Below, you’ll find Chapter 03 – Scrub ‘n’ Bugg of the Uncommon Bravery short story. If you’re interested in reading the chapters as they’re released, please subscribed to my newsletter.
Chapter 03 – Scrub ‘n’ Buggy
Knight watched helplessly as Tinker pushed and pulled at Hill Buggy’s levers. His AI projected a warning, indicating they had less than four seconds before hitting the ground below. Suddenly, their fall slowed significantly and Hill Buggy pulled in tight against the vertical face of the cliff. Tinker slowed the big wheels as they dug into the dirt and brought Hill Buggy to complete stop suspended thirty meters above the valley floor
“I’m just messing with you, buddy,” he said. “Clara told me when you guys started going out. She didn’t want me to find out later from someone else.”
Knight punched his friend in the arm a second time. “She told you?”
“Damn it, stop punching me,” Tinker said. “And look, it’s like we’re squirrels climbing a tree. I always wondered what that felt like.”
Knight looked across Hill Buggy’s hood at a piney scrub that had been broken off by the car’s frame. “This is seriously messed up. Why do we feel like we’re upright on the ground? It’s like you turned the world sideways.”
“Gravity system came with the inertial. Spaceships tie these systems together all the time so they don’t turn their passengers into fine red paste when they accelerate. I’m just using those systems in an unconventional manner to give Hill Buggy super awesome squirrel powers.”
“How’d you know it’d work before you drove off the cliff?”
“The science was all there. What could go wrong. Want to drive us over to Dog Bluff?” Tinker pushed the steering column across to Knight. “I have something else I want to show you. I might have absconded with some leftover tech from the lab.”
“Legally absconded, right?”
“Sure. Universities are public institutions. We all pay for the equipment. I’m a grad student, so I’m allowed to use equipment. Ipso Facto, no legal problems.”
“Just don’t tell me,” Knight said. “Now how do I do this. Do I have to play with those levers so we don’t fall?”
“Nah. Those don’t do anything. I just wanted you to think we were going to get crushed at the bottom of the hill. And before you hit me again, you deserve it. You promised me a long time ago that Clara was off limits.”
Knight took a deep breath and rolled his eyes. “Okay, okay. I suppose I had some of that coming. Didn’t work, though. It felt like I was dating my sister, but she looks real good naked.”
“Stop. You’re such an asshole. I don’t want to think about her that way.”
“Seriously? How do you want to think of her? Just how does this fantasy in that big brain of yours go? You get married, settle down and work in your barn all day? I hate to break it to you, you’ll have to see her naked at some point. And, just so we’re clear, don’t ever forget that I saw her first.”
Tinker rounded on him and threw a long-telegraphed punch. Even if he hadn’t been expecting it, Knight wouldn’t have had difficulty dodging the punch as his friend was too close to actually throw any sort of punch. Knowing he deserved it, he allowed his friend’s fist to tag him in the shoulder.
“If Clara and I ever get together, of course I want to see her naked. I just don’t want to have your dirty story running through my mind when I do.”
“So you do want to see Clara naked. Good thing I’m recording this conversation.”
Tinker shook his head, exasperated. “You wouldn’t.”
“I’ll end you.”
“This is really something,” Knight turned the wheel and drove across the bluff as the vehicle hugged the cliff’s face. “Why hasn’t someone already invented this?”
“They have. It’s called an anti-grav booster and they fly around without touching the ground. Wheeled technology has been out of favor for at least four hundred years.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re right, but frak, this is fun.”
“Now that I can’t disagree with,” Tinker said. “Are you seeing that over there?”
“I’m a little busy driving. What do you have?”
“There’s something big going on in the valley about forty clicks northwest on I-29.”
“You suppose it has something to do with Clara’s big earth moving project?”
“I doubt it. That’s on the other side of the bluffs, ” Knight answered. “Do you still have those hi-rez cameras out in the Burrow?”
When they were kids, they’d discovered a deep cave, five kilometers from town on the northern face of what was locally known as Dog Bluff. Accessible only by rope line, they’d converted the cave into a clubhouse and named it the Burrow.
“I do unless you took ’em out,” Tinker said. “When was the last time you were out there?”
“A couple of months ago, but we – err – I, didn’t mess with your stuff.”
“You brought Clara to the Burrow? Is there no depth to which you won’t sink?”
Knight grinned. “Don’t be jelly. We watched the sunset. It was magical.”
“How did you guys get down there?”
“She was okay with a belay,” Knight said. “She’s tougher than you give her credit, although getting her back up was a bit of a trick.”
“Too bad you didn’t have this bad boy,” Tinker said. “We should be able to drive right onto the front apron.”
“Hope you’re right. You sure I can just turn vertical?”
“We’ve been driving sideways across the face of the bluffs for three kilometers. More than the dozen times you veered around boulders, shrubs and jumped over gouges. Do you really think driving up the cliff is harder than that?” Tinker asked.
“Crap, I don’t know,” Knight answered. “Figured I should check.”
“Trust me. We’re good.”
“Good.” Knight turned the wheel hard and accelerated, causing Hill Buggy’s wheels to bite hard into the rocky face. Tinker raised his arms, holding them out of the top of the open vehicle and shouted with abandon. When the front wheels bumped over the lip of the cave’s entrance, the frame became stuck. “Frak.”
“Just back up and hit it a little faster,” Tinker said.
Knight did as his friend suggested and cleared the lip on the second try. Braking hard, the front end of the vehicle fell into the cave’s entrance, its struts and inertial system absorbing the impact. Unfortunately, it also punched a two-meter-wide hole into the soft, wooden wall of the room they loosely called the kitchen.
“That might take some fine tuning,” Knight said, pulling on the emergency brake.
“We should pull the front wall back and make more room.” Tinker jumped out of Hill Buggy and ran into the Burrow. “There’s plenty of room at the back of the cave.” His voice carried over the comm channel established between the helmets worn by the two friends.
Knight stepped out of the vehicle and stretched as he turned and looked out over the valley. “Geez, you’re right,” he said. “There really is something going on down there. Those are Sikorsky grav lifters. Something’s going down, Tinker. You need to get out those cameras, now.”
“Found ’em right where I left ’em,” Tinker said triumphantly, pushing through the Burrow’s front door and stopping next to Knight. “Pin these into the rocks up there.” He pointed to the rock face three meters above where they stood. Several years previous, they’d driven permanent stainless-steel pitons into the rock face which they used to attach their climbing ropes to.
With ease, Knight jumped off Hill Buggy’s front wheel and grabbed the lowest piton. Holding on with one hand, he swung up and grabbed the next piton which allowed him to reach a narrow shelf. “Throw ’em up and get me a hammer.”
Tinker tossed the small video devices to him followed by a hammer, pins and a flexible mounting bracket. After fifteen minutes, the two finished the installation.
“Up two more degrees and you’ll be centered perfectly,” Tinker said.
“I thought these had a wide angle,” Knight argued, but made the adjustments requested. He’d worked with Tinker often enough to know he had a reason.
“We can get the entire valley right now, but for maximum magnification we want to be right on,” Tinker explained. “You’re good. Come on down, I’ve got it on the vid screen.”
Knight gracefully swung down and joined Tinker in the main room where they’d hung a two-hundred-centimeter vid-screen on the cave’s wall.
“That’s Third Ranger Battalion,” Knight said as Tinker fiddled with the picture. “They’re an advance team. What the frak are they doing here?”