The Swarm Cycle Universe
Copyright © 2007 The Thinking Horndog
"Hello, Cliff. Your usual tonight?"
"Lets see. You want a medium-rare flatiron steak, with either the baked potato or the veggies. We're having broccoli tonight. A salad bar. Put a hold on the hot food until you tell the server and you'll want a mix of iced tea and Sierra Mist."
"You got it. I'll take the broccoli. I guess one night a week for a few years and you have me memorized, except for when I have the ribs instead."
"It does get easier when you get the same things most of the time."
"You look pretty busy tonight."
"Yeah. We have a big office birthday party in the back and a church league basketball team and lots of extra people besides that.
"Don't worry. I'll leave something at the salad bar for them."
Cliff handed over his credit card and when she asked him for his ID, he smiled and thanked her for asking as he presented it. It was a little ritual here, where they knew him so well, but ever since he lost a checkbook and had ten bad checks cashed in one day on that account, he never gave the checker a bad time for being cautious.
"Enjoy your meal."
"How is everything tonight, Cliff?" The waitress placed a couple of extra napkins on the table as she replaced his drink with a full one.
"Every thing's fine. Why don't you go ahead and have them start the steak, Nikki." Cliff was seriously overweight. Well, to be honest, he was really obese. He needed to lose over half of his current weight. He tried to keep from eating too much proteins, carbs, fats, etc by eating huge amounts of salad, first. Unfortunately that just kept him eating excessively large portions of almost everything. Combined with a sedentary security job, no exercise, hypothyroidism, and eating a few large meals instead of more, but smaller meals, over the course of the day...
He had just finished a huge salad. Unfortunately, with the dressing, the olives, a few slices of pepperoni, and the pasta salad mix, it was far too large a meal all by itself. He knew that he was just shortening his lifespan. He already had two coronary stents. Oh, who cared? The Swarm would be here in a few years. He had a semiautomatic rifle, a .45 automatic, several hundred rounds of ammo, and if he couldn't get a 'Willie Pete' grenade from the military, he would make himself a molotov cocktail to leave as his final present for the Swarm. His 4.9 CAP score sure wasn't getting him out and neither was his physique.
"Here you go. Watch out now! That skillet is hot." Nikki placed the special wood holder with the metal skillet in front of him, distracting Cliff from his book. He was reading the newest Honor Harrington universe novel tonight. Nikki was his favorite waitress here. Maybe it was because she was a bit heavy also. She was under one eighty, but still very obviously overweight. However, the real reason he liked her as a waitress was that she didn't place things out of reach. Some of the skinnier servers always placed the fresh drinks and other items on the far side of the table. That's where most of the open space usually was, but he had to squeeze up to the table and stretch to reach things. Short arms and way too much belly. Nikki was taking his empty salad plate and glass, while turning to go, when the light suddenly changed. The lights outside, from the other restaurants nearby, were dimmed.
"Sorry to interrupt, folks, but this is a pickup." The Marine came in from the side door where someone had just let him in. There seemed to be about six of them in sight, spreading around the restaurant near the exits.
Cliff was hoping that they wouldn't make him move. That steak looked really juicy tonight.
Before the Marine even finished his spiel, there were several loud pops. The Marine went down. Gunfire! It was multiple calibers and weapons from the sound of it. Cliff started to reach out to pull Nikki down out of the way, but he saw her take a hit to the chest and go down hard as a new gunshot exploded from slightly behind him, to the left. The shooter stepped past him, maybe not even seeing him in the high-backed booth. There were explosions from the far side of the room.
Cliff was barely even aware of them, as he had grabbed the metal steak skillet and the heavy steak knife, until he was out of the booth and moving. His left thumb was burning from the heat but he was already moving on the shooter, who took that moment to eject a magazine and reload. Cliff had not even noticed that the shooter had continued firing as he moved past him. He was only aware of Nikki on the ground, the facts that he was moving and that he had about two hundred pounds on the shooter. He was spotted as he got to within three feet and the gun hand started to swing around to the shooter's right. The steak and the hot metal plate went into the shooter's face as Cliff smashed into him. The shooter's gun arm went up as the sizzling steak hit him in the face. Cliff's steak knife went deep into the shooter's armpit.
As Cliff and the shooter went down, Cliff was hit in the left shoulder by what had to be a sledgehammer. He spun as he fell and saw another shooter shooting at him. He was hit again and again, and maybe a few more times. His side, his hip, his belly. Dang! Looked like he wasn't going to get any Swarm, after all. He could see the new shooter as he came forward. The gun came up. The muzzle was right in front of his face, less than three feet away. It was another automatic pistol. He could see the rifling inside the barrel. Then the gunman dropped it and collapsed. A Marine in a crouch slipped up, pressed his weapon to the shooter's temple and zapped the gunman again. He looked at Cliff and Nikki, grimaced, and moved on. Cliff heard a quick, "Sorry, guy," as he went by.
Cliff tried to move but his belly and his entire left side were on fire. He could feel the strength running out of him. He turned his head and saw past the body of the first shooter to where another Earth First punk was using a modified Tec 9 or some such machine pistol in full auto mode. His eyes suddenly focused on the first shooter's pistol, laying just a few feet from his head. Hell, he was dying anyway. He might as well try for another one. He stretched his right arm out to the gun and nearly passed out. Not yet, please, not yet. He got the pistol under his hand, gripped it, but he could not raise it. He tipped it up, resting the butt on the ground. The bolt was still locked back from the reloading. He slipped his thumb into place and let the slide go forwards. He got a good grip and aimed as best as he could from his position on his back, with the gun butt still on the ground. Maybe he could get an ankle. When he pulled the trigger, the recoil lifted the gun and his arm up into the air a few inches. He was loosing those few inches almost as fast as he could recover his aim back onto the target. He shot again, and again, just putting all of the bullets into the general area of the gunman. He couldn't see him anymore anyway. The slide locked back and all he heard was silence. It was dark too.
"Ok, Mr. Buckley. Time to wake up." The voice was way too cheery. It was too early in the morn ... Wait. That's not right.
"What? Where am I?" Cliff was disoriented, but he knew that he wasn't home. He opened his eyes and he was seeing institutional walls and various pieces of technical equipment.
"You're on the pod ship 'Blue Moon' and this is Medical section four. You're all done here, though." The speaker was a briskly efficient, curvy young lady with hooters from hell. She was wearing a completely see through version of a nurse's uniform from maybe forty years ago, complete with the cap. She had underwear on, but it was clear as well, except for a white garter belt and stockings.
"What happened? I seem to remember that there was a gunfight. I thought I was dead."
"There was. You were. You got better." The nurse had a hint of a smile.
"Obviously. Ok, what all got better, or maybe I should ask, how bad was it?" He started the process of swinging a leg off of the table, or whatever he was on, so that he could use the leverage to swing himself up. Effortless sit-ups were a thing of the long, long ago past. Surprisingly though, when the nurse gently lifted on his arm, he popped right up. He knew right away. They had fixed something, maybe a lot of somethings.
"Well, you got shot six times. Your left shoulder was smashed. So was the hip. You had two smashed ribs and your entire left side was a mess. Your left tibia was shot through, with a lot of muscle damage as well. Your right thigh had a through and through, which took out about two pounds of flesh along with it, and while you were lying on the ground, you took one round in the groin that ended up in your intestines. Uhh, it's completely fixed now, but your penis was shot completely off. You lost a LOT of blood. Don't worry, we fixed everything."
"Ok, thanks. What now? Oh, damn! Nikki's dead." Cliff wasn't sure how recovered he was from the recent medical procedures, but for some reason, his eyes were watering.
"Oh. The waitress? Is she a friend of yours? She's fine. She only got shot once and we got her in a tube right away. We had to replace her right lung, fix her shoulder, rebuild her shoulder blade and do some other work, but she's back on Earth already. She didn't want to come as a concubine, and we lost enough Volunteers down there anyway that we didn't really need her."
"She's alive? Great! No, she's not really a friend. I just know her from the restaurant. But, you know, she's someone I know. Ok, What's next? And where are my glasses?"
"We fixed your eyes. Your glasses are raw materials now. Umm, Marine Sergeant Peters will be here in a bit to explain things. Let's get you walking for a few steps, and get you used to your new legs."
Cliff slid off of the exam table and noticed some differences right away. His legs were lighter. Surprisingly, he had never had bad knees or hips, but his legs were huge and heavy. The right leg was quite a bit bigger than the left. Now, they felt fine, lightweight, fit. He lifted his knee up and touched it to his chest, easily. He looked down. There was a LOT less belly there. Unfortunately, there was also a lot less clothing than he was used to wearing in public as well. As in none, nada, zip. He spotted something else. Well, THAT was an improvement. He felt his face turning the color of a beet as he realized that he had about a seven-inch hard on sprouting in front of the nurse. "Uhh, sorry. I can't help it. It uhh, looks like they put back more than got shot off."
"Don't worry about it. I can't help you with that without orders, but it's just a standard morning hard-on. The order was to 'fix everything' since you helped out down there. Do you want the full list?"
"Uhh, just the big items, and the obvious things. I had a lot of things going bad."
"Ok, top to bottom. Your dandruff is gone. Eyes I mentioned already. You had a small infection in your ear, and we repaired the damage from that as well as taking your hearing back to your teenaged ability. Teeth are all reset to brand new, no cavities or fillings. Hypothyroid, fixed. Your weight loss should fix the sleep apnea. Your esophagus had some acid scaring, now fixed. You did NOT get an overall age reset, but we fixed your heart, and your bowels. You had some polyps as well as the bullet damage. Also, we had to do some work on your prostate. We fixed the venous insufficiency in your legs, which was the reason for the size difference and the excessive size. We repaired all of your skin conditions and scars, but we left the right leg birthmark, since it shows up on your birth certificate and other records. We did a little work on the right shoulder so it's now in the same condition as the rebuilt left one. We did the same with the right hip. We fixed your cholesterol, adjusted your tendency towards diabetes and cleaned up your arteries. We took off two hundred fifteen pounds of fat and redid your muscles and skin to match. We fixed that back curvature problem. We even did some work on your toenails. And yes, we gave you two more inches than it looked like you had originally. Oh, and you have a minimum dose of nanites that will be with you for some time. No viruses or cancers for a few years at least. You would be in quite a bit of discomfort from a lot of the repairs, but you've been under for days, so most of that is already gone." Cliff was in shock at the list. The weight loss put him below his Army Basic Training weight. His back had been a constant pain for years. His toenails? He looked down. Yup. They looked more 'normal' now. First time he had seen them without contortions in years.
"Here's Sgt. Peters," said the cute nurse.
Cliff looked up and saw the same Marine that had passed him after he got shot.
"Sgt. Peters? Thanks for picking that guy off before he executed me."
"No problem. Thank YOU for distracting that guy with the machine pistol and taking down the other two," the Sergeant had a big smile as he delivered his thanks.
Cliff thought for a second. "Two? I got the guy with the knife, and I shot at the machine pistol. Who else?"
"Well, you missed him, but the bullets were hitting the booth wall all around him and he ducked. One of your rounds went through the booth and hit another guy on the far side. Your rounds were all armor piercers and it was just foam and light plywood. You nicked him in the gun arm. He dropped it. That gave us time to get them both. We would have won the fight without you, but it would have taken longer and the casualties would have been worse." The Sgt. was losing his cheery look.
"How bad was it?"
"We lost two Marines and four more wounded. Volunteers were three dead and six wounded. Other people present, eight dead, twelve wounded. They had grenades."
"How many of them were there. That's four so far, but if your people took that many casualties... ?"
"Fourteen. We were completely set up. The birthday party in the back was supposed to be for some tech people that we wanted. We later found them all with their families in their homes, dead. The bad guys had their cards. They had another six people planted in the main room. Also, they had one person that had infiltrated the restaurant staff. He replaced an assistant manager who was on maternity leave. He transferred in from another location about a month ago and he had smuggled in some weapons."
"Hmm, that would have been Sarah, out on leave. And the new guy would have been that skinny, blonde guy. I don't know his name. I just saw him the last couple of weeks. Ok, so I have two questions. What's next for me, and can I get some pants?"
Sgt. Peters broke out in laughter. "Nurse Hottie, would you get him some pants, please?" The nurse gave a little ass wiggle as she stepped into another room.
"Nurse Hottie? Seriously?"
"That's what she and her sponsor decided on."
"Well, it certainly fits."
"She's a Fleet Auxiliary man's concubine but she's also a qualified nurse, so her sponsor has her helping out in the Medical section." Sgt Peters was recovering his good humor.
The nurse stepped back in with a pair of running shorts. She squatted down and held them out for him to step into. She could barely pull them up over his erection, which had pumped back up when she put her face six inches away from it. She slipped a couple of flip-flops onto his feet as well.
"Ok, walk with me." The sergeant directed Cliff down the hall to another room outfitted with desks and display screens. They sat down.
"The Lieutenant was very happy with the way that you helped out. You gained us time, and that got us out in time to save a lot of people. You included. We brought up all of the wounded and put them in pods. You wouldn't have lasted for the ambulance. You probably wouldn't have made it unless the shooting happened in an emergency room, according to our docs here. You saved at least one Marine from dying and maybe more. You probably didn't realize that the first grenade took down the Marine that was setting up the transporter. We couldn't leave, and we couldn't get fast reinforcements. The Lt's order for you was 'Fix him' which gave the doc some leeway to put you in pretty decent shape. You have two main options. You can stay on board as a spare concubine. That means that you have until two days after we leave orbit to find someone to take you on. The odds of that, in my opinion, are poor. We just have little need for extra male concubines. The second option is we put you back. You never volunteered or agreed to be a concubine, so we can do that. You'll have some problems because you were in a big gunfight and people are dead. Also, the story of what you did, you specifically, that is, got out. There is cell phone footage on the web, somehow. Earth First might go gunning for you. You look nothing like your ID now, due to the weight issue. You have missed maybe five days of work. You'll need a complete new wardrobe. Who knows what other problems will develop? Now, The good news is that the local police do seem to be friendly, we can help financially a little bit and we can provide several changes of clothes that will fit."
"Yeah, I think that makes more sense for me. Even with Earth First. Besides, I never got that steak."
"Ok, Mr. Buckley. I think that's everything. We can reach you at this number if we have more questions?" Tukwila PD had indeed been friendly, and so had the King County prosecutor's office. The perpetrators were all deceased, several of them had previous criminal records and they were guilty of the deaths of over twenty people in their homes even before the 'birthday party' even started. There was no wish to do more than take statements and close the case.
"Yeah. I haven't been home yet, but you should be able to reach me there or on my cell." He looked at his newly issued driver's license and CAP card. "I wonder how much problem the landlord is going to have believing this."
The police detective gave him a card. "If you have any problems with law enforcement about what happened, give me a call. DON'T just flash this card like a get out of jail free. That'll just irritate most officers, but you can call me when you get the chance and I'll see what I can do. This is the case number here."
"Thanks. Hopefully, we won't meet again." Cliff smiled to show that he meant that as a joke and a fervent wish, not an insult.
The door to the manager's apartment opened and she looked out. "Yes? Can I help you?"
"I know this is hard to believe, but I'm Cliff, from fifty-seven."
"No, Really. Here's my ID, and I have the keys. I just wanted to let you know so you didn't freak when you saw me in my apartment."
"Get off the premises before I call the police."
"Two weeks ago, I loaned you my DVD with Buster Keaton in 'The General'. You haven't given it back yet. Thanksgiving you invited me over for dinner. I made the hot cranberry tea punch. I got shot to pieces, Friday night. The Confederacy put me back together, even better than I started out as."
"Even if you're who you say you are, I want you gone. I don't want hoodlums in my place."
"Mrs. Kimble, THEY shot ME! If you try to kick me out, you'll need to evict me." When the door slammed in his face, Cliff stalked off to his apartment.
Cliff saw the blue and red light flashes through his window before he heard the knocks on the door. Grabbing his wallet from the desk on his way, he opened the door. The police officers were standing to either side of the door in the approved 'Don't get shot like a dummy as the door opens' position.
"Good evening, Officers. I thought she might call you. Here is my ID. I live here. You can see that I have my old Driver's License with the W punched through it. And here is the new one. It was just issued today. New picture and new weight, but everything else is the same. Oh, I don't need glasses anymore."
"We have a report that someone is trespassing in this apartment."
"Officers, you're free to enter and look around. I've only been back for an hour. Look, I assume that you are familiar with the activity in the steak joint in Tukwila last Friday?" At their nods, he continued and told them the gist of the story. Shot up by Earth First, rebuilt by the Confederacy, dumped back here. "So, here I am, in an apartment that the manager wants me to move out of, with a bunch of clothes that don't fit. I'll start looking for a new place tomorrow as soon as I see if I still have a job."