Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Backup, Try Again"

This poem came out of further discussions about the series An Army of One: The Autistic Secession in Space.  It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  You can read about galactic coordinates online.

Note: Based on their respective personalities and family backgrounds, four of these characters have settled into a comfortable fraternal relationship.  There's an aspect of infantilizing disability involved, which works for them, but other people aren't always okay with it.  Maybe think twice before reading if this is a touchy topic for you.  Also there is some vulgar language.

Backup, Try Again

Supply Base Bounty 3D3N was quiet that shift,
except for the stuttering sound of the newsfeed
playing across the screen that Backup was trying to fix.
He was an adequate maintenance man,
if he had someone to assign tasks and get him started.

Router was usually available for that, and if not,
then Case or Port would take care of it.
They all had younger brothers, so that helped.
This was not quite as good as having his own
older brothers to watch out for him,
but it was better than Backup had expected
when his father General Fallon had gotten him into service.
He was very glad to have Router and Case and Port.

They were glad to have him too, even if
he was only adequate as a mechanic,
because he had the odd knack
of memorizing tidbits of information --
regulations, shopping lists, songs --
some of it useful and much of it not.

One time a virus had taken out
the entire computer system of the base,
and only his recollection of an old reboot process
had saved them when they had no way to look anything up.
That's why they started calling him Backup.

He twiddled the wrench inside the guts of the screen
and suddenly the newsfeed came in loud and clear:
This is Specialist Latham Huntington;
some of you might know me as Hootowl.
I'm speaking for the personnel from numerous stations,
list to be appended at the end of this message.
We hereby secede from the authority of BOTH
the Orion-Cygnus Arm and the Carina–Sagittarius Arm.
Your home is not our home; we won't return to your societies.
Your war and your peace have nothing to do with us.
Here we are, and here we will stay --

Abruptly the feed cut out again,
but that didn't matter:
Backup had heard enough.

Oh, he had known about demobilization,
how the Carinan army wanted to send them all home
like it had already done to a bunch of unfortunate sods --
but this?  Who could have imagined this response?
What was going to happen to them now?

Backup let the wrench fall into the toolbox
and ran out of the room.
He had to find Router.
Router would know what to do.

Backup ran into the control room
and choked out a garbled message --
"Hootowl Hootowl Hootowl,
not our home, here we will stay!" --
because he often tripped over his own tongue
when under stress, and nothing was more stressful
than having your whole world pulled out from under you.

Router caught him by the shoulders,
big hands squeezing with a reassuring grip.
"Backup, try again," he said firmly.

Backup took a deep breath and said,
"Hootowl sent a message.  Secession."
Carefully he pulled away from Router
and tweaked the nearest screen
until it caught the relevant message,
which was on repeating loop.

Router's mouth fell open.
For once, he had no words.
Well, he always said that happened to everyone
sometimes, even normal people.
Guess it was true.

Fortunately Router bounced back quickly.
He gathered the rest of the crew in the meeting room --
Case from the stockrooms, Port from the docking bays,
and the temp man Optical from Observation --
to discuss the situation.

Case and Port were as baffled as Backup.
Optical wasn't, though.  "That bites," he said.
"How the hell are we supposed to
get back to the Carina–Sagittarius Arm?"
The base lay toward galactic east between
the Carina–Sagittarius Arm and the Orion-Cygnus Arm.
There was a lot of nothing to cross to get anywhere.

"Let's consider all our options before deciding,"
Router said to him.  "Jumping to conclusions
is bound to get us into trouble, especially
since both armies are stirred up like wet anthills."

"What's to decide?" Optical said.
"I'm a soldier.  I want to get back to my army,
which apparently isn't in charge of this space anymore!"

That was a horrifying thought.
Backup wrapped his arms tightly around himself
and rocked back and forth.

"I don't have a dog in this fight," Optical went on.
"For that matter, neither do most of you.
The four of us can just leave together.
Backup can stay and join the secession if he wants."

"Shut the fuck up, you selfish asshole!"
snapped Port.  "You're scaring him."

Backup rocked faster,
a whine creeping up his throat.
He didn't want to argue about this.
He wanted everything to go back like it was before.

"We're not going to leave you here alone,
little buddy," said Case.
"You know we'd never do that.
You do know that, right?"

Backup looked at Case through damp lashes
and gave a jerky nod.
"Right.  Right.  Right," he said.

"All right, everyone calm down,"
Router ordered.  "Panic will not help.
We need to discuss this rationally.
Backup, take some deep breaths.
Optical, stop acting like a dick.
Port, check the traffic channel and find out
about possible evacuation or interference."

Optical finally quit talking.
Port commandeered the screen
and Case leaned over to help him.

Backup worked on pulling himself
back from the edge of panic.
No matter what happened, he had his buddies.
He also had his maintenance skills,
and even a mediocre tech could find work.
Things could be worse.

Router took the information and collated it.
"It looks like some folks who are --"
*cough* "Crazy!" *cough* interjected Optical
with his thick fist against his mouth.
"-- a little different have decided to stay here
and set up shop on their own," Router said,
glaring at Optical.  "It's real; it's not a joke.
There are some suggested evacuation routes
for people who disagree and want to leave."

"I'd like a copy of those routes,"
Optical said at once,
and Port showed him.

"What do you want to do, Backup?"
asked Router.  "It's your call.
Whatever you want, we'll stand by you,
because that's what brothers do."

Backup tugged restlessly
at the dogtags hung around his neck.
All of them had brothers back home, but --
it had been a long time, for everyone,
and this bond was fresher, stronger, present.
He found it hard to talk when he got stressed,
but for them, he tried.
"Stay," he finally managed.

Without hesitation,
Port yanked his own dogtags off
and spilled them onto the table.
Case quickly followed suit.

Router added his dogtags
and then turned to help Backup with his.
The little pile of metal and history
lay glinting in the artificial light.

"You can take one of the cargo tugs,"
Port said to Optical.  "We'll fill it with supplies
from the stockrooms, and that should be enough
to get you where you're going."

"I'm sorry about the argument,"
Optical said.  "I don't mean anything
against you or the others,
I'm just not involved in this.
It's better if we go our separate ways,
no harm, no foul."

"No harm, no foul,"
Port agreed.
"Let's get you packed up."

"Did you fix the broken screen
that you were working on earlier?"
Router asked Backup.
"No," Backup admitted.
"I was so shocked by the news,
I just dropped my tools and ran to tell you."

"Well, let's go finish fixing it,"
Router said.  "I get the feeling
that replacements will be harder to come by now."
He wrapped an arm around Backup's shoulders
and led him back down the hallway.

Backup leaned into the supportive embrace.
Some things would change, but not the important things.
He would stay here with Router and Case and Port.
As long as they still had each other,
everything was sure to turn out all right somehow.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, writing
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