[ITS] Chapter 8: The Help

Her eyelids are heavy when the notification lights up her phone at almost 2 in the morning. She’s been texting all evening, and so reaches for it where it sits on the couch armrest with a sloppy groan.

“I thought you were in bed,” Holly mumbles, wondering why she isn’t in bed herself. The late-night infomercials are starting to crowd out the normal programming on TV and she’s running out of reasons to stay awake.

But it’s not a text from her old friend Daniel, it’s an email. And it’s not just an email, it’s a reply. From the suit operator.

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[ITS] Chapter 7: The Bridge

The room is dimly lit from the lower-quality energy that now trundles through the once surging grid of this prefecture’s capital city. It’s been one tritium* since the ceasefire, and the Ntaa are still struggling to rebuild their razed homeworld, called simply Tchanggarec in Common: The Machine Hive. The Ntaarin name for it, obviously, holds the planet in considerably higher esteem than the rest of the inhabited worlds.

A green-eyed soldier, who will someday come to give himself a name in a language that won’t even exist for a few more thousand years, sits at the business end of a desk. The surface is adorned with a slew of dark-screened datapads and other info terminals, but only the one in the hands of the opposite Ntaa is illuminated. They are tiredly perusing it.

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[ITS] Chapter 6: The Turn

It’s a training day at EYSAR. The team’s recently gotten all-new GPS gear – the old stuff was apparently getting embarassing to be seen with, but funding is hard to come by and a lot of the guys already part with their own money enough as it is to buy gear.

Brett, the new guy, still hasn’t had a chance to properly train with Galen, so they’re out killing two birds with one stone today. Galen normally likes training: he gets pointers, gets to be outside, and there’s little pressure on him to perform so rigorously as the others. And maybe most of all, it’s fun to watch the humans at work. (With a little play thrown in for good measure, too.)

But the others are wary around him now – ever since his outburst.

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[ITS] Chapter 5: The Broken Ties

Honestly, I’m not sure what to say. I’m not even sure if I should believe you… I hope you’ll understand when I say that this is the most ridiculous, far-fetched thing someone has ever told me!

I mean, I can’t actually verify this until billing gets a hold of me, but if I take you at face value, whoever you really are… then I kinda owe you a big thank you, don’t I?

Holly pauses, trembling finger hovering over the keyboard on her phone’s screen. Teeth gently, rhythmically gnaw on the soft insides of her cheek – nibbles so small that they don’t even hurt.

Why am I doing this?

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[ITS] Chapter 4: The Hospital

She wakes, dull and heavy, from the death-sleep of general anesthesia, finding herself in a quiet and verybeige room. Without any idea why its beigeness seems remarkable to her.

A nurse is at her side, smiling, and says something to the effect of “everything went well, we’ll be taking you to your room shortly”. Holly nods dumbly and wants to go back to sleep, so she does. When she wakes up again, she’s in much smaller quarters – less beige and more white.

“What’d they do?” she asks, trying to sit up, but her body would still much rather stay horizontal. A different nurse is there, and goes to wrap a blood pressure monitor around her arm. She hits a button and it inflates.

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[ITS] Chapter 3: The Bout

“You want us to do what?

The woman’s voice on the other end of the line is cold. Her job doesn’t resemble HR so much as it does, say, a food inspector’s.

Galen’s chassis cycles a long draw of air, and he looks down at his four-toed feet as he stands on a lawn of clover, buttercups, and native grass that extends far beyond the bounds of the property.

“I’m asking that you pay for this girl’s treatment. That’s it.”

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[ITS] Chapter 2: The Beartooths

There’s only one more call before the start of Yellowstone’s busy season – a simple case of a father and son who didn’t make it back to their car before nightfall – and by May, Galen’s permitted himself to begin forgetting about the pilot of the Cessna. It’s early June when he’s summoned to what he, and everyone else, thinks to be an ordinary briefing for an ordinary rescue.

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