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This excerpt is from right within the story:
At long last, Gezka got a chance to confer with her superior officer – she wanted to ask about forcing hand to hand combat and close gun fighting and wanted permission and then advice on the best way to achieve it. Instead, Gezka jogged through the smoky, dusty dark night only to arrive just after her commanding officer was killed by combined ‘mortar’ then laser and bullet barrage. Gezka entered what remained of the field command point and did not leave until she had grabbed the maps and called in to confirm to other officers that the Captain was dead.
She was informed, as she ran for cover in the night, plotting revenge that must not be revenge but simple tactics to move the war forward, that she had just earned a field promotion. She managed to get medical staff to the dead officers and to gather together a couple of the other junior officers to make the new plan.
“Congratulations Captain,” reported one of her beleaguered comrades. She had known the man for years.
She smiled. “I think we had better prevent that from happening again, don’t you?”
They worked on the plans for hours, with a hot wind whipping past their ankles. No one knew why, but on that planet, at least where they were, there were winds that scraped the ground and didn’t seem to ever get as high as the knees.
For readers wondering why the combat is not being described in more detail, all that can be said is, ‘Please be patient, we’ll get way more into that later’.
Gezka, the new Captain, did not sleep again for days and nights due to the demands of the combat. She was able to get what she wanted – which was three squads who managed to raid the enemy and to use hand-to-hand combat. She preferred this, but not all the time. It was gratifying for her to punish the enemy and to protect her troops by killing off some soldiers who were running a ground tank and then some more who had been using something the equivalent of a helicopter – as that was what had killed off her Captain.
After a few cycles of day and night as her mind had begun to grow strange, some relief arrived along with a set of brief orders for her to return to a base for re-medication and rest. She was not opposed to this, and set out to follow orders. She disliked handing off the maps and the command to the man she left them with. She had also known him for years and felt that there were conditions in this scenario that might outdo him. Every soldier has their strengths and weaknesses. She would have been happy to pass the same man the duties if they had been making combat in orbit or in forested terrain or even in a city, but this was something like rocky coastline on desert and not a good match for his skills. Nevertheless, she obeyed her orders. The liquid off the coast was not water.
En route, she was drawn to what looked like a small aero-spacecraft. She could tell she needed sleep rather badly because she was only fairly certain that she had seen one of these craft before – not the enemy’s but their own. They had only shown up within the previous year or two. She went to it, expecting to find either a superior officer or else an injured or dead team inside of it. She checked it for traps and wondered if she was slap happy or paranoid.
She cleared the interior – it was empty. She was able to identify it as belonging to another battalion of the Naav’s, but last time she checked, they had relied on the same mother ship. She felt compelled to fly it herself. She had no idea what possessed her to suddenly try something new but she went ahead and figured out how to make it go. She had been trained to drive a few different types of vehicles and had been engineered for brains as well as combat reflexes, so it seemed like something she should be able to do.
Sure enough, it worked. She began to fly back to the Naav’s big ship in orbit. Then something happened she didn’t understand. Once she brought the small vessel off the planet, and into orbit, she began to steer it away from where she was supposed to go. It wasn’t like her to disobey orders. This will come up again.
Soon after that, Gezka figured out that this little rig was able to go faster than light but that whenever it did there was an unpleasant side effect: this nasty, weird feeling is going to be called “dimensional burn” for the rest of the story. Gezka tried a few things and ended up taking the aerospace craft on a hyper light journey to one of the few places in the Rim where she had gone on vacation.
Readers may wonder – is the obvious true? Was she that out of her head from lack of sleep, or is something else going on here?
Perhaps now is a good time for readers to know: Exterior military personnel, at least Rejkyavik’s don’t ‘mix well’ with civilians. They have segregation laws there to prevent such things. The space station Gezka went to was one of those special places that was dependent upon the business it brought in from the Exterior. In this case, one of the means of survival had been to cater to military troops. There were a few decks where the Exterior was able to bring in military troops without them getting exposed to regular people. Normally, these meetings had to be arranged days in advance so that the decks would be clear of all other subtypes of humans.
Now, Gezka going there alone, without the station having had time to prepare was too much like a terrorist bringing a bomb with the timer already running to an airport. The funny thing was, Gezka did not know this. She just went to a place she had been before.
The Space Station was a faint glow in the vast expanse of darkness that is space. This wasn’t standard practice amongst space stations. There was a reason for it. Conditions in outer space are actually quite sensitive. Most of the freighters and other ships that approached this particular station ran lights and vibrations. It turned out that anything too reflective would endanger approaching ships. As a consequence, this station was covered in a slightly radiant form of black which would absorb the lights rather than bounce them back.
Gezka flew around until she found a docking bay. She was not asked to report in by the station. The station serviced a lot of black market operations and found it easier to ask fewer questions. There were people and systems inside that read the area around the station. They would know if someone showed up. No one needed to tell them. She docked the small vessel, unsure of how seriously clouded her mind was from lack of sleep.
She disembarked still not knowing why she had not simply returned to the battleship like she normally would have.
* * *
I lifted the bottle in the nick of time. The FaucMerz came crashing into the booth table with at least one opponent, wrapped together in a grappling bar fight. I pulled back in my seat. I didn’t know if I just felt old, or mature. I don’t get into many bar fights nowadays. I turned 50 Earth years old a couple of years ago now. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t back down; its just that I start trouble even less than I used to. My name’s Kiel Bronson.
The FaucMerz made quick work of the end of her little tussle and I could tell it was time for us to leave.
Gezka looks a lot like a young, giant Earth woman but with a very special twist. If you’re an Earthling then you’ll see how alien she is, for a human. She’s bigger than most Earthling men, with strangely broad shoulders as well as hips and skin as pale as an albino’s. You probably won’t see her eyes; she wears special goggles to keep out the light in places where you might come across an Earthling.
Once you know what to look for, you can easily tell she’s a soldier. She’s one of Emperor Rejkyavik’s pieces of military equipment. They breed them out there. They use genetic engineering and eugenics, not to mention brainwashing and cultural separatism. In actual fact, I’m the first friend she’s ever made who isn’t also part and parcel of the ExxyNaav – that’s what her military force is called. Emperor Rejkyavik’s ExxyNaav. They are something along the lines of a “Space Navy” but their military forces do not have the same divisions of labor as Earth’s.
I found her. She’s mine. The kid went AWOL; we still don’t know why. She told me she had just been field promoted to Captain – that means someone else died in combat so she gets the new job opening. She broke the law again by leaving Exterior Federation Territory and went to one of the few space stations in The Rim she had ever been to. Typical, she went somewhere she’d already been. I found her in there, ordering her first drink while soaked in blood. Back home we call this guilty of murder. I think her perspective was more like war atrocities, but that’s the trouble with taking a soldier out of combat and mixing them in with regular people too soon. She wasn’t ready and a lot of civilians died because of it.
I talked to her. She could tell I was some kind of Sergeant. Her Interior
Federation English was not very good. Even so, we left the space station in a hurry and left a trail of blood, but we left together.
To me, she did not really look human, but I only thought so because I had been trained to identify military personnel and equipment. To me, it was obvious. As long as she was in uniform, most people would be able to tell. I was considering trying to hide her; that was really why I was even thinking about it.
* * *
When she was at a bar she had been to before she noticed that it seemed different. The bar tender was terrified and there were no other soldiers there. Well, almost none. A man spoke to her who wasn’t the bar tender. Everything seemed strange as she had gone without sleep so long and she was low on her normal doses of metabolic enhancers. He spoke strangely. It was actually a different language, but it was Interstellar English. She recognized it in a vague way: she had received some lessons about it during one round of training.
Most Exxy Naav soldiers get new training any time they get hospitalized but aren’t so far gone that they get euthanized. The Naav has very strict measures for who to bother to save and who to wipe the floor with. This was part and parcel of the lifestyle. There were other times when soldiers received additional training but it was much more efficient than letting them lose their minds from boredom while costing a lot of money. Most soldiers hated how long it took them to heal from their injuries. They liked it when they at least had something to show for it at the end.
She turned to the new stranger. He was short but strong. He looked like he had military experience and she could tell he had some combat experience, but how much was not clear. He was from a foreign political power, but not one of the enemies. Enemies: in truth the Emperor rarely viewed opponents as enemies. He told the people that they should be viewed “as friends who need some persuading”; nothing more; nothing less. Persuasion often included military warfare against them. Not always, but that was Gezka’s Emperor. She loved him of course: every loyal soldier does.
The new stranger spoke to her. She found him comforting but did not perceive why. He invited her to associate with him, and seemed to accept her military mannerisms – he was awkward compared to her comrades-in-arms but he was clearly more relaxed than everyone else in the bar. She had 2 drinks with him but when someone tried to ask her to pay just as strong lights blasted in through a suddenly opened door she attacked the wait staff without really thinking. There was some scuffling and screaming and groaning. She felt the older man pull at her and shout about leaving and for some reason she did what he said, but didn’t know why.
They left together. He flew a different small ship. He told her go into the back, to relax and get some rest. She passed out amongst some cargo. It was easier to sleep there than in the field, but not as good as a cot or a bed. When she woke up, she knew something had changed but didn’t know what. Other than that, she was mainly just confused. She did feel better, though. In fact, she felt so much better that she suspected she had slept for an abnormally long time.
The older man with the dark skin moved and suddenly spoke, “You up, Soldier?” he asked.
“Ja, ja,” she muttered, realizing she had not even learned the man’s name.
“Good, good. You can clean yourself up there, in the back, I think,” he said.
She did. She was running low of most of her normal boosters. It wasn’t good. She looked into a mirror. She appeared to be OK. She washed and checked her tattoos – it was her serial numbers. Something was different, but she didn’t know what. She wondered if some program the scientists had hidden in her brain and mind had been set off – was it because she was a Captain now? Captain Faucmerz?
She wondered if her comrades were missing her. She both hoped so and hoped not. She hoped that as a Naav soldier she mattered to her team, but now as it sank in that she was gone, she had a surge of fear and hope that they were doing OK without her. She had been supposed to check in for a rest.
The man she had just met made some noise. She re-checked herself and went out of the little bathroom. He was very alert to her. She tried to tell how much it was fear and how much it might be attraction. He was definitely darker and not the same type of human as herself. Where Gezka came from, everyone was engineered. Without that, the human species would not have been able to colonize the stellar region. This man was a type she had not seen before, but she thought maybe she had seen an image of the type on a news broadcast.
He gave her a weird smile and said, “I’m Kiel Bronson, but maybe you had better call me Sergeant.”
She gave him a weird look right back. “I see you’re not the enemy,” she said.
He chuckled, but she could hear the fear in his voice. “That’s right, soldier. I’m an Earthling. Have you met an Earthling before?”
“No,” she said. It was the truth. “Well, I did meet you last night, so yes.”
“OK,” he said. He was certain now, that he was more than twice her age, even though she was an adult. It still made him uncomfortable at times, to realize how old he really was, but there was a lot about it that he liked. One thing for sure, was both the good and the bad of it: he had a lot more life experience than anyone her age.