The Banhi have taken a significant number of casualties, but still we are outnumbered. Now they are regrouping for another assault. I use my power excavator and quickly deepen my fighting hole then settle down to wait. The air is sultry and it's as clear as the day now that the third moon has risen above the horizon. The landscape is filled with beautifully vibrant colors that hide the horrific dangers that are rampant on this deadly planet. However, this world would make a premiere resort if the indigenous people could learn to live together peacefully.
Suddenly, the Banhi start making the rhythmic humming sound that they use to frighten their enemies. I check my reserve energy pacs to ensure they are at full capacity and reset my weapon so that it will emit a wide beam of death. I wish that we had the mind controlled plasma weapons but the Galactic Security Council won't allow them to be used on this planet.
My Personal Combat Advisor Ge'rasal or Grr as I call him, repositions himself across my shoulders, and I ask if he is hurt. The PCA's are highly classified, and we are under strict orders not to reveal their existence to anyone. His words sound inside my mind reassuring me that he is fine, and that I should try to rest. I tell Grr to morph into a facsimile of a tattoo in case we get captured. He asks for a suggestion as to what image he should display. The picture of a coiled rattlesnake pops into my mind, and I feel his body begin to pulse as the transformation begins. Then after a few seconds he adheres to himself to my skin.
Sergeant Naho slides silently into my hole and asks, "Do you need anything?"
I quip, "Yeah sarge, get me the hell off this planet!"
Naho laughs and says that he will work on that request. Then the powerfully built sergeant leans back, and takes a drink from his PuRC. During my eight years of service, I have met many highly skilled and dedicated soldiers. However, Naho is the only one that I would name as a professional. During a battle, his ferocity is sometimes frightening. However, after the fighting is done, he becomes the same old easy going squad leader that conscientiously looks after his people.
I ask him about our situation, and he replies glibly, "We are surrounded on three sides with a large body of water behind us that is infested with starving critters!"
Then he smiles and asks, "Do you want to hear more or is that enough for now?"
We look at each other until it becomes awkward and to break the moment I ask, "Sarge, what is your real name?"
He smiles and answers, "Nahkôhemeeotse."
The reality of the situation causes me to say, "It's been good serving with you, Sergeant Nahkôhemeeotse."
Naho reacts irritably, "Enough of that, we ain't dead yet Private Tehera!"
Grr says urgently, "There is a large concentration of enemy forces at 330 degrees, moving left to right at a distance of 135 meters."
Naho's PCA has obviously given him the same information, and he says, "See you later, Bob."
Then he is gone and I shift my weapon thinking that targets might present themselves, if the enemy is careless. Although, the Banhi haven't made any mistakes so far but doing anything is better than thinking.
There is a soft warning whistle and my friend Sam Tolis enters the hole then says, "Naho is putting two men into each hole, all across the battle formation."
Sam is the only person that I have ever felt completely comfortable with since the first time that we met.
I respond with heartfelt gratitude, "Remind me to thank the good sergeant."
Sam laughs and does an equipment check then takes out a "wave ration." He activates the tiny microwave unit that heats it. After the container beeps softly he opens it then sniffs even though the ration is labeled. Then with a grin he says that its potato soup which I know is his favorite food. I remark that he is lucky and my friend smiles ruefully then begins to eat. After Sam finishes eating, I watch him disintegrate the container with amusement.
He smiles and quotes the regimental axiom, "Leave nothing behind but enemy dead."
A strong gust of wind whooshes over our position and I check the sky hoping that a hail storm is forming. As the Banhi do not have energy sacs to protect them from hail. So they would be forced to take cover underground effectively stopping the battle for a time. I ask Grr if a storm is developing, but he doesn't sense anything that indicates one is forming.
The Banhi change their hums to a rapid "HUUH HUUH" suggesting that they are going to attack soon. Someone down the battle line defiantly begins to sing an old rock and roll ballad that causes us to laugh aloud. Laser's light begins to play over our position, but we don't react as they are trying to "count our guns" or pinpoint our fighting holes.
A disruptor beam causes a nearby tree to explode into a thunderous cacophony of noise then it begins to burn fiercely. I cannot get over the fact that war is so devastating to the flora and fauna of a planet. I sometimes wonder how rational beings can allow such things to happen. That is especially true for soldiers because we know firsthand about war and the d that it causes.
However, after that thought reality returns, and I know the reason that we are on this planet is Neaphinital ore. That's the stuff they refine into a thick lubricant used on Hystic Wave drives which power spacecraft all across the galaxy. However, money might be a better explanation for most people. Nonetheless, as a mercenary I really shouldn't judge too harshly. Since money is the reason that both my regiment and its employer Galactic Resolutions Inc., exist.
I inquire over my headset about the possibility of reinforcements and receive a brusque answer, "Stay off the comm and hold your position!"
Grr thinks the attack will come very soon as my mind drifts back to my Mom and the day I left to join a Free Regiment. She gave me a very old silver dollar that once belonged to one of my great, great grandfathers.
Mom said that, "He carried it during his war and came home safe, now you carry it during your wars and come back to me safe."
I had it put into a bezel and wear it as a necklace. However, my Dad didn't speak, actually I don't think that he could, I know that my throat was too tight to utter a sound. I drove away that day and didn't see them again until my training was completed three years later. And now I may not ever see them again.
There is a ripping sound as one of our heavy weapon gun crews fires a dehydrator tube. The armaments' designer that fabricated dehydrators is an inhuman monster, as the weapon removes all the water from your body in a microsecond! Leaving only a grey leathery husk of what was once a living being.
Grr barks out a warning, "Acid globes!"
I cringe in the bottom of my hole and stare upwards to see a dark globe drift over our hole. I begin to breathe again when the weapon doesn't explode and drifts away. However, a second globe appears and then to my horror, I see a flash and globs of dark liquid rains down on us! My body begins to burn as my armor is quickly eroded away. I hear screaming and realize that it's me making the horrible racket!
My personal medi-kit detaches itself from my armor, and activates its tiny anti-grav unit then finds the proper injection port in my armor. After which it begins to spray a med into what's left of my armor that should ease my pain.
Then Grr speaks calmly, "Don't move, it will tear the lesions and subject you to intense pain."
My mind screams that the pain that I feel now, cannot possibly get worse.
Then he adds, "Your PMK has summoned a Surgical Field Kit."
I think anxiously, "Are you and Sam ok?"
He replies, "Yes, I am impervious to the weapon and Sam still lives."
Then the pain does get worse, and I employ the pain suppressing techniques that we were taught by that Anthixian Superior Doctor. My PMK beeps to let me know that it is injecting a potent pain reliever as I concentrate on not moving. Then the PMK activates my energy sac that is normally used as a sleeping bag and covers me with it. The sac energizes and begins to create a sterile field that will hopefully prevent my wounds from becoming infected. I can hear the battle raging all around as the regiment employs all of its weapons at full capacity.
I think a question, "How are we doing, Grr?"
He responds with a hint of exasperation in his thoughts, "We are holding our own but your battles are over for a while now, so lie still mercenary!"
Another globe floats overhead and I plead silently for it to go away. However, it begins to pulse rapidly and then disintegrates! The globs rain down again, and penetrate my energy sac. Then thankfully the pain overloads my senses causing me to black out.
I awaken to discover that my eyes no longer work and panic threatens to overwhelm me. Grr reassures me by saying that I am blind because the SFK has covered me completely with pain relieving gel. And now it's transporting me to the regimental aid station. I ask if Sam is alive and Grr says that he isn't sure, but thinks that he still lives. The SFK stops moving and Grr says that we have arrived at the aid station.
Then I hear regimental anti-gravity assault pods, and it sound like a full company is reinforcing us. Suddenly, the realization hits me that it's no longer "us" and it may never be "us" again! For some reason, I find that distasteful and force myself to think about other things.
A soft voice says, "My name is Saa'Tiun, I am a 10th level burns specialist working under the supervision of a superior doctor."
My training kicks in, and I give him my name then my employee ID number. There is a recorder going as I relate my medical history. He verifies my medical information by scanning one of the five data-chips implanted underneath my skin. Then he deactivates the energy sac and the pain relieving gel quickly evaporates. The sudden rush of air flowing across my skin hurts so badly that it causes me to scream. Saa'Tiun soothingly says that he will take care of my pain very soon, as agony induced tears' stream from my eyes.
He consults with his boss then sprays something over my body that numbs me. Saa'Tiun lifts me (Anthixians are incredibly powerful) and places me in a recovery capsule. Then he cheerfully informs me that I am going home, and hurries away to his next patient. The capsule closes and I feel the prick of an injection then, I fall into a deep sleep.
I awaken and ask aloud, "Is anyone monitoring my cap?"
A human voice replies calmly with the traditional answer, "The 32nd Medical Corps is with you."
My throat is dry but I manage to croak, "How badly am I hurt?"
She responds quietly, "I will consult with the doctor, standby sir."
Then an Anthixian voice begins speaking, "There are first degree burns over 87 percent of your body. The flesh has been burned away from 13 percent of your body to the point that bones are exposed."
Glumly I interject a question, "Will I be discharged from the regiment?"
The Anthixian responds kindly, "I cannot answer that question at this time, but everything possible will be done to ensure that you return to active duty."
I have no choice but to accept the doc's statement and thank him resignedly.
Grr speaks trying to keep me from thinking about my wounds "We are on a supply transport, Bob."
I groan aloud and inquire, "A C-3310?"
Grr responds, "Yes, I am afraid so."
The C-3310 is the slow spacecraft that spawned the dumb joke, "I was in freefall and passed a C-33!"
I know that the medicos won't let me out of my capsule, so I am in for a long and boring trip.
Then Grr asks, "What made you join the regiment?" I know what he is doing but talking might distract me.
I ignore the question and ask him, "Can you detect Sam?"
He replies, "Sam is with us at 90 degrees, 5 meters and stationary."
I thank him and the fates for that favor then ask, "I know that you are a Consansuro and engineered using both plasmid and cybernetic technologies. But, what is your planet of origin?"
He responds simply, "Kragithan."
That answer is shocking, so I exclaim, "The Planet of Eternal War!"
Grr replies a bit sadly, "That title is no longer accurate."
I focus on keeping my thoughts from expressing any emotion because his home world will no longer sustain life and think, "I am sorry, Grr."
Keeping his thoughts carefully modulated he answers, "No need for sympathy, the Kragithani destroyed themselves and my world."
Curiosity prompts me to inquire, "How did your race to survive?"
He replies, "Before the CaeDenick weapon was unleashed our designer placed us on a fast packet craft and sent us to Baltra."
That surprises me and I exclaim, "The Baltil are the people that discovered Earth."
He says, "Yes, and they also discovered that we can bond with your race."
That remark causes me to ask, "Can your people bond with any other races?"
Grr replies bluntly, "None that we know about."
I muse aloud, "So we are like the Ciubellas of Kragithan ... that is not a good recommendation for my people, is it?"
He answers quietly, "At least you haven't destroyed yourselves, like they did."
I know that my answer is morbid but with humans you can never be certain, "No, not yet at least."
Grr dismisses me by sternly telling me to sleep. I realize that my comment has irked the PCA and stop thinking to him but sleep isn't possible. So I ask the medic for a casualty list, and she starts a recording. I have to employ my "Living with Death" training to avoid breaking down as the names of my friends are called. However, I am happy when Sergeant Nahos' name is not recited either as killed or wounded.
The capsule beeps and gently rises until I am in a standing position so that the healing gel can be drained and replaced. My body tingles as the cleansing beams envelop me and then keep me upright so that the gel can be vacuumed out. This is followed by a faint hum as new gel is pumped into my capsule. Then the beams fade and once again I am suspended in the slimy, gelatinous goop. I apologize to Grr and he graciously accepts then repeats his question about my decision to become a mercenary.
I take a breath and try to focus on my memories then begin, "I was sixteen when the Baltil found my planet and pretty much of a loner."
Grr remarks with amusement, "So you are anti-social!"
Replying in kind, I answer, "I prefer to think of myself as a student of silence and solitude."
He doesn't respond so I continue, "I grew up in a sparsely settled area of Florida, USA, Earth and appreciated the solitude that the forests provided. I loved listening to the soothing sounds of wind as it blew through the trees."
Becoming introspective I add wistfully, "Tranquility is a precious gift that few people ever get to savor, my friend."
Continuing in the same tenor I say, "But the routine of life must be addressed, family, friends, a job, there are so many things that take up our time ... you know."
My heart goes out to him as he says, "No, I don't know, I live only to serve a purpose that has been programmed into me by others."
I don't express any sympathy as that would only rekindle his anger. So the conversation ends and then I am able to fall asleep.
I awaken when my capsule is opened and the Anthixian doctor examines me then makes some adjustments to my gel composition. After explaining that he is encouraged by my progress the doctor leaves me and the cap closes. The new gel feels cool and the pain isn't quite so bad now. I feel gratitude to the doctor, although it is difficult for me to voice my feelings and that is irritating at times.
Grr doesn't help when he says, "The doctor has reviewed your psychological profile and understands your reluctance to express your emotions to strangers."
I change the subject by reverting to our previous conversation. Then I resume explaining what prompted me to join GRI. I tell him that after the Baltil arrived, I became intrigued by the idea of exploring space. I got my opportunity when the profit hungry Batric decided to market our war-fighting skills and formed GRI. I tried to enlist immediately but was turned down due to my young age.
Grr encourages me to keep talking by inquiring, "How long did you have to wait before they would take you?"
Thinking back to that time, I reply, "For five long years."
He waits and I continue the monologue, "I studied war and its related fields along with a regimen of physical training until reaching enlistment age."
Then with amusement I add, "The impatience of youth became my enemy. An enemy so powerful that it couldn't be conquered only endured."
A smile painfully creases my face as I continue, "I kept telling myself that being forced to learn patience would help once a regiment accepted me."
Grr asks, "Was it a help?"
I think and reply seriously, "Yes, it was."
Sam's croaking voice enters the capsule, "Hey Bob, how are you?"
We talk for a few moments until they move him to a Level One capsule, and that means he isn't responding to his treatments. I am distressed and afraid as the man is my closest friend. Then there is a prick in my arm as something is injected into me, and I exclaim, "What is that?"
The medic that is monitoring my cap replies soothingly, "Just a mild sedative."
Grr continues his inquiries and I mechanically respond, "My school mates already considered me as odd. So when they learned about my goals, there were ample opportunities to fight."
I thought about the names they called me and reminisced, "As you know, I have been blessed or maybe cursed with a quick temper and fast hands. So my opponents received as much punishment as they gave, and sometimes more."
Stirring restlessly I ask, "Do you really want to hear this?"
He says firmly, "Yes, and you need to tell it."
Since he is a part of me, I continue, "While the physical challenges decreased the verbal taunting did not. So I had to learn to deal with that in a non-combative manner."
He observes thoughtfully, "Learning how to avoid a fight had to be of value."
Thinking that my answer is both astute and irreverent I reply, "Well words don't hurt nearly as bad as fists ... when they aren't true."
Grr observes insightfully, "I have noticed that a human's pride is more resilient than most of them think that it is."
I can't help but worry about Sam and ask the medic only to be told that he is in a guarded state. After pushing the medic for a concise answer she pauses, and then says that he has been put into a stasis sphere. That means they are "hibernating" him until he can be placed into an advanced hospital, if he lives long enough. I demand to speak with his doctor. However, a regimental officer tells me that is all the information available then orders me to be silent.
I snap at Grr, "Sense him, now!"
Grr replies calmly, "He lives, and you know that I will tell you if his life aura dims into nothingness."
Furiously, I begin to think of ways to make her answer my questions. It frustrates me that I cannot confront the medical people face-to-face. So that I could force them into giving me information about Sam's condition. Grr remarks that my impatience doesn't help me or Sam. I stubbornly refuse to answer as if sulking will somehow make the situation better. However, neither Grr nor the medics can possibly understand what I am feeling.
Grr ignores my sulk and says with maddening logic, "No, I do not fully understand human emotions or their subtleties. However, I do understand situations, and you are powerless to help your battle mate."
Then I feel another prick as the doctor forces sleep on me. I curse bitterly until sleep comes, which is followed by dreams of enemies pursuing me that can't be seen, only heard. I awaken feeling groggy and ask Grr what has happened. He says they have kept me heavily sedated for three ship cycles, and I recognize the treatment. I have been diagnosed as emotionally unstable. So they strung me out with drugs until I regained my composure. He assures me that Sam still lives, and I relax but remain determined to get answers when and if possible.
The pain has left me, and I am itching badly now, so hopefully that means the healing process is in full swing. I wait patiently for the doctor, and he assures me that my body is healing satisfactorily. The doc says that he will add a med to the gel that will control the itching. However, he adamantly refuses to speculate about Sam, and I spend a lot of time fretting.
Grr says that the Banhi were defeated, and the planet is under GRI control. I bitterly speculate that the tourists and business beings will be happy to hear that. As a reduction in the production of Neaphinital ore might curtail their trips around the galaxy and that would be unthinkable. And yes, I do realize how resentful and hypocritical that sounds. Nevertheless, I really don't care.
I awaken to find that the doc is releasing me from my capsule and feel much better. Now I will be able to walk around, and get my muscles back into shape. It will also help my emotional state, although I will have to undergo psychological evaluation. The doc has done an excellent job, and my body isn't scarred badly. The next few cycles are spent in physical therapy and sitting next to Sam's sphere talking to him. They insist that he can't hear me, but I will not stop trying.
Our craft makes planet-fall on Darld V, and they take Sam to the hospital along with several others. I am happy for him as this is a superb advanced hospital. The medical staff there routinely handles devastating wounds with a great deal of success. We leave the following cycle bound for the GRI owned planet Kalaja One. And I am looking forward to rejoining my old outfit.
During a training session while we are working out with edged weapons, a ship alarm blares out. Immediately afterwards everyone is directed to the Life Pods. My pod begins to run its checklist as the ship starts to vibrate badly. Suddenly, it stops when the abandon ship alarm sounds, and then I feel a sharp jolt. The pod activates its tiny Hystic drive causing a thrill of anxiety to course through me.
The pod's computer speaks mechanically telling me where the "sustenance" supplies are located. It adds that we are heading for the nearest space station. I inquire how long and it tells me that it will take 200 ship cycles to complete the journey. My heart sinks as I realize that this is deep space, and there is a possibility that we could encounter a pirate ship or other hostile craft. I make sure that the emergency spatial beacon is functioning and try to get comfortable. Then Grr informs me that the C-3310 has just blown itself to bits.
I pass the time talking and playing games with the computer, also Grr drills me on tactics and weapons. I ask him grumpily if he hasn't ever felt a sense of hopelessness. He snidely asks me to define hopelessness, and I have to laugh.
This routine continues until one day when a shrill alarm indicates an approaching craft, and I check its identity. However, it isn't listed in the computer's registry, nor is it broadcasting a recognition signal. When I get a visual the craft looks like a derelict. However, as it draws near my pod is enveloped by a powerful energy net. I place a small disruptor into my pocket as the net pulls us easily inside the crafts' cargo bay.
The computer tests the atmosphere, and discovers high CO2 levels then advises me to stay inside the pod. I ignore the warning and open a small compartment, then fit a pair of carbon dioxide filters into my nostrils. After asking Grr to sense any hostility, he replies that there is only one entity aboard. And that it's completely indifferent about my presence. I set the disruptor on its maximum strength and widest aperture then return it to my pocket and crack the hatch open. After warily exiting the pod I make my way forward through a myriad of dilapidated items. It looks like the captain of this vessel collects junk, and piles it randomly throughout his ship. Grr directs me to the bridge, and after entering, I see a dwarf-like person staring through a port. He or she is blue with a bald head and has large white eyes and that don't show any visible pupils along with spindly arms.
The creature mumbles, "It is what?"
Grr advises me, "He wants to know your species."
I reply by speaking in a carefully modulated voice and being careful not to show my teeth, "I am a human being from the planet Earth ... sir."
He turns to a console and his digits fly over the panel, then he peers at a screen and says, "My charts out, out, out, not listed."
After scrutinizing me, he turns to the wall and asks, "Does Xiaatin know it?"
I think to Grr and inquire, "Is he talking to me?"
The PCA replies slowly, "No, but I can't sense anyone except him ... maybe he is speaking to a being of pure energy."
That shocks me and I exclaim, "Does such an entity exist?"
Grr's reply is decisive, "I don't know, but he is not speaking to you."
Then the dwarf definitely speaks to me and this time in passable English, "Maybe my name is Olezi but not remember my home world, of that I regret."
I reply slowly and distinctly, "What is your destination, sir."
I think that he giggles before speaking to the wall, "It thinks we be of great value."
He turns to me and says, "To stoke engines are of great cost, we are trawlers, we drift on the currents and salvage."
With a sad tone in his voice he adds, "We once salvage for great values, but now we only get a little for the drink and eat."
Taking a chance I state, "I am employed by a company that will pay you to stoke your engines and take me to a planet."
He mumbles irritably, "It hears not, we speak not."
I continue to try and communicate, "Sir, if you don't want to take me to a planet then release my pod, and I will leave."
His ire is obvious as he snaps, "It would deny us our prize."
Grr warns, "This ship has weaponry."
Glumly I complain to Grr, "Great we are stuck here with this senile dwarf!"
Grr counsels, "Watch him closely, and learn, then we will plan our escape."
The dwarf grumbles, "It thinks that we want it to stay, but if we find a comfortable place for it, we will jettison it, but its pod thing stays with us!"
I ask Grr, "Will the disruptor affect him?"
He warns, "I don't think so, he has an unusual physiology."
The dwarf mumbles almost inaudibly, "It thinks we find Serup or Datunial!"
Grr says anxiously, "Those minerals haven't been of any value for a thousand earth years!"
Staring at Olezi, I wonder how long he has been trawling for space junk. As thirty three troubling cycles pass Olezi rarely speaks directly to me. Instead he converses with the invisible Xiaatin. I am allowed to roam freely, but he refuses to let me leave the dilapidated ship. I briefly consider trying to kill him, but Grr believes that Xiaatin is real. He thinks the invisible creature would protect the dwarf with powers that we can only imagine.
Then one day cycle, I am in the cargo bay having a meal when the ship is jerked laterally with unbelievable force! After prying, myself off the bulkhead, I hurry to the control center. Once there I peer through the view port to see a ball of energy that has brilliant tentacles radiating from its nucleus. Grr excitedly says that he thinks it is a powerful creature of legend, known as a Robella. The thing has become entangled in the energy net, and must reach across 1,000 hectares of space! When one of the struggling tentacles touches the energy net, I can see a cascade of sparks!
Grr snaps, "Tell him to release the Robella before she destroys this craft!"
With my best command voice I bark, "Let the creature go before it destroys us!"
The dwarf stares at me as I loudly repeat the order then he looks at the wall and nods. As his fingers fly over the control panel the sparks begin to subside. Then suddenly the Robella is at the port, and I feel it look at me. Staring at the chaotic colors swirling inside the ball, I feel a keen sense of dread. Then the colors change and begin to pulse rhythmically, which causes an overwhelming sense of contentment in me! My fears, hopes, needs and wants, no longer seem important. Despite the wonderful feeling, I sense that the Robella is a harbinger of peace but has destructive capabilities that are inconceivable to most beings. There is also a feeling that the creature will not hesitate to use that power if the need were to arise.
I become mesmerized by this awesome experience until the ball of light suddenly disappears. Glumly, I peer through the port knowing that it is gone, and will not return. Then Grr excitedly reports that we are near an Aurolit Nine space station! The Robella has somehow instantly transported us across a vast distance of space! However, Olezi seems indifferent towards that unbelievable event as he deftly maneuvers his ship to the docking bay of the station. Once the exit port is secure I express my gratitude to him. However, he is staring at the wall and doesn't heed my words, so I move to exit his ship.
Before I get off the bridge, he turns from the wall and speaks clearly, "Xiaatin says that you are exceedingly fortunate in that the Robella has touched you. As that will aid you for the rest of your existence, but he hopes that we are far, far away when she touches you again!"
That prospect is exciting and I quickly ask, "I will meet the Robella again?"
He begins to mumble again and after a few minutes I debark then report to station security. As the officer scans my data-chips the view screen shows Olezi's ancient craft drifting away from the station. I silently wish him well as security issues a chit that will allow me access to the spatial comm center. During my conversation with regiment, they advise that transportation to Kalaja One will be arranged. I don't report the Robella incident as they might think that I am "spaced" and lock me up for long-term evaluation.
The station manager assigns me a sleeping cubicle that I will share with a Whariat. They are noted for their insatiable curiosity, and beautiful golden skin. I meet the Whar and see by her robes that she is a neophyte and brace myself for an onslaught of questions. She introduces herself as "Sang" of all names, and I have to squelch the grin that threatens to break out on my face.
Sang immediately inquires, "May, I learn from you?"
I reply formally using her language, "Sihu du nisskat, neafytte."
She acknowledges my use of her protocol and language then asks a predictable question, "Why do you risk your life for profit?"
Resisting the obvious answer of "for the money", I try to explain, "That is the only way that I could explore the galaxy. My planet doesn't have the technology for long distance space travel at this time."
She nods and says seriously, "It is said that humans are adventurous and dangerous."
Then she asks if there is a criterion that must be satisfied before we begin an "offensive engagement." I explain that a potential client must first apply to the Galactic Security Council. If the GSC approves then the app is forwarded to Earth's Interplanetary Affairs Department for final certification. Only then may the client contact GRI directly and begin negotiations for a contract. I also add that the GSC sets the level of technology for the weapons that may be used on a planet. And I tell her that a number of contracts are settled non-violently by GRI arbitration teams.
I see that she is intrigued and add, "War because of its very nature must be employed only after all other non-violent options have failed."
She mulls that over and then changes the direction of her inquiries, "What would happen if your opponents employed weapons of vastly superior technology?"
My answer is both blunt and honest, "Then we would probably die, en masse."
She hesitates and then says, "That statement is morbid, and hints on insanity."
I nod in acceptance of her right to state that opinion even though it could be interpreted as derogatory by some. After Sang thinks for a bit she offers to buy a meal possibly because she is embarrassed by her frank comment. During our meal, we exchange information about our respective worlds and customs. Ultimately, Sang proves to be a pleasant dinner companion that has a refreshing and interesting prospective about things.
The next cycle I receive a travel voucher to board a fast packet craft that serves as a diplomatic courier for the Baltil. I am both impressed and concerned as the regiment wants me on Kalaja One very quickly. And that means they probably have a contract that will require multiple regiments, or maybe they are facing a deadline. However, I refuse to let that keep me from enjoying the next three cycles with Sang. Although, I realize that she can't comprehend the mentality of a mercenary. She just doesn't understand that in most cases wars are politically or economically motivated, and that we simply provide a service, albeit a violent one.
The unmanned packet arrives, and I have to enter a cramped stasis sphere which is unpleasant. However, it is also necessary as the tiny craft doesn't have cargo space for things like food. The computer wishes me a pleasant rest then closes the sphere. I smile ruefully because the unmanned craft will destroy itself if anyone attempts to hijack it. The couriers are programmed to do that in order to protect the sensitive data that they carry.
After being revived, I debark on Kalaja, and report to personnel then get sent through the processes of a "returning combatant." I send most of my accumulated back pay to Mom then report to medical for my required examinations.
When we approach the medical compound Grr exclaims, "Sam is with us at 000 degrees, 37 meters and stationary."
I hurry inside and Grr directs me to an open rehab area where Sam sits in a lounger. I approach my friend, and we exchange greetings then catch up on past events. Sam looks well but there is something about him that bothers me.
He senses my concern and looks levelly at me then says quietly, "We have a contract."
I can see that he is worried and ask, "What planet?"
He takes a deep breath and then replies, "El Dorado."
I recognize the name as a sarcastic reference to the planetoid Masbik, and his concern is understandable. Masbik is unbelievably rich in minerals, and three major mining consortiums have very profitable operations there. The planet Autterod neighbors Masbik, and insists that they have territorial rights to the planetoid.
Before we can continue the wall speakers blare out my name telling me to report immediately to the exam module. As I walk to my destination, Grr unnecessarily reminds me that El is where the 23rd was wiped out almost to a man by the Auterrodian army. Only a few survivors made it to safety, and afterwards it took four regiments to kick the "Rodians" off Masbik.
After being certified as "mentally and physically fit" I look for Sam, but he is in therapy. So I go to the library to review the terms and conditions of "Contract Masbik." The contract is a result of the Rodians annexing and invading Masbik again. After reading the details, I have to admit that their invasion plans were brilliant. They used micro holographic generators to disguise elite assault troops as an incoming group of mine workers. Once they were on the ground these crack troops seized the spaceport, and allowed their regular troops to land unopposed. The Rodians then quickly built elaborate defenses in anticipation of a counter invasion.
That is sobering as we will have to use anti-grav assault pods to land on Masbik, and that could mean heavy casualties. The first pods deployed are called "pathfinders," and will take the greatest risk not to mention the heaviest casualties. I know that regiment will use a lottery system to decide who mans the pathfinders, and I fervently hope my squad won't be selected for that task.
I check the permitted tech lists to see that the pinpoint lasers along with sonic disruptor weapons will be used by the infantry. The weapons will be equipped with Thites launchers. The launchers fire a grenade which explodes into deadly thumb sized fragments. After which it releases an expanding, and long burning gas that is heavier than air. This fiery gas will follow the contours of the earth, and settle into declivities, which will turn fighting holes into bar-b-cue pits. It is a relief to see that level two body armor will be allowed as it is impervious to acid deploying devices. The number of regiments that are contracted is classified, but I assume that there will be several. At least, I hope there will be.
Sam finds me and we go to our quarters then review the duty roster to see that Sergeant Naho will be our squad leader. That is reassuring since six of our squad mates are not battle tested (we refer to them as Greens.) After cleaning our bunk spaces we wait for Naho. When he arrives, we exchange recent histories, and then the sarge fills us in on the new contract. He says that GRI arbitration teams along with diplomats from around the galaxy are attempting to resolve the situation without military intervention. Then Naho outlines our training regimen, and I can see that he doesn't think that the arbitration processes will be successful.
The training is both physically and mentally demanding, but it is necessary as highly trained cadres have the best chance of survival ... in most cases. Sergeant Naho is a skilled leader, and pushes everyone to their limits. He is very critical of our mistakes, and does not hesitate to punish when necessary. While we have disagreements, and even physical fights the squad is bonding into a unit. Sam and I volunteer for a Living with Death refresher course to lessen the grief that we know will eventually come. When a Tactics Specialist arrives to train us in a new method of anti-grav assault pod drops, I know that my squad has lost the lottery.
The specialist says that according to computer models this technique will reduce casualties. However, it hasn't ever been done before in a real time combat scenario. And I am skeptical when she explains the procedures that will be used in this assault. She says that we are going to be "splash dropped" from low altitudes! The two-man pods will be dropped over water, and at high speeds from an altitude of 100 meters. The anti-grav units will not engage until we are 20 meters above the surface. And that means the units will burn out before we hit the water!