Obsidian Command

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Camp Sunrise: Just One More Day

Posted on 13 Mar 2023 @ 9:41pm by Chief Petty Officer Ibis Xeri & Major Porter Wallace & Olivia Winetrout
Edited on on 25 Apr 2024 @ 3:56pm

Mission: M3 - Into the Deep
Location: Korix, Camp Sunrise
Timeline: MD08 Morning on the island
3423 words - 6.8 OF Standard Post Measure

Wallace awoke with a start, his eyes flying open at almost the same time that he shoved himself up from the hard floor mat he slept on. The shack was pitch black. He could hear the steady breathing of the kids, Olivia and Ikemba, a dozen feet away. Ibis was laying next to him. She moved slightly and he resisted the temptation to wake her to talk about his nightmare.

He snorted quietly, pushing himself up to his knees. Was it actually a nightmare? Flashbacks to the Dominion War were preferable to this reality. Strange that. He’d suffered nightmares on and off for the fourteen years after the war, but none since coming to this place. It was like his subconscious mind had decided all that trauma didn’t compare to what he was going through now.

Wallace groped in the dark for his shirt and shorts lying in a bundle on the floor. His uniform had rotted long ago and now his clothes were made out of the fibers of a kelp-like plant that grew in shallows around the island. It was a sickly yellow-green and with no dyes to change the color, that was that. He pulled on the fibrous shirt and tried to stand. His knees were the first to protest – the traitors – but his back quickly joined the conversation, arguing strongly with a spasm that threatened to put him back on the floor. With a final grunt, he hoisted himself onto his feet and shuffled through the curtain that divided the two rooms.

Arms flung out in front of him, he found his way to the opposite wall, and then the door. He pulled it open and stepped into air thick enough with humidity to go for a swim. The horizon was highlighted with hues of red and pink: the day star would soon rise. Wallace considered, for probably the hundredth time in the last year, the need for a window in their shanty to capture some of this early morning light and allow a breeze to air the rooms, but immediately dismissed it for the same reason as before. Come the rainy season, they didn’t need yet another hole to let the water in.

He sat down on a piece of old mining debris that served as a stool and convinced himself, as he did every morning, that he could do one more day. As the years passed, the mantra he said to himself seemed to stretch longer and longer. The day star was just beginning to peek above the horizon when he was sufficiently motivated to start using a comb he’d made from the bones of a large fish to start untangling the graying beard that hung several inches below his chin. His hair, which reached to his shoulders, would come next.

It was his absence she felt, and in the space between sleeping and waking all manner of subconscious fears washed through Ibis. She tried to reach out with a blind sense to confirm for herself she wasn’t alone, before she had conscious reason enough to rise and seek him out on his perch. She stood in the door a spell, relieved to make out Wallace’s silhouette in the early light before she approached, pulling her wrap around herself and fixing the shoulder strap with a crudely fashioned brooch formed to mimic a combadge. Modesty of dress on the one hand seemed foolish any longer, but on the other was a scrap of dignity still left to them. She said nothing, but joined him staring into the horizon, bedraggled dark hair tossed in the salt borne breeze.

“As your commanding officer,” Wallace said after a minute, “I’m going to have to write you up for your state of dress. It’s unbecoming a Starfleet chief petty officer.”

“This,” she said incorrigibly, “happens to be my best service jacket, Major.”

“Regardless, I’ll have to make mention of it on your record. When the next starship arrives, I’m reporting you.”

"Ah, what's one more demerit? Write me up one for tomorrow, too."

He reached out and grabbed her hand pulling her closer to him, burying his face in her midriff.

Ibis softened, "Nightmares?"

“Yeah. Kolandra IV. God. There was a ridge. We’d take it, Jem’Hadar would take it back, we’d take it again. Bodies up and down the slope. And they piled up and up. In the dream though the faces of the bodies changed and it was the crew from the Sunrise. Jimoh, T’Vor, and Laura and everyone else. The Marines disappeared and instead it was Olivia and Imbeka and you and me alone holding the line. And here came a thick wave of Jem’Hadar charging at us. Then I woke up.”

Ibis just clutched him around the shoulders. Years ago she wouldn’t have been able to reach all the way around him with her short arms and his stockiness, but then, years ago he wasn’t letting anyone else close enough to try. And now? There wasn’t very much of him left to gather against her. She wasn’t surprised by the dark portents of dreams any longer. She had her own. But his reached far enough back that pain circumscribed pain. Listening, she rested her face into the top of his head, supporting Wallace, supporting her.

“Half the company were casualties. A lot of those were dead. But we took the planet. We took the system.” There was pride in his voice. It had been a hard job and dark days, but no one could say anyone died in vain for Kolandra IV. A battle and war won. Wallace glanced toward the other shacks just visible in the early morning haze. Like theirs, they were built from scraps collected from the mining operation. Unlike theirs; they were now empty vessels, hollow. Many were beginning to cave in. “Forty-three dead since they dropped us on this rock.”

Ibis shook her head, biting her lip to fight back crying again over the inevitably of being snuffed out. She wondered, or rather she knew that, if it weren’t for the kids, Wallace would have called a brash final act and died fighting. He wouldn’t have held out this long just for her, and she could probably have been convinced to go down with him by now in senseless vainglory. If it weren’t for the kids.

“Sorry. Melancholy this morning.”

“I don’t mind. You know I like to hear what you’re thinking.”

Wallace smiled reassuringly at her, making sure he kept his lips together. His remaining teeth were a painful reminder of the ones long lost, but a closed mouth was his vanity’s last stand. “N’to said we have to go up to the Temple Complex to take a look at one of the water pumps again. Seems it’s acting up,” he said, changing the topic.

Anxiety rose in her throat. “Don’t you let N’to leave your sight. Not for one minute. If there’s no one to witness for you, they’ll accuse you of anything.”

“I know.” He took a deep breath and sighed. “On the other hand, two more beatings and I get a free beating. I’ve got a loyalty card. It would feel incomplete if I just stopped at eight.”

Ibis didn’t laugh. The bruisings they were taking didn’t always heal up right. Without her telepathic sense to rely on, she’d developed a veil of distrust in even her best allies among the Irix, let alone being around the Z’ala ruling schools. She wanted to outright tell Wallace not to go to the temple grounds anymore, but they needed the rations. Badly. Splitting up their hours to look after the children was leaving them with too little to go around. Years ago she had hope that the Sunrise survivors wouldn’t have to keep checking into the labor pool. She’d scoured the island for resources and she and Laura had a comprehensive stage based plan for having volunteers from the group test the potential food sources for toxicity. They’d found something like an edible oat grass, and a number of edible creatures. There were edible bramble berries more or less abundant in the different seasons. Even after they’d practically quit saying Starfleet was going to come and rescue them, she’d been the loudest advocate among the survivors for the idea that if they could gather enough to eat, then they could build up their shelters and spend their efforts improving the living conditions instead of laboring in exchange for the rations. Even if the fleet had declared them dead and stopped looking, maybe if the survivors felt they were at least able to sustain themselves and keep from catching every disease possible, they’d want to have children again and build their lives. She could still hear her fool self telling the others, ‘Even if there is dusk in hope for rescue, there could still be dawn for a future generation.’

In retrospect, her old levels of optimism seemed like a sweet poison. The efforts to sustain themselves and so break the invisible shackle were mostly futile, although it certainly was nice to have a little foraging to supplement the rations. The soil was too poor to establish good grain in the very short time that they needed it, and the stands of wild oats were far apart and took a concerted effort to search and gather, never amounting to a significant stockpile. Small, mildly venomous rodent-like creatures always made their homes in the dunes that the grasses grew best in, making it a hazard to walk around in them. Ultimately her friends had died faster than they could overcome the living conditions. She’d nearly succumbed as well. Worse, her hope was broken, even if she still stubbornly held the shards.

She mustered a smile for Wallace’s sake. “I’ll see if there are any shifts posted for me to take when you get back.” That was how it worked, no different than it did for the enslaved Irix. No manacles. No cells. Just the desperation chaining them to as many jobs as they could bear. And being air breathing, they were basically hazard workers for the Irix who preferred to have them to labor on land. Not that there were many of them left to fill the need any longer… Ibis realized she’d been staring out into the sunrise a while and spoke again. “While you’re out, I will carry the water up to the filter.” She didn’t want him hefting it and wearing himself out before the long walk up to the Temple.

He mustered a nod, although he wanted to tell her he was strong enough. They joked about rank — ‘rank’ what a quaint notion! — but Ibis had become their leader long ago.

“And eat before you go, Major.” Between the pain of chewing and the idea that he was saving more for the kids, she knew sometimes he skipped meals. She was just as guilty, but she didn’t have a climb to make. “I’ll know if you didn’t.”

Wallace heaved himself up off his seat, his body making the same complaints. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh! I meant to tell you!” Sliding her arm around his back as he stood, partly in surreptitious support, Ibis laid her other hand over his heart and smiled up at him, this time the smile made it all the way into her eyes. “Ikemba asked for you yesterday. He said—” She giggled involuntarily then imitated the young boy’s manner of speech, rare as it was— “ He said, ‘Where Walla?’ ”

It had the opposite effect on Wallace. The lump that formed in his throat was tough to swallow down and he had to take a few deep breaths to hold tears at bay. Ikemba. Jimoh and Rachel’s son. Jimoh was the only Marine of Wallace’s command to survive the Sunrise’s destruction and Wallace felt a deep personal responsibility to the man’s child.

“Well,” he croaked. Unable to think of anything else to say, he simply repeated, “Well.” He drew Ibis into a deep embrace.

In a jumble of laughs and sobbings, she buried her face into the emaciated chest of the formerly menacing, bitter marine she'd been simultaneously intrigued by and terrified of when she'd enlisted at 18. "Walla," she snickered between sobs.

The day star had fully crested over the horizon now. Another day had well and truly begun. One more day. “Today is going to be a good day,” Wallace said. He wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince himself or Ibis, or if he truly felt it. It didn’t really matter. Any good feeling was to be cherished. “Go get the water. I’ll see if the kids are up.”

She rubbed away her tears into the worn kelp fibers of his shirt, kissed him on the cheek for her affirmative, and slipped away to collect the battered pails to haul up to the stream and back.

For his part, he watched her go, desperately wishing away his rotting teeth and wanting a secluded room with a replicator. They’d known each for so long, but he couldn’t remember the girl, just this remarkable woman. He must have stared at her for too long, because when she had put a good distance between them, she cupped her hands around her face and called, "Get your head on straight, dumbass."

“The other bits beat my head to it!” he shouted back. With a spicy hip shake, she disappeared around a dune heading leaving Wallace to shuffle over to the fire pit.

They had no wood to speak of, but, once dried, the same plant that made their clothes burned nicely. The kelp burned quickly and he had to constantly feed it, but he just needed to boil a bit of water for their morning mush made from the rationed oat grass and a portion of fish. Everything they ate had fish in it. Add on to the fact that all this came from farms run out in the polluted lagoons and every mouthful was death on a spoon. It was amazing that they survived at all.

He turned when the door banged open. Their resident teenager came meandering into the sunlight, hands rubbing her sleep crusted eyes. He slipped on a smile over his melancholy.

Olivia’s light brown hair had become matted dreads, having refused to let Ibis care for it, and she wore nothing but the barest bands of kelp-cloth around her hips and chest because clothing was a "human thing” and it was the least she could get away with wearing without a fight. Ever since she’d started “developing” as Ibis called it, it was “inappropriate” to go about so-called, “naked”. She had a fist full of her treasured chains which she had traded for from her friends and started putting the dangling jewelry on. As she did so, she kicked sand up, ostensibly accidentally, so it would shower the crouching Wallace. While she sauntered around she started at him in high pitched trills and simultaneous tongue clicking on par with a dolphin in order to communicate her honest opinion of his breakfast preparations. She came to the spot where she had stored shells full of greasy chalk paint and as she carried on talking dolphin-style, began smearing herself with the symbols she had decided represented her special “school-of-one”.

“It’s early, Olivia,” Wallace finally sighed. The clicks and whistles of the Korinn’s native language were difficult for him to understand when the Korinn spoke it. Their human accent had made it that much worse. “We agreed that at home we would speak Standard.”

“I said,” she sassed, “Why do you cook fish? You ruin it.”

Wallace sucked air into his cheeks and held it while he slowly counted to ten. Ibis had called him out on bellowing at Olivia on a number of occasions. She had reminded him that the thirteen-year-old was not a Marine that would snap to attention when he laid into her; in fact, she’d probably become more belligerent. “Because we’re Human. We’re battling enough on this forsaken rock to add food poisoning and parasites to the mix.”

"It's just so tragic," Olivia protested. Seeing as “tragic” had always been the word adults used for everything that went wrong for as far back as she remembered, she'd efficiently adopted it to include everything she also just didn't like.

He grunted. Teenagers. “Take it easy with the chalk, will you? It’s not good for your skin. And the Korinn’s markings are invisible to our eyes, after all.”

Ignoring him, she squatted and continued to streak herself in the greasy chalk. She couldn’t see their markings, but her friends had helped her to design her own. She had dark brown ocher stripes going up her neck and worked some patterns over her body, clicking her tongue angrily every time she had to break a line to account for the stupid kelp cloth bands.

“I want you staying close to home today,” he told her as he shoveled her share of the brown goop onto a dented plate he’d fashioned from scrap metal.

She took the dish. Despite all her bluster, she was hungry. "Why?"

“I’m going up to the Temple Complex with N’to to work. If anything happens, you should be here to help Ibis.”

Olivia wasn't impressed with his reasons. She had plans already. She began to scoop up the food in her fingers and answered him back while she chewed. "I am going down to the bay."

His head snapped up. “No. Out of the question. You shouldn’t be going near that place.” The Korinn often dumped the slag from the smelting operations in the waters there. The underwater caverns it created were a thrill-seekers paradise, but prone to landslides, turning the bottom of the bay into tombs for numerous young daredevils.

She continued eating as she asserted herself. "I already said I would meet there, and I am going. My friends will all be there diving. I've been there plenty of times, nothing bad happened, and I'm going back today to swim with them."

Fear crawled up inside him; Wallace’s instinct was fight, never flight. Predictably, he blew up. “I don’t want to hear it! It’s dangerous. You’re a shit swimmer.” She wasn’t really, but that was beside the point. “Plus, kiddo, you can eat all the raw fish you want, paint idiotic symbols all over your body, and walk around buck naked, but it’s high time you stop being a brat — you owe it to your mother to start being better than this!” Shit. The words had no sooner left his mouth than he wanted to grab them from their mid-air flight and shove them back in.

In her wide, terrified eyes, the man was big, his sudden demonstration of anger contorting his face and curling his lips back around his ruinous teeth. The girl was clearly scared but her defiance raised to match Wallace’s temper. Like an injured animal, she bit back, immediately screeching in standard at an earsplitting pitch, "My mother is dead, you're all going to be dead, and then I'll go down to the bay with my friends in peace!"

Wallace wanted to apologize, but his own frustration silenced him. “You’re staying here. End of discussion,” he ordered.

“I hate you!” Olivia howled as she took her plate jealously and marched herself to the next dwelling, where she had grown up with her mother and still often retreated to. She slammed the door so she could sit in the dark by herself and cry.

“Shit,” Wallace cursed the air.

“Shit,” a tiny voice parroted behind him.

Shit Wallace thought, turning toward the door to their shack. Ikemba, clothed like the adults in shorts and shirt, stared at Wallace with a curious look. Curly black hair hung to his shoulders of his slight frame. “Mornin’ bud. Hungry?”

“Shit,” Ikemba replied.

Wallace hushed the boy. “Please don’t say that. Aunt Ibis will have my hide.”


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