Beetles and Colors

by
A Kniggendorf


Place
Time
Age

: Wolf Den Military Base
: 2071-07-21
: 1643453-BDC Gooseman, Shane: 4 y.a.d. – 2 y.o.v.


     What's that? He stopped in his tracks and stared at the oval creatures, a little bigger than his fingertips were, running around on a sandy spot between the rocks. Bright colors shone in the light when the insects crossed sunny areas. Wow.
     He threw a look around to be sure he was safe. Seeing nothing, he knelt down, laid aside the heavy rifle that he had to carry now to get used to the weight and watched the little creatures...

...a very big beetle with blue-green gleaming wings and red antennae tips chased some of the smaller ones around.
     That's the boss beetle. He grinned and prodded it slightly. It ran in a different direction, right into a group of five smaller beetles, which spread out when the big one reached them. Looks like this boss isn't very popular either.
     One of the smallest got in the boss's way and the two beetles toppled over, lying on their backs, struggling with their copper legs to get to their feet again. He laughed delighted when the smallest beetle came to its feet first and ran on, crawling across the big beetles belly...

"Gooseman! On your feet! Take your position! This is a combat ground, not a sandbox!"
     Shane started at the commander's angry voice, jumped to his feet, grabbed his rifle and hurried on. He heard the faint whirring of Walsh and Negata's open glider following him and increased his speed. He had to fight to keep control of the rifle, almost as long as he was and so heavy his arms trembled at the weight.



Place
Time

: Beta Mountain - bridle path along lakeshore
: 15 years later


     Goose stopped Triton without any warning, so she and Mel were about a hundred meters ahead before Niko noticed he wasn't beside her.
     They had started doing their required training together a few weeks ago. Both of them were sick of the distrustful glances that followed them during their exercises outside the base: the SuperTrooper who'd been allowed to live for some reason and that mind-reading woman. Somehow it was easier to ignore the dark looks when she and Goose were together.
     "What's he...?" she murmured, turned Mel and trotted back to Shane. He had dismounted and bent to study something beside the path.
     "What are you looking at?" she asked. Reining in Mel, she glanced over his shoulder. "Ugh," she said in distaste. "Dung beetles."
     "Is that what they're called?" he asked, still watching the big beetles creep about on a sandy spot in the bright sunlight.
     "Yes. You've never seen them before?" She dismounted, too.
     "Didn't know the name," he said, prodding one of the beetles. The whole group scurried wildly about, though they didn't leave their sunny place. "I saw them back at–" He interrupted himself. "Their colors among the rocks and sand caught my attention in battle training. I got in trouble because I wasted time watching them."
     "Dung beetles?!" Niko frowned. "They're just black beetles. Pretty ugly."
     "Black?" He was still watching the beetles as they returned to the slow, creeping motion he'd first seen. "You can't see the colors?"
     "They have no color, Shane."
     "For me they do. Guess that's because of my enhanced senses."
     "May I have a look through your eyes?" she asked, smiling. "I have to practice sense control later today anyway."
     "Sure." He glanced around. "Nothing dangerous nearby."

...her eyes widened.
     A brilliant cascade of millions of colors, no longer just elements of other, simpler colors but precisely distinct shades themselves, burned in her mind. The leaves, simple dark green to her, shone yellow, orange, and red alongside more than twenty shades of green. She wouldn't see these colors with her own eyes before autumn. A blue glow lay like an aureola over all of the leaves: ultraviolet light reflected from the natural wax layer that protected the plants from being burned by the sun. In contrast, the shadows appeared violet red, without the blue of the sunlight's UV radiation.
     She forced herself to look for the beetles despite all the wonders around her. He helped her by looking directly at them.
     The chitin exoskeleton shone in all colors of the rainbow, dominated by blue-green on the wings. Legs, head, and antennae were mostly copper, while the antennae tips glowed red. The beetle moved, turned towards the sun – and suddenly its wings glowed yellow and golden with blue spots near the edges and orange stripes on the backs.
     It was Goose, realizing that she was caught up in his vision, who finally broke the contact...

Niko held her eyes closed, concentrated to memorize the impressions she'd gotten. "Do you always see like this?" she whispered, finally understanding why he was sometimes so sensuous in spite of his past. No wonder, she thought, if all his senses were like this.
     "How else should I see?" he asked.
     "Do you know how different your vision is from mine?"
     "Yeah." He grinned. "It used to get me into a lot of trouble till I figured out the differences. Until then I just thought people were bad at describing colors. But they're just blind. They can't even see if a plant is dead or alive until it's nearly dried out."
     "You can distinguish that by color?"
     "Sure. Dead plants reflect much less UV." He shrugged. "There's no blue any more."
     "I envy your enhanced sight, Goose."
     "Try it in the cafeteria when they hand out salad or sausages. Then say that again."
     Niko looked at the beetles crawling through the sand with her own eyes and noticed, disappointed, that they were simple black again. She watched them running past and around each other, sometimes risking collisions, and remembered the brilliant colors her teammate saw.
     Next to her Gooseman stood up, took Triton's reins and prepared to remount.
     She looked up at him. "What happened to the beetles back then?" she asked.
     "A grenade hit the place."


Glossary


y.a.d.: years after decant (equivalent to physical age)

y.o.v.: years of viability (time since when an ST is deemed viable, that means he's believed to be able to fulfill the expectations of the STP)


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Beyond the Frontier


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