Canaries

Cruelly, when Baz lost all of his external senses, he retained his ability to be afraid. What they say is true: when one sense fades, the others sharpen in compensation. This left Baz in a state of terror inaccessible to the average person.

Though, Baz was an average soldier, which is something else entirely.

His unit was garrisoned at the ARO—like arrow, Advanced Response Outpost—at Messina Chasmata. Baz used to joke with his squadmates that if the Sol system was a coal mine, they were the canaries. They’d drawn up an unofficial insignia of a yellow bird in combat armor drawing back a bow with three arrows in it, one for each battalion at the garrison. They’d posted it in the barracks and the mess and the weight rooms, and there’d been talk of tattoos.

None of it seemed all that comical now.

It all happened in instants. It was just before Baz’s shift and he was exiting the barracks when the base shook like it was made of thunder. There hadn’t been time to consider a mechanical failure or an ordinance accident; the NCOs rushed in and were suddenly everywhere like tumbleweeds ordering everyone to suit up. The base was under attack. By who? That was unclear, but in the moment it wasn’t entirely relevant. In minutes Baz was topside with his platoon, but the landscape was unrecognizable. This wasn’t Titania. It was a window into hell.

The normally black sky was a sickly violet bruise with bright gashes of red. It was Uranus’ magnetosphere burning away. Streaks of amber light fell in straight lines to the surface like sparks from a steel grinder, and where they landed the ground swelled like and infected blister and promptly collapsed into a mound of black ash. From the ashes, something seemed to be moving. Baz brought up his pulse rifle and zoomed in his helmet cam. He saw…

Blackness.

The combat suits were triple redundant, famously difficult to damage, and assumed impossible to shut down, so naturally he thought he might be dead. No visuals. No comms. No haptic feedback, and no adaptive hydraulics, so he couldn’t so much as ball his fist or curl his big toe. With the suit’s gel inner-liner, a powered-off shell was essentially a bulletproof sensory deprivation tank. He screamed and then thought to clamp his incisors down on his tongue. There was a warm coppery taste of blood like melted wiring. He was alive.

The confirmation abated one fear but uncovered another, and he realized in hindsight it was left better off buried. The question as to who’d attacked them now became extremely relevant. He was about to be captured. Again, he screamed as the terror bubbled over, but it didn’t help.

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