time, they discussed a wide manner of subjects, ranging from military careers to cultural Eteno sterotypes. At one point, Etah passed the two. Tholker wasted no time inviting him to go to the bar later, and the Sauran accepted, with a mischievous glint in his eye, one that was carefully noted by Tholker, even though he knew very well the detail would likely slip his mind soon enough, organic brain and all. Eventually, Tholker recovered from his overstuffing, and left to find Pyro and Ahrganot in the team's common room.
"Hello you two, I would like to invite you to get drunk with Etah, Karla, and I at the bar in a few minutes, you in?" He inquired to the two as he entered the room.
Both were deeply absorbed in their board game, and seemed rather annoyed at being disturbed from their concentration.
"I... see no reason not to. I'm on this team, I may as well be social with you guys." Pyro replied, seeming to have finally broken his aloof shell.
"If you're all going, then so shall I. Don't expect me to get drunk, though. I will limit myself to one or two drinks, that's it." Ahrganot soon followed.
Words Cannot Describe...Edit
Emerging from the shack which concealed the Bunker entrance, Etah lead the team over to a Karnasaur luxury limo he called over for the occasion. Etah told the driver to take them to the nearest bar, and to make it snappy.
They arrived at a small little tavern in a tiny village. Etah recognised the village; Seraksville, a mainly Karnasaur hamlet that was a notorious headquarters for a chapter of the Black Falcon. Remembering this syndicate to be the one that went after Tholker's lady friend, he decided to keep his personal revolver on him, just in case. He also felt it would be best for the casual atmosphere to not alert the rest of the team to the presence of the criminals.
Climbing out of the limo to let the others out, Etah took a quick lookabout for safety. Nothing out of the ordinary. He lead the team into the bar, which was quite at the moment; They missed the happy hour rush, fortunately.
Walking over to the bar, Etah tried to speak to the Karnasaur bartender in Universal, but the bartender didn't understand him.
"Must've grown up poor..." Etah thought. The poorest 5% of Karnasaurs didn't get the same education as the rest of society due to having to leave for work; They only spoke Sauren, mostly.
Addressing the bartender in Sauren now, he took everyone's order. Etah ordered for himself a bottle of human vodka. Being the cheapest alcohol on the market, the bartender had loads of the stuff. Asking what he wnated it mixed with, Etah replied simply:
"Hm... More vodka."
Getting a few quizical stares from the rest of the group while the bar tender grabbed another bottle of vodka, he took his drinks and went to a table to sit.
Tholker joined him, followed by Karla and the rest of the team. Pyro just got a simple alcohol and herb drink, and Ahrganot got the same, but with less alcohol. Etah guessed Pyro just took a stronger hit of whatever his distant genetic cousin was having.
Tholker had a bottle of human tequila and two shot glasses with him, probably to share with Karla.
"Gentlemen," Etah started, "...And lady," He continued,
"I'd like to make a toast; To our group of soldiers bound in arms, to our recent medical breakthrough, and most of all... To companionship and a night off!"
With that, he tore off his first bottle's top and started drinking.
Tholker and Karla downed three shots before Etah decided to take a break from the sting. Etah was half empty and Tholker barely emptied his.
"Heheh, wassa matta, Tholker? Can't drink too fast?" Etah inquired with a slur.
"You wanna make a wager out of that, Etah?"
"I most certainly do, as a matter of fact!"
"Alright, fine! Let's see who can down a whole bottle of our stuff first!"
"How much you throwing down, midget?"
"MIDGET?? I'LL THROW DOWN MY WALLET, YOU... YOU... 5,000 YEAR OLD... VIRGIN!"
"AT LEAST I CAN RELOAD A PISTOL!"
Throwing down their wallets, both supersoldiers grabbed their full bottles, tore away at the lids, nodded honorably to each other, and pounded down the alcohol.
Thirty Minutes, 126.25 Credits, 11 bottles of tequila and 12 bottles of vodka later...
Tholker, demonstrating the iron liver of his species, had gone through enough alcohol to kill a man and was only half-drunk. Etah was much the same, but his neurocybernetics allowed a cleared mind. Calling it a draw and taking thier wallets back, two stood up, more than ready to leave. However, an Eteno walked up to Tholker and produced a firearm faster than the half-drunk supersolider could notice.
Not fast enough, however, for Etah to miss. Executing a perfect disarm-and-disable by throwing the assailant on the ground, Etah immediately noted the insignia of the Black Falcon tattoed onto his forearm. Deciding this would be a good time to leave, Etah told the rest of the team to pack up and head out. Unfortunately, they didn't know about 50 Black Falcon men were outside the bulding, dousing it with gasoline.
Exiting the building just as they finished, Etah took a good look at the scene around him. Time slowed as he took in his surroundings. They didn't just douse the bar.
They doused the town.
It seemed the Black Falcon wanted GSSOC dead more than they wanted a safe haven; firearms were out of the question, and any kind of spark would light the whole town on fire.
Only then did Etah notice that one of the hitmen was striking a match.
Etah woke from the explosion just a few seconds after it occured. The whole town was on fire. Running a quick medical scan, he found several third-degree burns. Nothing he couldn't handle with some bed and rest later. For now, he had to find the rest of the team and save the surviving innocents. He looked around, and found the already injured Pyro getting up and looking around. Ahrganot was on his feet and shouting for the team. Tholker and Karla were no where to be found.
Until he looked down, that is. He was pushed by the explosion on top of his midget friends. They seemed to have benefitted form it; Neither of them seemed to have suffered serious injuries.
"Everyone's accounted for! If you can, try to find a way to get any survivors out of here! Pyro, I want you radioing and waiting for medical transport. Tholker, keep track of Karla. Ahrganot, on me!" Etah called out
Executing his orders, Etah and Ahrganot swept house by house, splitting up to cover more ground. Each and every house was empty save a few charred corpses.
Almost out of hope and crushed with guilt, Etah entered the last home, which was fairly unscathed, but still already damaged beyond hope. He swept around, and almost left, when he heard a small pounding noise. Looking around, he saw a most peculiar sight.
A Karnasaur egg, wrapped in a blanket, wit the hatchling inside trying to hatch.
Approaching it, he heard a faint, weak coughing. Looking to see the source, he saw whay he assumed to be the egg's father.
"P...Please... take the egg. Raise up my child as your own. I...I know you, you're Etah of Clan Owar. You can... auch... you can give my child a better life than I can. Raise my child, and please, give it that blanket the egg is wrapped in... it's... auuuch... a family... heirloom. It's of Clan Owar, now. And... and don't... tell my child... the name his blood clan. My Clan is dead now; long live... auch... long live... long live Clan Owar." The father moaned, with his last breath being swept out of his lungs to join Baba Yetu.
Hearing that last, relieved breath, Etah looked to the egg. Moving to it, he gave it a soft knock. The hatchling knocked back. Etah knocked harder. The hatchling knocked just as hard. Etah gave the egg and good pound, and the hatchling pounded right back witht he same force, punching its way out of its shell, its tiny, creaky roars drifitng through the air, teaching the hatchling to breath. Etah held the hatchling in his arms, and looked at it with a softened, paternal gaze.
"...Asir. I shall name you Asir. Yes, Asir of Clan Owar, you will be called. You will live a most interesting life, Asir, and someday, you will be immortalized into legend. I swear it."
Carrying the hatchling, who was nuzzling and cuddling into his chest now, Etah walked out of the burning building calmly and with purpose. He saw the sun raising in the distance, above the burning buildings, above the charred bodies, above the distant cityscape. He saw transport arrived for Pyro and the team to carry them back too the Bunker. When he approached the van that was to carry them home, the rest of the team looked quizically and curiously at the ancient Karnasaur soldier and the tiny, sleeping hatchling in his arms. Etah looked at the hatchling, and then back to the team, and answered the unspoken question simply:
"I'm a father."
"Etah... what... where did you get..." Tholker managed, breathless from fight and unmitigated rush.
"Him. I found him in the home behind us. His father is gone, I can only assume the same of his mother."
"Then you've brought him into your clan. You will raise him as if he was your own." Ahrganot stated. With whatever unoccupied time he had he would spend countless hours in concentrated study. Karnasaur tradition was not a subject beyond his wide range of interests.
"You're correct. I will do everything to raise Asir to be everything worthy of the greatest of Sauran legacies. Of course, I'd be the fool of fools to not enlist aid. Gentlemen... will you aid me?" Etah questioned as he slid into the black van, the sounds of Eteno and Sauran provost vehicles rising from the horizon.
Tholker was the first to reply, "Etah, you can count me in. A real brother helps a brother, and it seems I also will have a little nephew as well."
"Not just a nephew, Tholker, for if you choose to accept the duty, I shall make you his godfather."
"Accept, Tholker, that's one of the greatest honours to be bestowed by a father in Sauran tradition." Ahrganot cut in, leaning close to the Eteno.
"Of course I will, Etah. I'll help make this boy a man, with time."
"That you will, my friend. What say you, Ahrganot Skiszgo and Pyro Charr?"
"I will assist you to the best of my abilities, and ensure that this momentous occasion will not hamper your effectiveness in the unit." Ahrganot stated calmly.
"I know next to nothing about this universe, but for now, you're my ally, and I'll help, Etah. I'll help." Pyro decided.
"Then it's settled. I'm going to give Asir the best childhood I can possibly give him, and you'll contribute in the ways you can." Etah took a deep breath. and whispered into the hatchling's ears:
"Prepare yourself, little one."