Posthuman Herald

Life on the Fringe

Living as a graduate student near the Zones was once the most dangerous thing I did. Before the invasion came, I was a student at the Republican Technical Institute. As my degree neared competition, I took up an offer to perform field research on xenotechnological artifacts. If you'll recall then, the Zone Fringes had not yet reached the Alps, and a number of Republican monitoring stations had been constructed. The RTI often would staff each with a few Legionnaires and researchers in each, to respond to any sudden changes in Zone geography. Several Alpine Legions were stationed nearby, in case things really got out of control, but most of the time, there was nothing a few well-prepared Legionnaires could not handle.

I recalled the outpost when I first arrived there: It was a narrow, thin tower with several metal dishes sticking out of it in all directions. I asked one of the other students what they were for, he pointed to them and began explaining. "Those are for televox and teledata transmission, with a few sensors pointing towards the Fringe, and an alarm in case we need the cavalry," he replied curtly. "There's also a small Foundry inside the station, to produce any supplies or rations we need in case of isolation."

"How about defenses?" I inquired. "There's got to be something in case a few deranged Fringers, or Almighty-forbid, Normans come marching through."

"A few rudimentary ones, but these are outposts, not forts," he replied. "Come here, I'll show you your quarters."

I was taken inside the tower to find it roomier than I anticipated. The first level held a few bunks for the soldiers, and the second level held various sensors and view-screens. The third level had researcher rooms. There was enough room for four researchers in two rooms, with a washroom in the center. I saw a few cleaning constructs at work on each level, indicating that these would be up to some standard of hygiene.

"How about the Foundry?" I inquired.

"That's on the lower level, with a few emergency supplies," my guide replied. "I'll show you everything in more depth tomorrow. For now, unpack, and get some sleep. You'll need every bit of it for tomorrow."

"Oh, sorry, but what's your name?" I asked, extending my hand. "I'm Marcus Lucian."

"Titus Metellian," he replied. "I'm on duty to watch the sensors tonight, but I'm your roommate."

I shook Titus' hand, and then I proceeded to examine my room. It was decorate in its own way: it had a faux-stone floor with a mirror, washbasin, illuminators, and all the comforts of home (notably save windows). I readied my things for the night, washed up, and went to sleep.

The following morning, I was awakened by the tolling of the chronometer's bell. Waking up an hour before the standard time, I performed my morning calisthenics and washing. I ensured my black hair was cut to an acceptable (and short) length, and prepared myself for my first day at the research outpost. Titus came up shortly thereafter and took me downstairs to the observation level. I saw the unmistakable face of the Academic sponsoring my research here, Gaius Flavian. He was on live televox and teledata transmission.

"Greetings, Professor," I bowed. "Thank you for sending me here. What assignment do you want me to do?"

"Marcus, you are familiar with an envirosuit, correct?" Professor Flavian inquired. "Or with enviroarmor?"

"Yes, Professor. I was required to become verified by the Board with both before I could come out here," I replied.

"Titus, has our guest told you what his research focus is?" the Professor's voice inquired across distances.

"I don't believe so," my roommate replied. "But do you want me to put him to work fixing up the envirosuits?"

"Not for now," the Professor replied. "His doctoral research thesis is a study into 'thaumechanical functionality of Zone xenotechnological artifacts,' which I am sure you can use at the site."

Titus' eyes grew wide. "Damn," he gasped. "I never would've guessed you were that crazy."

"I want him given a crash course in whatever weapons you have at the station, get him into a envirosuit, and send him out to Site Eighteen with an escort," the Professor ordered. "Preferably by tonight."

"Are you sure, Professor? Has he ever been inside a Zone before?" Titus inquired. "I know the Site's got some good artifacts, but shouldn't we go easy on him at first?"

"Was I easy on you, Titus?" the Academic asked.

Titus was silent.

"Your own thesis on electro-rad imaging and data transmission would not have gone as fast if you had not gotten some direct field experience, did it not?" the Academic inquired. "I think not. Now, I've seen plenty of people in the Zones, and hell, I've been in them several times. I know the type of person that can thrive in the Zones, and Marcus is that sort of person."

"Besides," I chimed in. "I've already got some training from my time in the Reserve. That was how I paid for school, after all."

"Titus, tell your guards to get this man ready to go, and call me once he's ready. I want to be there on televox if he needs any assistance," Professor Flavian ordered. "I'll be in touch."

Without further protest, Titus Metellian lead me downstairs to the Legionnaire's lodgings. Before, I had estimated about half a dozen soldiers were in the outpost due to the number of bunks. Now I saw them awake and up, I could see my estimate was correct. Titus approached a man with the name "Marius Fabian" and shoulder stripes indicating the rank of "Grade II Princepale".

"Princepale, special request," Titus said. "Can you give him a crash course on weapons? The Professor wants him sent out to Site Eighteen ASAP with an escort."

"Alright, kid," the NCO nodded before turning to me. "What's your name?"

"Marcus Lucian, sir," I replied. "I have had some training with weapons from a brief stint in the Reserves."

"Which service, if you don't mind me asking?" Fabian inquired.

"Twenty-Third Republican Thaumechanical Corps," I answered. "My specialty was thaumechanical armors, specifically ensuring mobility and air circulation in environmental suits. My rank was Grade IV Immune."

"Ah, so a rear echelon job. What weapons were you shown?" Fabian asked, some contempt apparent. "Or did you just get basic?"

"I was rated most proficient with the pugio, gladius, and crossbow," I replied. "But I was shown lances and javelins as well."

"You're in luck here then, since crossbows and short blades are something we have plenty of," the NCO answered. "But have you used them inside an enviroarmor yet?"

"As part of my job, I tested weapons and common tasks inside just about every sort of suit and armor used by the Legionnaires today," I countered. "Plus, you know most of the mounted weapons modules the armor guys love? I helped design some of those."

The NCO, unsure of what to think, brought me downstairs. A heavy door marked "Emergency Provisions" was across from another door reading "Armory." He brought out various knives and crossbows, and I selected the ones I liked the most. After a few hours practicing inside a suit of Legionnaire enviroarmor, Fabian nodded.

"You're definitely rusty, but I'm sure you'll be fine," he commented. "I'll be sending two Milites Gregarius along with you. Site Eighteen's become rather famous around here lately. I'm sure you'll have no issues finding it."

"Any known hostiles?" I inquired.

"Some Fringers were driven out of here a few weeks ago," Fabian replied. "However, there might be some stranglers, so be careful."

Shortly thereafter, I was descending the arch-bridge leading down from the research outpost in the Alps and towards the Fringe. Beyond that would be the Zone, with the enigmatic Site Eighteen inside. Oh, the things I did for my degree.