Bugout; military term – “To retreat during a military action: to flee in panic”
‘Google-plex Wikipedia, 2069’
Northern Hemisphere Union Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Five Sean St. John (Sin-Jin) Lamont observed the rocky ‘valley’ around him.
The scene was not a kalidescope of color, with or without the visual enhancement of the holo-heads up display inside of Lamont’s helmet visor. The vaulted roof of the sky was a pea soup of gray haze, intermittently broken up to reveal a dusky salmon. The dismal, wretched coldness extended down to his level, minimally lightening up as it finally started thinning out 800 meters below him. Only then did it appear like a normal fall foggy morning in the Appalachian Mountains, sans the green of trees. It could have passed for a scene straight out of Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, without the obligatory lava.
At this ‘altitude’, it was necessary for Lamont to wear an oxygen rebreather and an environmental suit, the cold and the thin atmosphere at this level was deadly, even for a transhuman like Lamont. His internal army of nanobots could save him if his suit ruptured, but his body would be damaged beyond repair if the cold started to shut down the ‘bots too soon. Lamont just as soon not push his luck, experience taught him that. As he observed the scene around him, there were patches of dark greens and blues scattered here and there. The patching got thicker and thicker as the barely indistinguishable monochrome extended down the valley. It lent the view a more dismal color than it really was. But without the carpets of monotonous blue/green lichen, it would be impossible to breathe what little air there was.
Lamont broke his revelry long enough to start descending down the hillside, watching his footing carefully as he still made observations of the valley. The rocks at this height were still very sharp, a slip might cause a puncture, even though the suit was engineered of carbon-tube fiber, the best stuff nano-tech can produce. To Lamont, the old saw ‘trust but verify’ were words to live by. Sometimes.
As the descent proceeded, the footing got easier as the rocks acquired a rounded, more eroded form. Soon the rocks became stones, then pebbles. Lamont started to hear more of the environment around him as the air became thicker the lower he got. He stopped next to a small outcropping of smooth rocks. He sat down to pull out his insulated thermo-canteen, which extruded a tube as he lifted up his visor. A membrane on his eyes instinctively clamped down over his eyeballs, preventing moisture from escaping them. Even though he was lower in the valley, the air at this height was still dryer than the Gobi Desert in January. And there was still almost a klick to hike before he got back to base camp. Pulling the cold water from his canteen, Lamont shut out all his thoughts and started to meditate lightly on the surrounding scene. There wasn’t much to look at, it was agonizingly boring, but soon sounds permeated his helmet, sinking into his brain. A soft rushing gurgle, almost like the sound of blood flowing demanded attention. Lamont meditated on it, grokking it, taking it into himself, learning it. Water. A small stream nearby was making its existence known. Peace. Suddenly there were knocks on the door of his mind, threatening to drown out the burblings of the small, beautiful, alien thing. The knocks got louder and louder until they formed a cacophonous ‘wop, wop, wop’. It wasn’t loud, but it was enough to break Lamont’s meditation. “Shit. Back to the ‘real’ world I suppose”, he groused. Of course he allowed the noise to interrupt his thoughts, his mind was self disciplined enough to lock out all external stimuli if he wished. But he knew in one of the backrooms of his mind, time was getting short. He knew the whole base was about ready to deploy to a different locale. He knew it was almost time to ‘bugout’.
With his thirst slaked and his head cleared for a while, CWO5 Lamont continued his descent to the valley floor and the base. Suddenly a familiar blinking blue code-light started flashing in the right-hand corner of his visual cortex, a message coming in. Instantly Lamont knew it was from his second, Master Gunnery Sergeant Pierre Hudon. An image formed in his mind, the classic flat-topped Jarhead. Hudon was two millimeters shy of two meters in height, eighty-four kilos of lean meat and all Canuck. Nobody gave Hudon much crap, certainly no troop did, if they were smart. An occasional second ‘lieuy’ (lieutenant) did, out of ignorance. They soon learned fast enough that the unit’s ‘Top’ was just that.
“Are you all done with your ‘perimeter check’ of the area sir?”, the image inquired. Lamont noted the wise-guy question with amusement, typical Hudon. The Top didn’t cotton to his commander’s unique style of mysticism, but he knew where the line was. “Perimeter’s secure, you wise-ass. What’s the status of the bugout?” Instantly Hudon went into Marine Corps ‘report’ mode, tres professionale. “The whole AIMD (Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department) is packed and ready to move Skipper. That includes all the drums of repair nano we have plus feed stock. Troops are ready, the noncoms have them settled in, just waiting for the word.”
Lamont wondered about the ‘wop, wop, wop’ from the two helicopters he heard earlier, why were they still out?
“Is the whole MAG (Marine Air Group) ready? I heard two ‘planes a while ago and wondered why they were still out Top. What’s the scuttle-butt on that?”
Hudon gave a mental shake of his head and pulled on his nose at the same time, “It seems General Rodriguez wanted to do his own ‘perimeter check’ sir. He’s nervous as hell about ‘Planet X’ quantum weaponry sneaking through our shielding before we can bugout. Also the ‘Children’ are on his case to hurry up. And you know how creepy they are, even when they’re doing their best ‘human’.”
Lamont knew all too well how the Children, or as they liked to call themselves ‘Children of Humanity’ are. They were the ones, along with the Corporate Government (Struldbergs), who resurrected him.
He preferred to call them the ‘Children of the Damned’ though.
It fit better.
As for the Struldberg traitors to humanity, well, they are just as evil.
And they’re Lamont’s bosses.
“Okay Top, let’s get ready to ‘head ’em up and move ’em out’ as they used to say. As soon as we get back, call a meeting of all department heads so we can all be in synch with the bugout time. Then have them call muster of the troops. Get a head count and standby. The ‘word’ is given Marine.”
Hudon didn’t know whether to laugh or scratch his head when his boss used archaic cliches like that. At times he wanted to do both. Good thing he had a language algorithm in his brain-nanoweb, otherwise he couldn’t understand Lamont at all.
“Aye aye Skipper. Will you be along?”
Hudon may not understand his chief at times, but he was a good second. He watched out for his boss.
“I’ll catch up with you Top. I want to take in this terrain one last time”, Lamont sent.
With that, Master Gunnery Sergeant Hudon did a smart about-face and left Lamont’s consciousness. Lamont lifted his visor and took another long pull of water from his flask. Even at this lower level, the thin air was dryer than Hades.
Lamont tromped on, wondering about what would happen when the supposed ‘enemy’ got here. There wouldn’t be anything for them here. Presumedly the beings that were coming were beyond anything physical, let alone needing what little resources there are here. But the ‘Children’ did something to piss these beings off.
Among the other screw-ups they did, all well meaning of course.
But as Northern Hemisphere Union Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Five Lamont looked at the greyish, slightly mauve scene around him, he couldn’t help be amazed at such a marvel of nature and ancient technology.
In fact, he was amazed such a thing could exist at all, given where he was.
Located almost two kilometers under the Arsia Mons, near the Valles Marineris.
Under the second highest mountain on the planet Mars.