Authors: Casey Calouette
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Military, #Space Opera, #Action & Adventure, #General
* * *
Sebastien smashed the hammer into the stakes. Three strikes. He focused on the task and ignored the diagnostics bubbling up near his retina. Nothing critical was going to fail. Nothing essential was knocked out. He paused a moment and restarted his right arm. The nano-augmented systems shifted and adapted.
A part of him wished he had just walked away south. He’d seen the young man shoot the other man. The chilled wind touched his skin but the heat from the reactor within would keep him alive. The man dropped and shot himself in the head. He played it over again—why should he care? He could just go south.
The next stake took two strikes and jammed into a hard spot. He pried it out and shifted it a few centimeters. Three strikes. He pulled the tab. It hissed and popped and grew into a shape like a flexible log.
He stopped and rotated his arm, feeling the bent connective assembly. He’d opened his eyes in a capsule collapsed upon itself. The seams had split and his fellow Marines were dead. He didn’t spend much time dwelling on it.
The young Midshipman had collapsed next to the row of corpses. The wind had already began to deposit grit and hard snow next to his body.
Sebastien stood slowly and walked over with a slight limp. The young man had a tint of frostbite spreading on his cheeks. He grabbed the small form and dragged him down the line. He laid him roughly next to a man with only a ragged wound for a face.
Why hadn’t he left? He sighed and felt sad, lost, detached. They were so different now. Or was he the different one? The wind had grew stronger and was whipping the snow.
He could leave now, walk south, get away. Then what? Die somewhere for no purpose? He flexed his fingers, vat grown bone grafted to alloy with nanite joint lubricants. It was him, but it wasn’t. He’d felt lost for too long.
He turned to the tent and launched himself at it with a fury. The final stakes took two strikes and were almost too far into the ground. The remaining beams inflated into place. The shell wasn’t fully grown when he began to drag pairs through the overlapping doors and into the dim space. The ceiling bands had just barely began to toss any light.
“Sir,” a voice said behind him. An Army Sergeant stood at an odd angle with a man dragging behind him. Had he blacked out? He hadn’t heard the Sergeant enter.
“Sergeant,” Sebastien replied and helped him drag the new survivor across the floor.
Sebastien snorted. “Ask Grace once he wakes.”
Crow looked thoughtful for a moment. His eyes danced over the Warrant Officer rank patch. “Warrant or not, you’ve got rank over a Midshipman.”
Sebastien shook his head and walked towards the door. “I’m not a Command Officer, Sergeant. Now come with me, I’ve got an idea.”
The pair fought through the drifts and came to the closest dropcap. One side was pristine, while the other was dimpled, as it had rolled to a stop. Sebastien hopped onto the edge and pried away a cover.
“We’re going to launch some counter measures,” Sebastien yelled over the wind. He jumped down from the side and pried an electrical cabinet open. A yellow lever clearly marked ‘Caution’ was along the bottom edge. “Watch your eyes.” He jerked the lever.
A steady stream of green tracers rose high into the clouds before drifting down a few hundred meters away. Each launch was followed by a raging hiss. The pair watched for a moment and tromped back towards the shelter a few hundred meters away.
A man waved in the distance and stumbled towards them.
* * *
William snapped awake. A mylar blanket was pulled up to his chin and he lay on a plastic sheet. The inside of the shelter was barely lit. The wind snapped and howled at the rigid inflatable structure. He simply listened to the angry wind raging outside. Voices echoed from outside and he heard more clanging of stakes.
The dim light penetrated enough to show a line of a dozen men and women laid next to him. A man was leaned over further down the line tying a wound dressing on. The wind slapped and shook the entire shelter.
William looked down the row and tried to see each face. Some were soft, still, chilled looking while others spasmed and twitched. Bruises, dressings, cuts, and raw skin peered back. He raised his voice and called out, “Hey, corpsman.”
The man looked over at him and nodded before returning to the dressing in front of him. He walked over to William and squatted on his haunches.
“How are you feeling?”
“Not as bad as I could. What’s the toll?”
The man snorted and sat back. His eyes were dark and deep set, bruising blotted across his neck like a paint smudge. Two collars sprouted around his neck, from the two jackets he was wearing.
“Well, seeing as two thousand people were just scattered from LEO, not too bad,” he responded sourly. He sighed and rubbed his hands together in front of him.
“Who’s in charge?” William asked.
The man looked up at William with raised eyebrows. “You.”
William nodded. “Well then, where’s everyone else?” He stood slowly and tenderly. His wounds were dressed and he felt stiff.
“We’ve got another tent setup, so far there’s about forty survivors. Most though—” he waved an arm down the line of wounded, “—aren’t doing that well.”
The pair walked out of the dim tent and into the crisp wind. William had to grasp onto the shoulder of the man for help. Around him were two more tents identical to the first. Small drifts built up like loaves of dough around the tents. Boxes and crates were scattered nearby. A group of men struggled to hammer in the last set of stakes.
“What’s your name?” Willam called to the man.
“Vito,” he called back, his head lowered to the wind.
The two men walked into the nearest tent. Vito held open the flap and William stepped into the crowded space. Hunched shoulders and tight, cold faces turned to look at him. All around were faces angry, confused, hurt. Several of the men were uninjured, but most were haggard, beat, bruised, with some missing limbs or with arms in slings. The eyes that looked at him were of scared men.
“I’m Midshipman Grace,” William said over the wind. “What’s our situation?”
“We’re fucked,” a voice called from the back of the tent.
William nodded. He should have expected that response. “Let’s try that again.”
“Sir, we’ve got nearly two dozen survivors. Kwesi, Selim and Nur are out setting up another tent. I’m, um, Tero, sir. Engineers Mate Tero.” The man was plump in his face and his neck practically swam in the oversize heavy jacket.
“Food? Water?” William asked. The wind slapped against the tent and the sides bowed in a bit.
Another man responded, “Private Aleksandr, sir, we’ve found cases of drop rations, we’ve got about four so far.”
William nodded. Each case was rations for fifty men for a day. So they had four days, and they hadn’t even combed the crash site.
“Water?” he asked as he shifted his weight.
Aleksandr shook his head. “We’re eating the snow, we’ve got no way to melt any water.”
“How are we gonna get out of here?” a voice called out angrily from the back.
William looked to the back of the tent. A man sat on the floor with his back against the wall. His shoulders were hunched forward but his head looked up defiantly. Both of his eyes were ringed with deep bruises. His nose was smashed across the bridge.
“I think we’ll try to stay alive for a bit before we worry about rebuilding the ship, don’t you think?” William replied with a bit of a jest.
The man simply glared back. William scanned the faces of the others, none were defiant, most were blank and still in shock.
“Do we have any comms?” William asked.
A thin man with almond eyes responded, “Comms Mate Xan, sir. There’s a dropcap about a kilometer away with, I think, an undamaged commset, but it has no power.”
“Can we fix it?” William asked as he looked around the room.
“Not unless we get juice,” Xan replied with frosted breath.
William nodded slightly. The wind slapped and ripped with the intensity of a modest hurricane.
“Can anyone get into one of the capsules and get us some power?” William looked to the group and saw only downcast eyes with a single defiant look back.
“I can.” The man with defiant eyes stated.
“And who is ‘I’?” William asked with a slight spit. His shoulder blades began to ache as the adrenaline picked up.
“Grue. I’ll get your fucking power,” the man replied, with dark eyes.
“Okay, Grue. Xan, go with him and help,” William said.
“I don’t need any help,” Grue replied.
“No one goes out alone.” William stared at Grue and saw nothing but anger.
The wind rippled the walls like a billowed sail before settling back to a howl. The air bounced around them as the walls shook and quivered. Clouds of frost from there voices shook before them.
Grue stood and pushed his way through the crowd. A few sets of eyes looked up as he passed. Xan stumbled and dropped to a knee before standing next to Grue by the door. The pair hesitated, looked back, and finally pushed through the flaps and outside. The wind slapped the flaps and the men stumbled with heads down out the door.
Outside raged a wind that had built around most of a planet. The seas whipped and churned as the warm air rose from the south and finally chopped against the icy fringes of the north. It circled like a stabled stallion until finally smashing into the landmass that the survivors sat on. It was unrelenting and violent.
* * *
Corporal Berry clung to the mylar blanket and pulled it as tight as he could. His legs were thrashed and bruised and he could feel the warmth of the nanites sealing up the tear in his side. He was almost giddy with the painkillers and wanted to laugh out loud when the Midshipman had sparred with the Engineer.
“Oh man, this is going to be good,” he said. Specks of light danced on the edge of his eyes. He could sleep, he could feel it coming, but he was afraid.
An olive-skinned man shuddered next to him and struggled to get comfortable. One ear was missing. A ragged patch of dried blood was the only thing left.
“Skinny up there, boy, lean against my back,” Berry said with a smile and slid himself back.
The earless man turned and relaxed against his back. He was icy and tight. “You’re warm,” he said with slurred speech.
“Private, you need a patch.”
The man was silent and only shivered.
“Lost ‘em, eh, Private? A private is as a Private does.” Berry turned his head slightly and gave a light jab with his elbow. “Now you just stick with Corporal Berry, I’ll take care of you, Private.” He dug out the box and flipped it onto the man’s lap.
“Nur. Well, my new friend, stick with the Berry and you’ll see things right.” Berry relaxed himself into Nur and made it a point to track down the Engineer, Grue, if he came back. He didn’t like the Navy—he didn’t like the Army much either, for that matter. But he especially didn’t like young, useless Officers. The Midshipman was the pinnacle of everything that was wrong with the new Military.
“Oh god,” Nur whispered and relaxed into Berry as the nanites gripped.
“That ain’t god, Nur, you remember now.” He looked up to the Midshipman and shook his head. That’s it, he thought, the problem with all of this. Take away the real professionals, the Americans, the Russians, Chinese, and let anyone who signed a piece of paper lead. A shame. A damned dirty shame. “You remember now.”
* * *
William looked to the group of broken, injured, fallen men before him. “We need supplies. NCOs?”
A few eyes raised up. “Sir?” one asked, barely above the wind.
“Names?” William asked.
“Crow.” The man he met earlier said with a horse voice.
“Berry,” the last NCO answered loudly.
“We need supplies. More gear. Food, whatever looks useful. Keep an eye out for survivors,” William said. He knew looking for more people alive was slim.
“Sir, what about whatever shot us down?” Berry asked.
“I don’t know, Corporal Berry.”
“What if they come back?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you know? A fucking Midshipman?” Berry called out to no one.
No one looked up to him. Eyes were cast down to the frosted floor beneath. William shifted his feet and felt the bandages crackle like raw paper. It wasn’t the moment to call rank, no one would buy it. The people before him were one argument away from falling apart.
“Yeah. A Midshipman. I didn’t see you doing anything when I came in.”
“We…” Berry’s voice was lost in another gust that nearly buckled the wall. He stayed quiet when the wind stopped.
“I’m with the first team. Let’s go for a stroll,” William said.
“Sir.” The man named Leduc stood and walked to the edge of the door. He slid a mask from his pocket and smoothed it over his black stubble covered head.