There was no bellow, no scream. The only thing that escaped its mouth was a kind of pathetic wheeze. The ground did shake when collapsed though.
There was a short period of stillness. Rain continued to fall and Bettie looked around, trying to figure out what the heck was happening.
“What?” Jordan’s tone was completely flat.
The crowd of people in black and grey, Support personnel, rushed forward. The night filled with high pitched shrieks as the machines they carried went into action. Bright sparks flew as the weirdly shaped chainsaws, some with oversized blades and others with long handles, cut into the fallen creature’s scales. Tarps were spread on the ground around it, collecting the dark red blood that spewed from it while others were raised to keep off the rain.
Dauntless was laughing, deep booming chuckles. The girl had fallen to the ground, clutching her stomach. She seemed to be having trouble breathing.
The bizarre butchers were moving with the kind of rapid coordination that only came with long time practice. This couldn’t be the first time this happened. Assuming the girl’s story had been the truth… Did the creatures always die right away? So then why all the cutting? What were they going to do with the… the chunks?
Jordan let out a tired, mildly amused sigh. “Hazing, right?” He shook his head. She couldn’t see it through the helmet he was wearing but she was willing to bet he had at least a small grin. “Sorry, make that a ‘right of passage.’ Hazing’s unprofessional, after all.” Helmet or no, he still managed to give a pointed glare at the little girl, literally rolling on the ground with laughter.
Eventually, she stopped. Once she’d regained her feet and stood next to Dauntless again, Jordan finally got his answer.
“Yeah, sorry about that.” The wide grin on her face argued against her sincerity. “Titan Watch is kind of a tradition here. We even juggle schedules so that newbies can get it on their first day when we can. Yours was really great, maybe even perfect. I mean, the frantic boat ride and a hurried explanation, then we get let’s out right as we hit the top of the hill?” She shook her head, smiling all the while.
She had to ask, just in case. “So… um, does that mean they always die right away?” Bettie’s gave an involuntary jump as an especially large piece of scale was cut free to fall to the ground. She settled right down when Dauntless answered her question with his rumbley deep voice. She really liked that voice.
“Five minutes. That’s the longest on record. Most of them don’t even make five seconds. Kelly’s the expert on… she calls it cryptoanatomy. Those things are made from normal animal tissue, usually cow or some kind of bird.”
“I’m guessing that guy’s mostly lobster or crab. Some kind of salt water crustacean, the curving of the scales looks like the right type of chitin to me, even if the color’s off.” the girl, Kelly, interrupted.
Dauntless nodded. “They don’t scale up well. Organs collapse. The heart’s not strong enough to pump blood through the body. Lungs can’t even come close to meeting demand. You get the idea.”
Kelly made a sort of clicking noise. “All true but I still think it’s the nervous tissue that does them in first. You can’t just make a brain or CNS from scratch. There’s all sorts of instincts and learned behaviors that anything on that scale absolutely has to have down perfect to function. Trust me, dealing with all that is way harder than it sounds. If they’d just let me examine the brain on one of these things I’d have a better idea.”
There’d been a kind of emphasis on examine that a bunch of people tended to use when their Empowerment was involved. It usually meant there wasn’t a real word that meant what they wanted it to mean so they had to use one that sort of felt right but wasn’t. It was the same way Bettie said ‘rhythm’ or ‘bounce.’
“You know the rule Kelly.” Dauntless’s tone was a mix of stern and fond, kind of sweet actually. “No experimenting with brains unless you have Retcon for safety and they can’t spare her for this. If you mess yours up, there’s no other way to make sure it’s fixed right.”
Kelly… Bettie absolutely refused to believe that an operative was pouting right in front of her so she looked back at the fallen Titan. They’d gotten all the scales off its arms and were making good progress on the torso and the legs. The Support guys around its arms were bringing out different tools, more like fixed blades than the chainsaw things. Sort of like titanic… heh… scalpels.
She looked away again when they started reaching in with them to cut away the too-pale muscle, cleanly separating it from bone. “Um, just what are they doing?” Bettie gave a limp wave with one of her hands to indicate the grisly scene.
“Hm.” Dauntless was holding in a smirk. “Let’s put it this way. Ever eaten one of those government provided MEAL packs they sell for a dollar a pound at the grocery store?” She had. Her family had had it a bit tight when her dad was out of work after the Interruption but that hadn’t lasted too long. Lucky, cause those things weren’t too bad but they weren’t something she’d want to have to get used to either.
“So that’s what they’re made of?” Jordan asked. “They use the same stuff in MREs.” Now he was the one who sounded amused. “A whole lot of jokes I didn’t get before just made a lot more since.” He gave a pointed glance at the half dismembered corpse. “Too bad I don’t have any hot sauce on me. We were in such a hurry I skipped dinner.”
That set Kelly off again. Dauntless just ignored her and explained that while yes, this was one of the sources of protein in the government provided meals, it wasn’t the only one. He also claimed some of the others were even weirder.
This was not the way Bettie thought her first night as a real operative was going to go.