Chapter 12: Just Another Day in Paradise
We all have something that digs at us,
At least we dig each other,
So when weakness turns my ego up,
I know you'll count on the me from yesterday,
If I turn into another,
Dig me up from under what is covering,
The better part of me…
The storm left behind a winter wonderland as the terrain glistened from the midday sun. It was as if the storm cleansed the sky, filling the air with its sweet, frosty aroma, pushing away the stale air further towards the oceanfront, near Farrall.
Moving along a wide-open area while hiking through knee-deep snow, Sigma continued to trek through the freezing terrain, relying on old sheets, pillows cases, and other layers of makeshift clothing they took from the conduit station to stay warm. Cole, Sven, and Raven walked together while Baird lingered back, going over his mental notes.
Baird's pupils had finally contracted, adjusting to the bright light as he lifted his goggles from his eyes to get a better look at the terrain. Ahead of him, he could see Cole and Sven making friendly conversation with their Feral guide as they plowed through the deep snow, hiking around a large glacier lake east of the rolling valley.
He scratched his head with a leaflet in hand, the same one he managed to pocket in his armor when they we're searching the Locusts back at Hurl Dam for ammunition. Reading the lettering, some of which he was able to decipher, the paper apparently was a "psalm" of sorts, chanting about "seducing," or "charming" the beasts of the Hollow with song. Beyond that, Baird could only guess that it was some religious documentation, but why it was in the possession of a peon Bolter baffled him. The meaning evaded him for the time being as he stopped for a moment to put it back in his leg pack and continued to chew on his thoughts, while following the others from behind.
Up until now, this was the most at peace he had ever been in a while, to have a moment to appreciate the splendor in nature without just catching small glances while running for his life. Although he did not drop his guard completely, he continued to look around, finally having the opportunity to breathe at ease for the moment to ponder their present situation. For the most part, Cole was right. Feral had been taking care of them, which came to a surprise since she had long insinuated that she preferred isolation, rather than "hanging" out with anybody, much less a handful of male ****s.
Why hasn't she left us? She could have abandoned us easily, leaving us to rot in this sh*t.
Although Baird had his theories, the answer continued to elude him. Shaking the thoughts from of his head, he began to eavesdrop on the others' conversation, listening to Sven ramble on about his experiences in highschool…an all too common initiation most young males usually had to go through to enter the ultimate rite of passage, otherwise better known as puberty.
"Anyway…I knew this one girl, back in highschool," Sven began his story before Cole interrupted.
"Hehe, you knew girls in highschool?"
Baird snickered to himself while keeping his usual musings restrained…Oh geez, they're talking about girls.
Sven continued as if he didn't catch on to Cole's gag. Actually, it probably really did go over his head, but nevertheless, Baird could tell Raven was attempting to be polite by allowing Sven to ramble on.
"Yea, and this chick was hot too! I mean, she was skimpin' in this one outfit…I could tell she wasn't wearing much underneath…"
"Uh, ok, you're going to have to define "hot," for me," Raven suggested. Her request caught Sven somewhat off guard.
"Well…uh…gee, I guess I would have to say…ah, crap…what was I going to say?" Sven fumbled.
Good one Vinny, that was smooth, Baird mused to himself. Cole started to laugh.
"Here…let me help you out, Vin," Cole cut in. Baird moaned to himself, oh God, here it goes...
"What he means is the kinda chick that can make a man stand up straight by just walking by, ya know,"
Raven just glared at him with an inkling in her gaze, somewhat blasé as to where Cole was going with it. Baird could tell she wasn't the least bit enthralled, but she gave it a chance by letting Cole continue,
"Don't get me wrong, most chicks are not bad looking, and then there are others that are "hot," the kind that made you sweat from just looking at em!"
"Uh huh," Raven replied, not exactly seeing it from his point of view. How could she? She's not a guy, so how does she know what the hell makes a guy "sweat" in the presence of a "hot" girl?
"I mean the ones that have, nice, juicy, taataa's, those sour, pout lips, and the kind of ass that you just want to go, uh!"
Cole tried to imitate his gesture by holding his massive hands in front of him as if he was going to grab something. Raven rolled her eyes when she came to realize that the topic was going nowhere.
"You know…ok, I take it back…we need stop and move onto something else," she said bluntly.
Baird jumped into the conversation from behind.
"Yea, Cole's getting a hard on just talking about it," he chuckled. Cole turned around to the sardonic tone of his close friend,
"Hey, since when did you decide to contribute to the conversation?"
The other two were surprised by Baird's entrance since he was pretty much to himself for almost an hour.
"The minute somebody brought up the topic about "chicks."
"Sh*t, Damon, what do you know about chicks…in fact, when was the last time you had a G.F.?"
"Well gee, Cole, since I spend most of my time, getting shot at, running around in Locust fortresses, crawling around inside giant worms…oh, and almost the entire time, I'm spending doing all this, saving your ass! So needless to say, it's been awhile!"
"Yea, whatever. You haven't had any boon since…damn…it’s been awhile!"
"Shut up Cole, you haven't been getting any either!"
Cole was about to respond before he realized that Baird was right. Neither one of them had any romantic, social dealings with the female type in probably longer than either would really care to admit. It was, for the most part, against policy to fraternize with female officers, not to mention most all other females were relocated to "breeding camps," which made such social interaction limited.
This brought Baird to question as to how the Feral sanctioned procreation. He had heard of stories, rumors about Gears coming across Feral camps, but they usually ended in a catastrophe. He since then had only heard of one incident where a soldier was coerced to impregnate a "breeder," and lived to tell about it.
"So…what about you Feral?" said Cole, trying to keep the conversation going in a last ditch attempt to pass the time,
"About…what?" she replied.
"Ya know…got a man somewhere that we don't know about?"
"Hey yea, you go out and get some?" Sven tinkered with the thought. Perv!
Raven chuckled in amusement.
"Are you kidding, please, the Feral are very strict about keeping our animal drives in check and breeding outside of the matriarch's counsel…besides, you Gears are pretty clueless concerning the female psyche…no offense."
"Wait…counsel…is that what you chicks "call" it?" Baird's interest peaked up in curiosity.
"Every Feral has a set of guidelines that she is required to follow concerning her advances. To deviate from those guidelines would end up in excommunication, or sometimes termination," Raven explained.
"Gee Feral…you run away to avoid being bred like a horse, only to end up with a faction that dictates your sex life, or else! I'm having a hard time seeing the difference here…and you're calling us clueless?"
Baird continued to pick at her brain, gathering mental notes on how the Feral functioned as a culture, since most of the COG's intel on the Feral was modest at best, but doing it without offending her at the same time was not something he did very well. Raven continued,
"The breeding camps were exploiting the women for purposes other than just "breeding," Baird. The COG new damn well that some of the facilities was being run by pedophiles, and yet they didn't do anything about until it was too late. We knew about it because the Feral came across some of those girls whom managed to run away."
The conversation took a turn that only Baird could entertain, trying to get the last word in,
"Look, I'm not saying that nothing unethical was going on, but your accusing the COG of running people's lives without merit, while the Feral are practically doing the same exact thing. You're being kinda hypocritical, Raven!"
"There's a difference in deciding something for the better welfare of the community, and then there is just plain, Jane, dictatorship."
"Oh, and how's that?"
"Do you really think Chairman Prescott is in all of this for the sake of "saving humanity?"
"What do you think he's doing it for?"
"Well what do men of power always want…more power…and how can he help it? He was born into power, his family, the Prescott "dynasty." What else can he be…he pretends to participate as a soldier to boost up his ranks and then wiggled his way into politics effortlessly, all the while, using the policies of his predecessors during the Pendulum Wars to wipe out settlements, confiscate weapons of mass destruction and obliterate almost all of what was left of Sera's resources. I mean seriously, do I need to go on?"
"It's amazing what people have to do when their back is up against the wall, Feral, especially when we got a race of "beings," whose only intent is to wipe us clean off the planet! Like any other leader, he had to make difficult decisions…it's not like he had a lot of other convenient choices."
"Do you really believe that, Damon? I find it hard to believe that you, a frequent delinquent, accept things at face value…especially someone with a countless history of insubordination!"
Well that caught Baird off guard. Even Cole and Sven turn to her in shock. She continued while still perching on her high horse.
"Yes, gentlemen…I know about your personnel profiles. I reviewed them before we left Fort Block. Don't think I was going to jump into something without doing my homework. And as far as the COG is concerned, I was raised, reciting the "Octus Canon," every damn morning before school started. My "dad" would take me to his base to show me how the Gears work, like taking your kids to work day and would attempt to orient me into the regime. So to answer the question that I know has been lingering in the back of your head, Baird, no, I'm not just some dumb **** who so happens to have some "beef" with the COG."
"Well sh*t, Feral, excuse me for being clueless that you didn't have any personal issues regarding the COG."
"Uh huh…so seriously, who are you banging?"
"What the hell kind of question is that?"
"I don't know, ask Cole, he's the one who wanted to know," Baird grins while Cole gives him a bemused look.
"Oh, sorry Gus, we're talking about sex now" Baird snickered before Cole gave him a dirty glare.
"Yea, very funny, jackass!"
"C'mon, I'm just sticking out for ya…so anyway, Feral, what is your "present" breeding status?"
"What breeding status?"
"Are you single, or do you have someone you see regularly, are you still a virgin…"
"Are we seriously having this discussion right now?"
Cole and Sven just glared in interest, waiting to see what she would say next.
"Alright, Damon, I'm not going to give you the satisfaction of answering that question for the sake of your own personal amusement."
"So you are a virgin."
"Does it really matter if I am or not?"
"Not really, I'm just trying to get a rise out of ya."
"Cole's right, you are a jackass!"
"Hehe, told ya, baby! Hey, Vinny…” Cole yelled over his shoulder, “…you owe me ten bucks!"
Baird sneered back.
"Oh, so you can hack into our computer network and somehow access our personnel files, which are classified, by the way, and now suddenly you take offense when we ask you about your love life, bullsh*t!"
Raven snickered at Damon's defiance.
"Well, that sounds more like a personal problem, Baird."
"Damn right, especially when I'm taking some flak from someone who's never had any cock!"
Well that did it.
"Alright, that's it! This conversation's over," Raven storms off, putting distance between them as fast as she can, moving diligently through the knee-deep snow. The three watched her huff away, cussing under her breath.
"Damnit Baird, I thought Marcus told you not to piss her off," Cole ranted at Baird.
But it's too much fun!
"We seriously need to work on your "talking to girls," skills," Cole continued to gripe, realizing Baird just ruined their chance to maybe somewhat bond with their Feral guide.
"Geez yea…we were trying to get her to open up, ya know," Sven butted in.
"We're not here to pick up chicks, guys," Baird handily reminded them without little, if any regret.
Sven let out a whimpering groan, thinking back when he had some interactions with girls, wondering if he will ever have the opportunity to do it again.
"This bites…will we ever get back to normal…ya know, when we could pick up chicks?"
"Sigh…maybe one day kid, we just got to keep our head in the game for now," Cole muttered, thinking back in the day when he had women, jumping through fire hoops, just to say "hi" to him. But after fifteen years of fighting the Locusts, how much longer would it be before they could even say “things will get back to normal?”
Damon kept to himself as he trudged on, trying not to let Raven get too far ahead, or she'll abandon us for sure. Memories of his past began to subconsciously surface as he halfheartedly revisited his own "social" experience with women. Needless to say, those brief moments of some remote companionship was very few in between. When he did, it was anything but positive which may have contributed to his "cynical" attitude, especially when it concerned girls. Although he is most likely capable of producing offspring, he avoided settling down as if it was the plague. To say the least, he was content living the rest of his existence as a "childless" bachelor.
As he looked ahead, he watched Raven continue to storm through the snow, wondering how long she was going to hold a grudge now. Considering he’d been harassing her since touchdown, she seemed to be tolerating Baird, especially since most people, women especially, would normally take an instant disliking to him. But then again, maybe it's because she's stuck with him and she has no choice but to tolerate him. Or maybe she's just saving her "rants," and all of her frustrations to shove down his throat all at once, for later…oh that's going to be fun!
He then realized something Dom told him once, which was very seldom, about how he dealt with Maria when she got mad at him for whatever reason and she wouldn't talk to him for days. Although Damon was never one to take any advice from Dom, however he did agree that no man knows no wrath, more loathing than a woman scorned. So something was going to have to give, before wrath bit Sigma squad in the ass…or worse.
Sh*t. I'm going to have to kiss her ass, or kiss and make up, hmm…what would be the lesser of the two evils?
In any case, he knew if he didn't somehow reconcile, he would never hear the end of it from Marcus, or Hoffmann for that matter, and then Dom would rub it in his face. F***tard.
"Sigh…wait back here guys…I'm going to have to go and patch this," Baird loathed as he picked up the pace, with Cole yelling out from behind,
"Hey…if you kiss and make up, I want details…remember…bros before hos!" Cole and Sven start to snicker as Baird waved his hand with his back still facing them.
"You think he's really going to do it?" Sven pondered.
"Sh*t, knowing Baird…I bet you another ten bucks she'll punch him in the face before he even thinks of laying a smooch on her," Cole snickered.
The two clamped fists, knuckle to knuckle as they turn to look ahead, watching Baird climb up through the deep snow. He attempted to catch up as Raven kept her pace consistent, not realizing that he was trying to close in their distance. ****, does this chick ever get tired of hiking?
He managed to get into audio range as he called out,
"What for? I thought I told you…"
"Yea, yea, yea, I heard you the first time."
Feral stopped in her tracks, giving Baird a moment to catch up, noticing the other two were still lingering behind.
"Oh, I see you left your "motley crew" in the ditch…were they boring you with more stupid, lukewarm banter?"
Baird flashed a sarcastic grin before slumping back into his usual, face-melting scowl.
"No, that's not why I sprinted all the way up here."
"I'll say, you sure keep up better than Cole. He really needs to do more steady cardio and less weights…"
"I know…I think his thrashball training has him brainwashed."
Feral let out a slight chuckle as she started to move forward again, making a more conscience effort to stay alongside with Baird.
"Ok, so are you still pissed at me?" he finally had to ask.
"I suppose that's an honest answer…look, ok, I know I said something…"
Here it goes,
"…that was insensitive…"
"Wait, are you actually apologizing…do I need to record this?"
"C'mon, gimme a break!"
"You, don't apologize to anyone, much less a *****y Feral…ok, what are you really trying to do?"
"Seriously, are you going to let me finish?"
"Relax, Baird…I'm not going to abandon the team, or drop y'all like a hat and leave y'all to fend for yourselves…"
"And why wouldn't you?"
"What do mean, why wouldn't I?"
"Well, all we ever seem to do is to slow you down and piss you off."
"Cole doesn't piss me off, Vinny normally doesn't piss me off,"
"All right, all right, I get it, it's all me!"
"No, that's not it either…"
"Then what is it…why do you stick around?"
"The same reason I agreed to come to the COG in the first place."
"And what's that?"
"It doesn't matter right now, what does matter is that I take you guys safely around the terrain to the Stranded rebel camps until the mission is complete."
"Well, as you noticed, we strayed off that course a long time ago," said Baird, making a point for another excuse to groan, trying to make sense of things that he really couldn't confirm, but that only annoyed him even more…but at least I live to still b**** about it.
"So, you're really not going to abandon us, huh?"
"Oh…alright…at least we cleared that up."
Raven gave him a sarcastic look and then started to laugh.
"Oh c'mon, I was just joking, at your expense of course, but still…you do really need to lighten up, Damon."
"Yea…I get that a lot on my psych evaluation that I am required to attend, once a year…that and piss in a cup."
Raven laughed at Baird making awkward gestures.
"I know they did health checkups, but psych evaluations…that must be new," she said.
"They started it almost ten years ago."
"Well then I guess you must be ok…they haven't declared you insane."
"Nah, or at least not yet…knock on wood."
Baird gently tapped the buckle on his utility belt, while Raven covered her mouth with her hand to quash any potential laughter that would expose her delight in his innuendo. Finding composure, Raven resumed the conversation,
"So what else do they violate you with?"
"The usual…put a swab tip up the shaft to check for urinal infections, STD's, anal probes,"
"Geez, Damon, seriously?"
"Well, when the time is right, I guess, they want to make sure our plumbing is working properly, and safely. There's no point in the use if we're shooting, infected blanks."
"They check your sperm count, too? I mean…what for if you guys don't find the time to…well…procreate, especially when they have regulations on fraternization?"
"Well that's funny because I was going to ask you the same."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't understand why your…superiors…have to dictate your sex life to produce offspring. I mean, why not just go out, find some sucker, woo him to get you knocked up and then leave his sorry ass, return to your "camp" and live happily ever after with your little brat?"
"Ok, I'm not exactly sure what they taught you back in sex ed, or, what your personal experience is, concerning the concept, but there is both a philosophy and science to human reproduction."
"Uh…are…are you for real…because I never would have put sex in the same bracket as quantum physics."
Raven gave him a sour look while Baird caught on to her insinuated expression.
"Sigh…go on…" he let her continue.
"Look…and this is assuming you have performed coitus before,"
"Yes, I have, moving along…"
"Every woman has a season where she is more "fertile," than others, during the cycle."
"Cycle…as in every twenty eight days?"
"Well, that, and once every year…out of four seasons, or quarters."
"And you either fall into one of those four categories, during the year and month,"
"Precisely…depending on the time of her birth, will dictate her biological clock, in reference to the seasonal terrestrial clock, Bloom, Brume, Thaw, or Frost."
"I thought women could get pregnant all year round?"
"Most normally can, it's just that during their estrus is when they are, I guess, much more susceptible to conception."
"Ok…so, what terms do you use for the monthly cycle?"
"We use Sera's elements…water, fire, soil, and air, to label the phase of the month"
"Have you ever, "witnessed," the results of this so called rhythm method?"
"As a matter of fact, I have. The Feral have successfully managed to assist women, who have been labeled barren, to producing, healthy offspring."
"I know what you're thinking, but as I have mentioned to you before,"
"Yea, yea, not one girl is going to be the same as another,"
"And on top of all this, some females are much more sensitive to their timing, while others are not. For some reason, they do not have the ability to breed all year round…therefore, if they do not mate within that brief time frame, any other attempt will be unsuccessful. I have reason to believe that the "breeding farms" dismissed some women as infertile, when, in fact, they have a capable system, it’s just finicky. Now, why that is, I am not entirely sure…that information was not oriented to me at the time of my own evaluation."
"Wait, you've been briefed on your "custom" fertility rate?"
"All of us have. We have all been cultured, and trained to be productive. It's just that the "breeders," have been conditioned extensively to seduce and mate, while say, my training, has been basic. They have found me to be…of more value elsewhere."
"Should I even ask, as to how, they…demonstrate, or…um…"
"Do you really want to hear this?"
"Sigh, not really,"
"Besides, I told Cole and Sven about it…I'm sure you'll hear it from them."
"You what? Sh*t, Feral, and now I'm never going to hear the end of this!"
"I can't believe you've been telling them how to…"
"Give it a rest, Damon…besides, the only things I told them is probably stuff they already had some knowledge on from reading the graffiti material, scribbled on the bathroom walls."
"Uh huh…so scouting and hacking is more up your ally than…uh…ah, hell, I'll just say it, f***ing."
"I …don't know…"
"And you're…ok with that?"
Raven redirected her gaze to the terrain as she, subconsciously meditated to herself before the mood turned awkward for the both of them. Baird was carefully assembling the pieces together from what Raven has since revealed to him and the puzzle quickly became a riddle, begging to be solved. His boredom turned into fascination as he decided to press on at plucking at the layers surrounding her psyche, trying to gather as much information about the Feral that she was willing to reveal. Something productive better come out of this since I had to be the one to ****ing apologize!
"Um…so…which season are you?"
Raven looked up in astonishment but her expression subsided once she realized he wasn't being derisive. Believing he may have hit a sore spot, Baird tried to salvage the mood.
"Look, you don't have to answer if you don't feel comfortable…"
"Frost…and…fire," she blurted out without missing a beat, catching him in mid-sentence. He paused for a moment as he glared at her with a perplexed expression, on the brink of having to ask the question that was smoldering in the back of his mind.
"You mean to tell me…that you are presently, in your more fertile time of your clock?"
"In the year…the Frost is my fertile season…but not in month."
"Should I even ask when that is going to hit?"
"No, you probably shouldn't."
"Ah, crap…ok, I'm going to ask this anyway, for the sake of everyone's sanity…I mean just in case you…go off your rocker,"
"Oh, for peat sake, Baird, I'm not going to go on a rampage."
"Like hell you're not…you're going to be "in heat" Raven! That's enough to drive any guy nuts, much less three."
"Then, maybe, it would be best that you don't know!"
Baird groaned before reverting to silence, a discipline he normally didn't perform well but in this case, he shut his trap before it got him into trouble again, and then it finally dawned on him as he looked up toward the edge of a sparse forest nearby.
"Hey, are we there yet?"
"Well, you see that forest over there, between the lake and that mountain?"
Raven pointed in the direction as Baird turned to get a look.
"Yea…is that…where the settlement is?"
"No…I told you, there's a place where we keep armaments and supplies, not terribly far from the settlement location."
"Sigh…how far from our destination?"
"About three miles."
"Ugh…that means we have to hike some more."
"There is a place we can go to for shelter…and food."
"In the woods…it's concealed."
Baird beamed in interest. The idea of warmth and food sounded even sweeter to his ears.
"Don't get ahead of yourself Baird…we still need to investigate the area over there," Raven points to a section of the forest, lingering out in the valley not too far ahead.
"Alright, now why do we…wait a minute," Baird suddenly halted as he looked back to see past Cole and Sven, whom were still somewhat behind, but gradually catching up. He peered further down, evaluating their trail in the snow as a frosty breeze slipped past them, brushing along their heads. His internal instincts began to creep into his conscience that only familiar soldiers can comprehend.
"We're being tracked, aren't we," he said.
"Inevitably...yes," Raven quickly responded as the cool air continued to brush along the landscape, nipping the bare skin on their faces.
"F***…and we left them a nice trail for them to follow…"
"…which is why I suggested going the other direction."
Baird raised his arms, yelling out to Cole and Sven still lingering behind.
"Guys…get up here, hurry!"
Cole and Sven pick up the pace, pushing through the snow,
"Agh…it's like walking in that pool of plastic balls they had at Wonderworld," Sven recanted, rummaging through his childhood memories when his older sister would throw him into the pool of balls, and then she would jump in to help him stabilize in the awkward environment.
"Oh, yea…I remember that place," Cole recollected as well, going back down memory lane when his mom would take him there for his sixth birthday. He was so excited, due to the fact that he was actually tall enough to ride the bigger rides.
"Will ya hurry up?" Baird yelled out, impatiently.
"We're moving as fast we can, Baird," Cole blasted back, trying to pick his feet up over the snow, "…damn, it's not like running in a grassy field, man!"
"Quit whining and get your butts up here!"
The two finally catch up, panting as they finally come to a stop, taking a breather. The wind began to pick up, lifting snow from the top layer, brushing it against their legs.
"Ah, c'mon…another storm?" Sven griped as Raven steps down from a hill to rejoin them.
"We need to go into the forest. I saw something in there as I was scanning it," she exclaimed.
Cole turned to Raven, still panting.
"I'm not sure, but either way, the wind is getting stronger and the forest may be our only means of protection right now," she said, pointing towards a patchy conifer forest.
"And how's that?"
Baird turned to Cole and Sven,
"We may have someone tracking us."
"Oh…oh, you got to be sh*ttin’ me!" Cole blurted out.
"The wind can cover some of our trail that we left out here, and those woods will conceal us from here on out, but we got to move, now!" Baird settled it before turning to make his way toward the forest.
"C'mon Cole…Sven," Raven groaned as she helped Sven on his feet, moving him forward while Cole followed close behind the two.
As the four move, the overcast sky began to take a turn as snow started to fall, sprinkling the air while the breeze brush the flakes across the valley floor, concealing their tracks.