This is the second in a three-part series written by Brackstone, a member of the Star Citizen Organization: Republic of Lorell.
Once they are all published, you can read them at Where We Come From.
It was the perfect plan, the responsible plan. Sign up for four years in the UEE Navy and reap the benefits. Citizenship, public certifications for piloting and repair, and just enough pay to fund the maiden voyage of the Baleboste. I had spent the better part of my young life making that old Carrack into a functional ship, but the realities of captaining quickly revealed themselves in my romantic notions. For example, when your business plan consisted of looking at new things, it was not very encouraging to potential crew members. It was also disconcerting when the captain had never left the continent, let alone the system. Joining the UEE seemed like the best way to gain experience and credibility. Unfortunately, it also turned out to be the best way to see up close what a Vanduul beam weapon could do to an engine room.
The sudden decompression ripped me from my console. I managed to grab onto the railing surrounding the power plant in the mighty UEE Greenloche and kept steady long enough for the pressure to normalize. The engineering team had gone from 5 to 3, the new hole in the roof displaying itself as the most likely culprit. The exit had sealed itself to prevent the decompression from damaging the rest of the ship. The battle had been going poorly for a while now, so, fortunately, all personnel had already fixed their EVA masks. I grabbed a console and pulled myself back up. A hysterical voice suddenly boomed over my headset.
“I order you to restore power to the fore shields damn you! Engineering, reply!”
The telltale squeak in the upset voice informed me that I was listening to Captain Maldridge. If I was listening to the captain, then that meant that the two missing personnel had been my superiors, and the ship was no longer registering their vital signs. Remembering what I had been fixing before the last shot, I replied as quickly as my mind would let me form the words.
“Negative Captain, plant 2 is in breach. Pulling power for that projector is going to cause a feedback. It’ll take time to lock down. I recommend turning to expose port to fire.”
“Who in the void are you?!” Maldridge screeched. “Restore the shield immediately, or I swear I’ll gut you myself.”
“Petty Officer Bartholomew Brackstone. Negative on power redistribution sir, containment will…” I looked down in horror as I was suddenly locked out of the console. Power distribution came up on its accord.
“Get out! Everyone out of…”
I don’t know if that is when I lost consciousness, but that is all I remember before waking up again. I woke to more screaming, different screaming, in my coms. The sort of cries that men only make when they are forced to watch their fate come slowly. I was on the floor in the hallway, pinned down by a corpse in a flight suit. The ship still had gravity, but the pull on my suit let me know that I was in a vacuum. I pushed the corps off me, trying not to see the face. A P.A.W. tool clattered nearby, and I picked it up. More out of habit than with any plan.
The flash of gunfire sobered my mind. I looked up in time to see a marine dragging herself backward from around the corner, a knife sticking out of her abdomen. I started toward her when I saw my first Vanduul. He emerged from the same hall she was fleeing, carrying a weapon in its hand. I knew the general specs on the Vanduul, but I was not prepared for just how tall they were. In its armor, it looked like it could rip the ship apart with its bare hands. I wanted nothing more than to get as far away from the creature as possible. My feet must have missed that memo, though because before I could decide to do otherwise, they were running full sprint towards it. The vacuum dampened the sounds, and its attention was focused on the wounded Marine. He did not notice me until I thumbed on the cutting beam mid-jump. I slammed the P.A.W. up into the space under his helmet and wrapped my other arm around his shoulder to pin myself there. He reached back to swat me off, but we both suddenly lurched backward towards the ground. The Marine took advantage of her position and kicked at its legs, throwing it off balance. Its head crashed into the wall, pushing the P.A.W. deeper. It gave one more terrifying lurch on the ground before lying still. I once again struggled to push a corps off me. I watched the marine yank the knife out. While she injected herself with a medipen, I finally recognized her. Her name was Carmen; I had played cards at her table once. The game went poorly for me as I recalled. She looked, not peaceful, but accepting as the medipens pain killers took the edge off her wound. Blood still bubbled out of the hole in her suit, however. I extended my hand down to help her up.
“We need to get you out of the vacuum. Can you walk?”
She took my hand and raised herself, stifling a pained grunt behind clenched teeth. Her motions were wobbly. The way blood boiled off in a vacuum; it was hard to tell how much she had lost. The suit was designed to put pressure on open wounds to prevent this problem, but the blood loss would be quicker until we got somewhere pressurized. We finally found a door that gave a promising whoosh when we forced it open. I closed the door with a prayer, and the vents piped in the gas after it was sealed again. I sighed with relief and took another look at Carmen’s wound. It began to ooze normally now, although still at an alarming rate. I helped her inject another medipen and adrenalin brought some light back to her eyes.
“He left.” She croaked with a bitter hatred that surprised me.
“What?” I was desperate for information, something to guide our course of action.
“The Captain. As soon as the first hull breach, he ran off claiming that he has ‘valuable intelligence’ that needed to be saved.” Her mouth was a sneer. “No final orders, not even a call to evacuate. The platoon leaders tried to keep order, but as soon as the boarding pods hit the hull, it was chaos.”
“Carmen, I need to know if there are any escape pods left.” Her eyes started at the mention of her name, as though she only just realized I was there.
“None in the aft. I don’t know about foredeck. The hangar has been shredded as well.”
“We’ve got to cover some ground then. You won’t survive another EVA like that, though.” I was willing to bet that we would come across several more hull breaches before making our way to the other side of the ship. I helped her duck into one of the storage rooms. Three Marines had already tried to hide here. Their corpses were mangled and piled into the center. I pulled Carmen to the side and opened a storage container labeled “A-Ration.”
A-rations meant fresh food. They were said to improve moral, although they were usually stretched so thin that I could barely tell the difference between the real stuff and the paste we got the rest of the day. Fresh food meant sealed, temperature controlled containers, though, and I wanted all the protection I could get. Crates of tubers ran along both sides of the large storage box, with a walkway in between them. The air was chilled inside. After sitting Carmen up against the crates, I resealed the cargo container. I removed my helmet and took a deep breath.
“Ok, we need to get you out of that armor.” I kneeled to start working the clasps.
Carmen shook her head. “I have more medipens. We should just move.”
“I’m no doctor but you look like crap, and there is not enough juice in those pens to replace what you’ve been leaking. Besides, I need to weld your suit shut before we EVA again and I can’t do that with you wearing it.” Her eyes narrowed, but she began to help me with the clasps.
I should mention here how terrifying the body is to me. It’s one thing to work on an engine. You turn it off, meticulously take it apart until you find the problem, then you put it back together again. Trying to keep someone from dying is like putting an engine back together, except you can’t turn it off. The sight, the smell, the feel of the blood under my hands, it all screamed at me just how wrong it was. How all of this was supposed to be inside the body, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to make it right. All I could do is wrap some strips I had torn from my own under shirt around the problem, and hoped it could stay together long enough to find someone more competent. I injected Carmen with another Medipen and hoped it was enough. She had yelped from the pain but insisted that the bandage wasn’t too tight. With the bleeding stopped, I grabbed my helmet and started thumbing through the ship’s channels. The screams had stopped. I repeated an S.O.S. message, but no one replied.
“If they are still on the ship, their dead.” Carmen breathed deeply, refusing to meet my eye. “They didn’t board to take the ship. They tore through the halls because they wanted to cut us down up close. One man in my platoon tried to surrender; they didn’t even hesitate.”
I brought up my mobiglas to access ship status. Tiny red blips indicated where people’s suits stopped reading vital signs. The ship was covered with them. Only mine and Carmen’s registered life, and they were both flagging distress. If there were someone left, they would have found us by now if they could. I felt a weight of dread come over me. All aft pods had launched, all the pods in the upper quarters as well. Where the foredeck pods would have been, a large portion of the Javelin class ship was missing. There was no way off the ship. There was no way to signal out for help, not without bringing the Vanduul to our hiding spot. All we could do was sit.
I had waited a full day before I opened the container again. I had fixed Carmen’s suit and helped her equip it before opening the lock. I found the ship powered down and empty. The Vanduul had moved on. Without the artificial gravity, Carmen could move.
We set up camp in the infirmary. It was a mess, but it was easier to seal off. Plus, it had its redundant life support unit which I could get running. I brought food in from the mess and set about trying to repair long range communication. Main coms were gone, but there were other systems I could hack together to make a lot of noise on other folk’s sensors. The trouble was I didn’t want to just do that in Vanduul space. Despite the additional equipment, however, Carmen kept getting worse. After the fifth day, I felt like she would die if I held it off any longer. I piped the white noise out into the void, unsure if it would even sound interesting enough to a passerby. I tried not to think about who would answer. If the area were safe, the UEE would have sent a salvage crew by now. What else could I do, though?
“I recognize you, you know.” Carmen greeted me as I came back.
“I should hope so,” I quipped. “I’ve been sleeping next to you for almost a week now.”
“No, from before. You owe me credits from Takra’s card game.”
“Oh, that. I thought to save you would have been enough.” She laughed in response, then coughed, then stifled herself from the pain.
“Brackstone, I want you to deliver something.” Her voice became serious. “If I don’t get out of here…”
“Now you stop right there! You moron, don’t you watch any of the holovids? That’s always the last thing…” I cut off as her arm reached out and pulled me down by my collar.
“This is important, duul shit!” She opened her own mobiglas and sent a text file to mine. “It has my parents address on Terra. Just get it to them. I’d feel better knowing it came from a person instead of long range.”
“Ok Carmen,” I confirmed the file and stood back up. “Just promise me this doesn’t mean you’ve given up.”
She gave me a half smile. “Nah, you turned on your noise maker, didn’t you?”
“Yep. I don’t know who’s going to answer, but someone is going to hear something.”
“Good, because with our luck it’s going to be someone nasty and you’ll need me to kick their ass.”
“Sleep for now. There won’t be any ass kicking until tomorrow at least.” I sidled into my bunk with all the possibilities in my mind, but exhaustion won eventually, and I slept. I found her dead the next morning.
On the following day, the salvagers boarded. I heard human voices on the coms, and I put on my helmet to reply. They were human but not UEE. They had a guy they called a medic look me over. They insisted on staying long enough to get whatever salvage they could. They left the bodies since it would have taken too much space. I couldn’t protest. I was tired in every sense that word could mean. I barely remember my time with them. They dropped me off with the Seacole, a hope class Endeavor ship. That’s where I found out that as far as the UEE was concerned, I was killed in action. I had been posthumously granted citizenship along with all the other casualties on the Greenloche. I had gotten everything I wanted. I even got a message from Captain Maldridge. Apparently, he was being investigated for gross negligence. His defense relied heavily on the fact that none of the engineering crew survived.
My options, in no uncertain terms, were to accept an honorable discharge or face accusations of personally dooming the Greenloche. Part of me wanted to do everything in my power to see this coward burn. The rest of me just wanted to move on. I accepted the discharge and was delivered to Terra, washing my hands of the Navy. I later found that he had been shamed and demoted, even without me.
I had sent a wave to Carmen’s family before I arrived. I explained who I was and that I had a message from their daughter. I felt numb to the experience. I was afraid that if I let myself feel any of it, I would suddenly feel all of it. I talked about our time surviving in the wreck. How she had saved me from the Vanduul soldier and bravely suffered through her injury for as long as she did. Her father repeatedly expressed disbelief that no word of a survivor had come up since the initial report that the Greenloche had fallen. I wasn’t sure how to answer him then, but the more I think about it now, the more it seems like most people don’t want to hear about the fights that are lost. The ship was gone, the crew was dead, the one life that had been in my power to save was lost. All I had done was managed not to die with them. It wasn’t the sort of depressing story that made people feel good about the war, and not a story I enjoy telling. I was happy to be swept under the rug.
It’s no one’s fault but mine that we haven’t really spoken. Ever since your mother died, I guess there just hasn’t been much reason to keep in touch with that side of the family. None the less, my wife has left, my children with her, and the only thing that sickens me more than giving you an inheritance is giving one to any of those bastards. The doctor says I’ll be lucky to see another year, and I’ll more likely be dead before the end of the harvest. As such, I’m naming you the heir of my estate. I’m told that you went and joined the Navy. I shouldn’t be surprised, you come from a long line of assholes who enjoyed dying for lost causes. I think you heard the stories of your great grandfather and grandfather here on Rytif, but even before then they’ve been dying pointlessly. There is an entire planet of dead folks that your ancestors thought they could run. Among the things I’m giving you, there is a crate of booze. That’s all that’s left of them. Think about what you can learn from that once you’re done playing space hero. Tastes like piss by the way. I know you have that rust bucket out by the Paulo farm, so when it happens, I’ll send the items there. Just make sure you don’t beat me to the grave.
Your Uncle Norman