Challenge #02580-G023: Just One

in #fiction2 years ago

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Human Bear was sitting on the ramp of his Bodge Job repairing a few new holes on one of the arms of his Live Suit courtesy of a particularly aggressive Predator on the planet they just left. When one of the Crew the creature thought looked like a tasty meal walked into the hanger to express this thanks, Stopped in his tracks at a human not sealed in his Protective Suit. He also noticed a very large very ugly looking scar that covered most of his upper Back.
Excitedly the Afro'ad asked about the Scar thinking he would get to hear another one of Human Bear's Big Adventures. To his surprise the signature smile disappeared and a face the little creature had never seen before took its place.
"Some of my Stories don't have Happy Endings, Little-one." He said "You sure you want to hear it?" -- Anon Guest

[AN: Harkens back to this thing ]

It's not always the Deathworlders you gotta keep an eye on, Bear began, meditatively twiddling with his patched and repaired livesuit. Hell, even the frailest Havenworlders can pack the right kind'a punch if they have strategy. Not every planet has compatible enzymes and all. People like me? We go around thinking we're indestructible.

No, it wasn't Havenworlders like you. These were just... regular-ass citizens. Like anyone else in the Alliance. It was a disaster. Not a war. It was... it was an accident. Bear closed his eyes, as if fortifying himself against the muggers waiting in Memory Lane. Caught everyone by surprise. It was supposed to be a holiday.

I don't think anyone knew the place was tectonically active. One of those little fly-by-night construction places. Instant resort, just add visitors, you know? Looks pretty, everything's... well... functional. If nothing bad happens, nothing worse happens. They're more all over the place than you might think. Ten minute scan versus in-depth analysis, you know? It's legal, still, but it's getting less legal, thank the Powers.

Bear took a deep breath, putting his work down and staring down at his hands. There were fifty of them in the lobby when the ground started to shake. I remember I yelled to get outside. I remember a little kid diving under a glass table and thinking, "That kid's a goner if they stay there." Next thing I remember is this huge weight on my back and a world of pain. The kid was fine, but there was glass everywhere and all kinds of rubble, smoke and confusion. The kid was crying and hysterical. It wasn't looking that great, right then.

"What did you do?" asked Vren, his audience.

I lied, said Bear. I told 'em, "It's gonna be okay. Everything's gonna be okay. Breathe with me, here." And I helped with getting them breathing. Even though there's like smoke and dust and nonsense in the air and we're both coughing. Fortunately for everyone, cheapo building materials are relatively light. I mean... it was still heavy, and I was pretty close to trembling out. The ability to lock joints is a useful thing. Painful as hell, but useful.

I think it was sheer luck that there was room enough for the kid to get out into the open. There were all sorts at that holiday spa. Havenworlders, Deathworlders like me. People in-between. Lots of trapped people. Lots of unstable collapses. In that kind of situation, they like to get the Deathworlders out first because they're the next best thing to heavy lifting equipment, and a lot of us can work with stuff stuck into us and all.

Didn't even know I had stuff stuck into me, by the way. The instant I got out, they pointed me at the daycare. There were Havenworlder kids in there. Light materials or not, I was there all day. This mess? Bear pointed at the snarl of scars on his back. I was hauling beams off of people all day. I didn't care how many of them were sharp. I just worked until someone told me to sit down and... Yeah. I kind'a fell down.

"You saved the day, right?" asked Vren. "You are strong Human. You are fighter."

Human Bren was staring at his hands. Watching his fingers tighten and loose, as if trying to grab some ephemeral thing only he could see.

I... helped. We all helped. Those who could. I was gonna lift up the next big thing and one of those kids would be in a rubble bubble. One of them would have made it. One of them would cough. Or move. Or... just in the nick of time.

Even the biggest, roughest, toughest bad-ass can't save everyone. The only one I got out was the kid in the lobby that I threw my body over before it all started. The rest of them were... the rest... _Bear's usually expressive face had gone still. His usually twinkling eyes had gone dull and shut.

I know... intellectually... I can't save them all. I know that. But then there's a real bad day like that one. I just wanted to get one more. I just... one more.

He sighed. They were all gone before I finished coaching that one kid how to breathe. Gone before anyone figured out how to proceed with step one. Gone before those who were already out had worked out what just happened.

Bear's fingers flexed again. I just wanted one more... I'd have paid my life for one more... That's what I was complaining about when they told me to sit. Let me find one more. Just one more... Just one survivor.

They knew, I think, that there weren't any by then. They knew that if they let me go on, there'd be one more body to bury, you know? I think someone slipped me a sedative. Slipped hell, they said, "This will help you," and then I woke up like ten hours later in a medbay bed. That was a lot of therapy to get over it all.

Vren stared. Shocked.

Bear shrugged, picking up tools and parts. "Warned you. They don't all have happy endings."

[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / DK1vision]

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That's one thing they teach you when you're in classes to learn Emergency Preparedness, Response and Management. There are times when you're not going to be able to save everyone. You do your best to save as many as you can. It always hurts, no matter who is lost. Be it one or one hundred. But the sad reality is, in most major disasters, and in many minor ones, there are almost always fatalities. All you can do, is do your best and remember that you're not alone.

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