Echo Chapter 2

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Atriya walked into his apartment, tracking dirt.  He was still wearing his ruck.
Various pieces of training equipment were scattered haphazardly throughout the flat, showing different stages of wear.  Most of it was old and needed replacing.
His weights sported a solid coat of rust that had started as a light creep but had long since settled into a brown, unattractive layer of armor.  His gloves and pads that he used to sharpen striking skills were frayed and uneven; protective stuffing was bursting out of their skin.  Small piles of overused gear dotted the apartment and gave the housing unit a stale, stagnant air.  It all smelled rank.
Atriya shucked his pack and threw it inattentively on one of the piles.  Holy shit, that felt good.  Wearing the ruck for extended periods made suffering an inescapable part of the background.  It blotted everything with anger and aggression, which then transformed into his natural state.
Only after he was done, after that pervasive weight was off, did he feel relief.  During training runs, he always forgot that an unrelenting press of pain and irritation wasn’t the universal constant.  When the pack dropped, the intensity of his reprieve never failed to surprise him.
Ironically, halfway through each training session, he forgot that he was even carrying it.
Fuck yeah.  Time to fuel up, rest, get ready for more training.  He marched over to the fridge and opened it, poking around.
The food inside was fruits and vegetables, meat, coarse grains, and some nutrient shakes.  It was all basic and unrefined.  Flavor wasn’t a concern.  The stuff didn’t taste great, but he’d gotten used to it.  Forgot to even notice after awhile.
He rooted through the bottom level, where he kept the fruit.  On the same shelf was a mix of steroids and performance-enhancing injectables.  He didn’t like using them, but he recognized that they were needed in order to do the job.
Almost half the Enforcer Corps was on some kind of hormone enhancement, although being an Enforcer wasn’t really strenuous enough to warrant it.  By contrast, all members of the Crew were using, and they did need it.  They had to juice up, to recover from the horrendous grind their bodies went through.
The vast majority of them went way overboard, obsessively seeking the next generation of strength or endurance enhancements.  The cycle of injectables that Atriya used was comparatively mild next to his jacked up teammates.  The bulk of them seemed to inhale a never-ending supply of uppers and juice.  Crew doctors spent an inordinate amount of time making sure that team members’ organs were still functioning.  They joked that it had become their unofficial mandate.
He pushed the drugs aside, sorting through a pile of fruit and looking through his options.
As he shuffled through the food, he noticed a container of rotten pomegranates.  They were spoiled in a big way.  Large, whitish patches of mold almost completely engulfed them.  He didn’t know how long they’d been there.
Fucking disgusting, he thought, his face wrinkling.  He picked the container up, intending to throw it away.  As he turned from the fridge with plastic box in hand, his fingers slipped; the package tumbled from his grasp.
The lid was loosened for some reason and flew off in mid-air.  Bloated globules of rotted fruit landed with a hideous splat.  The flesh had decayed so much that the large berries couldn’t hold themselves together; a sickening mess spread all across the kitchen floor.  A horrible, nausea-inducing odor exploded outwards from the filthy wreckage, inundating the entire house.
He gagged hard, a maddening flush of heat rising up his neck; it was an instinctive sign of protest from his body.  What the hell?  He thought he had smelled the worst the world had to offer, but this took the cake.  By far.  His eyes watered it was so bad.  A hand flew up to protect his face as he turned away without thinking.  Goddammit.
After pausing a few seconds to collect himself, he got a plastic bag and picked up the ruined chunks, disciplining himself to breathe without using his nose.  Didn’t matter-the stench greedily crawled and writhed in his mouth like a fistful of eagerly squirming maggots.
He chucked the bag into a garbage can and scrubbed the hell out of the tile, using copious amounts of cleaning solution.  He did this for a good half hour.  The defiled fruit was nasty shit, and he didn’t want his apartment permanently stinking.  It already smelled bad enough from his old training equipment.  And as bad as his gear stunk, the smell from the pomegranate was in another league.
After thoroughly cleaning his hands, he tied off the trash bag and took the refuse out to the building’s communal dumpster.  Even though the rancid fruit was still cold from refrigeration, its atrocious odor spilled viperously from the plastic.
How the fuck can it smell so bad through the bag?
Back to his flat.  Opened the fridge again.  Downed a shake, picked out an apple and some strawberries.  Both fruits extremely ripe.  He started eating, his thoughts drifting to the troubling scene on the mountain.  He turned it over in his mind.  Nothing arose but frustration and confusion.  Ugh.
Trying to forget the whole thing, he jumped in the shower.  Fiddled with the dials.  Couldn’t seem to get the right mix of hot and cold.  Motherfucker.  Nothing was going his way today.  He scrubbed off irritatedly and cut the water, snatching a towel and drying off.
After changing into shorts and an old t shirt it glaringly struck him how off-kilter he was.  He had forgotten to check his weapons, something he instinctively did whenever he came home.
He let the rest of his stuff fall apart because it pertained to his hobbies, but weapons readiness was something he considered a matter of professional pride.  It was woven into his identity as a Crew guy.  With anything regarding his job, he considered even a momentary lapse of attention as inexcusable.
He crossed his living room and opened a large cabinet where he kept his gear.  In contrast to the disorganized mess enveloping the rest of his house, his weapons case was neatly arrayed.  Inside were a couple different holsters, cleaning tools, equipment for work, and his own personally purchased armaments.
If he was off duty, the only items he carried into the cityscapes were a short, collapsible baton and a snub-nosed, five-shot revolver.  They would have looked right at home on Old Earth.  On Echo, they were quaint curiosities.
Each weapon was a basic, stripped down model.  The revolver had a spectroscopically enhanced genetic scanner that identified and enabled him as the only one who could fire it.  The baton had a similar system that kept it from expanding if a stranger touched it.  Aside from that, they could have been Old Earth weapons.  No hard light or plasma edges.  No hyper-compacted, chain-programmably explosive bullets.  No AI interfaces.
His preferences were in direct contrast to his teammates’ proclivities.  Other operators had an obsession with gear and tech.  Nearly to a man, they blew huge chunks of their paycheck on outer accoutrements that supposedly upped their lethality.  They turned into excited children when discussing the newest armor mods, wrist guns, plasma-edged knives…it never stopped.  It was Crew culture.
Atriya was different.  He kept it bare bones.  Plain.  Eschewing the fancy stuff, he stuck to the basics.  Gizmos and toys were pretty to look at, but they weren’t the steak, just the potatoes.
Looking over his baton and revolver, he checked for rust or irregularities.  He expanded and collapsed the baton a few times.  Felt fine.  Snapped the revolver open, emptied the ammo, and spun the wheel.  Flicked it shut and pulled the trigger, testing the feel.  Also fine.  Reloaded it and put it back.  Closed the cabinet.
With the essentials taken care of, he wandered over to his sofa.  After plunking down, he squirmed a bit to settle in and picked up his holo screen, an empty rectangle about a square foot in dimension.  The edges were composed of smart-fibers.  When switched on, the middle filled with a luminescent, touch-sensitive holographic layout.
He pressed a pressure nub on the side, activating it.  It radiated an eye-catching, animatedly excited light.  The control display popped up-a brightly colored desktop of items, any one of which he could choose to open.  His finger selected a shimmering icon of a book titled Snapshots Of Old Earth Wisdom.  The tech made a pleasant voop sound as the icon enlarged and the display shifted.  A soft-light image of a book appeared in front of his face, automatically set to adjust distance and assist him in reading.
The book was recommended to him by Chaplain Verus, a good friend of his that seemed like she could care less in projecting airs; in fact, she seemed to be completely uninterested in what his opinion of her was.  It felt clean in a sense, because he suspected that everybody he personally knew was concerned about how he saw them-whatever respective light that happened to be in-and tried to pander to him in one way or another, to make sure he perceived them as they desired.
Not only did he enjoy talking with her, she also happened to be an expert in hand to hand combatives, so he went to her for training as well.  Atriya’s interest lay heavily in the direction of empty hand techniques.  He lost himself training in the hands-on stuff, even though Crew guys never really used it.
It made him a slight oddity in the pack.  Crusaders were taught basic and easy-to-learn strikes and grapples.  But their curriculum emphasized using the gear they carried to disorient or incapacitate via quick strike or break, then get back to shooting.  Training was calibrated towards solutions that used their outer armaments.  All movements that they learned served only to put ranged weapons or tech back into play.
Despite being unable to articulate exactly why he liked training in unarmed combat he felt there was something to it; he just couldn’t say what.  It was a big reason why he spent so much time with Verus.  He sensed that she held some key knowledge that was integral to his progress.
The book she had recommended was an incomplete gathering of Old Earth stories-snippets here and there.  She had cautioned him that much of the stories’ context was lost due to their partiality, and to explore what personal meaning the anecdotes had for him.
She was the only one that seemed to read or know about the book; everybody else he’d asked had never heard of it.  Couldn’t give a shit either.  A disinterested glaze filled their eyes upon its mention.  Huh.  Old Earth?  Pretty cool, bro.  He quickly stopped bringing it up, intuiting that it made him look weird.
He randomly opened a chapter and started reading.  He couldn’t focus, though; he kept thinking about the thing with the stragglers.  And then afterwards:  That nasty, shitty fruit.  When it had burst open, it looked voracious and ill.  As if there were some perverted monster that was going to spring from its obscenely glistening guts.
Brushing it off, he concentrated determinedly on the book.  The passage he’d arrived at was about a monk named Takuan teaching an unnamed student.  It described the student having such a fearsome aura-
Aura?  What kind of hokey-ass nonsense was that? 
that men fled from him.  The whole point of the lesson seemed to be that it was a mistake to be too aggressive.  Reading it compounded Atriya’s annoyance.
Who the fuck wouldn’t want their enemies scared of them? 
The excerpt was frustrating and nonsensical.  Fed up, he closed the holo screen and leaned back, closing his eyes and trying to stop his thoughts.
No use.  He sat for a good fifteen minutes trying in vain to push away the memory of the stragglers falling behind and getting beaten, as well as the more recent sight of the putrid, fucked up fruit.  It had appeared as if it had been seemingly alive-and not in a good way.
Over and over, he saw the beleaguered candidates failing to keep up.  Over and over, he saw the grotesquely bloated pomegranates plopping sickly onto the kitchen tile; they were so rotten that you could almost see the gas built up from the decomposition pushing its way out.
In his mind he could hear the fumes from the fruit groaning and sighing like a retarded mutant, garnering pity from being in extreme pain but still warranting strict caution because of its dumb, hulking strength.  The noxious gas consumed his attention, expanding in a repulsive, corrupted miasma.
Fuck this.  He opened his eyes.  Time to see Verus.

Click the link to continue reading:  Chapter 3 or click this link to buy Echo:  Buy Echo

Want to know why I specifically wrote in certain actions/objects?  Here’s the link to the author’s notes for chapter 2:  Chapter 2 Author’s Notes

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