Mills sat quietly at the bedside staring at his longtime friend and comrade. Direlwanger had been grievously injured the night they had conducted the first ambush against the Kra'Vak. It had been his task to decoy the reaction force away from the escaping Special Forces. This he had accomplished at the cost of nearly all his group. Kra'Vak fire had collapsed a building upon him, and only the daring work of two others had pulled his crushed body free and brought him to safety.
Direlwanger was down to his last few hours. There had not been adequate medical support to do much for the massive internal damage he sustained. That he had survived this long was a miracle. Mills struggle to maintain his composure as he spoke quietly with his old friend. They had served together in the 5th Bureau for fifteen years on many different worlds. Direlwanger had taught him so much. It was a shame he had to go in this way. But as with everything the old man did, he bore the end of his life with dignity.
"It is quite funny old friend," he said, "that we started out to see this planet to undermine it's progress but instead nearly have all been killed fighting to preserve it. No doubt some back in the office will call our efforts into question."
Direlwanger coughed. "Do not let what hey think guide your actions, Anatoly. We see that this threat from the aliens supercedes any petty squabbles we humans have between each other." He tried to smile but ended up wincing instead. Mills gripped his hand. "No no it's alright, I'm not going yet. You face now the most important task of your career. There will be those who will see this war as an opportunity to weaken our enemies. They will say that we should allow the Kra'Vak to crush the NSL, NAC and others. These fools will be the undoing of us all. Only by working together can we hope to survive. Who knows, maybe this will be the thing that brings humans together once and for all.
"I doubt it."
"You must take what we've learned here, the data and experiences back to them and make them listen. Work for cooperation. Without it all will be lost. Including the Rodina."
"Listen to you. You've become quite an internationalist!"
"Maybe so, but you know I speak the truth." Mills only nodded. "It is time for you to go. Do you have the package?"
Mills picked up the explosive charge from the floor and showed him. "I'll set it for fifteen minutes." He fiddled with the switches. Mills put the charge at the foot of the bed. Other sensitive equipment and documents were stacked in the small room and would be destroyed when the charge detonated. That should cover their tracks.
"Good enough. Do me a favor and hand me that book on the table."
Mills picked up the small thick book opened it. A Bible. He handed it to Direlwanger. "I never knew."
"You never asked." The old man grinned.
Mills bent over and kissed him on both cheeks, then stood erect and saluted. Direlwanger nodded.
"Dos vydanye". Mills left the room.
He left the small shack and crossed the walkway to the main building. Inside Blost and Karlsen stood together waiting. They looked at him oddly.
"Hello Mills." He spun and saw Lawrence standing in a corner. His arms were crossed with a pistol in one hand. No doubt the surprise and shock were evident on his face but he quickly composed himself." Or should I say Anatoly Pyatkin?"
"Charlie!" He grinned "You're OK!"
"Can it Pyatkin. We know everything. No wonder why you guys were so damn organized for a homegrown resistance movement. Home grown my ass. Search them."
Mills looked around and saw Mellor and Molitoris covering them with raised weapons from other corners. With Eric covering, Mellor moved forward and relieved the three of their bags, with a quick frisk. While padding down Karlsen, Mellor winked. "Hey sweetheart. Miss me?" She gave him a nasty look. Mellor scanned each with a small device.
"They're clean, Chuck."
"Search the bags. Blank anything with data on it. Quickly."
"What are you going to do, turn us in? Kill us?"
"We were sent here to capture you and turn you over to the Security Polezei. Obviously they have great interest in you."
"And what of the last few weeks together? This means nothing to you? Here we are in the middle of a war against the Kra'Vak and you rather waste time fucking over your own kind? You're no better than the Kra'Vak. Worse."
"Can the high-horse bullshit, Mills." Lawrence stepped forward. "I said we were sent here to capture you. That doesn't mean we're going to. I happen to agree with you about the whole situation. As of this month we all have bigger problems to worry about than each other.
"So what does that mean?"
"It means I'm cutting you loose. How are you getting off planet?"
"We have our ways."
"Yeah I suppose you do."
"Found it. Two crystals." Said Mellor.
"That's it." Kenny pocketed the crystals
"You can't take those!" said Mills. "If you are serious about our working together then I need that data to convince my people."
"Nuh uh. Don't press my good will. That stuff stays with us. Leave with what's on your back. You can take your weapons too but we'll drop the rest of your stuff outside after we leave."
Mills decided against pressing the issue. "Well then we better get out of here since this whole building is going to be destroyed in less than five minutes."
"OK then let's move. We'll leave first and drop your stuff outside. I thought I'd never be telling anyone from the ESU this but good luck." What a fucked up situation, Lawrence thought.
"Thanks. You too." They ran out the door.
Mills studied the wall clock. Three minutes.
"The data." Said Karlsen. "Are we going after them?"
"No need," said Blost patting the heel of his boot.
Mills smiled. Blost had a shielded compartment in his heel with a backup copy of the data. "I suggest we get moving!"
They stepped out into the darkened street and grabbed their bags, which were lying just where Lawrence had said. There was no sign of them. Blost waved and they ran after him across the abandoned street to another building. They got in and took cover as a tremendous explosion ripped apart the maintenance facility. Direlwanger and any evidence of their operation were gone. Blost studied the map for a moment and explained the route they would be taking out of the city. After donning their gear and charging their weapons, they set off. Since they were moving away from the fighting they could travel quickly.
They had just entered a building when a bright flash lit up the sky like day. They hit the dirt. Karlsen said it first. "A nuclear explosion!" They waited for the blast to hit, not having any idea how far away they were from ground zero. It took almost a minute for the shockwave to reach them, greatly reduced. The explosion had taken place somewhere outside of town.
"Damn it all! How in he hell did they slip in there like that? Can I get a clear situation of what's happening down on the planet's surface?"
Mallory, the fleet intelligence officer, was shifting from foot to foot. "Admiral we're still sorting things out but it appears the initial report was incorrect. The Kra'Vak ships did not fire on the planet's surface. The detonations occurred on the surface. Definitely nuclear but unclear whether it was air- delivered, artillery or demo."
"Locations? Is the city hit?"
No Sir, that was an erroneous report also. There was no detonation within the city limits. One explosion of indeterminate yield occurred at the Eudora mining complex. Two others occurred at the site of atmospheric processors south and north of the city."
"What's the impact on our forces?"
"Minimal since we're basically fighting around Röt Hafen proper. Unfortunately the problem is that many of the refugees who had fled the city were moving towards or already at the Eudora complex. There's no telling how many were killed or injured. The fleet medical officer has already communicated that he is organizing the SAR effort."
"My God. Those bastards. Where are the Kra'Vak now?"
"The ships that made the run on the planet got away, however we did knock one out of their smaller cruisers and subsequently destroyed it. What's more interesting is that three separate Kra'Vak ships actually took off from the planet's surface though the Pommern knocked out two of them before they got to orbit. The third was damaged and later destroyed before it could rejoin the Kra'Vak group."
"What kind of ships? Shuttles?" Bellamy was incredulous.
"Actually, Sir, more like interface transports. Pretty large."
"Somebody please explain to me how the bloody hell we missed three Kra'Vak ships on the planet when we've had orbital superiority for the past week."
"Umm, we're still trying to figure that out ourselves, Admiral."
Bellamy was red in the face with anger and frustration. Just as the battle had appeared wrapped up this had to happen. The Kra'Vak fleet had disengaged and made a mad dash to escape. While most had gotten away nearly a dozen ships had apparently been too damaged to make it out. These had been hunted down and destroyed by the fleet. The small breakaway group of destroyer and cruiser types had made a surprise high speed run on the planet, somehow evading destruction and gotten away.
"Sir the last of the Kra'Vak ships either been destroyed or warped out of system. What are your orders?"
"Tell Admiral Gortlund to conduct a sweep of the outlying planets. I want to make sure no one is hiding on us. Our ships are to maintain station here in case there's a return. Conduct fleet replenishment and SAR at once. Stand down from General Quarters. I'll be in my stateroom working on a dispatch to the fleet"
Bellamy made an effort to appear stately as he left CIC and headed down to his quarters. Once in the privacy of his own room he stripped off his vaccsuit and collapsed into the soft chair behind his work desk. With his head in his hands he closed his eyes to rest but could see nothing but the flashes of beam and exploding ships, the multicolored readouts of the holotank whizzing by and the taunt expressions of his staff as each event unfolded. It was impossible to rest. His mind was racing at a thousand kilometers an hour. He sat up and pulled his datapad close. He would work on a message to the fleet congratulating them on the day's work.
Drake his orderly rang and entered. "I heard you were back in your quarters. Can I get anything for you, Sir? Tea? Something to eat? A bourbon?"
"No thank you, Drake. I'm too keyed up to eat drink or sleep. I've go a lot of little work that has to be done. When I need something I shall summon you."
"Of course, Sir. I'll just turn your bunk for you and pick up the Vacc suit. Your second is hanging in he closet should you need it."
There was something in the calm mundane demeanor of Drake that calmed and comforted him. After all, he'd just been through the same battle as the rest of them. They'd have a drink later, just two old friends. "Thanks, Chap. How about you? How are you faring with all the excitement?"
"Yes, well today was a bit of a stir, but I'm too old to be getting into much of a fuss."
Bellamy laughed and shook his head. Drake, his old friend. "Yes I suppose you're right. I must learn from you, old boy. Anyway, that'll be all for now. Thank you." Drake nodded and left Vaccsuit in hand. Bellamy felt better as he went back to work.
Muldoon stumbled about as if in a daze. There wasn't a man in Second Kompanie that was much use right now, so overcome with fatigue they were. They had yet to have had a decent rest after the post-stim "crash". The fight had died down dramatically, yet there was still isolated pockets or resistance about the city. They were currently sweeping through the rubble which had been the Kra'Vak enclave. It was quite smashed, with human and Kra'Vak bodies scattered everywhere. While no Kra'Vak had yet been taken alive (not that anyone was predisposed to attempt such a thing), there were a few human survivors. Some of these had proved problematic as there had been several which had apparently been tampered with by the Kra'Vak which chose to resist their human rescuers. Each had been killed and found to have some odd implant in the side of their head. TF Command had just passed down an order to take several specimens alive, though no one in Second Kompanie had enough energy to seriously try such a thing. Easier to blast anyone firing at them with a missile launcher or something similar.
A skimmer passed overhead. Muldoon looked up at it, blinking uncomprehendingly. It seemed odd to see something flying in a straight line right over the city. It took no evasive action. It was the first real sign he had that the fighting was really at an end.
"Hey, Sir, look at this!" It was Glover. He was standing amidst the wreckage of some building, his weapon pointed at something in a pile of girders. Muldoon flicked his rifle off safe and jogged over. Two Paras were also there.
"What?" Asked Muldoon.
"I heard something down there."
"I dunno, sounded like a call or a human voice."
There was a lower level to the wrecked building and in the darkness it looked as if a few rooms might still be relatively intact.
One of the paras had a grenade out. "Why take a chance? Stand back and I will take care of the problem."
They started to back away when Glover heard another moan. He held up a hand. "Wait a minute. Listen to that?" It sounded like a female voice crying or moaning. "Might be a civilian."
"Owen this is the enclave. This was a Kra'Vak facility."
"So bloody what? They had plenty of captives here. Might be someone in trouble."
"I say we just blow the hole and move on."
"I'm not going down there." Said the other.
"Owen step away from there." Said Muldoon.
There was some coughing and another cry. "Fuck that I'm going down." He stripped off most of his gear and had just a light and his rifle.
"Owen for christ sake!"
"Just go easy with that grenade, mate."
Owen shined the light into the dark hole. He could make out a floor a two meters below. He looked around then hopped down. Dust and debris fell around him. The ceiling looked unstable. He'd have to proceed with caution. "Hello? Anyone here?" Nothing. He began to have second thoughts. Glover passed his light into every corner and noticed a small gap in the rubble. He got on his hands and knees, creeping forward. Occasionally, small rivulets of dust or dirt gave way overhead. I must be stupid, he thought. Yet he pressed on. Behind him other lights were shining into the hole from above.
He crept forward on hands and knees. Suddenly there was a moan right beside him. He nearly jumped up on all fours, banging his head on the unstable ceiling above him. He shined the light to his right. There was a single hand peering from underneath a large slab which had created a small warren. The hand moved slowly clenching into a fist. Owen squirmed forward shining the light into the opening. It fell upon the gaunt and dirty features of a woman lying beneath what looked like a crushed operating table. The table was holding up the rubble above it, creating a small pocket.
"Hey. Are you all right?" He touched the hand.
There was no answer. But the woman's mouth was moving. Glover to grasped the hand firmly and squeezed. "Miss, can you hear me?"
She slowly turned her face towards him and opened her eyes. Her head was swathed in bandages. An IV ran to her forearm. Recognition filler her eyes and she squeezed back. She uttered one soft thin raspy word. "Help."
"You just hold on a second." He said. Glover looked over the rest of her body she appeared OK except for one leg trapped under a bent table leg. He felt gingerly along her knee to her shin, which disappeared under the metal bar. He applied some pressure to see if it would budge. It moved a little then caught on something. She whimpered I pain.
"Sorry miss. Just a moment." Glover backed out from under the table and flashed his light back towards the opening. "Hey! You guys hear me?"
"Yeah what is it?"
"I've got somebody down here. A female. She's hurt but alive, trapped under some mess. One of you guys get me a rope down here. I'm going to try and get her loose then you can haul her out."
"Alright, wait a minute." Said Muldoon.
Glover went back under and tested out how much give was in the table. He pushed up against it. At first it didn't move then he put his shoulder into it and found that it budged a little. If he could get on his back and push up with his legs he felt he could get her out.
"Don't you worry miss, we'll have you out of here in a jiff."
"I..I ..What's happened? Where are the...those things?"
"If you're talking about the bloody Kra'Vak they've been shown the door so to speak."
"They're gone, finito, kaput." Glover examined the table to find the best purchase for his legs.
"Yes...Kaput. Who are you?"
Glover shined the light into his face so she could see it and smiled. Corporal Owen Glover, Oceanic Union Defense Forces at your service. And you are?"
She had to think about that for a moment. "Waldek. Nona Waldek. Leutnant, KreigsRaumMarine."
Muldoon crawled up beside the two. "What's the gen?"
"You ‘ave the rope, Sir?"
"Give it over." He took it and tied it around her upper torso below her arms. He then unhooked the IV from her arm. She winced. "Sorry about that Ma'am. Not much of a doctor I suppose."
He then positioned himself on his back at the foot of the table. "OK Sir. When I push up on this her leg should come loose. When it does, you pull her free with the rope. OK?"
"Got it, Owen. There's a medic standing by outside of the hole."
"Peachy. OK here goes." Glover pushed up with his legs. At first the table only rose an inch but he concentrated and pushed up with all his might. There was some shifting of debris above the table. Dust fell into his face. The bar cleared her leg.
Muldoon dragged Waldek out from under the table. She cried in pain as her damaged leg dragged over the ground. He had her out into the main tunnel. "OK she's clear. You guys pull her up!" Others at the hole yanked the rope up and dragged Waldek up and out of the hole. "Alright Owen, Let it down slowly."
Glover unlocked his knees and began to let the table down be he could instantly tell something was wrong, the entire table collapsed upon him and other debris above which apparently shifted crushed down upon him. Muldoon rolled out of the way before a large rock or piece of plasticrete fell between them. By a split second he escaped instant death. It took two minutes for the dust to clear. By a miracle, the path behind him was still opened as he could see light. He felt for Glover. "Owen! Owen!" Once vision cleared, he saw Owen. The collapsed table and the rubble above it covered everything below his chest. A thin rivulet of blood trickled from his nose and the corner of his mouth. Owen's re-rimmed eyes were staring at him. Muldoon grabbed his free hand and Glover squeezed back weakly. With tears streaming down his face, Muldoon watched his friend die. The eyes grew dull and the grasp weakened. "Owen! No!" He felt for a pulse at the cartoid artery. There was none. Muldoon's head collapsed in his arms and he cried.
Eventually he felt hands tugging at his boots and dragging him out of the tunnel. When he broke into the bright light he could barely see. Tears had left clear streaks in his dust caked face. It was too much for him. Rölle and Plummer were there, kneeling beside him. A medic was working on the woman, who lay a few meters away. Muldoon could only say. "He's dead..."
When K'zirt's ships warped back to the rendezvous point, it didn't take long to ascertain what had happened to T'ahl and the rest of the fleet. The evidence of a cataclysmic battle was everywhere despite the fact that most of the debris was speeding away from the battle in an ever expanding concentric ring. They remained for a Thaar to police up what few survival pods were left and record data for the inevitable after action review where K'zirt would no doubt shoulder the blame for her superior's stupidity. Most galling of all was the beacon discovered shortly after arriving. It was a repeating message from the P'Ah'Cad. Translated loosely into English, it said: "Nice try..."
Admiral Bellamy spent two hours every morning reviewing all the latest reports. First he carefully studied the intelligence officers estimate of the situation, paying close attention to the sensor log summaries. Reinforcements were still moving into Röt Hafen despite all indications that the Kra'Vak were gone for now. That was the problem with warfare in space. You could never protect your flanks and you could never know when and where the enemy would strike.
His mind still pondered yesterday's interesting conversation with Tesfane Baumgartner and Mostik. The diplomatic mission had paid another visit regarding Röt Hafen and it's place in the bigger picture. For sure the war with the Kra'Vak was heating up. The ESU was fighting a desperate battle in their quadrant against another incursion. The PAU had already lost two systems, one occupied, the other destroyed in the space of a month. Could humanity react fast enough? What was needed were numbers; of ships, and men, and cooperation. With this Kra'Vak incursion interrupting the 3rd Stellar War, no doubt the former would be easier to come by than the latter.
They were quick to praise him on his "great victory for humanity". Bellamy felt that it was neither great nor a victory. The entire operation was at best a draw. He was beginning to doubt that the Kra'Vak had ever had any real intention of holding onto the system anyway. They would have had to be naïve to believe they could, this deep into human space. So what had been their real objective? Test the mettle of the Humans? Learn about human weapons and tactics? If so it had been a costly lesson for both. Bellamy's original fleet was in no shape to do much of anything for at least another month. And Röt Hafen? The planet had been set back decades. The two most valuable facilities, the Dortmund station and the Eudora mining complex were both destroyed. For all intents and purposes, so was Röt Hafen City. Billions upon billions of marks worth of damage. Tens of thousands dead. Thousands others missing and presumed taken by the Kra'Vak (For what? Research? Slavery?) Pyrrhus had once remarked "Another victory like this and we will be undone". Apt words. This operation left more questions than it had answered. But at least Bellamy could take comfort in one fact. They had hurt the Kra'Vak. And if they can bleed, then they can be killed.
"Admiral," interrupted Drake, "It is Colonel Rölle."
"Yes I've been expecting him."
Bellamy stood up and greeted the diminutive Rölle warmly. No doubt both officers noted the increased wrinkles and worry lines around the eyes of the other. It had been a hard fight both on the ground and in space. "I'm glad you could stop by before departing. Is everything set?"
"Yes Admiral we transitioned over command of the relief operation yesterday. The last of my elements are aboard ship and we're leaving within the hour."
"I can't thank you enough for the job you did on that planet. I've read your preliminary AAR and was of course keeping close tabs of the fighting. And incredible struggle."
"Yes, the Kra'Vak are a dangerous foe. There are still some down there and we'll...I mean General Muller, will have his hands full tracking them down while conducting the immense humanitarian relief operation he has before him."
"Your force will be recognized in every way possible for their efforts and you too of course."
"Admiral I'm just happy to be alive. Actually our fight would have meant nothing without your victory, so I should be the one thanking you, Sir."
"Ok I suppose we've both stroked each other enough. They both laughed. You'd best be on your way." "Good luck and I hope to work with you again someday."
"Likewise, Herr Admiral" After shaking hands, Rölle saluted Bellamy and left. As he left, Bellamy thought that as long as he had officers like Rölle working for him, they'd always have a chance of defeating the Kra'Vak.
When the small shuttle finally docked with the cruiser, Muldoon felt a profound sense of sadness mixed with relief. Finally he felt safe to be off that dusty red ball. A pair of techs were at the hatch to help unload what little gear they had left as well as the bodies of Corporal Max and Corporal Glover's. No one from the squadron was there to greet them, probably because but the Shuttle was actually an hour early. After seeing the remains and his gear safely stowed, he inquired as to the whereabouts of the squadron and was escorted to the berthing areas by a yeoman. The enlisted ratings greeted him with much heartfelt gladness at his return. All wanted to ask about Max and Glover but could tell Muldoon was not yet ready to talk about it. He learned that all the officers were in a squadron meeting and was directed to attend.
Muldoon tried to work himself up into a suitably foul mood as he went forward. That wasn't hard to do when he thought back at the situation they'd been thrust into. Yet when he entered the wardroom he paused. Only ten officers were present. Where were the rest. Burns looked up from the board and grinned. "Lieutenant Muldoon, welcome back. The other officers stood up and gathered around him, grinning and shaking hands.
Muldoon was still a bit shocked. "Where is everyone else he asked?"
"There is no ‘everyone else'," said Mako. "This is it. The others are gone."
"You think we've had it soft like you, dawdling with the pongos?" Grinned Greene, who'd arrived at the squadron about the same time he had.
"What the fuck are you about!" Said Muldoon, fists clenched and suddenly overcome with rage.
"Easy boys." Said Burns stepping between them. "I've been on with Colonel Rölle the TF commander. He gave me a quick run down on the liaison party's activities with the task force. I wouldn't have wanted to go through what they did. I'm sorry about Max and Glover. I heard how Owen died. The boy's a bloody hero. As are you, Lieutenant. Well done." Burns smiled and held out a hand. It was the first time she ever spoken to him without attaching an ass chewing.
"Sorry mate", said Greene. "Didn't mean to get you hot and bothered. Anyway it's damned good to see you."
"No worries, Steve." Muldoon felt at home again.
Lawrence was in an odd depressed mood for most of the trip home. The long delay in getting them off planet following cessation of hostilities had contributed to it. The wait was interminable. However this happened often in the Special Forces Community. They were always a lot quicker in deploying you some place than they were with getting you home. But it was more than that. The separation from family had been hard. Now at the end of his career he wanted nothing more than to get out and enjoy the fruits of his hard earned labor. It amazed him that others in the company just couldn't fathom why anyone would want to leave that life for a sedentary family existence, especially since Charlie was only 39. Of course most of them didn't have kids.
Yet Charlie's discontent ran deeper still. Though he planned on retiring, could he really? He'd just survived the first major battle between humans and aliens. Sooner or later the major powers would wake up to the gravity of the situation and mobilize for total war. It was conceivable that he would be called back into service or even prevented from retiring. And if he did, could he really sit back and enjoy the time with his family when he knew the grave threat they would eventually fall under? Maybe for their sake he should.
Lawrence spent most of the transit home working on the detailed after action review required after any mission. Then there were the statements of charges to be process in order to write off lost equipment. There were also letters to write and awards requests to process for the men. Because of this he spent most of his free time in his cabin. The team busied themselves on each individual's portion of the AAR, as well as maintenance.
The door buzzed.
Molitoris stood at the door, hands in pockets, his tall frame slightly hunched over and a grin on his face.
Just thought you'd like to know that they finished Miner's surgery. He's gonna be alright. He should be back to 90% vision in both eyes."
Charlie smiled. "That's good news. When can we see him?"
"In about an hour."
"Cool. I'll swing by and give him some shit. What's up with the medical portion of your AAR? Done yet?"
"Well get it to me before dinner so I can compile this whole thing and get it ready to submission. You know the CO, he's a stickler about shit like this."
"Will do, Sarge." Eric hesitated for a moment.
"What? Spit it out."
"Hey, we did pretty good on this op didn't we? I mean this was really something special."
Charlie pondered it for a second. He'd already told the guys they'd done a good job. "Eric, this was your first operation. You did fine. But let me tell you something. Only one thing happened on this mission. We lost three men. That's what happened."
Molitoris seemed embarrassed. He shuffled his feet and looked down at the floor. "Yeah...well. I liked those guys too."
Now it was Charlie's turn to feel awkward. He got up and put a hand on his shoulder. "Hey forget about it. You have no reason to hold your head low. That's the business we're in. Now get the fuck out of my sight. Go finish your report. Then you can carry on with talking shit to the swabbies."
The shuttle buffeted in the heavy rain as it broke through the cloud layer. Charlie stared out the window at the lush green land below. Home. He tracked the final approach of the shuttle, carefully noting all the familiar land marks and terrain features of his home city and the spaceport. He was so excited that he felt he could levitate off the seat.
The shuttle passed over the spaceport perimeter and onto the inbound terminal. As it came into view he could see small crowd of Company A personnel and family. He looked for Anne but couldn't find her. He was trembling with anticipation.
The shuttle landed and within minutes the hatch was opened. Charlie was the last off. The pouring rain felt good. As his men walked into the inbound terminal friends and family hugged them alike. Charlie came off and shook a few hands and said a few pleasantries, all the while scanning for Anne. As he broke through the mob he saw her standing by one of the large columns by the customs stand. She was standing with her arms crossed, in her usual pose, a big grin across her face. Charlie dropped his carry on and ran to her and they hugged tightly for at least a minute before he kissed her. Beside them in a stroller was little Gregory, asleep. It was all Charlie could do to maintain his composure. He was home.
The small pub was packed with nearly every member of Company A who was available. They had ensured that the corner table, so frequently commandeered by 946 in the past, was open for them now. There was plenty of beer to drink, steaks to eat, and war stories to relate. It felt great to be back. By now the action at Röt Hafen was major news in all of human space and though most people would never know of the important work 946 had, news got around the Company. Everyone wanted to ask questions or hear about this or that. It was a good time for all.
946's table, tucked into a corner of the small pub by the bar, had three seats vacant. On the table where their plate would have been sat three steins of cold beer. Each with a beret draped across the top and a sykes-fairbain dagger atop that. These were the place settings for Captain Tom Gerard, Sergeant Bill Freeman and Sergeant Colin Frament. Many toasts and oaths were pronounced that night in honor of the fallen. Around 3am, just before they closed down the pub for the night, the drunken soldiers gathered to sing one of Tom Gerard's favorite shanties: "O'er the Warp and Far away". It was an adaptation of a centuries old soldier's classic.
With Sergeant Huff playing a lone fiddle, the company solemnly sang it together:
Here's forty credits on the drum,
to all who'll volunteer and come.
To 'list and fight the foe today,
O'er the warp and far away.
Oe'r the warp and o'er the main,
to Alpha Centauri and New Spain.
The NAC commands and we obey,
Oe'r the warp and far away.
Strapped in a lander we wait and sit.
Ok boys now this is it,
We're off to make a drop today
O'er the warp and far away
The hull she screeches something bad,
beams and missiles bathe us in rad.
I trust in God to come what may,
O'er the warp and far away.
If on a distant planet I should fall,
far away from our lovely blue ball.
I'll meet you in a better place,
Oe'r the warp and far away.
Oe'r the warp and o'er the main,
To Alpha Centauri and New Spain.
The NAC commands and we obey,
Oe'r the warp and far away.
Author's note: My sincere thanks for sticking with this. Without your support I would never have finished! Thanks!
9 October, 1999
Return to Bri's Science Fiction Collection