The noise of the engines in
the enormous hanger was deafening. Yet above the roar of the Hoppers, as they
streamed in through the space doors, was the low-level, agonising moans of thousands
of casualties. The battle cruiser Ostal’s main hanger had, over the last
twenty minutes or so, taken on the guise of an enormous, frenetic and utterly
chaotic triage area. Hoppers hovered, seeking a footprint of unoccupied hanger
floor, landed, unloaded the dead and the dying then took off again. Amid the mass
of bloody and charred combat-suited human forms the semi-intelligent battlefield
medical units vied with automated stretcher-bearers, floating blood banks, medics
and doctors to ‘identify and prioritise’.
Among the hundreds
of medical personnel Lieutenant Commander Katrin Rebora and a combat medic were
kneeling, working intently on a badly burnt soldier whose combat fatigues were
“Sedate, tag for
icing,” Katrin instructed then, with aching limbs, stood. She looked around at
the sea of bodies then quickly moved to another casualty being attended to by
another medic. Peaking over the medic’s shoulder, she took an instrument from
her pocket and pointed it at the casualty.
“Tracheotomy. Sterilise. AB
positive. One litre,” Katrin said to no one in particular.
bank drifted over and hovered above her and the medic. They responded like a
well-drilled team: putting away the instrument Katrin raised both hands towards
the bank which scanned then sprayed them. As soon as this was done the medic
reached up got his hands scanned and sprayed then detached a drip from the
blood bank. With the casualty’s arms mere blackened stumps he inserted the drip
into a vein in the casualty’s leg.
Dropping to her knees Katrin wearily
muttered, “Hundred and fifty watt scalpel.”
The medic took a
laser scalpel from the blood bank’s tray and slapped it into her outstretched hand.
Katrin stooped and without ceremony started to operate on the casualty’s neck.
The casualty, a just-out-of-school eighteen-year-old, remained conscious
throughout but like a hardened veteran didn’t utter a sound.
kilometre away in a far corner of the hanger, a petite marine wearing an
immaculate dress uniform, incongruous amongst the surrounding carnage, entered
the hanger. Appearing to be even more youthful than the casualty, she took in
the vista with one dispassionate sweep. Then daintily and fastidiously taking
her time to step around the blood, guts and disarray she made her way
unerringly over to stand behind Katrin.
while rising from the floor, Katrin handed the scalpel back to the medic.
“Dress. Tag, Bag. Rehab.”
As she was
about to move to another casualty, the marine tapped her on the shoulder. “Lieutenant
Commander Rebora, I’m Colonel Novalta. We have a priority on a bioprep.”
turned, made as if to protest then changed her mind. Again she raised both
hands to the blood bank. “Excoriate and sterilise.” As the bank scanned her
hands the surgical gloves she had been wearing started to evaporate. Then the
bank sprayed and dried her hands. Both women made their way purposefully out
through the chaos.
Colonel, I know you combat types are immune to suffering and are probably
unaware that the medical units can’t really hack it, plus there is a
shortage of doctors...” Katrin left it at that.
Colonel smiled. “It’s Mary... You medical types, despite the patent evidence, are
probably unaware that we’ve been on the wrong end of a one-sided beating and
need to do something about that - it’s a combat thing.”
Having been yanked
out of medical school, tossed into a uniform, given some inane rank and been told
‘she was now in The Navy’ one of the first, and most painful, lessons
she’d learned was ‘orders were orders.’ Bloody military!
The isolation unit was a four
metre square space crammed with LCDs, automation and hi-tech medical apparatus
that was also bathed in red light. In the centre of the unit was a bed. Lying
asleep on it was the Platinum Stinger Lume, a tall, lithe, sweet looking man. His
wrists were handcuffed to the sides of the bed by electronic manacles. Mary and
Katrin entered the room via a door which opened like an iris dilating. The door
contracted behind them with a hiss. They stopped a metre from the bed to look
down at Lume. As Katrin started to move closer Mary flicked out a hand across
Katrin, blocking her path and continued to examine him. Satisfied that he was
asleep, Mary lowered her hand.
moved to manipulate a console by the foot of the bed then, making a point, remained
by the equipment. Keeping her eyes on Lume, Mary reached out, grabbed Katrin by
the back of the collar and pulled her away from the bed.
problem, he’s handcuffed. What’s he done?
her a scolding glance then refocused on Lume. “Feet.”
“His feet aren’t
Platinum Stinger, Doctor.”
Blinking, Lume gradually
awakened. His eyes, iris and cornea, were coloured jet black. He slowly and
deliberately scanned the entire unit, eyes finally coming to rest on the two
women. He raised an eyebrow then smiled. “Infra-red?”
prepped for a leave-behind,” Mary informed him.
to move his arms, couldn’t and looked down at the handcuffs. “Shackles?”
Mary regarded him
impassively “I am Colonel Novalta, your briefing officer and this is Lieutenant
Commander Rebora, the medical transition supervisor.”
With an icy
calmness he stared at each woman in turn. “Shackles.”
Fists clenched, he
wrestled for a few moments against the restraints then gave up. All the while
Katrin stared lustfully at him.
withdrawal is under way so your deployment has been moved up.” Mary ignored his
anger Lume glared at Mary. “Shackles!”
excitement Katrin read the console then piped up, “It’s a low oxygen
atmosphere. As the germ-lines take there will be hormonal imbalances that may
have a significant effect on your behaviour...”
“Your lungs will
adapt within twelve hours at which point your testosterone levels will be
normal. Until then, sex drive-wise...” With a blasé shrug, Mary left it at that.
Lume took a
moment to consider the implications of this. “So, the plan was to have me on
ice until I was prepped... Just how tactical is this withdrawal?”
under for twenty-nine hours - the eyes take longest. Prepping and briefing will
be concurrent,” Mary continued business-like.
Lume seemed highly amused then became more sombre, “Losses?”
“You don’t want
to know,” Mary answered, equally sombrely.
tactical then. It seems like I only got back this morning from another
“There’re some of
us who’d feel privileged to be selected for a leave-behind.”
disdainfully looked the diminutive Mary over, from her feet to the top of her
head. “A leave-behind is a Stinger’s errand.”
Mary stared back. “Re: your over-active glands, do I have your word?”
Lume stared at
Mary for a long moment, then... “You have my word.”
reached for a device on her belt and the handcuffs snapped open. Katrin took an
involuntary step backwards. Lume sat up, sniggering at Katrin, while distractedly
massaging his wrists. “Omega Zero Three?”
raised an inquisitive and expectant eyebrow as Mary asked, “Yes, how did you
“Low oxygen, low
light. Never been prepped for infra-red before...” He stared at Katrin then grinned
wickedly. “...didn’t realise that you could see fear.”
defiantly stepped back up to the console.
“You’re on board
the battle cruiser Ostal, over the next four to five hours you will
begin to find the atmosphere on board too oxygen rich. The percentage and
partial pressure in here will be fine.” Mary indicated a pair of darken goggles
by the side of the bed. “R & R until then.”
One of Ostal’s many canteens
was abuzz with the general chatter of several hundred enlisted personnel; a
broad mixture of races and ethnicity. All were dressed in combat greens and most
of them were walking wounded. A group of seven scruffy looking male and female
soldiers, having finished their meal, collectively rose from their table and tiredly
started making their way through the crowd out of the canteen. One of the
female soldiers, Sergeant Khan, stopped for a moment and held her hand to her
earpiece then caught up with her comrades.
allotted us a berth somewhere down on deck 17, grab the kit and decamp there. I’ll
go check the suits.”
One of the
soldiers grumbled, “Let’s hope it’s more salubrious than a week of kipping in a
Sergeant Khan grimaced.
“Be thankful for small mercies, JJ. I hear that on some ships it’s been standing
room only for over a week. Be pretty smartish about storing the kit, we’ll jump
soon. The extraction detail must be about done.”
Another of the
soldier snorted, “What’s there to extract, Sarg? We got smeared over the face
of that planet.”
shrugged as the group ambled out. The wide corridor outside the canteen was overflowing
with dishevelled and dispirited soldiers trudging along, whilst in their midst
some were sleeping on the floor or simply trying to find a space to bed down. As
the seven soldiers made their way through the organised confusion, Sergeant
Khan collected small disks from each of her comrades, placed them in her breast
pocket then separated herself from the group and turned off down an adjacent corridor.
were not designed with a surfeit of dead space, however, any passageway that
led to a main magazine needed to be cavernous to facilitate the loading of the
multitude of outsized munitions. High up on one of the gantries overlooking the
corridor, Lume, wearing the darkened goggles, was perched, arms folded, calmly
observing the horde below. He was dressed in a conspicuously different, completely
black one-piece suit. Continuing the theme of understated exceptionality the only
ornamentation on the suit was the Platinum Stinger’s insignia on its lapels.
Sergeant Khan continued
to make her way down crammed corridors and gangways filled with soldiers and
the stench of suffering. Moving deliberately she gingerly stepped around, and
over, the troops sprawled everywhere as if wading through a refugee camp. Then,
she descended a series of stairs and ladders. The multitude and unmilitary disorder
progressively thinned out at each level as she moved further into the bowels of
the ship, finally arriving at a long, dark, silent corridor with a door marked
Armoury 7 at its dead-end. She halted in front of the heavily armed guard at
23rd Marine drop division out of The Jakarta. I understand that our suits
are stored here.”
waved his hand in the air and a holographic schematic appeared in front of him.
He studied it for a few seconds then whistled ruefully. “Only eighteen
survivors from a full assault division drop.” He then looked the Sergeant over.
“More than juicy,
salivating... The Jakarta?” Khan answered thoroughly bored.
refocused on the schematic then slowly shook his head. “Cion, Jakarta,
Mooneen, Stark and Taurus, plus a bucketful of others so
crippled that they had to leave the party... Retina scan.”
stepped up to an interface in the door and the hologram in front of the guard
flashed twice. “Level six. Aisle twenty-six. Row twelve.” The guard stepped
aside, the massive re-enforced door silently swung inwards and Sergeant Khan strolled
in. The door closed with a muffled thump behind her.
7, the size of a respectable warehouse, was dimly lit and stacked from floor to
ceiling with mirror-shiny armoured combat suits and infantry hand weapons
hanging from racks. Sergeant Khan boarded an open elevator which lifted her
several levels then came to a smooth stop. She disembarked and started to
navigate her way purposefully along the aisles, checking aisle numbers as she went.
Turning down an aisle she came to a batch of hanging suits that were only
patchily mirror-shiny, intact but obviously damaged. Taking the disks from her
pocket, she selected one and attached it to the front of a suit. The disk
started to glow.
Joseph. Lance Corporal. Space Marine. Sierra, bravo, eight, zero, nine, one,
five, five. Diagnostics: main power level, one hundred percent; auxiliary power
level, one hundred percent; primary bio systems, non-functional - repairing;
secondary bio systems, thirty-one percent functional - repairing;
communications, all channels functioning. Self-repair, seventy-three point five
percent complete. Combat ready in T minus nine hours,” the suit’s external
Removing the disk
she turned her attention to the next suit. As she selected another disk and reached
out to attach it Lume stepped out from between the suits about five metres
further down the aisle.
nearly jumped out of her skin. Stepping away from the suits, she turned to fully
face him. “Yes, Platinum Stinger?”
Lume folded his
arms and took a while to respond. “At ease, Sergeant. A proposition.”
on suspiciously but remained silent.
prepped for a leave-behind,” he indicated the goggles. “So it’ll be some time
until I next have the opportunity to have an encounter...”
“How did you get
past the retina scan?!”
shrugged modestly. Khan dropped the disks and, whipping out her long combat
knife from her boot, went into a defensive crouch.
“Whoa! You haven’t
heard the proposition yet.”
shuffled from side to side uncertain whether to defend, attack, or simply turn
Lume looked at
her askance then smiled. “An entire brigade pinned down. Taking so much fire
that the ground in and around their position was starting to roast. All of a
sudden, the spanking stops. Any idea why?” He gave her a moment to consider. “Someone,
a sergeant I think, which could only mean that all the officers were
dead, started clamouring to be evacuated but, of course, comms were being
swamped. Then, behold, as if by magic, a Hopper comes a-fluttering down.” Looking
up to the heavens he let her ponder that as well. “Hmm... Now, let’s see, only
a body with UV line-of-sight comms could have given a precise fix to the boys
and girls up top. No fire suppression, but the Hopper makes it all the way down
and plucks up said sergeant and her oddments. Still no fire suppression and
still no incoming fire. They made it all the way back to orbit, apparently.
towards the sergeant. “You know the proposition.”
poised, Sergeant Khan took a defiant pace towards him, determined. Platinum
Stinger or not she was definitely going to fight! Lume continued to swagger
nonchalantly towards her. As he drew close she circled, ready to strike. But,
Lume sauntered past her then looked back over his shoulder.
“You owe me your life and all
I was after was some female relief.”