83 Years After Light Travel
Major's Office on Puerto de Extensión
The Captain's desk was littered with all sorts of memorabilia; a small plant from the far reaches of Zoltan space, several old Terran coins, a Engi's eye sensor suspended in some sort of blueish goo, even a few pirate sabers hanging behind her on the wall. Major Palmira Ojeda wasn't the tidy sort, not after twenty years on the frontier. She gave herself a start; twenty years out here, and she had just signed a contract for one more tour of duty. She must hate civilization, staying so far away from it as she was. The planet below was little more than a smuggler colony, littered with undesirables who were seeking a better life from the crowded Terra. Maybe that's why she was still out here; going back to the Inner Worlds reminded her too much of home. She knew she couldn't stay away forever, it was an irrational fear of old surroundings. Couldn't stay locked in the past forever. Had to go and say hi to her parents, see what her brothers were doing...
“Major,” her staff Sargent opened the door, the grizzled woman surprisingly clean for once. “Your transfer is here.”
“Transfer? I didn't ask for any transfer.”
“Higher ups don't seem to think so.”
“Give me a few seconds to clean up.”
With the Sargent's snickering to give her comfort, the Major closed her desk monitor quickly, attempting to clear the table of the papers and tablets piled on it. Opting for the strategy of shoving everything in a draw, it was done quickly, and her new underling was shown in.
The woman was young, barely looking twenty, dark skin that looked more like leather, a combination of hardwork and sun. Her hands in particular looked like those of a factory worker, burn marks and cuts littering them. Obviously had been in a dangerous business before, or at very least, a painful one. Her hair flowed down, nearly reaching the shoulders and giving the Major a pause for concern. Other than that, her uniform seemed in good shape, freshly pressed, and her insignias were on right. She was First Lieutenant Chastain, young and sporting a look that had a combination of boredom, impatience, and some amount of respect all rolled into one.
“First Lieutenant Sophie Chastain, reporting for duty ma'am.” Her salute was sharp, respectable if a bit mechanical.
“I guess they wanted to replace Horatio.” The Major dug around behind her desk, finding a tablet and flipping it on. Of course, they send her the information packet right as the recruit walks into her office. “You know what happened to Horatio, Lieutenant?”
“Never heard of him, ma'am.”
“Pirates got him. He was out patrolling on the boundaries of the system and bam, just like that, they got him.” The Lieutenant stared at her with an ambiguous expression. “You know what they send us? His finger. It's standard pirate procedure. Intimidation, they cut off fingers and just ship 'em over in little pods. Too bad for them that they used an ion-powered pod. Traced it back, I got Horatio, and then I nuked the asteroid they were hiding on. Poor boy though, he's back on Terra right now, getting his fingers and a few other bits replaced.”
“I'll be sure to keep a careful eye on what bits I got, then... ma'am.”
“I'm sure you will.” The info was pretty bleak on this recruit; highschool dropout, got in via the Academy's “no really we aren't desperate” program, had a decent standing in the Academy but got into fights. Sort of person they'd be willing to send out to the frontier. She didn't seem to be easily intimidated, though admittedly, the Horatio story wasn't that good. “Says here you requested to be out here; takes a special kind of person to want to be out on the frontier. Why?”
“I want some adventure ma'am.”
“Did they tell you anything about me?”
“Your Staff Sargent said you like poker ma'am.”
“Not the answer I wanted.” The Major was fighting an overwhelming urge to just call it a night. She didn't really feel like giving this recruit a hard time, but it was the treatment all under her command had to face at some point. “Let me help you; I'm Major Palmira Ojeda. I've been out on the frontier for twenty years. My most recent assignment is this rickety station we're on; two hundred soldiers, watching over our little smuggler city on the ground. We keep the Mantis raiders at bay and in exchange the good people of Terra give us their tax money. If you want adventure, I guess you're going find it here, but it's not going last. You're going be sick of it before your tour's over.”
“If I may, ma'am, then why are you still here after five?”
The Major gave the barest hint of a smile. “They won't let me go back home Lieutenant. Follow me, I'll introduce you to your co-workers. Sarah!” The door slid open the Sargent poking her head in. “Get the rest of the officers into the conference room, I have an introduction to make.”
83 Years After Light Travel
Recreation room on Puerto de Extensión
“Major told her about her finger yet, Chastain?” It was a jovial atmosphere, a walk-in closet that had been recommissioned as a poker room. The rest of the crew didn't like the smoking, it being Space Force policy to keep smoking a private affair, so here the officers were. The closet was four by four meters, the lot of them crammed around a little table that was currently piled high with iridium credits. The officer asking Chastain was a certain Captain Isaac Mayera, a well dressed and sharp looking man who Ojeda had long ago deduced asked for the frontier just for the exotic women that came through.
“Never did.” The woman tossed out a fifty credit coin, a string of curses and chair creaking following.
“Tell her and I'll try you for mutiny,” Ojeda murmured, taking a long inhale of a nearby cigar. She tossed out a couple tens.
“Charmer, isn't she?” The Captain gave a laugh. “Ties into the story actually. So here we are, young Ojeda's -yes soldiers, she was once young like you- out on the frontier. Finds the man of her dreams, marries him. Turns out he was a smuggler and everything he told her was a lie. What's more? The ring he gave her was actually a secret shipment of high-grade supermetal, supermetal like you lot have never seen, the sort so good they don't even make more than a few grams at a time. Couldn't get the ring off though, so in his haste, took her finger too.”
The rest of the officers had a good laugh, Ojeda sitting at her end of the table and just taking another drink of her scotch.
“Well Major? You gonna confirm or deny it to the rookie?” The Sargent handed her a new cigar, a smirk on her face.
“Go **** yourselves.” The Colonel laid down her cards, four queens. Everyone gave a quick glance at their cards, Mayera keeping a cocky look on his face. The Major gave him a look, the Captain returning it, the two seeing who'd snap first. Finally, he sighed, putting down his cards and admitting defeat. The Major gave a smile, collecting her hoard of credits.
Chastain found the Major half an hour later, sitting on the observation deck in the dark and generally looking broody. The Major herself wasn't actually brooding, it took a lot more than Mayera to get under her skin, it was more that continued exposure to quon leaves left the eyes pretty sore. The subordinates didn't need to know that, though.
“Major,” Chastain began. “I'd like an assignment to the next patrol.”
“Granted.” The Major had her head reclined back and feet on the coffee table, looking up at the roof and the stars beyond. “I heard about the incident on Deck 3.” There was a stiffening in the room. “Punched out a spaceman. Came to me, blood drizzling out of his nose and a sob story. Told me you and him had a disagreement.”
“He insulted New Orleans, ma'am. Said it'd be more helpful as a lake.”
“Yeah, I know, I had him scrubbing floors for a week after he made a comment about my beloved Mexico.” The Major didn't really leave her prone state. “That's the thing though Chastain, we aren't barbarians, as much as the folks back home might like to think. Feels good to break someone's face open, but it's not an officer's place. Leave that dirty work to his sargent. You, you're there to be better than that. You tell him to go scrub your quarters and invite his mates to watch. Humiliation is your tool now, lieutenant. Out here, on the frontier, you don't need to prove how strong you are or that you can beat up the biggest kid on the block. Surviving is enough for that.” She took a long drink, then leaned forward, gently setting the glass down and looked Chastain in the eyes. “Do I make myself clear?”
“Get ready for the patrol.”
84 Years After Light Travel
In orbit over Clark 8
“Bit of a pickle, I'd say.” The Major had her gun in one hand and sword in the other, evaluating the situation quickly. On her back was Chastain, who was armed with a rifle, and surrounding them were the angriest Mantis she'd seen in her life. There was something about the expression of a Mantis that so desperately wanted to eat your internal organs, but was being held back by its master. It was this pained look, all of its rage and hate directed right at its meal. In this situation, the Mantis' master was some sort of Mantis captain, a female that had risen through the raider's ranks. Ojeda remembered enough from the Academy to know that Mantis females were the nastious creatures you could meet out here; relegated to little more than breeders back in the Mantis core worlds, they had to prove themselves to get in a position of power. Combine that with the indomitable will Mantis gained as they matured and rose in command... very bad.
“I don't think she appreciated the gumbo,” Chastain commented.
“Did you put any poison in it?”
“No, I was just expecting it to do its magic.”
“Goddammit Chastain.” The Mantis female crept closer, long teeth revealed as she sneered. There was something that gave the scientists back home a run for their money; how insects had teeth. Then again, the Mantis weren't really insects, they defied enough boundaries that they were just lumped in a whole new biological class.
“[You refused to stop encroaching on my feeding grounds human!]” The Major's Mantis was pretty rough but she got most of what the bug was saying. “[My hunters want food, and you will return our livestock or become it yourself!]”
“My translation might be a bit off but... I think she just said she wants food and we're food.” The Major tapped her sword, a signal being sent to the assault party. Any moment now... “Chastain, you want to take over diplomacy on this one?”
“You've got this one boss.”
“Right. Mantis captain, we appreciate the fact that you need to eat but you have your little slug pets for that. When you start stealing our cattle we nuke you from orbit.”
“[Return our livestock!]”
“Don't say I didn't at least try.” Hearing a crunch of metal overhead, the two took the moment to dive out of the way, a pod coming down right on their location. Crashing into the floor and sending the Mantis into disarray, the pod broke open to reveal four Planetary Force spec ops, clad in dark armor and picking Mantis off one by one. Soon, the room was cleared, Ojeda and Chastain standing a bit stunned as one of the men walked up, saluting her.
“Corporal Harken, sir.” The man's face was obscured behind his helmet, and absent-mindedly he crushed the skull of a nearby squirming Mantis. “We talked on the comms. Can I ask why you were down here ma'am? Seems a bit dangerous to have two officers doing the talking.”
“I have to keep active, it's the latest strategy for living longer, living an active lifestyle. Say you can get to a hundred and fifty that way.”
“Whatever you say ma'am. My men will clean up the rest of the Mantis on this ship; the cattle are being returned to your station.” The man gave another salute and walked off to supervise some killing, leaving Ojeda to stand over the corpse of the Mantis captain and ponder it for a moment.
“You've never seen Mantis killing up front, have you Lieutenant?” The Major kicked the body over to reveal the face.
“Don't think so ma'am.” The Lieutenant shrugged.
“Anniversary of your transfer, you know that?” The Major took out a knife, carefully cutting out a long protrusion on the Mantis' skull. It had the appearance of hardened cartilage, the same stuff the Mantis exo-skeletons were made out of, but it was very hard. Holding it up, the Major examined it, then tossed it to Chastain. “See that? It's something the females develop. Mantis are funny creatures like that, they almost have built-in ranks. Older they get, the more distinctive their head-plates become. Mantis females though, they tend to be so doped up on one of those breeding worlds, or frozen, they never grow them. Pretty distinctive when they do, though. Keep it on your shelf and tell the new transfers about it. Should be amusing.”
With those words of wisdom, the two walked off, heading to the nearest airlock so they could get back to the station and, hopefully, avoid near-death experiences for a little while longer.