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Mark and Tyler Victor have fought Harmony from Masoul to Osdal. They’ve lost friends, shed blood and tears and now they’re headed for one of Harmony’s strongholds-Fernix.
Osdal left Mark a changed man, a man not just looking to keep his people alive, but a man looking to avenge the only woman that cared for him.
He has nothing to lose but his life, something he would gladly give to destroy Harmony.
Osdal System, fleet shakedown moving to Fernix.
Mark Victor rose from his bed, his body feeling as heavy as the memories he’d carried into his sleep.
“He wakes,” Second Lieutenant Lucy Amber said, and her disdain was audible.
Mark paid her little attention. She wasn’t from Reclaimer, she didn’t know him and he didn’t care for her jabs. He had been willing to be amicable in the beginning, but Second Lieutenant Amber wasn’t going to let him crawl into his bottle without daily ribbing.
He just wanted to suffer in peace. Every day he went to the gym, he worked his body into a sweat, tiring himself out as he shot with weapons, and trained with blades and his hands.
At night the pain came out, and he found himself looking at the newest bottle. He’d find a quiet place to sit and drink in an attempt to push his memories down. Instead, the alcohol seemed to make them more vibrant. He would cry silently, hidden away from everyone.
He was Mark Victor, ‘Diablo’, the hero of the Harmony War. No one wanted to see a war hero’s pain. They thought heroes were better than everyone else: they didn’t feel pain, couldn’t shed tears. It was all a lie, and Lieutenant Amber had seen that pain and dismissed him as a hero.
Mark got to his feet and walked to the bathroom they shared.
She shook her head, disgusted at a man who she had thought was so much more than human.
“I think you drank all of the mouthwash last week.” She was still trying to find his hot button.
Mark couldn’t give a rat’s fart in a vacuum.
He closed the door, dropping his clothes and stepping into the shower. Then he swigged down a few hangover curing meds that he’d got from a medic who had been transferred from Reclaimer.
He looked over his body in the small mirror. Scars covered him from head to toe, and he touched them with reverence; a cut on his leg from Earth’s slums, a line a bit lower where he’d had his leg regrown and re-attached in Sacremon, burn marks from an explosion that had nearly killed him and his brother Tyler on the same planet.
He had another scar on his neck from a near miss on Masoul’s gas planet. He turned, seeing his latest scars, which were less than a few months old, ragged puckered things along his back and arm.
The door opened and Hall stepped in, her mouth open, as if she’d stopped mid-yell.
Mark’s head turned to face her, his eyes like the barrel of an E-12. “Get out.” His voice was cold and harsh.
“I, uh, I didn’t…” she started, her eyes looking at the wounds.
He pushed her out. She stumbled, still staring as the door shut.
Mark pulled on his smart clothes, and they clung to his body. He was tall at six and a half feet, and a dense mass of muscle at two hundred and twenty pounds.
The drink had added some flab to his frame, but for the time being Mark would hold off on the drink. Today was not a day he could crawl into a bottle and try to forget what he’d seen. Today was the memorial for all of those who had died.
Mark stepped out of his room, and people stared at him; they’d probably seen the videos and pictures.
Mark and his old Platoon, nicknamed the Triple-Two’s, had risen to fame by being the tip of the EMF’s attack at Harmony. Someone in the Ministry of Intelligence had turned them into heroes with the right touch-ups on films, and creative licensing.
Mark didn’t care. He was a Trooper; he’d signed his life away to Earth’s Military Forces nearly a hundred and thirty years ago. For eleven years he had fought on different planets, the rest he’d been stuck in cryo-sleep, like freighted cargo to the next battle.
Earth and Her Colonies was a nice title for what should have been Earth and Its Companies. Corporations owned everything, down to the individual planets that colonists lived on. Colonists worked for the corporations, churning out whatever product the system specialized in, and everyone was happy.
That is, until some colonist starts getting pissed with the status quo, throws a hissy fit and rebels. That’s when the EMF come wading in. They’re the corporations’ guard dogs.
Many colonist rebels gave up their fight as soon as a Carrier entered their system. If they didn’t, then the Troopers would come down and ‘clear’ the planet of any aggressive forces.
When Mark and his brother Tyler joined up it had been a neat idea; join the EMF, tour the universe, get paid, maybe get a retirement, and fight less than he had back in the slums.
Their first drop had been on Sacremon, one of the rare engagements that the EMF had had with the colonists they kept in line.
By the time EMFC Reclaimer, his Carrier, had left the system, more than eighty percent of their original Trooper complement were dead on Sacremon. They’d gone back to Earth, thinking that they would never see anything like Sacremon again.
It probably would have gone that way if Harmony, a group that promised to overthrown the corporations and put the people back into power, hadn’t started shaking their sabers at Earth and Her Colonies.
“Hey, Jerome,” Mark said, walking up on his friend as he stepped out of his quarters. He’d made second lieutenant, and got his own Platoon to command. Mark knew that he hadn’t achieved the same rank because people were making noises about his drinking and his comments. Telling a colonel to go fuck himself did not go down with the upper ranks.
It will also get you banned from the officers’ mess – and their better booze, Mark thought.
“Hey, Mark,” Jerome looked him over, nodding to himself, assessing that Mark was sober and looking presentable. Jerome, like Tyler, was Mark’s brother, even though none of them shared a drop of the same blood.
“You with us from now on?” Jerome asked, as they continued on towards the flight deck.
Are you going to be crawling into the drink again?
“For today,” Mark said. Tomorrow, or after midnight, he couldn’t make any guarantees.
Jerome nodded, he didn’t judge. Mark had seen more than most people. He slapped Mark on the back, telling him that he was there if Mark needed him. Saying the actual words would have been embarrassing for them both. They were Troopers, they’d drop into hell if their paymasters whipped them enough, and after their friends at a moment’s notice. Admitting something was wrong would allow one to start seeing the cracks in the EMF establishment.
“You hear about the new training schedule?” Jerome asked, pulling away from the touchy subject.
“No.” Mark checked his implants, skimming through the regular junk to see if there were any important updates.
“Exactly; there aren’t any. They want us to take them into Fernix with virtually no training in the powered armor. Seems that someone wants to save credits by putting us under,” Jerome snorted.
“Fucking credit pinching fuckers,” Mark said, sighing and shaking his head.
“Got that right. So any training we do is now coming out of our pay. Bastards are making us pay for being awake. If it’s for more than a month, then we have to pay an additional fee as they say they will need to do more medical procedures on us. As if they don’t already grow all the supplies they need to put us back together in the growing tanks.”
It wasn’t like the Troopers could argue, they had to suck up and shut up, otherwise who knew, maybe the next time they needed an ammunition supply run, some bean counter would deny their request.
“Just have to stick together,” Mark said.
Jerome took a sideways look at the other Troopers in the lift, and most of them were looking at Mark, laughing and gossiping.
“Yeah,” Jerome agreed.
Tyler saw Mark come out of the lift with Jerome, and the two of them looked like they had something sour in their mouths.
Mark’s movements were sure and his eyes were haunted but alert.
“Hey, Warrant, good to see that you could make it out of the bathroom today! Sure you don’t want me to grab you a drink?” a corporal asked, he and his friends laughing at Mark as he walked through the flight deck’s massive airlocks.
Tyler felt heat rising from his gut as he turned towards the trio.
Mark walked past them, no emotion on his face until his arm whipped out, snagging the talker. He slammed his head into the corporal’s nose, the crunch making Tyler wince. Before the man hit the ground, Mark hit the man on one side and connected with the woman to the other. Their legs went out from under them, knocked out cold.
The man Mark had cracked in the face with his forehead was on his knees moving back and forth, looking at his hands as blood poured from his nose.
“Sorry, I didn’t quite hear that. Did you say something?” Mark asked the man.
The corporal said something, spitting teeth onto Mark’s front, so Mark punched him again, dropping him to the ground.
“Fucking premium grade A Harmony fodder, fucking barely worth the armor,” Mark hissed, shaking his head and moving towards Tyler and the group of EMFC Reclaimer’ Troopers who had been transferred to the Dauntless. Their old Carrier and home no longer existed.
If they had still been on Reclaimer, then Mark would be expecting to have the military police collect his ass and drag him away to the brig. But here on Dauntless things were a bit different. They had never really gotten away from the slums, and most of the people still hung out with the gangs that they had been a part of back on Earth. Those that didn’t have a gang were shamed by others, no matter their rank or position.
The one thing that the people of Dauntless seemed to agree on, was the fact the people from Reclaimer didn’t belong on their Carrier. Five of Dauntless’ people were still recovering in the medical ward after their attempt to beat up one of the Reclaimer’s corporals.
What Dauntless’ people didn’t understand was that the Reclaimer people stayed together. They’d segregated themselves as much as possible, teaching those who were willing to listen, and leaving the others to their own devices. Reclaimer’s Combat Shuttle crews were the same way.
Tyler wouldn’t trust the combat crews from Dauntless if they swore on their mothers’ lives. Those birds were nothing compared to the Combat Shuttles from Reclaimer, they were the same model but Tyler doubted that they’d had maintenance done on them in their entire lifetime.
The Combat Shuttle pilots and the Troopers from Reclaimer worked together, making sure that their rides were good, and they looked after one another.
The Dauntless people were less likely to fuck with them now, though Tyler could sense the tension, the whispers and dark looks. Sometime, maybe soon, that tension would boil over. There were too many people on Dauntless that had thought themselves top dog, and then Reclaimer’s people had come in and run all over that. They were the strongest group on the Carrier and the gangs didn’t like it.
Mark approached, looking at Tyler, and the Reclaimer people moved out of his way, nodding, greeting, smiling. Mark did the same. As soon as he passed they closed ranks, their eyes looking outwards for signs of a threat.
“Hey,” Mark said, reaching Tyler and Alexis, a small smile on his lips, though it never really reached his eyes.
“Hey,” Tyler replied, tapping Mark on the shoulder. It was good to see his brother sober for once.
Mark looked around, greeting the other Troopers; there was the remainder of the Triple-Twos and others that had been stationed on the Carrier. Haas made his way through the group, he had been the Triple-Two’s second lieutenant up to Osdal, when he’d climbed to Company sergeant major, and now captain.
“You with us?” Haas asked Mark, cutting right to the point.
“Until Fernix is over,” Mark said. Tyler tried to hide his wince, but Alexis must have seen it, because she squeezed his hand in reassurance. It was hard for Tyler to see his brother like this.
Sure he had drunk before, but now it wasn’t just drinking for fun, it was drinking to forget.
Mark had told Tyler about Caroline, and while another man might have told Mark to get his shit together, Tyler instead nodded and got him another beer. He hated seeing his brother like this, but the war had cracked him wide open. And Tyler had the horrible feeling that he wouldn’t see his brother for much longer; either the war, the people on Dauntless, or he himself would pull him away from Tyler.
A trumpet sounded, and the room went quiet. Not even the gangs tried to do anything as everyone faced the coffins with the Trooper emblem stamped on them.
For a long painful minute, memories of the fallen ran through the minds of the Troopers, then the trumpet went off again.
People started walking from the room, speaking in low reverent murmurs.
“Let’s go to the observation deck, we have some things to plan,” Tyler said, looking to the warrants and above around him.
“Lead the way second lieutenant,” Haas said.
Tyler did as he was ordered, and the Reclaimer’ Troopers walked off in their groups of no less than three.
Tyler glanced around, searching for threats. It felt like he was back in Earth’s slums, or on one of the undercover missions in Masoul or Osdal.
Dauntless wasn’t home, and these weren’t friendly forces.