It was meant to be a standard mission. Attack the reconstruction plant and put it permanently out of commission. There wasn't meant to be people here. Lieutenant Commander Up frowned at the girl in the torn white dress. What was he meant to do with her?
"Commander" The ensign stood at attention next to him and saluted "Command base says to pack-up and bring back the least damaged robots for study."
"Did you mention the girl?" the ensign blanched at his words.
"Ah hah, no sir. I forgot" The Commander's shoulder's tensed.
"Ensign, have the Ranger's to carry out those orders."
"You better radio Command back, and may Dead God have mercy on your soul if you don't make it perfectly clear you fucked up". Up strode away, leaving the Ensign to shudder to himself.
The girl was fiddling with the wiring of a Sentinel in an absent minded way, and talking to herself angrily in Spanish. Up took her wrist and started to drag her towards the ship.
"Oye, oye! Qué hace usted?" she shouted struggling against him. Up continued to ignore her shouts, questions, and struggles until he felt a set of teeth sink into the flesh of his hand; He let go with a shout and glared at the girl who'd fallen to the ground, and was now wiping her mouth. She matched his glare.
"What de hell are jou doing asno?" she shouted, standing up and crossing her arms, careful not to point her Zapper at her face.
"Taking you to the ship to prep you for evacuations missy." Up snapped back rubbing his hand. It was bleeding; he cursed at himself for forgetting to wear his gloves.
"Creo que no" the girl replied "I'm going home." Up was taken aback.
"Home?!" He looked around at the rubble and destruction, no-one could possibly be living here.
"Si, casa, ho-me." she replied as she turned to walk away. Up grabbed her roughly by the upper arm causing her to shout.
"No way missy, it's not safe here. Now we're telling command about you and they're as sure as rain in winter, going to want to talk to you. So come along now, quietly, and I won't have to get rough." The girl lowered her head with a sniff and Up felt a guilty twinge. He wasn't a bad person, overall, and the idea of upsetting a girl didn't sit right with him.
"C'mon now girl, don't you go wasting your time cryin'." he said, loosening his grip and leaning in to pull her head up. Much to his surprise the girl pulled him close and before he knew it he was clutching at himself groaning while the girl ran off. Up took a deep breath and straightened up.
"Son of a bitch" he muttered and went after the girl.
He lost her in the unfamiliar territory but eventually tracked her to a run-down two storey house a little over a mile away. The inside was a filthy wreck but allowed for tracks in the dust led to a basement door which'd been smashed off its hinges. There was an entire house in the basement. Room enough for several people, which apparently there had been, if the number of corpses littered throughout was any indication. He found the girl standing over an unrecognisable body. If he'd had to guess, he'd have said it was once a woman based off the style of dress, but other than that the body was an unidentifiable mess. He heard the girl take a deep breath next to him, he turned to look at her but she stared dry eyed at the wall ahead.
"Dere is no one left" she said, her voice flat. She turned to look at him.
"Give me ten minutes and I'll come. No biting or running away dis time, si?" she said and walked away, not giving him a chance to answer. Up counted down the time in his head as he checked the house over for robots. This level of the house was also trashed, though cleaner, but no robots were to be found until, right on ten minutes, he went looking for the girl. There was a robot lying in her doorway, neutralised with a direct shot through the central processor. He looked hard at the girl, thinking.
"Hurry up missy you've had your ten." he barked. She gave him the briefest of looks and continued to pack her bag. It wasn't a large bag, there'd only be enough room in it for essentials. She'd also used her allotted ten minutes to change from the dress into a more practical combination of t-shirt and pants. He looked around her room while he waited impatiently for her to finish; it was as clean and organised as a barracks. The girl snapped him out of his contemplation.
"Bien, what now capitán?" She asked swinging the bag onto her shoulders; Up gave her a dirty look.
"That's Lieutenant Commander to you, whelp." he snapped "And you can help me carry this robot back to the ships."
"Para lo que? It's useless." the girl asked, frowning at the robot
"Never you mind kid. Now help me carry this damn thing." he ordered grabbing the legs. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the girl roll her eyes at him, but she did as she was told.
It was a difficult to manoeuvre the motionless robot out of the compact basement, and through the debris along the long trek back to the ships. Up lead the way, facing forwards in case of a sudden a robot attack.
"Oye, what is jour name?" Up jumped slightly at the sudden noise.
"Idiot girl," he snapped "be quiet. We're still in uncertain territory." He heard the girl huff and then there was nothing but the crunching sound of their footsteps. He gave in.
"Up" he practically grunted.
"Huh?" Up resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
"Up, my name's Up."
"Oh." Neither of them said another word the whole way back.
True to her word the girl didn't give them any more problems - she was quiet and obedient. Up watched her closely on the shuttle-ride back to base. She was very still and staring hard at the floor as though it had personally wronged her in some way. It baffled him that someone had been living in Robot territory let alone raising children, and quite a few it would seem if the size of the corpses had been any indication. When they landed she was the second to last person out, just before Up, and he watched her jaw drop. Up didn't understand why. It was only a fully operating Ranger base, complete with training grounds and a small fleet of shuttles. He nudged the back of her shoulder.
"C'mon, the Commodore will want to speak with you." Leading the way he took her through the base, occasionally having to hurry her along or, in the case of the open armoury, physically pull her away. He left her with the secretary while he went in to give his report. When he'd finished, as suspected, the Commodore wanted to know more.
"So, I understand that there was an unknown inhabited human hideout in the area you attacked?"
"Yessir; however most had recently died in a robot attack sir. We recovered only one survivor sir."
"M'yes. May I speak to her Up, I presume you brought her?"
"Yessir." Up opened the door and jerked his head at the girl, who'd been sitting near the desk. She entered and stood before the Commodore. Up took note of her demeanour; posture, resolved, confident, and dry eyes looking directly into the Commodore's.
"So, Little girl" the commodore began. Up watched as she stood straighter, and her shoulder's tensed. "Could you tell me your name."
"Yessir" the girl replied sharply "Me llamo Tazmaria Armada Lopez, but I'd prefer to be called Taz. And I am not a little girl." the Commodore shifted uncomfortably under her intense unwavering gaze. Up was impressed, and resisted the urge to smirk keeping his face blank.
"Ah right, so tell me, um Taz, how long have you been living in that area?"
"Around eleven years sir."
"Good. So you would be eleven or twelve then, yes?" If looks could kill there wouldn't have been enough of the Commodore left to smear on the wall.
"Actually, I have just turned fifteen today, sir."
"Ah, of course. So what exactly was the place you were living Taz?"
"It was a home for niños who had lost dere familias."
"Las más veces."
"Huh?" Up saw her stop herself from rolling her eyes.
"More ofden dan not."
"Ah right. Thank you Taz. That will be all for now. Commander."
"It's almost twenty-two thirty. Would you show the young lady to the refugee bunks?"
He left the girl in the bunks alone; she was the first human they'd encountered since missions began. Up found himself lying awake that night just thinking about her. Her reactions, her behaviour, and most importantly, that look in her eyes. He continued as he walked back to the bunk to collect her for morning mess. Perhaps she was just what they were looking for. He opened the door, and seeing her still asleep in bed, pushed her onto the cold floor. After a brief shriek during her fall, Taz rattled off at him in angry Spanish.
"Up girl, it's time for mess" she glared at him, and Up hid his surprise. "You can wash up for breakfast at that sink over there." After mess he gave her strict instructions on where she could and couldn't go, then went to see the Commodore who was surprised to see him.
"Commander, what can I do for you?"
"Sir, I'd like to recommend Miss Lopez for the apprenticeship program Sir."
"Are you sure about this Commander? It's a very tough program, and the female mortality rate is unusually high, even for adult enrolments?"
Up thought for a moment. He remembered her insolence, her strong will and her resistance to authority. Then the girl's aptitude during battle, her ability to think logically in the face of loss, and the look of complete determination in her eyes.
The tear tracks on her face that morning.
"Yessir. I'm certain she's perfect for it."