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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Fiction - Little Things


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Rimrock Lake…

It’s funny that such an out-of-the-way place could have turned out to be so pivotal in my life. But I guess it’s always the little things that’ll do it to you, huh? The big stuff you can plan and prepare for – or at least resign yourself to – but the little stuff you never even see coming. Or that’s my opinion, at least.

I certainly didn’t see what was coming for me…

Rimrock Lake is a long narrow storage reservoir up in the Snoqualmie National Forest and created as part of a reclamation project started back in the last century. Nominally, the project is ongoing, but with the War on and all it’s probably more accurate to say that the US Government is just trying not to lose any ground on it. Or maybe not. I guess I don’t know, since I’m really not sure what they were trying to ‘reclaim’ in the first place – all I know is that water from the lake feeds into Yakima and is a big factor in keeping the land down there fertile and in tip-top condition.

Anyway, it’s located – if you hadn’t already guessed – just a few miles outside of Yakima, in the foothills to the east of Mt. Rainier. If Geography’s not really your strong suit, that puts Rimrock in lower Washington State, maybe 50 or 60 miles southeast of Seattle.

The thing about Rimrock Lake is that, being artificial in the first place, it can be controlled. In this case, by the Tieton Dam, a fairly impressive piece of engineering built back in the first quarter of the 20th. Since the water from the lake is used for irrigation of the northeast portion of Yakima, whoever controls Rimrock controls a portion of the water supply for that hotbed of DAD and Joey* activity. Not all of the water supply, mind you, but the area that it drains into is some of the best farmland in the area – and ever since Wycoff did his thing over in Hasting nobody takes fertile land for granted anymore. And anyway, we didn’t want to control the dam, really, we just wanted to blow it up.

What can I tell you? This is the Greens; there’s barely 2,000 of us fighting against several times as many of the enemy, so we aren’t about to overreach ourselves, you know? We’re just trying to be realistic about these things.

DAD and Joey: DAD stands for Directive, American Division. ‘Joey’ is a nickname for the US Army (e.g. G.I. Joe, Joes, Joey, etc).

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It occurs to me that maybe I should explain why we even care about Yakima. I’ve already hinted at the reasons, but it might help for me to just state them flat out. After all, it’s not like the entire world is following the conflict in our little neck of woods with baited breath – the War’s going on all over and people have their own problems to worry about these days. So here’s the deal: Yakima has the largest concentration of DAD personnel and Army troops in the entire central region of the State. So anything that helps Yakima helps Joe and Daddy’s Boys and anything that hurts Yakima hurts them too. Rimrock Lake was helping them – the idea was to see if we could do something about that.

So, right; we’ve established why Rimrock Lake could be considered an asset by the US Government, which explains why they’d send some of us Scouts out to probe the area’s defenses. We already knew at the time that there had been some Army activity in the area, but our intel said they hadn’t yet had time to establish any permanent presence there and so we were hoping to get a jump on them. But that’s what our intel said; I’m sure you’ve heard the joke about military intelligence plenty of times before now, so I’ll leave that dead horse alone.

Bad intel or not, the 4th Scouts Battalion*, 2nd Section had been issued its orders, straight from Down the Hall (that’s just a way of saying the order came directly from 8th Battalion’s Major Kendall, in case you were wondering) and were to reconnoiter the Tieton Dam as a precursor to a later raid by the 8th’s Charlie Company, with the ultimate goal being the dam’s destruction.

At the time, I was a Master Scout serving in the 4th Scout’s 2nd Section, which meant I would be going on the Rimrock reconnaissance op. As a Master Scout, I served directly under 2nd Section’s Scout Captain Cross and so would be leading the Section’s Bravo Patrol while the S-CAP led Alpha Patrol. Under me would be Scouts 3rd Grade: Moss, Ingram and Reese, as well as Scouts 2nd Grade Doyle and Waters; Captain Cross’ Alpha Patrol consisted of the S3Gs: Saunders, Wise, Boone and Sparks, and S2G Dyer. Cross, Doyle, Moss and Dyer were all novas, the rest of us were just regular old baselines.

I used to be so proud that I’d managed to reach the rank of Master Scout as a baseline. If you’re surprised that an “abbie-loving cohab”* like me would say something like that, don’t be. The Greens are cohabitationist, sure, but this is a military outfit, after all. And if there’s two things that soldiers all over the world do well, it’s fight and complain. I’m still learning what the abbie soldiers complain about (now that I am one), but I can tell you that we baseline troops complained about everything, all the time, and the thing we complained about the most was “getting nobbed”*. Whether it was true or not, we honestly believed that – all things being equal (yeah, like that ever happens) – the nova soldier next to us would get promoted (twice, and with an additional bump in pay somewhere in between as well) before any of us baseline grunts would be.

And so, like I said, the fact that I’d made it to Master Scout as a baseline – and not only as a baseline but as a baseline woman – meant more to me than just about anything else I’d accomplished in the Greens since joining them four years previously. Also, if I’m being truly honest, I should mention that my older brother Robert had reached the rank of Master Scout only a few months before he was killed in action, and considering that I’d finally joined the Greens as a combatant in honor of his memory… well, I guess it’s pretty obvious why that would mean something to me.

That’s strange – I never realized that before. Both of us served in the Scouts and neither of us ever made it any higher than Master Scout. Weird, huh? Though in my case it was only because I erupted and wound up with powers that made me into the exact opposite of an ideal Scout (whoever said the quantum genie grants all your wishes is full of it!).

Robert never made it to Scout Captain because he died. Yeah, I think his excuse is better than mine too.

I miss him so much…


Battalions: The word ‘Battalion’ is misleading in the Greens, since no Green Battalion ever reaches even the lower limit of 300 personnel that a standard military battalion would have. The Infantry Battalions are the largest, and have only 60 soldiers total per Battalion. Scout Battalions have 24 a piece (though each Infantry Squad has one solo Scout attached to it). Each Scouts Battalion is ‘attached’ to two Regular Infantry Battalions (so the 4th Scouts Battalion is attached to the 7th and 8th Infantry Battalions). Cobra Battalions have only 15 personnel, but each Infantry Platoon also has one solo Cobra attached to it; Cobra Battalions are always stationed at one of the Green’s three operational Warp Stations.

Cohab: From “cohabitationist”; the belief that novas and baselines can live and work together on equal (and peaceful) terms. The less-polite term for this is “race traitor”.
Nobbed: From “NOB”, or “Nova over Baseline”. Used as a verb, a baseline Green can “be nobbed”, meaning they were passed over for promotion in favor of a theoretically less qualified nova Green. In similar fashion, nova officers are sometimes derisively referred to as “nobs”.

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When the Regs and the Cobras* go on an op they’re usually provided with some form of transportation, whether that’s a beat-up old booze-burner* or an actual warp-gate. The Cobras in particular tend to get warp-gates – the bastards. (Yes, yes, I guess it is pretty hypocritical of me to complain about what the Cobras get – now that I am one – but what can I say? At heart, I’m still a Scout.)

When Scouts go on an op, we pretty much always have to hoof it. Which is fine, for the most part – I mean, disappearing into the woods and the mountains that lie between Yakima and Seattle and then suddenly appearing in the midst of the enemy and putting them all down one by one before they know what hit ‘em is what we do best in the Scouts – but when ‘hoofing it’ means a fifteen mile hike over mountainous terrain where the lowest elevation we’re likely to see is still above 3,000 feet and the majority of the hike will happen between sunset and sunrise, well, I don’t think anyone would like the sound of that. And this was before I became a nova, too.

The plan was to leave Hole 21 – one of our little Green bases, buried a mile under Mt. Aix – at about 1600 hours and from there follow Lookout Creek for about 2 miles, down to where it joins Hindoo Creek which then almost immediately joins with Rattlesnake Creek. From there, we just had to follow the valley floor as it moved south between Rattlesnakes Peak and Timberwolf Mountain. After about four miles the creek then veered a little to the west and passed between Rattlesnakes Peak and Shellrock Peak and we were to follow that for about two miles until we reached the junction of Rattlesnake Creek and Shell Creek. For the most part, everything up until that point was just following creek beds and was all downhill, with our hike having started out at an elevation of just over 5,000 feet and descending down to about 3,600 feet alongside Rattlesnake Creek, so it wasn’t too bad up till then.

But once we reached Shell Creek we had to follow it back up the mountain, almost all the way to its source. This involved another two miles or so of path-making which would take us back up to about 5,900 feet, where there was a ‘low’ ridge between Shellrock Peak and Burnt Mountain that we could cross over. After that, it was mostly all downhill again. Thank goodness for small mercies. You know? No one told me that being a Scout would involve climbing so many mountains. I don't even like heights...

The worst part about this particular op for me, though, was that most of it was during the middle of a moonless night. The mountainous country we were hiking through was gorgeous (I think all of Snoqualmie is), but in the middle of the night my poor baseline eyes could barely see the path ten feet in front of me, let alone take in all the beautiful scenery as we passed it by. Not that I was about to let any of the others in 2nd Section know that my bad mood was because I couldn't admire the scenery – I’d never hear the end of it. Oh yeah, I’m such a hardened combat veteran. You have no idea.

On the other side of the ridge we had to trail blaze for about a mile until the line of our descent brought us alongside of Kitten Creek. Once we found the creek we just had to follow that for another few miles until it joined with Wildcat Creek. After only a few hundred yards of following the Wildcat we would’ve then circled back around, over a ridge that formed the first foothill that eventually became Ironstone Mountain, where there was a nice level outcropping a few hundred feet higher than the lake below. Even without the moon, I’m sure the lake would’ve looked beautiful under the stars.

It’s too bad we never made it that far…


Cobras: The more commonly used name for the nova-only Special Operations Battalions. Since the Scouts focus entirely on stealth and subtlety, while the Cobras focus entirely on beating the shit out of anything in their way and since Scouts put a lot of effort into conserving supplies and not using ammo unless absolutely necessary (having to use one’s flechette rifle is considered embarrassing by a Scout), while the Cobras burn through more ammo than the entire rest of the Greens put together – well, let’s just say the two groups don’t like each other very much.
Booze-Burner: Slang for an older-model, gas-burning vehicle that’s been converted so that it runs off of ethanol. The Greens use them because most modern vehicles have built-in navigation and control-override technologies in them, allowing the US Government to seize control of a vehicle via satellite at a moment’s notice. Booze-burners, being nothing more than jury-rigged technology, get terrible mileage, smell bad and are prone to breaking down. No one likes them much.

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As you might already be thinking, the majority of our night hike was pretty mundane and not at all exciting, dramatic, thrilling, adventuresome or any other such adjective. What it mostly was, was fifteen or so miles of difficult terrain that we had to cover, mostly in the dark (and it wasn’t like they’d given us a couple of days to acclimate to that schedule, either – oh no – we were out there slogging it through brush and over mountains at an hour that would normally have been my sleepy-time), while lugging a full load of gear to boot. It’s been my experience that this is how war is for the most part: lots of boring downtime that gets periodically interrupted by brief periods of life-threatening danger and sheer, thought-erasing terror. After a while, being bored out of your skull doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

A fifteen mile night hike isn’t really all that ‘boring’ though; it’s just really exhausting and not all that much fun. To make it worse, I was hiking fifteen miles at night alongside four novas. Even out-of-shape novas have way more endurance than most baselines, and the ones in our crew weren’t out of shape. Captain Cross and Scout 2nd Grade Doyle, in particular, were both “dynamos”. You know, the kind of novas that just never get tired (or, if they do, it’s not until long after all the baselines have passed out from sheer exhaustion). Ironically, I’m the same way now – but at the time, all I could think was how annoying it was to look up shortly after mile ten to find the Captain trucking along ahead of me like we were just out for an evening stroll – the man wasn’t even breathing hard!

I might be the one complaining now, but I think the hike might have been more of a test of patience for Scout 2nd Grade Dyer than it was for the rest of us, even though he was a nova too. Rubin Dyer was the newest and least experienced Scout in our Section; everyone called him ‘Ruby’. He was a really great kid (Ha! Listen to me; Dyer was at most four years younger than me!). But unlike the S-CAP and Doyle, Dyer wasn’t a dynamo – in fact he wasn’t really all that much better at long hikes like this one than myself or the other baselines in the 2nd Section (okay, that’s not really true – I don’t think he was breathing hard until after we hit mile four – but I know I saw him sweating by the time we reached mile twelve).

The thing was, he could fly, and like most flyers I’ve met, the idea of walking farther than the front door just didn’t appeal to him. I can’t say that I blamed him – I’d’ve wanted to fly too, if that option had been available to me. But we were on a stealth-recon op, which meant that we all had to keep it tight and keep it quiet and 2nd Grade Scouts zipping over the tops of trees and down the sides of mountain valleys are neither. We did have the kid glide up into the trees or other high places from time to time, to help us navigate through especially difficult sections of the terrain, but otherwise he had to beat feet like the rest of us. Plus, once we got within four kliks of the dam, all the novas had to dorm’ anyways, just in case Joe had any ADE* in place already.

Before my own eruption I don’t think I ever really understood how stressful dorm’ing can be for a nova. Since I’ve never yet been able to dorm’ properly myself, maybe I still don’t understand. But I at least know now how much of a difference there is between what a normal baseline can do and what an aberrant can do. The difference is just… huge. To voluntarily shut down such abilities under any circumstance would be difficult, but to do so when your very life could depend on those abilities is really something else. You show me one of those ignorant grunts in the Greens who like to complain and say that novas don’t have to risk as much as baselines when going into combat and I’ll show you someone who’s never met a nova Scout before.


ADE: Stands for ‘Aberrant Detection Electronics’. These are sensory arrays in use by the DAD and the US Army that can detect a nova’s quantum signature. They are not generally the most sensitive or accurate things in the world, but they have a range of almost two and a half miles, so it’s not easy for a nova to get past them undetected without ‘dorming first. More accurate, but less sensitive versions are sometimes rigged to standard mines, which will then detonate as soon as an active quantum signature comes within their range. Because of this, and the nature of the operations that Scouts perform, it is a basic requirement of all Scout novas that they know how to dorm’.

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Like I was saying, all the novas in our crew had to dorm’ while we were still a couple of miles out from our objective, so even they were starting to breath hard by the time we were approaching the switchback off of Wildcat Creek that would lead us up and then back down to our final lookout spot over Rimrock Lake. The baselines in the Section, myself included, were already well past the point of ‘breathing hard’ and were eager for a chance to stop and catch our breath. I don’t know if that eagerness to reach the end of our long hike made us careless or if what happened was just bad luck.

The thought that we allowed ourselves to become careless makes me want to shake my head in anger and denial – but the idea that what happened to Dyer was ‘only’ bad luck just seems too cruel. Mostly, I just try not to think about it anymore. Whatever the cause, though, we had just crossed one of the National Forest Development roads – in reality little more than dirt trails wide enough for a four-wheel-drive vehicle to travel on – less than ten minutes previously and were less than a hundred yards from where the switchback was supposed to be when everything went to hell.

Something that you almost never hear about – and now that I’m an abbie too I can say from experience that it’s something that most novas simply don’t talk about – is that dorm’ing doesn’t make a nova’s Q-Sig invisible – it just makes it harder to detect at the price of shutting down that nova’s powers entirely. It’s kind of a raw deal when you think about it. And whether it was carelessness or simple bad luck that contributed to what was about to happen, the actual cause was this one simple fact: no matter how skilled an aberrant is at shutting down their powers, there’s always a chance that they’ll be detected when passing within range of an ADE device – even if that chance is practically zero.

Dyer’s number came up when he got too close to a well-concealed KT mine* - even though he was fully dorm’ed at the time. Through random chance, the chaotic laws of quantum physics, or whatever, that damned mine’s sensor picked up a whiff of something in Dyer that it didn’t like – and that was all it took. One minute Dyer was moving silently through the dark like the trained Scout that he was and the next he was a cloud of rapidly expanding shrapnel and body parts. If he’d have been fully powered up when that mine went off, I doubt it would have done more than sting a little (well… maybe even then it would’ve done more than sting). And of course the mine had to be sweetened* too...

I should probably have mentioned this before now, but 2nd Section hadn’t been traveling all in one tight group throughout the entire hike – there are a lot of reasons for that, but what happened to Dyer is one of the biggest reasons why we don’t stay grouped together in the Scouts. My own 2nd Patrol had been ordered to take the high ground, so there were nearly fifty yards between us and S-CAP’s 1st Patrol when that mine went off. This also meant we weren’t likely to be caught in the Purple Haze* unless the wind decided to start acting really weird. Captain Cross’ Patrol could’ve easily taken the high ground on this op – it was just chance that he’d assigned me to that position – but that one quirk of chance, more than anything else that happened that night, is why I’m still here to tell this story.

The instant the mine exploded, I and the rest of my Patrol hit the deck while I spent an instant or two trying to fight off panic and assess the situation. At that point, none of us in 2nd Patrol knew that it was Doyle who’d been hit – for all we knew it could’ve been the S-CAP. But I at least knew from the cloud of purple smoke billowing across the creek bed that it was a KT that had just gone off and that meant that our position was, at least temporarily, compromised. That being the case, I immediately called out to everyone in my Patrol to get their gasmasks on to protect against the MOX and I ordered Moss and Doyle (the two novas serving under me in 2nd Patrol) to power-up, ASAP.

Doyle was my crew’s Sentinal* and both he and Moss were what passed, in the Scouts, for “Bricks”* (though any Cobra would laugh at that), so I put them on point. Waters and Reese I told to get to higher ground and act as a cover force*, in the event that any of the Bad Guys really did show up and start shooting at us. I ordered S3G Ingram to accompany myself and S3G’s Moss and Doyle in rendering aid to 1st Patrol and told him to get on the Path* and relay our situation to C&C* back at Hole 21. Then I shouldered my Fletcher*, thumbed its safety, and headed into the Purple Haze.


KT Mine: A mine with built-in ADE technology. Their ability to detect a nova’s quantum signature is quite short (only about two meters, usually), but within that range their sensitivity is more than 200% better than that of standard long-range ADE sensors. The ‘KT’ stands for ‘kiss-and-tell’; the mines have earned this nickname because they send out a signal just before detonating, letting any Army or DAD forces in the area know where a (theoretically) dead or wounded nova is, so that they can send a capture/kill team in response.
Sweetened Mine: Many KT mines are dosed with combat-grade MOX in addition to explosives. This practice is known as “sweetening” the mine. Besides making it difficult for novas to use their powers, MOX has the added benefit of being instantly lethal to any baseline Greens unlucky enough to be caught in the rapidly expanding cloud of gas caused by a nova setting off such a sweetened mine.
Purple Haze: The particular composition of combat-grade moxinoquantamine gas that the US Military uses turns a distinctive purple color when exposed to oxygen, thus the nickname “Purple Haze”.
Sentinal: A nickname for novas with super-senses (usually applied to novas with one or more of the standard five senses enhanced, as opposed to novas with some form of ESP).
Bricks: For those Gamers who still don’t know, a “brick” is a character that emphasizes strength and toughness – often, but not necessarily, to the exclusion of other traits.
Cover Force: In military terminology, a cover force is a force operating apart from the main force for the purpose of intercepting, engaging, delaying, disorganizing, and deceiving the enemy before the enemy can attack the force covered.
Path: “Path Radios” are nova-class biotech and are actually living creatures. In appearance, they resemble giant hermit crabs with hard, chromatophoric shells and two sturdy legs (which act as “backpack straps” that hook over the operator’s shoulders), no real external sensory organs, and a mouth located roughly at the center of their soft underbelly. They naturally possess very powerful natural telepathy, but can only communicate with non-Path creatures over short distances. The Greens use them as a means of untraceable long-distance communication.
C&C: “Command and Communications” center. A central room, usually located deep underground within a given Green base, that contains the majority of the base’s computer and communications gear. In some smaller bases the C&C actually doubles as a Commons area when not being used for its designated purposes.
Fletcher: The M-47 Flechette Rifle is one of two standard issue weapons that the Scouts use (the other being a silenced 9mm). They are also the standard issue weapon of the US Army National Guard – which is who the Greens stole all of theirs from. Flechette rifles fire a cluster of depleted uranium fragments using a magnetic charge. The rifle is extremely light and surprisingly quiet when compared to a standard assault rifle and its method of firing means there is no muzzle flash, all of which make it an ideal assault weapon for the stealth-oriented Scouts.

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