William A. Bregnard
“There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again.”
-President John F. Kennedy
September 12, 1962
The target was a guard-post: the first line of defense for the Edom mining complex, and. The post was defended by 7.62mm defense cannons that were left over from when the UN feared an invasion by one of the major powers. Now, it was aimed at keeping us out.
Close quarters combat is a violent affair! I reflected, in a few minutes I could be dead! I pushed that thought out of my racing mind, and focused on survival and aiming straight.
We had learned to trust commander Helvenston, he had been a NAVSPECWAR operator for 12 sidereal years, and serviced in most of the same hotspots I had. Now, he worked for Phalanx. Money made us all allies, I guess. This little clandestine assault was his idea…I guess you can’t take the SEAL outta of the boy!
PULSE AND GO LOUD AT SIGNAL.
I turned to my right and watched Solovyov and Kizim raise their ‘loud’ Serval caseless 4.7mm carbines.
FLASH AND CLEAR ON SIGNAL. SPARE NO ONE. That’s us, I thought and prepared for the assault.
A few meters from us, Morgan rose up and flicked the Terra-4 to “dazzle” and painted the front of the guard-post. A few seconds later, Solovyov and Kizim started hammering at the reinforced ballistic glass with fully automatic fire, adding to the confusion for the occupants of the building.
ASSAULT TEAM GO.
The door hissed, and Newbury jumped to one side, as we piled into the chamber. She held the outer door as Sungai and Rhodes hit the switch for the inner door, and tossed several flash-bangs into the room at the same time as the two open doors sucked the atmosphere from the room. All of this, coupled with the incoming from Morgan’s group created a prefect opportunity.
“Burns!” Came a cry over the intercom. “BURNS!” She’s down! I realized.
“CLEAR!” Came the query.
“CLEAR!” I answered back. That was quick!
“CARIA!” Rhodes barked, “Call Helvenston!”
I ejected my empty clip and slapped in another one, as I turned my visor toward the body of Burns, “How is she?”
“How do you think, Caria?!” Rhodes was kneeling by the bloodied body, as the others just moved on to the other rooms of the structure. I could see the fresh blood spatter on her oddly camouflaged suit was already frozen.
While the rest of the team moved to secure the rear of the building, I flipped up my QWERTY keypad on my left arm and typed: ASSAULT COMPLETE. ONE KIA. SECURING POST.
From the side of the guard-post, the thumping of a suppressed SMG fire echoed out.
“CLEAR!” The voice of Sungai shouted from the rear of the building.
“Status, Caria!” I snapped to attention when Helvenston’s voice shot through my intercom, as he moved his helmet around, reviewing our handiwork.
“We entered the guard-post and cleared the interior of threats. One down, sir!”
“Burns, sir.” I swallowed hard to force down the hard lump, “Lisa, Sir.”
“Burns… yeah.” From the tone that cracked over our local com-network, I got the impression that he didn’t even know her. “Police up her body, and strip it of kit,” he ordered. I nodded and took to the task.
We’re just the tip of the spear, I told myself, when the rest of our forces come from Moab, we’re going to slip in and cut their throats. It seemed so easy, but those dead bodies were Phalanx personnel just like me, but they had decided to follow Theophilos…and look what it bought them!
The small guard-post had a back room, that our enemy had used has an ammo dump. When I entered the darkened room, my reinforced boot hit something solid, and I jumped back with my right hand on my pistol. There stacked up, were the remains of the building’s pervious occupants in black glad bags. I turned my head, trying to ignore the fact that if things had not worked out, I would have been lying in a bag. I quickly pulled out several boxes of 4.6x30mm caseless, and moved away from the dead bodies.
“Why so white, Caria?” asked Rhodes.
“What are you afraid of a few bodies?!” rudely interjected Thurman before I could say anything.
I tossed the boxes on the floor around the cluster of the contractors, and walked over to the darkest corner and slid down the wall. Rhodes picked herself up and joined me, putting her arms around my shoulders.
“C’mon, Caria, it’s not like you haven’t seen dead bodies before.” She hugged me.
“Yeah, but…” I trailed off. “It’s just…that I keep thinking that I’m not coming back from this one.” I said, looking into her pale green eyes.
Rhodes smiled and playfully pushed my head to one side with her palm. “Don’t spread the fear, Caria!” She said lightly.
“Busy hands, quiet mind.” She said.
What a contrast with this nightmare! My thoughts suddenly returned to the alien plains, I looked out at. If I’m not careful, I’d be in this dark cold place…forever!
While others bitched about the food, lack of modern gear, and nothing to do, I was grateful for the three hot and a cot. It was in the Martian DMZ that I took my first life, fell in love with another peacekeeper and started to make plans for our future. Oddly enough, my life felt more together some seventy eight million kilometers from Earth, than it ever had on terra firma.
After several Martian Sols, my term of service was up. With some money in my pocket, I tried to decide if I was going to stay in the UN or go home. Then we heard that there was fighting over on Ceres, and the Americans were paying good money for private military contractors. My boyfriend and I signed up with Phalanx Group to go to Ceres, and planned to use the money to fund our new life. After several sidereal years of fighting, I came back to Mars alone; my boyfriend buried on Ceres. Once again, I had no direction, and I rented a place on Mars, and wandered aimlessly for awhile, slowly using up my cash from the Ceres campaign. That‘s when there came the discovery of the wormhole in the Cherenkov Region, near Ceres.
During my term of service on Cetus, which was to be about 600 sidereal days, I was working security at the Moab drilling platform in the Gargoyle Euxine Field, while over at the Edom platform, Theophilos was drilling Kronos Euxine Field. It was a cakewalk, until one sidereal month ago; the normal transmissions from Edom became strange, confused, nothing made sense. Then critical supplies from Earth didn’t arrive, and the Helios ignored our requests.
“It’s time, Caria.” Said Sungai as he gave me a slap from behind. I nearly jumped when his hands hit me! He was lucky that I didn’t give him an elbow to his jaw!
“Jesus Sungai!” I hissed. “Don’t do that!” He was clearly pleased with himself, and I shoved the VR headset into his stomach, hard. “I hope there are ghosts on your shift!” Ghosts were our word for the strange vapors that were blew over the frozen plains. Since they had some mass and moved like a ghost, the mind played tricks on you, especially when you had been up for awhile!
I took to my rolled out sleeping bag, closed my eyes, with one hand on my Oncilla pistol.
* * *
It didn’t look like much different than our ‘home’ at Moab. The complex started with an octopus like projections of suction pipes that ‘drank’ the pure Euxine fuel from the Gargoyle field, which was more of a slushy methane lake, than anything else into a series of storage tanks, that then feed into a massive center filter unit. The tricky part was to keep the fuel in a slushy state to allow for the easy transport to orbital transfer vehicles on the launch pads. Most of the Edom complex was surrounded by a wall, and the buildings were interconnected via enclosed walkways. The only entry point was via the docking assembly, and that’s where the heaviest weaponry was located.
“Our target is Operations, near the primary refinery control building.” The commander pointed to a small dome near the massive tank farm. “Intelligence on Theophilos says he likes Operations, but he could be in the launch control center, or even the vehicle assembly building.” We all rolled our eyes. Those were all near the launch pads for the OTV’s, and that, in my mind, looked like a mess to navigate. “When the main force makes its push, my guess is that he will be at the Operations center.” Then he switched the image to the offshore installation manager Sanders Theophilos. “He’s Greek, with a heavy bead. He paces and drinks tons of coffee.” The holo-projector showed video of him moving about the Operations center.
“Sir?” Called out one of the people back behind me.
“What is it, Wesley?”
“Why the hell is he doing this?” We all had wondered this, but hadn’t had the gust to ask.
“New orders,” he spoke while still staring at the screen, “the offshore installation manager and the Phalanx company advisor,” he added a little vinegar to their titles, “are asking us to get Theophilos’s personal flash-drive and PDA.” That meant that shooting him anywhere other than the face or legs would result in a loss of the data stick or the PDA, and a lost of mission objective meant less money when you back to Earth…I want all my money, especially after this tour in hell!
Once the kit was on, my weapons loaded, and the suit operational, we marched out into the beyond-cold of Cetus and onward to the end of this damned revolt.
We were forced to walk a very long way. Our commander had deemed it a ‘safe’ path to the Gargoyle field, because of the narrow strip of rocky terrain that led up to some rolling hills. This would give us cover from any searching hostiles.
The lovely holo-map that Helvenston had projected for us was nothing compared to boots crushing the crystals of methane and ethane in the soil, it was a long, hellish walk. During this, the challenge was not to use any of sensor equipment that was outfitted to the armored EVA suits, LIDAR, motion trackers, or IR. With these sensor systems in ‘active’ mode, they would broadcast the fact that we were out here, and that would not be good considering this was clandestine operation! To guide us in this frozen dark wasteland, the Minotaur provide us with a waypoint that was fed into our HUD. So, the objective was a small red diamond shape point on my display with meter counter. Since the night-vision was limited by the sheer amount of darkness, the green glow was only a few meters ahead. We relied mostly on audio pickups, and if they hit on something, the computer washed it and measures its threat level, but mostly it was all hide-and-seek, and I was really good at that!
LOCATION? I typed back.
DOWN! I ordered
I typed back to the scout team: DON’T! GETTING BOSS ON HOOK!
My fingers fired off a message to Helvenston: CONTACT W/ ROVER. SIX ARMED TANGOS IN SEARCH PATTERN. UNDER COVER. ADVISE?
Several seconds later came the response: AVOID IF POSSIBLE. SILENT KILLS IF NEEDED. HIDE EVIDENCE.
It was already obvious that avoidance was not an option, so I typed the order to slot the lot of them. We aimed with our suppressed weapons, and once the scout team was dialed in, unleashed a silent storm of caseless 4.6mm into the patrol with crushing results. All six were down on the ground, and their blood splatters were already flash frozen into droplets.
TANGOS DOWN. ADIVSE?
MOVE THE FROZEN MEAT INTO THE TEAGUE. PLACE DOPPELGANGER.
With that, my scout team moved into burial detail, when I opened the sliding door of the patrol vehicle, the night-vision picked up a splash of frozen blood, and I recoiled deep in my suit.
After one more hour, we arrived at the shores of the Euxine Lake, and it was hard to see much, but from the green haze of the faceplate, it appeared to be a plane of glass, with pipes dug into the frozen expanse. From covering positions, we moved up onto the top of the massive pipe that was several times wider than me. Once on top, we held position until the main body of the assault force humped it up the pipe to my left. With that, we were on our way to Operations, and closer to the end of this mission.
GO DARK AND COVER!
SITREP! Came from Helvenston.
LIGHT BEAMS AT MY LOWER 1 & 2 O’CLOCK.
TAKE THEM OUT.
Our objective was a lit transparent dome on my left and it was one of the few points of light it seemed on this whole little world. We moved into our position, surrounding the dome, while the commander and few others setup repel lines. Helvenston check the time, as we all did, and waited for the main assault by the Phalanx forces. It seemed like forever, until a chirp of incoming text signal: ON SIGNAL FLASH N BANG SUPPRESSION
Then we unleashed covering fire, while the assault team repelled down, into the building. We then, moved onto the ropes ourselves. Within a second, my boots hit the metallic floor; I had my SMG already in hand, and scanning the chaos. Gunfire and screaming ripped through the audio-pickups, causing ringing into my ears! I rushed to hardcover, and sprayed down a charging target. While reloading, I watched in horror, as Helvenston was hit in the shoulder and his armor pierced, and he ran directly for the main airlock and slammed the door.
“CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE!” Came the call over the comlink. Within one minute, the head of the rebellion had been cut-off and had wisely surrendered.
Theophilos was laughing in a way that told me that gave me chills. Despite, the slaughter that had just happened here, he was laughing! What the hell is wrong with this guy?!
“Theophilos! Drop to your knees!” Rhodes had her Oncilla green laser trained directly into the face plate of his spacesuit, right between his darting eyes.
“Are you here to see them, huh? Are you here to see the revelation of the truth?” He moved around and Rhodes moved her laser with him. This man was but a twitch of a finger away from the afterlife, and yet he was desperately trying to sell us on whatever he was selling!
“STOP MOVING!” She ordered with kick to his thigh. He stopped and gave her a bewildered look with his arms outstretched to the thick alien atmosphere. “NO! We’ve got to fortify and prepare! They are coming!”
“On your knees! NOW!” She pressed the bulky suppressor cylinder to his wet visor.
The commander’s voice came over the intercom: “bring Theophilos to me.” Rhodes motioned with her pistol for him to rise up and follow. He did so, but he didn’t seem to believe what was happening to him. He followed us into the airlock and it cycled without so much a word from him.
Once we exited into the next corridor, the commander was waiting on us, with a medic dressing his wound. Helvenston had been smart, when the bullets ripped his suit armor, he had rushed into the airlock, preventing the blood and flesh from being exposed to the nearly 300 below zero air temperature. That would have instantly crystallized his blood, and taken his arm.
“I think you’re good, commander,” spoke the medic while packing up her kit. “We’ll have to wait on a rover to get you back to Moab for more treatment.”
He waved her away with a thank you, and pulled out his sidearm. “Search him, Rhodes.”
Rhodes kept her pistol aimed to his head, while her free hand searched his vest pockets for the PDA and flash-drive; I could clearly see sweat running down his face. If we get everything, plus this moron, that is a sweet bonus added to my completion pay! Maybe I’ll buy two Alfa Romeos!
“You see?!” He jerked his pointed chin toward the confiscated PDA. “Do you?” Rhodes wore a puzzled expression at his shaking words. “OPEN IT AND SEE WHAT I SEEN!” Rhodes stepped back and flashed the pistol up.
“What in the hell is wrong with you, nutball?” She put the PDA into the commander’s hands, who studied it, but kept one eye on our cagey prisoner-of-war.
“Commander Helvenston!” Theophilos scooted on his knees to face the wounded man, and his darting eyes met the stone fixed eyes of our commander. “Look at why I have done what I have done!” I watched the two of them, thinking that this was one of the strangest moments in my life, and I had been through a wormhole! “Open it and see the truth.” Helvenston peered down at the small blank screen and touched the power button and scrolled through the folders, until he located one with the label: TESTAMENT. Theophilos waited like a man about to be pardoned for his crimes. He paused for a second with a tapping index finger. “Open it sir!” He pushed verbally and Helvenston sent him to the floor with a swift boot kick. Before any of us could react, the former SEAL was all over him. He was a fearsome opponent…
“Listen to me!” He shook the PDA in his face. “Nothing on this could explain why you killed a dozen in that vehicle convey! You fired on them with no warning! Then the Helios crew! You’re a murderer!” He shook the PDA under his sweating face. “And I’m going to send you to hell!” he stood and pulled Theophilos to his knees. The man was crying. He motioned to me, and I wrestled the caseless pistol out of its holster.
“NO! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!!! THEY’RE HERE! GHOST-ROCKETS! FOO FIGHTERS! ALL OF ‘EM! LISTEN TO ME! PLEASE! I’VE SEEN THEM! THEY’RE COMING!!” Theophilos screamed.
“Shut him up, Caria!” Helvenston pointed at me. I took my pistol, and trained the barrel on the back of his head.
“You don’t understand! They’re coming! NO!”
“SHUT UP THEOPHILOS!” Rhodes kicked him. “Take it like a man!” Then all eyes fell to me. “DO IT, CARIA!” I savagely gripped his neck and shoved his balding head into the barrel of my Oncilla. He howled when the metal point jammed into his skull.
Shut up! SHUT UP!! Shutupshutupshutupshutup…my mind screamed.
The high velocity round smacked into his head and a spray of blood decorated the far wall. The room was quiet again, with the wailing of a madman silenced, and his broken body slumped to the floor with a thud.
“I think you earned your pay, Caria.” Said Rhodes as she moved to me. I holstered my weapon, and moved away from the grisly sight. I have seen enough death! I collapsed into one of the technician’s chairs while sucking on my drinking tube. I felt sick and confused about why any of this had happened. What was the manic yelling about? What is a ‘ghost rocket’? Was any amount of money worth the ghosts that are going to haunt me after this?
“What the hell was he talking about, sir?” My voice cracked from the raw emotions coursing through me, but he didn’t say a damn thing. There was silence between us, has he probed the device and the blood ran out from Theophilos’s twitching body. The commander was a man that you tended to trend lightly around, he resembled one of those lethal snakes, waiting on an unlucky mouse.
There in the corridor, he watched some sort of video on the PDA. Then his upper lip twisted and he made a disgusted noise while slipping back the device into his suit. “Everything okay, sir?” I asked. “What was on the screen?”
He adjusted his bandages and walked toward the pressure door. “Nothing worth a damn, Caria, nothing.” He took a magazine and slipped it in. “C’mon, we gotta clean out the launching facility.”
* * *
I wondered now, if all that we experienced was worth it, but while my PDA checked the closing number of the company on the Russian Trading System, I had a queer impulse to buy stock in the company! Damned irony…
I had made all of those midnight plans, while in my bunk in the Krüger 60 A system, and now that I flushed with credit, it seemed somehow unreal, and I wasn’t sure what to do next. To settle my nerves, I bought a small strong coffee from a café, the barista called it ‘gold coast blend’ and I sipped the small cup, while nibbling at some sweet sambus pastries, and just listening to normal rhythms of terrestrial life. This was nice, hot coffee, sweet food, and sun. It is an odd thing to live in a sealed environment, where outside of the metallic womb, there was an atmosphere that was so alien that it would kill you in a cold second. I felt the chill that had been with me since I first strolled out onto the Martian desert.
But here, Earth, despite the damage that had been done to her, was home, and you could feel that in your bones. Despite being off-world for many years, I still felt drawn to return home.
Now, money, was, not the issue, but it was my own sense of inner conflict that laid waste to my prefect fantasy plans. For now though, I sat at the café, sipped my coffee, and waited for answer to find me…but I knew one thing for sure, I didn’t want to see the inside of a spacesuit again.