Commander Pryce found Up and the girl standing to the side of the humvee with a shame-faced Lt. Isa sitting in the back seat. Two more humvees had arrived to transport all of the rescued ensigns back to base. The ensigns looked exhausted and beaten within an inch of their lives. Commander Pryce raised an eyebrow at Lt. Isa but she ducked her head and he decided to deal with her later. He didn't think Up would appreciate him screaming at a Lieutenant in front of the girl. Pryce ordered them all to head back; gratefully everyone obeyed order and dragged themselves into a humvee.
Up pushed the girl into the shot gun seat of one humvee and buckled her in. When he clambered into the driver's seat and gunned the car he noticed everyone staring at him, "What?" he growled. "Why's there a chit in the front seat?" asked Isa, she had hopped into the back seat, but now leaned forward to look at Taz," It's nice to meet'cha doll, but you should be sitting in the back, it's safer." Taz looked at Up who refused to look at either of them and instead stared at the humvee that was in front of them. Taz shrugged and clambered into the back while Isa slithered to the front. Isa twisted around in her seat and made sure to buckle Taz in securely,"Now if we're hit with an IED you won't get totally blasted to smithereens." Taz cracked a tight smile. Isa turned back in her seat and whispered to Up, "I'm really good with kids."
Up followed Commander Pryce's humvee back to the base. Taz stared at everyone out of the corner of her eye. The sun was starting to rise now, orange ribbons were turning the trees yellow and green. There were three ensigns sitting in the back seat with her, one with tight curls and glasses; the other two were shell shocked and were so encrusted with mud and shit that Taz wasn't sure they were really human One in particular seemed to be handling the battle badly, he kept chattering and mumbling funny phrases.
They arrived at the base safely and everyone clambered out, stretching their muscles. The humvees were built for safety, not for comfort. Commander Pryce looked for the little girl, hoping to catch her expression when she got down from the humvee and saw her surroundings. People were usually impressed with his base, there was a green pond with a small river feeding into it. The low slung aluminum buildings were connected by dirt walkways hedged with small bushes and there were always birds in the trees . Pryce knew war was hell, so he decided to create a bit of a natural paradise in the eye of the storm for his men and women. But when the small girl jumped down she didn't bat an eye at the greenery, she didn't tilt her head to listen to the birds in the early morning chill. He frowned, but saluted everyone and gave them leave for the day.
Taz didn't really know what to do, she stood there until Up tapped her shoulder and awkwardly stuck his hand out," M'names Up. I'm a lieutenant." Taz shook his hand and didn't say anything. "I guess we should get you some more clothes huh?" Taz couldn't place his accent so she just nodded. Was it American? "I can help with that," Isa smiled and floated over to them, slinging an arm around Up's shoulders. Up shook his head, "You're supposed to report to Pryce. You messed up this morning." Isa frowned, "Fine. But if I come back without a head you're to blame." She walked away whistling, hands in her pockets.
Up turned to the girl, "What's your name?"
Up scratched his head, " What kinda name's that? That isn't your real name is it? Come on." He began walking towards the buildings. Shaking her head, Taz followed, "No, 's a nickname. Is Up jour real name?" Up smirked and regretted it, a throbbing pain trailed its hot fingers across his face.
"No, It isn't, so I see your point." He opened a door for her and bowed her inside. Taz scowled at him, not sure if her was making fun of her; she didn't like jokes or pranks. Her mother often called her a sore loser, Taz clenched her eyes shut and steered away from that train of thought. "Mac?" Up pushed past her, calling out into the empty hospital building. A thin man stuck his head out a curtained area.
"What?" He wore round glasses.
We need her bandaged and some new clothes for her. Mac approached them, scowling, he lead Taz to a bed and patted it so Taz would sit. With a tut, Mac lead Up away as he collected some bandages, "Why'd she here? Isn't there a refugee camp fifty klicks south? Do I look like I appreciate working for strays?" They approached Taz again and Up silenced the thin man with a glare.
"What happened?" He unrolled some crisp bandages and laid them out next to Taz.
"Some ensigns decided t' go explorin' for some treasure, they found 'bout 20 robots instead. The surviving robots destroyed her city." Mac raised an eyebrow and shook his head, he used his teeth to pull the cap off a needle and injected Taz with some blue stuff. Taz gripped the sides of the small hospital bed, remaining silent.
Mac spit out the cap of a small yellow tube into a trash can, "And who're you girl?" Taz remained silent, the injection had felt like ice and had turned into boiling lava, making her arm ache painfully. She made a face instead of responding.
Mac grinned, dimples forming on his face, "Charming. You really know how to pick 'em, Up." He guffawed and started binding Taz's cuts. He also slathered cream on her bruises and on her face and arms and neck. "This'll suck out any poison the 'bots might've hit you with."
Up suddenly felt his chest twinge with pain, "Uh, Mac?"
"Mmhmm?" He was carefully stitching Taz's leg and didn't turn around. Up carefully peeled his undershirt off and winced at his wounds. He sat down on the other side of the bed gingerly, Taz completely forgot the needle sowing her skin together when she turned to look at him.
Up turned to her and grinned, " Boilin' hot cooking oil. Gross innit?"
"A la bestia! What de hell happened?" Taz twisted around to get a good view of the mess mashed onto Up's chest.
"Dead Lord have mercy, it speaks!" Mac chuckled at his own joke, but was repaid with kick in the chest. "Yowch! Horrid child!" Mac fell back, landing on his backside and coughing to get his breath back. Up smiled and shook his head, "When you're done being a complete asshole to her I need you to scrape robot oil off me." Mac stood and nodded respectfully at Taz, "That was a good kick, You can come back here anytime for a sparring match with me. Or when you're hurt and need patching." Mac turned and when he caught sight of Up's torso he ran his hands through his hair and slowly shook his head, "Up..." he paused," I don't think that shits gonna come off unless we melt it offa you. Look at it, you look like a dead Goddamned Play-doh monster."
Taz stared at them, wide-eyed. Up nodded slowly, "Do it."
"Seriously?" A gleam like madness appeared in Mac's eyes, it made Taz nervous.
Up nodded, "Do what you have to, Mac."
Mac pushed his hair away from his forehead and patted Taz's head so she'd get off the bed. "I have to warn you, there aren't any other medics on call. I'm lone-wolf for the night. It'll be difficult-"
"I can't go around like this!" Up angrily gestured at himself.
"Oookay, let me cobble together something to do this, Dead God."
Up leaned back onto the pillows and finally took a proper look at Taz. She was short barely reaching his shoulders, her hair was a tangled, wavy mess. She faced away from him, staring wide-eyed at Mac's retreating back. He could see the line of her jaw curve gracefully and pool into her shoulders, but right now everything tense and tight. She was frightened, or nervous. Probably scared out of her wits. Though she was small, Up couldn't deny the utterly terrifying ferocity that poured from her stance. Even just standing there, she was ready to whip her knife out and stab someone, anyone. She turned around to say something to him but he didn't really process what she said, her eyes were too dark.
"Ow!" Up rubbed his calf, "What's yer problem?!" She was as annoying as a gnat.
"Jou had a stupid dream-look on jour face. It was annoying me. And jou ignored my question."
"Which was?" Up tried peeling some bits of fabric from his chest.
"Stop that," snapped Taz," I asked 'What happened?'"
She sighed, irritated. Up decided they were small bits of red earth, her eyes were large and- "Jour chest, estupido! Are jou soft in de head, ese? Did those robots smack jou around one too many times?" Up scowled and kicked her off his bed. "Hey!" She whirled on him, knife out, teeth bared.
Up was irritated with her. She was too small to be filled with so much hate, he understood that her family was gone, but why couldn't she be just sad? Why did Taz choose hate? Probably the same reason you did too. Up shook the small voice off and tried to snatch the knife out of her grip. She whirled away with surprising speed. Up lunged over the bed, she slashed at him, grazing his arm. He kicked off his boots. "Pffft. If I was a robot jjjjou would jjjjhave been dead!" Up mocked her accent as he leapt over the bed, "Give over that knife, small-fry. Ya' don' even know how to hold it!" He stood before her, wearing a snarl, one hand straying to where his zapper would have been. " .Over."
"No! Jou will have to take it from my cold-dead hands jou bastard!" Taz was furious, who did this man think he was? She skipped back a few feet, sneering, "Jou think I don't know how to fight? Vamos ese! Let's see how tough jou are!" She dropped to a fighting stance and held the knife at the ready. He lunged at her, punching the air around her head, not actually wanting to hurt her. She ducked and wove between his fists.
"Give it to me!" He used his reach to make wild lunges but she expertly ducked beneath his clumsy attempts.
"No!" Taz felt his knuckles brush her neck. She smacked his hand away with the flat of the knife, producing a flat ring from the metal.
She aimed a kick at him and he when he was off balance she tackled him. She let the knife drop and started punching his head, Up fell and crashed into the bed, right onto the floor. Recovering, Up rolled with her and managed to lock her hands to her sides, Taz bit his arms and managed to free one hand to hit him. But Up already had the upper hand and he used it, he pinned her to the ground, overpowering her through sheer weight. "Uhh... what are you doing Up?" Mac was standing there with a trolley full of odds and ends watching Up pin the half-naked girl to the ground.
"He tried to take my knife!" Taz spat into his face. Up loosened his grip to wipe the spittle away. Still angry, she punched him in the eye. Little spots of light danced a two-step in front of him. Taz scrambled away and scooped the precious knife back into her arms, looking as if she was about to cry.
"You're a menace with that," Up scrambled to his feet, embarrassed, "You just want to stab someone, anyone. It makes menervous." The girl had a strong arm, his head was still spinning. Mac looked at Taz over the top of his glasses, curly brown hair falling into his face. "Tell ya' what Tazzie, m'darling dearest patient..."
She looked at Mac suspiciously, "What?"
"You can stay here and help me torture Up but you have to put that knife down, or you can leave and listen to Up's screams from outside."
Taz considered this for a moment, "I'll stay." She took the knife sling off and carefully placed it on the table by the hospital bed.
"Right. Now Up, get on the bed and don't be too loud. I promise to be gentle since it's your first time." Mac wiggled his eyebrows at Up and grinned mischievously.
"Zombified Christ," muttered Up, but he lay down on the bed. "Here, Taz," Mac handed her what looked like a fluted gun," This is a heat gun. You aim that at Up's chest and I'll scrape off the melted oil. But don't hold it too close of you'll just reboil the goop, and not too far away neither." Taz nodded, "Got it." "Whoa there!" cried Up, "I'm not letting her point any type of gun at me!" Mac pursed his lips.
"Don't you trust me?" Taz frowned at Up. Mac glared at Up, "There's no one else to help. You want this to go quickly or excrutiatingly slowly you numb-nuts?"
"I- well... don't mess me up too bad Taz." With a nervous twitch, Up lay back down.
"No te preocupes. I won't screw jou over." She looked determined and held the fluted gun to her chest. Mac opened a package of sterile bandages, "Shit. I forgot the sunburn gel. I'll be right back." Mac loped away.
Taz and Up stared at one another. "Sorry I tried to take your knife. Is it your dad's?" Up smoothed down the bandages around his arm. Taz took a big breath, "It was my dad's first, but then he gave it to my oldest brother and dat brother gave it to de second oldest... and so on." Taz looked down at her feet, she was exhausted, she hadn't slept in what seemed like weeks. She felt a hand on her shoulder but refused to look at him. "Look at me, Taz." Up patted her shoulder and she raised her eyes. "I know that you're angry, but that's not going to get you anywhere," just like it hasn't gotten you anywhere?He ignored the voice in his head," You have to get the anger out and just mourn your family," hypocrite hissed the voice, "Trust me. You can't fight with anger. You have to have something else to fight with. The hate's just a poison."
Taz refused to cry, "What do jou fight with, Up?"
Up considered this question seriously, "I've forgotten But it wasn't hate. Now I'm just really good at my job." Taz lowered her eyes and Up realized that might've the worst thing to say. They remained in uncomfortable silence until Mac came back; he unceremoniously slathered green goop on Up's chest and flicked on the heat-gun's power-source before handing it back to Taz.
Gingerly, Taz aimed the heat gun at the mess that was Up's chest and saw before her eyes the oil liquefy and begin to run down, "Quickly now," muttered Mac to himself. Deflty, the oily-wax-shitthing from Up's chest was scraped tapped it into a bowl. She was careful to avoid as much of Up's real skin as possible. They spent hours getting the oil off the lieutenant, Taz melting and Mac scraping; Up began to sweat half an hour into the ordeal and by the end of the first hour his face had turned beet red, his knuckles pale as curdled oatmeal.
He refused to scream in front of Taz, but Up gripped the sides of the bed so hard that the sheets began to rip and fray. Taz kept one eye on his face, noting that every time he moved or was touched by the silver scraper he grimaced and clenched his jaw into a tighter knot.
Honestly, Up thought, I should get a fucking award for not screaming, every time the girl aimed the gun at him his insides writhed like scorpions with pain. Up counted slowly in his head, then he would lose his place, choose a new number and continue counting, he thought maybe five hours had passed, or ten. A month? He had no fucking clue. The lights over his bed began dancing in fantastic colors and he thought he spied a dragon in the corner, slicking it's hungry maw towards him….
"We're done!" Mac announced happily, "And a dead goddamned good job at that. You'll have minimal scarring since we just melted your skin to a normal-ish consistency. And the healing bandages should work wonders on you too. High five Taz!"
Taz just stared at Up. "Orrr, not..." Mac took a wooden spoon and began dropping gobs of green gel on Up. "This'll make some of the pain go away and you won't get too much of a burn-"
"He's asleep-" pointed out Taz.
Mac snorted," Probably just fainted. C'mon kid. You need some clothes and I know my wife would love to meet you." Taz followed Mac away from Up and out of the hospital.
Groggily, Up stirred from his dreams. There had been a wolf made of fire stalking him, it had growled something, it had talked, Zombie Christ he was going stir crazy.
Searing pain knifed its way from his waist to his neck, gingerly Up touched his tightly wrapped torso, "Shit." He grimaced again, even talking was a bad idea. He hoped nothing exciting happened for two days, at least. He looked around, surprised to see Taz curled under a woolly blanket on a couch next to the bed, her face was softened and he rather liked seeing her face devoid of murderous intentions. How long had he been out? He sat up and looked for someone to ask, a medic walked in to his curtained-off area, "Lieutenant Up?" He nodded, "You've been out for most of the day, it's about 6pm. How do you feel? Do you want some medicine?"
"Naw," he lied, "I'm fine, thank ya'." The medic smiled and patted Taz's head, "She's been here the whole day. Dr. Mac had to drag her away so she would eat." Up nodded and the medic left.
He slid out of the bed and began rummaging the bedside table for a shirt. "Hey! Where are jou going? Mac said not to get up, jour skin is all..." she wiggled her fingers and grimaced. Up smiled, "I have ta find a shirt Taz."
"There is one in de bottom drawer, Mac said it was especial for jou," Taz unwrapped herself from the blanket and pushed Up to the side. She pulled out a black long sleeve from the night stand and tossed it at him, "Are jour eyes azul?" Up stuck his head through the shirt, it fit a little too tight but he figured that was on purpose; the airy, tight material felt good," What's azel? My eyes aren't hazel, they're blue." Taz grinned, "Dat's what azul means, idiota."
Up scowled, he didn't understand a lick of Spanish but he could understand her tone, "Why do you curse so much?"
Taz shook out her black hair, "First of all, dat wasn't a real curse word, and secondly, mi mama cursed like a sailor. It's in my genes to curse." Up laughed, "Cursin' ain't genetics. It's habit. Nice threads, where'd you get 'em?" Taz spun on one foot," They're nice, No?Ophelia gave them to me." Up noticed that she said Ophelia's name differently, the vowels and consonants pronounced in the front of her mouth instead of at the back. She wore baggy grey jeans and combat boots with a standard issued black ensign's top. "Very nice," agreed Up, but he wasn't looking at Taz as he said it, he stared at someone who had just walked into the hospital.
"Isa!" he happily called out to her. Smiling, Isa trotted over to them and tightly hugged Up, "I heard Mac was doing some new procedure on you, how'd it go? No lost bits?" Up spread his arms, "I'm alive." Isa laughed and turned towards Taz, "How're you doing? I heard you helped. Congrats on not killing Up. He's one of the best. We can't afford to lose him." Taz offered a smirk and retreated to her chair, pulling out a book from between the cushions. Curious, Up turned, "What're you reading?"
"Paradise Lost" Taz flipped to page 394 and continued reading.
Isa raised her eyebrows in surprise, "Anyways, Pryce is asking you to come and talk to him after dinner." Up frowned, "Do you know why?" Isa shook her head, "Nope, but it's dinner time right now. Aren't you both starving?" Taz leapt up from the couch, "Yes!" She grabbed Up and Isa's arms and pulled them to the door of the hospital.
On their way to the mess hall, Isa and Up talked about what was going on in the war. Taz wasn't really interested in the puto robots, so instead she gazed around her at the trees and scenery that Pryce was so proud of. She kept bumping into Up and even tripped into a hedge until he finally just took her hand to keep her from falling. Once they reached the mess hall Up let her go and handed her a green tray. There were a lot of ensigns and lieutenants and even some lieutenant-commanders crowding the line but Isa just shoved her way into the thick of it, not caring about the glares that were thrown at her.
"She's so totally awesome," said Taz reverently. Up snorted and nudged her to keep the line moving. "I wouldn't try and copy her, she's often in trouble for some reason or another. The only reason she hasn't gotten demoted is that she's so great at R&D."
"Are you being nice Up?" Isa approached them with her tray full, grinning broadly. Up's jaw line tinged pink, "I was telling Taz why you haven't gotten demoted." Taz smiled broadly at the sneer that Isa gave Up, "Hmph, I'll maybe save you two losers a place!"
ese:Is a colloquiolism. It means guy, man, dude, etc. The tone of voice in which it's used is quite important. With Taz, it's more often than not implied to mean idiot.