Orbit of Asimov 2
May 19th, 87 ATL
"When I get lonely and I'm sure I've had enough
She sends her comfort, coming in from above
We don't need no letter at all--!"
"Easy, Chastain," said Sergeant Calvin, rubbing at one his temples. They were hidden under long, wavy hair, such an ashy color that it was more snow than sunlight; he kept it unruly to hide the scars down the sides of his face from a melee on the frontier. Ojeda looked up from her holobriefing at the Creole howl.
"WEEE'VE GOT A THING THAT'S A-CALLED
The break room groaned, and Sophie Chastain grinned and kicked up her feet on the table heedlessly, even though Sergeant Calvin was sitting just on the other side and more likely than not did not relish the prospect of Sophie's boots in his face. Chastain's look turned wolfish at his discomfort, and she began to belt the final chorus that much louder. That drew the Lt. Colonel's ire. For once, Palmira Ojeda never spoke a word - she drew her finger across her throat and grimly pressed her comm further into her ear. The grin began to trickle off Chastain's face, but she did as commanded. Leto would have sang along, she thought sullenly, but that was nothing to say to Ojeda. She was, comparatively, a young gun, and the Lt. Colonel was nearly fifty.
Lieutenant Colonel Palmira Ojeda, bane of pirates and legend of the Mantis frontier, was not a handsome woman. She looked like she'd been carved from flint, dark eyed with dark hair that framed a scarred and spare face. She had been married and promptly divorced - an outing that was so costly Chastain had heard it said that her ex-husband had taken the ring and the ring finger. Whatever the truth, she now had a cybernetic replacement fitted to her hand. It didn't do much to add to any external charm, but Chastain loved the old woman as fiercely as she loved Jane-Anne back home. They had saved each other's lives multiple times on the Mantis frontier, and Chastain was as loyal to her commanding officer as she was to the sister she'd left, back in the food truck in New Orleans.
She'd gotten to know Ojeda's looks, and this one meant either 'I will have you thrust out of the airlock for listening to that old retro ###### of yours, Chastain' or 'I will have you thrust out of the airlock for interrupting my briefing, Chastain.' Ojeda had started to grow fond of Chastain's company and quirks on the frontier, but it hadn't always been that way - Sophie had been twenty, fresh out of Academy with no high school diploma and a tendency to spout off the way that only someone who had spent her childhood brawling with tourists could spout off. For the first two or three years of her command, Chastain didn't think she'd ever gotten a look that didn't say 'I will have you thrust out of the airlock for [...], Chastain.' She'd learned to just smile at them and accept them. Over time, the looks had become less hostile and more begrudgingly amused, almost playful.
This was different. This was worried. Lieutenant Colonel Palmira Ojeda, bane of pirates and legend of the Mantis frontier, was scared of farmers.
"Don't know what she has to be worried about," confided Captain Leto during one of the crew poker games, scoffing as only he could. "Asmiov 2 is a farm world. Chances are it'll be like one of those old Dark Ages fights we read about in the Academy with the levies. They'll raise their farm tools, maybe a few pirated guns, and when they see us coming they'll back down. They can't provide much of a fight if we start driving them towards the cities. Hand me some of those pretzels? Stealing your pension's got me famished." Chastain had nodded dumbly along - that was how she always felt she nodded in front of him, dumbly - and laughed at his easy confidence once or twice; she had more pressing things to focus on than Leto's confidence.
Ojeda's voice snapped her out of it, but she was not speaking to Chastain; rather, she had switched frequencies on her comm and was now speaking to the crew at large.
"All combat personnel of the Heron, report to the conference room. Make it snappy - planetfall in forty-five minutes." Ojeda looked up at Chastain with narrow eyes. Maybe she'd sensed something Sophie was too young and green to notice, or maybe she was just hoping to steal Chastain's undivided attention for once. Either way, she got it; the captain had heard the Lt. Colonel's orders both from across the room and in her comm, and the declaration echoed slightly in her ear.
"Chastain," Ojeda called out, "look sharp. Get your feet off the table. Set an example."
She had such a stupid smile.
The more people that filed into the conference room, the fewer people there were until he arrived; the more people that filed into the conference room, the more aware Sophie became acutely aware of her flaws and her quirks. Balboa, the cheerful Rockman weapons officer, waved at her when she walked by and went in for a high five. Polite, quiet Major Brigham greeted her and Ojeda courteously, but his smile did not reach his pale eyes and faded as quickly as it could. Harken, around Ojeda's age and a combat legend in the making, was just as courteous, but with a hint of awkwardness that made his amiability appear more genuine. Her best friend amongst the crew, Sergeant Watson, located her and hugged her tightly when the thickets of people became too dense to see, and she returned the pilot's hug nervously. She had known and loved Clara since the sergeant had been Carl, and had never hidden anything from her but this; Clara must have sensed it, because she pulled away and her lips pursed in a pout. She was about to ask what was bothering Sophie--
And there he was. Chastain stood up straight, and held Clara's hand to keep from fidgeting.
The other captain always made her fidget. Was she too plain looking for him? Clara insisted she was pretty, and she got hit on as much as any other girl when the Heron docked, but around Leto she always felt plain - brown eyes, brown hair, tan skin, whoop dee doo. To Sophie Chastain, half the girls in New Orleans had looked like her, except when she did something with her hair. She hadn't today - normally she straightened it to keep it out of her eyes, but it was wavy and poofed along her neck and shoulders. It made the cocoa tips at their edges stick out. She probably looked like a slob.
Captain Christian Leto never looked like a slob, and he probably never had to worry about his hair. It was always black and long, with layered bangs along his eyebrows. It made it hard to discern what color his eyes were - sometimes she looked, and they seemed a chocolate brown, or sometimes they looked dark ocean blue. Sometimes, they were somewhere in between, black and huge and reckless. They would have chilled her spine, if she didn't love his recklessness. It came out in his grin, his strong jaw, the way his unblemished skin (another plus; she and Leto were amongst the few veterans who had no scars, though she was reaching her mid twenties and he his mid thirties) would flush when something drew his attention. Every time Sophie drew it, she would flush herself. She had always been anything but subtle. Clara could see it plain as day, and she was just a sergeant, a pilot at that. Leto's eyes had seen conflicts Chastain never dreamed of on planets she would never see, and he had escaped unscathed. He could surely see her stupid crush.
She'd had four years to practice her game face on Ojeda. They felt like four years down the drain when she saw Leto.
Nevertheless, the subordinates saluted him, and Chastain did too out of habit. He grinned - her stomach ached - and saluted back before turning on his foot to acknowledge Ojeda. Chastain followed him, helpless in his wake, and stood at Ojeda's left shoulder. Christian took the perch at her right. As the seconds ticked by and the Lt. Colonel's briefing began, the older captain looked at Sophie and smiled, to assure her. Was it even at her? When he looked at her, did he see Sophie Chastain? Or just a new kid on board the Heron, one among dozens? Was this a conflict that he saw himself being hurt in, dying in? Did he see Chastain dying? He'd read her record - and whenever Sophie was in his presence, Christian could recite even more of it than she could. It's a farm world, she reminded herself. You survived the Mantis frontier. A farm world has nothing that could hurt you.
Her stomach ached again, and it must have showed when she returned his smile.
"Six weeks ago," she heard as she rejoined the rest of the world, "one of our governors in the colonies received an unusually strongly worded message from the overseers of Asmiov 2. As some of you may know, Asmiov is a farm world with enough resources to supply Terra and entire fleets for generations to come. Not exactly a prim and proper bunch, definitely no stand up citizens, but nothing to be overly concerned about - until we started getting troop movements instead of strong words. Now, the plains of Asmiov aren't exactly war-torn, but they're starting to run a little ragged. Every ration we lose is a ration too many. That said, factoring in the terrain and the fighting forces, the people on this ship should be more than enough to handle any combat scenarios. Leto will handle those. Captain?"
Christian snapped to attention; clearly he'd been as disinterested as Sophie felt, only she hadn't shown it the way he had. Ojeda wouldn't speak up about him, though. Leto was dangerous. Everyone knew that. And beautiful. Everyone probably knew that, too.
"The rebels aren't sticking to the cities. There's about a dozen of them or so on the rebelling continent, but the rebellion's epicenter is in a series of plains known as the Four Corners, where the borders of four cities all meet. Most of the grain is produced here, and it's imperative that we risk as little environmental damage as possible. No air strikes here. Every force so far has moved on foot - that's why we keep sending troops, and they keep not reporting back. Ever again." She knew the Captain - at least, hoped she did - well enough to hear the contempt in his voice for the people who had kept attempting the same strategy over and over again, even on farmhands; though hot-tempered and reckless, Christian had survived multiple tours throughout the galaxy, and was anything but stupid. "They've moved through five commandants already. The fifth promises to be more accommodating, and assures us that any resources or manpower we need are ours. Chances are we won't need them. Just in case, we're giving the leader of every squad - you know who you are, the information's in your comms - the frequency to the Asimov military forces. We'll stay in constant contact with the loyalist forces on the ground, and with any luck we should be out before the month. Louie, patch through the contact frequencies to the squad leaders."
Chastain watched as Ojeda's hand went to her comm, as well as Leto's and Harken's. The distinct ping that came with a comm update rang in every squad leader's ears. She heard no such ring. She wasn't sure what was more obvious, the confusion or the frustration, but Leto must have seen both. The captain leaned over with his grin.
"Turn that frown upside down, Sophie," Leto whispered. "I've read your file, remember? Think I'm gonna let you hunt all the hicks down before I even leave the ship?"
Touchdown couldn't have come soon enough.
She played poker with Clara and talked to Ojeda about assignment - she confirmed that Leto had asked for her personally, against Ojeda's better judgement, which would have made it even more dangerous if she hadn't been able to keep a straight face - and avoided Christian as best as she could, like a kid who sees the presents getting laid under the tree when she wakes up and has to try to go back to sleep. The only time she'd come into contact with him in the half hour or so before they landed was when the two of them had conferred with the Lieutenant Colonel and Harken about strategy, and even then all he'd done was casually spill his strategy and grin at her. Was he doing this on purpose? She knew Leto had never been married, but had plenty of near-marriages in his belt. After the latest one, he'd bought a ring with a stone as dark and implacable as the color of his eyes. No woman's gonna get it off my finger, he would vow over his beer, until she says I do.
Sometimes, Sophie would dream about it.
Finally, the time came and their squad assembled. Leto's squad was comprised of himself, Chastain, Balboa the Rockman, Sergeant Palmer, and an Engi simply nicknamed Fidget, for the hyperactive spasms he would always send out when he tried to fix something. She tried to get Clara to come too, but the pilot refused to part with the ship. "We'll meet up again when you reach Kubrick City!" she promised, and Clara Watson had hugged her and kissed her cheek and promised not to steal all the cute guys - if Chastain hadn't stolen the captain first. She hugged and kissed back, loving her for her good vibes and hating her for saying it loudly enough that Christian Leto could have heard. Whenever her stomach or chest started to flutter too much, she thought of Clara's face and decided that the sooner they reached Kubrick City, the better. She looked up from checking her sniper rifle and probe; Leto was looking at her again, with that dangerous smile of his. This time, there was no doubt about it. She could feel herself flush.
When Leto's point squad was geared up and ready for landfall, the airlock opened up before them. Leto went out first, turning with a cursory salute while he jumped and being caught in the air currents, hundreds of feet above the ground. Then went Balboa, to clear up room, and then Palmer, and then Fidget. Chastain, as the other captain, went last. She took a quick peek around at the other squadrons. Harken was nearly geared up, and waiting on her, but Ojeda had stopped with a helmet in her hands and was looking at Chastain. Sophie smiled and saluted, the same way Leto had. Ojeda's eyes had disapproval in them, but she smiled despite herself and saluted back. It lifted Sophie's heart a little. I may not have my own squad yet, but Ojeda's proud of me. And I'm Christian's wingman.
She jumped after her squad.
Sophie lanced through Asimov 2's sky like a bullet, preparing all the necessary switches and jettisoning all the necessary chutes to keep herself from being sucked too far off course or dashed against the ground when she landed. As her descent slowed, she found the time to admire the wide dashes of color through the sky of the backwoods colony world; pinks and oranges and scarlet reds cushioned Sophie Chastain, rocking her to the ground softly. Christian Leto was forty yards out - she made her way to him in seconds. The rest of the squad was making their way towards Captain Leto, too, but doing so much more slowly; their weapons were trained and ready through the blades of tall wheat. The crop made its way up to Sophie's hip. Too late, she realized she hadn't even bothered to secure their landing zone, and tried to play it off. Christian just smiled.
"I didn't check, either," he said, patting her on the shoulder once and pulling out his pistol. "Alright, boys and girl, Harken's squad makes landfall in--"
There was a whoosh!, a faraway sound like the opening of the airlock. Sophie thought at first that Harken's squad was starting to deploy, that the ship's bay had opened up. No, that can't be right, they're too far away she realized, too late once again, as Fidget pointed up and yelled frantically. The Heron, a huge black blot in the sky above them, weaved as quick as she could to avoid the artillery blast. A cool, iridescent blue, the projectile had hardly even come into their field of vision when a second whoosh! followed. The Heron dodged the first with ease (Sophie felt a sudden surge of pride for Clara up above them) but the second barely danced along the ship's nose.
"Huh," she heard Christian say, and Palmer cursed, but it was Sophie who voiced what they were all thinking.
"They're not just farmhands..."
Edited by Brooklyn Pace-Carlisle, Jul 12 2014 - 04:05 PM.