Jeremy Brock, Specialist 11A honorably discharged from the Federation Army.
Brock watched as dull clacks echoed throughout the cargo bay from the synthetic blades of the stun swords. Scout eagerly tore forward into Chin, delivering a rapid flurry of skilled - if not overly zealous - strikes before darting away from the much larger man’s massive swings. Chin was barely able to ward off Scout’s attacks without giving ground, let alone being able to counter effectively. Scout’s eyes were alit with the rush of competition and the mounting scent of victory, just as Chin’s were funneled into intense concentration. Chin was excellent at hand to hand combatives, but swords were unfamiliar territory. This was the sixth match, and the longest so far of them all, already past twenty seconds. Scout had knocked glancing strikes twice already off Chin’s forearms, yet ‘Weasel’ hadn’t declared a victor. In the previous five matches - four of which Scout won - Weasel only intervened when he judged a strike to be fatal. Both men were dripping with sweat and heaving with exertion, pacing every breath to their efforts and every attack to the other’s timing.
After Scout had showed him his tiny bunk, Brock had taken just a few minutes to secure his rucksack, G3, fatigues top, and web gear in the personal chest welded into the floor below his bunk. Though he did keep the sidearm on his hip. Feel naked without something. He had then come out into the cargo bay to find the three gearing up for some sparring. ‘Weasel’ hadn’t acknowledged Brock’s existence yet, he seemed too intent on the match to notice the young alien that was invading his personal universe; at least, that was Brock’s impression. The man had pale grey hair and sun-crusted skin. He wore Disukan scatter-gravel combat fatigues and spoke Kartoa with an easy, fringer Tautoan accent through a chaw of dip. Overall the look of a man in his late sixties, yet still wiry and tough enough to be deadly. He exuded the attitude and presence of a senior NCO, a man who demanded everything from his men and gave them nothing less.
The exclamation came from Chin as Scout weaved under a counter and lashed into Chin’s shoulder before leaping back again. “Pace yourself Scout,” Weasel drawled nonchalantly, “you don’t chop down a tree with one swing. And be aggressive Chin, you’re going to bleed out in a minute.”
Chin didn’t seem to hear, he just resumed his guard and stared straight ahead like a cobra facing a mongoose.
Scout, however, surged into Chin, quadrupling his energy as he frothed for that final blow. And that final blow came, Chin feinted and swung his stun sword straight into Scout’s face. Even with the rubber-like trauma absorbing exterior, the impact still resounded a wet crunch that made Brock visibly wince. Scout dropped straight to the metal cargo bay floor like a rucksack soaked with sweat.
“Uády!” Weasel barked.
Chin froze on reflex at the Gahlic command before stepping back, relaxing his stance and breathing easily.
Must be SOP for this outfit. Brock thought to himself.
Weasel jumped to his feet and limped over to Scout’s still form. He knelt down over him and loudly bawled into his head, “Wake the fuck up princess!” Despite the volume, Brock noted how he took great - almost tender - care rolling Scout onto his back as he checked his vitals. Guess he isn’t worried about spinal damage then.
Scout wasn’t unconscious, just really punch drunk. A stream of blood ran from a nasty open welt across his face; Brock couldn’t be certain, but it looked like his nose was crookeder than before. He was breathing raggedly through his mouth.
Weasel pulled a bottle from his cargo pocket and spat a black sluice into it as he turned half way to Chin. “You did good boy, kept cool and baited him toward the end there; even if he was kicking your ass the rest of the time. Now go tell MD he’s going to have a guest soon.”
“Roger Stárshiy.” Chin said breathlessly before turning around and striding briskly away, setting the stun blade down before he left.
Weasel pulled out a unusually dainty white handkerchief, then a green flask from his back pocket. What else does he keep in there? He poured a capful onto the handkerchief then - after drinking a quick swig - started attentively dabbing at Scout’s cut. Scout groaned as the liquid frothed into his flesh.
“It’s in my eyes Stárshiy.”
“Shut the fuck up bitch and take your medicine.” Weasel lightly growled as he kept cleaning Scout’s cuts. “This would’ve been Chin’s ugly face I’d be patching up if you had kept your head clear. You could’ve just done NOTHING for another thirty seconds and won. But noooo. You acted like a bitch in heat when you smelled blood and had to promptly go get yourself fucked. How’d that work for you?”
“Not well Stárshiy.”
“No… No it didn’t. So are you going to do it again?”
Weasel grunted in response, “Pizdobol, you do it every fucking time. You’re as predictable as dirt and will always be fucked by an opponent who knows you.”
Scout was coming out of the stupor and slowly sat up, taking careful sips out of Weasel’s flask. Brock slowly approached and tried to think of something to say, but the way Weasel looked up and the calculating glare he gave tied Brock’s tongue into knots. Brock hated when NCO’s from any army did that.
Weasel finally spoke up,
“The fuck you looking at boy?”
“I’m… I’m a new crewman Stárshiy.” He wasn’t sure if that was his real title or not, but since the other crewmen called ‘Weasel’ that, Brock guessed he should too.
“I can see that; you don’t answer NCOs’ questions in your army?”
“We do.” Brock still wasn’t sure what to say.
“…AND? What the fuck are you looking at?”
“I’m looking at you Stárshiy.” This isn’t the army, it’s a freelance crew, I don’t have to put up with this shit anymore.
“Oooh looking at me boy? You know the Chief doesn’t take kindly to sexual advances between crew.”
“We’re all professionals here, you’ll just have to control yourself, even with 89 kilos of sexy standing right by you.”
It took Brock’s nervous brain a moment to realize that the old NCO was joking; fine, two could play that game.
“Can’t make any promises Stárshiy.”
The Stárshiy’s face never broke his stern glare, yet Brock detected an amused glimmer in his eyes. “Honesty, that’s what I like to hear, now stop undressing me with your eyes and help drag Scout over to those crates.”
“I can walk.” Scout said as he gingerly got to his feet, he started to hand back the blood stained handkerchief before Weasel firmly returned it to Scout’s face. “Direct pressure bitch, how else are you going to stop that geyser?”
“Happy thoughts?” Scout groaned.
“Chin should’ve hit you harder, maybe knock that tongue in place; now get out of here.” Weasel gently shoved him into Brock, who steadied him. “Run on over to MD and get some stitches, your nose set, stasis for that little concussion, and shoot up some regen. I’m starting to wonder if Pimp could fuck you up like this.”
“Roger Stárshiy.” Scout quietly replied, it hurt Brock just to see how absolutely devastated Scout was, but apparently he wasn’t the only one.
“Scout,” Weasel called after them, “get that kicked-puppy look off your face, you’re the fourth best fighter and second best swordsman on this ship.”
Scout’s grin returned.
“Repeat after me, shla Sasha po shosse i sosala sushku.”
‘MD’ spoke to Scout while he carefully drew a few milligrams of the bluish liquid regen from a vial. Scout lay slumped on a metallic exam table while Brock stood by.
“Why? Tongue twisters are stupid.” Brock noticed the tongued lulled slur in Scout’s speech and slight disorientation. Yep, definite concussion.
“It gives you something to focus on, plus it’s hilarious.”
“As in watching a paraplegic climb stairs hilarious?” Brock asked,
“As in a double amputee trying to play soccer hilarious.” ‘MD’ clarified as he laid the vial and shot down on a surgical tray.
Is there anyone on this crew that doesn’t have a darkly sarcastic sense of humor?
Scout sighed and repeated the Kartoan twister fuzzily. The superficial bleeding on his face had finally stopped at least.
“Regen is topping eleven carats a milligram on the black net, that isn’t cheap.” MD observed as he removed a surgically sealed packet of sutures and needle driver from a drawer.
“I have plenty saved up.”
“Enough to keep Tashya happy?” Ok, at least one of the crew is married.
Scout’s face broke into a crooked grin that stubbornly pulled against the laceration at the name of his pregnant wife. “You think Chief will let me call her?”
MD tapped the vial with a practiced flick as he turned to his patient, “I’ll talk to him, but both Nergovian cartels will be monitoring net traffic as we exit the system. Since as I understand, Chief’s grand plan is to backstab them.”
“Preemptively backstab them.” Chief interrupted as he strode into the room, casually twirling one of the stun blades in his left hand. How does he keep sneaking up like that?
“Scout, Scout, Scout…” Chief shook his head as he examined Scout’s face. “Do you just hate safety or something?”
“Just helmets Chief.”
“Dumbass, you and Chin were just whacking the shit out of each other with these stun swords? That’s not how they work.”
“Last I checked, you hit people with swords.”
“They’re stun blades, they stun.”
“I feel stunned, how isn’t that the way they work?”
Chief depressed the pommel for a few seconds before the sword exploded into life, casting a blue tinge, emitting a low toned hum, and dripping small and strangely molten looking electric sparks.
“That’s why I got them,” Chief gave the sword a few practice swings, the movement leaving a faintly blue white trace in its wake and a fierce hiss in the air, “so you didn’t have to spend half an op’s pay on regen every time you sparred. These just leave a burn mark that’ll fade in a few days.”
Chief flicked the sword off before continuing.
“Chin might’ve improved your face, Tashya’s into giant scars and zombie porn right?”
“There’s no way that little cut’s going to leave a scar,” MD interjected, “I’ll hook him up on stasis and the brain damage will be reversed too.”
“Hallefuckinglujah, you got to save whatever little brains were there to begin with.”
Scout sighed and slowly leaned his head back onto the table, “This isn’t my day.”
“Cheer up now, Pimp just about pissed himself when I told him he had to spar with you till he scored.”
Chief placed the stun blade next to Scout on the exam table before rapidly turning away to stride out of the room again, “Brock, walk with me.”
He followed Chief’s hulking figure out of the OR, keeping a brisk pace through the narrow hatches and walkways of the Skylark. Chief strode silently for a few seconds before he stated with his gruff voice, “So you’re a fast runner.”
He did read my PF scores.
“So I’m a fast runner.”
“With a shitty upper body.”
All of them, damn.
“I always hated push ups.”
“Wrong.” Chief seemed to talk out of the side of his mouth while staring straight ahead. “You started a love affair with push ups the moment you signed onto the Skylark, and they’re presses, Copy? None of those pussy Fed push ups.”
“Feds that pump out 200 ‘push ups’ can’t do 100 good Tautoan presses, and maybe 20 of those motherfucking ‘fists’ that the clans do.”
“We called those marine press ups in the Fed Infantry.”
Chief stopped in front of a closed hatch to key in a command on a wall display, when it failed to respond he muttered and pulled the manual release. “You’re not with the Feds anymore, my second in command loves push ups as much as you’re going to, you’ll be working out with him till he’s satisfied with your progress, copy?”
The door slammed open with a jarring force. “This ship has several treadmills built into the floor in the cargo bay, I expect you to utilize them whenever you can. PF assessments are once every other month, and you will meet my standard, copy?”
“Roger Chief.” Being a merc isn’t that different after all, I’ve heard this rapid fire briefing a few billion times before.
“One more thing,” Chief continued, “Jay and Clutch are poor runners, I want you to bring them up to your speed with the treadmills; can you do that?”
“Can’t run it for them, but they can pace off me if they want.”
“That’s all I want to hear, any questions?”
Brock took a second to think, the envious bitching of all his comrades back at every in-unit reception and pre-deployment physicals was completely vindicated; in processing with a merc crew had no kilometer long lines, endless paperwork, bullshit exams, or exhausted and pissed off civilian secretaries. Still, a couple thoughts did come to mind.
“Go for it.”
“How do I get paid?”
“Shit, I knew I was forgetting something important. Just stop by Pimp or Weasel later and give them the info for the account you want funded. Nothing big to remember, other than no direct deposits. Pimp always trails pay through several ghost accounts first, security you know.”
“Feds or the Empire after y’all?”
“Neither, just a good habit to have; was that your second question?”
“Uh, anything I should know about Logan?”
Chief didn’t skip a beat in answering, “Nope, just call him Logan and do what he says; if he wants you to know anything else he’ll tell you. You’ll meet him in a few minutes anyway, he’s finishing up a little op planetside.”
The command room was somewhat anticlimactic, less than half the size of the galley he passed through earlier and twice as crowded with computers, holographic readouts, and other machinery. Clutch, Jay and Pimp were busy at the consoles, conferring with each other while pouring their attention over the monitors and displays that surrounded them. Just as Chief and Brock entered, Pimp called out without looking up,
“Chief, may I speak with you? I’ve two matters that require your attention.”
Chief let out an exasperated sigh, “What’s wrong?”
“I need another couple techies to run this system effectively.”
Chief glared at Pimp, “I remember a certain techie who assured me he could get this ship operational by himself.”
“Operational sure, but not combat ready.”
“Can’t Clutch and Jay do their part to get the systems up?”
“At the expense of the engine room and navigations, yes. And they’re still not programmers.”
“Damn straight,” Jay spoke up with an irritant tone, “I’m a pilot, not a console jockey.”
Chief rolled his eyes toward him, “You’re a fucking navigator, pilots maneuver and dodge with a joystick, you plot and navigate with a console and helm.”
“Pimp’s right about that,” Clutch chimed in, “I feel nervous leaving the sublight engine on its lonesome on our first flight with it.” He cast a concerned glance toward the Chief before returning to his monitor.
“I don’t suppose our new crewmember has any technical experience?” Brock was starting to figure Pimp had a thing against eye contact.
“I can usually figure out where the power key is.”
“Great.” Pimp observed monotonically.
“Ok, so you want me to hire another techie?”
“Please?” All three crewmen said at the same time.
“Fine, I’ll start shopping around, it’d be nice having all the systems operational anyway.” Chief turned to Brock, “The internal comm system’s still down, that’s why I had to go get you rather than just call you up; so before I forget, go run by Weasel later and he’ll set you up with a secure comm unit, copy?”
“One other thing Chief.” Pimp said, still with his eyes on the console.
“Logan’s messaged me that he’s in a little trouble.”
THAT got Chief’s attention, and it turned the heads of Jay and Clutch, though Jay spoke up first, “I thought Scout was monitoring comm traf…”
“What do you mean a little trouble?” Chief enunciated the last two words with dripping anger.
“His words. And Scout is in the infirmary so I’m keeping a tab on comms from here.”
“PIMP! Focus.” Chief grabbed Pimp’s chair and swiveled it about to face him. When did you get the message, what exactly did Logan say, why didn’t it come through my receiver, and why didn’t you tell me immediately?”
Pimp looked Chief in the eye with the calm though irritated demeanor of an interrupted multitasker, he took a deep breath and spoke in a placating tone, “Four minutes ago, “Hey Chief, their backup’s getting here sooner than expected. We might have a little trouble.” He didn’t say it was urgent, and you didn’t resign into the system when you got back.”
Chief looked the epitome of fury as he glared at Pimp, “Listen to me fuckface.”
Oh shit, he's actually angry now.
“Logan doesn’t do protocol, he has never, ever rated anything as urgent; he wouldn’t notify like this at all unless shit was totally fucked.”
Chief swung Pimp’s chair back toward the console - probably with a little more force than necessary - and turned about to the rest of the crew, quickly and smoothly settling into the routine of his command. The others sensed it as well, Brock could feel the adrenaline rushing through his system.
“Jay, get back up to the cockpit now, take the ship off autopilot and prep to execute an LAE.”
“Yes Chief.” He leapt toward the hatch.
Clutch, get to the engine room and make sure that the Skylark is good for whatever Jay needs.”
Clutch tapped the console and snatched his card from a dataport while Chief was speaking, “Aye aye Chief.”
“Pimp, loop my receiver into the comms and work on getting shields and the 20’s online. And NO, I don’t care about the other systems right now. Brock, go meet everyone else in the galley.”
Just as Chief was instructing Brock, Pimp signaled him that the connection was made; without a moment’s pause, Chief turned away again and keyed his receiver, “Fuchsia, Fuchsia, Fuchsia. If you’re hearing this, head to the cargo bay. Logan’s in trouble, and we’re getting him out.”