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Brigette Maelcum

This article originally appeared in issue #008 of the downloadable PDF magazine.

Brigette was born and raised within the protective confines of the family Stead; one of several such communities in the area, and made up of an extended family of some 40 different households; mostly farmers, artists and craftsmen, on the outskirts of bustling seaport New Philadelphia on the marshy southwest tip of Geautreux’s Island on the planet Aretius (C-4667C4C).

In addition to the usual lessons and play, Brigette’s time was spent helping tend the Stead’s large hydroponics system and its rabbit warrens, as well as making a few CR for herself on the side as a much-sought-after babysitter.

Sometime following her first menstruation, Brigette, like all the women of the Stead, underwent ritual dedication to the Goddess. Brigette, always a strong-willed girl (and possessor of a mean right hook), chose Alkithoe (Impetuous Might) as her Stead-name; her old name, Brigette Maelcum, along with her burqua, being reserved for interaction with outsiders.

Alkithoe loved being involved first-hand in the Cult rituals she’d only been able to watch previously, as well as the ‘plugged-in’ feeling her deeper commitment to The Goddess seemed to bring. But she felt an especially powerful draw to the Stead’s weekly ‘Crash-Bang’ sessions (weapon use and small unit tactics training overseen by several veterans among the Stead-members).

Little Sister Alkithoe, as was soon discovered, was gifted; already a crack shot, she simply excelled at ‘Crash-Bang’; occasionally even assisting with the sessions; her ease with weapons and emerging keen tactical sense naturally being attributed to a gift of The Goddess—how else?

Being a world on the Frontier, Aretius had its share of run-ins with Pirates over the years; usually consisting of a single ship, or the occasional small group, which would concentrate on the warehouse and business districts, and leave the habitats themselves unmolested.

One memorable exception to this occurred, by happenstance, a few days shy of Alkithoe’s 14th birthday; when a well-organized Pirate force, which had been hitting worlds up and down the Frontier, descended on Aretius intent on picking it clean.

Pirates seemed to be everywhere at once, and Alkithoe found herself, along with the other Steadfolk, swept up in street-by-street, and house-by-house fighting. During a lull in the fighting, Alkithoe wondered just how the rest of of Geautreux’s Island (and for that matter, the rest of Aretius) were faring; the Southern sky being lit by a terrible burning that could only be the Downport at Latrobe burning, some 60km distant.

By the following morning, after any meaningful resistance had been dealt with, the Pirates had taken Aretius---The plundering of the world commencing in a most efficient manner; long pack-trains of one heavy grav-sled after another piled high with valuables of every description, as well as chain gangs of future slaves, methodically shuffling forward to enter the holds of now-grounded Corsairs.

The next thing Alkithoe knew, she was lying on her back in the open, looking up at the bright face of Hamza, Aretius’ single moon. The last she’d remembered, she was holed-up in a Mechanic’s shop with a few others; firing on the encroaching Pirates through holes that’d been knocked in the thick thermocrete walls using some of the shop’s heavy tools. Alkithoe suddenly remembered how, while reloading her ancient-but-sturdy Automatic Rifle, her eye had caught a heavy stun grenade sailing precisely through the small, fist-sized hole she’d been using as a firing port. The grenade glanced off her knee and clattered to the floor.

“Wow! That’s one heck of a toss!.” she'd thought, a split-second before the grenade’s detonation.

Focusing a little, Aklithoe tried to rub her aching head and found it difficult to move, as she was securely chained; a member of a gang which looked to be made up of about 30 or 40 others; the sullen group sitting or lying on a patch of blood-soaked ground next to a very high and unpleasant mound of Aretiusian bodies, and minded over by several heavily-armed Pirates.

The Pirates cajoled, prodded, kicked, whipped and pulled the gang to their collective feet, and pushed them toward a large clearing where, high above, a Corsair, still popping, pinging and steaming from its recent trip through the atmosphere, was slowly descending; its cargo hatch already opened to facilitate rapid loading once landed.

She’d heard the stories before—about the slave markets at the Pirate Haven of New Tripoli (and those on Newkirk and Flanders as well); and, somewhat detached, watched as the Corsair, now only some 60m from the surface, was silhouetted against the bright, serene face of Hamza for several seconds of its descent.

For some reason, a couple of old saws her Mother was fond of quoting in times of adversity popped into her head, “Nothing in this world happens by mistake. There is no such thing as coincidence”.

Alkithoe decided that she didn’t find the idea particularly comforting there beneath the looming slave ship.

As the ship dropped to less than 20m from the surface, Alkithoe; despair and resignation finally eating away the last of her hope, silently petitioned The Most wise and benevolent Goddess for help---if deemed worthy.

A few seconds later, a sudden explosion rocked the approaching Corsair; instantly vaporizing the thing’s bow and a large portion of its starboard side in a sun-bright flash of plasma, and throwing it, effortlessly flipping end-over-end through the air like a .25 CR piece, smashing into a close-packed trio of already-grounded Corsairs; breaking and scattering them all, as well as their contents, numerous grav-sleds, some very unlucky civilians, numerous nearby structures, and many, many Pirates, in a tumbling mass of burning wreckage.

Alkithoe looked up from where the force of the exploding Corsair, in concert with a sliver of its Superdense hull clipping the top of her head, had knocked her to the ground. She found the whirling cloud of grit and debris kicked up by the sudden arrival of the Imperial Marine Landing Boats, combined with the blood streaming from her a gash in her head, to be quite annoying--- as well as extremely confusing.

One beat-up old Boat, sporting a large image of Terran Atomic-Era icon Bettie Page wearing a peaked cap, stockings, stiletto heels (crazy old Terrans!), and holding a large platter of some flaming delicacy, was displayed on the hull’s side with the name “Chili Fries” in large letters above; skipped and skidded across the surface; the Boat’s dorsal turret and door gunners laying down suppressive VRF Gauss fire for the exiting Marine Platoon even as the thing ground to a halt only a half-dozen meters from Alkithoe and the rest of the chain gang. Still hissing and steaming from its trip through the atmosphere, the the Lander’s PA system was blasting out Jimi Hendrix’s performance of ancient Terran standard “All Along the Watchtower” at a level more than powerful enough to blow Alkithoe’s mandible-implanted commlink, as well as being almost loud enough to drown-out the sounds of battle entirely.

Rubbing grit and blood from her eyes, Alkithoe could see that while some of the Pirates held their ground, most broke and ran; like Orcs from the Pelannor Fields in that old book her Mom had liked so much. Some of the outlaws pleaded for their lives (for all the good it did them); being shot where they stood (or groveled). Some threw themselves from heights, or into flames, or slit their own throats, or shot themselves in the head. A few even went so far as to work themselves into hopeful concealment among the nearby mound of Aretiusian dead, before Marines rooted them out after a simple consult with the Cabal of their suits’ sensors. A lucky few were taken prisoner, and sent, Brig Walking ahead of a few heavily-armed Marines, for later interrogation.

A single, lucky Pirate, held until Operation’s end, was then released, weaponless, to go his own way as best he could; because out of every massacre there is always a single survivor left to tell The Tale.

Minutes after the Marines had swept through the area, a trio of IN Corpsmen, each wearing Battle Dress sporting the green-over-white horizontal stripe denoting Medical Personnel, accompanied by a pair of heavily armed Marines, approached.

One of the Marines, a Corporal, if Alkithoe guessed the insignia right, crouched, setting down a heavy and deadly-looking 15mm SMG, saying what the girl could’ve sworn she’d heard as “Don’t worry, Little Sister.”, before delicately taking the heavy chains in powered grip and effortlessly removing them as if they’d been made of smoke.

The Corpsmen tended to the battered civilians; one quickly passing from one to another, giving each a cone of something to take the immediate edge off, as well as something to counter the heavy rads they’d soaked up from the Ortillery strikes so nearby, while the remaining pair of Corpsmen performed triage.

Chemically shifted into neutral, Alkithoe sat quietly, thinking about big things like the Universe and her place in it, while the Corpsman, working quickly, gently folded her scalp back into place before sewing-up the laceration. Fairly satisfied with his quick work, the Corpsman continued on to another; there apparently being no end to the number of civilians in need on Aretius.

Several weeks later, following a series of divinations and readings; conversations with friends, family, and the local Priestess, as well as meditating on the subject; Little Sister Alkithoe had eventually come to the conclusion that The Goddess wanted her to join Aretius’ saviors, the Imperial Marines.

The day following this revelation, 14 year old Brigette Maelcum, wrapped in her chocolate-brown burqa and carrying all of her worldly possessions in an old IN Medical bag (including a teddy bear which simply refused to stay put), as well as letters of reference from her Mother, the Stead’s Priestess, and her ‘Crash-Bang’ Instructors (two of whom were themselves former Marines), walked into the Marine Recruiters office in New Philly, and, trusting to the watchful eye of The Goddess, signed the next dozen years of her life over to the Marines.

Having grown up with a sometime bewildering number of different rituals, both big and small, associated with everyday life, Brigette took the Marine Corps’ penchant for order and repetitive, often seemingly-unimportant or even pointless actions in stride; seeing all as simply being rituals demanded of the cult of “The Emperor’s Beloved Corps” (a term Brigette often heard being invoked by the Sergeant-Instructors).

On being assigned to IN Corvette Tezcatlipoca (The Smoking Mirror), Maelcum was surprised to find herself picked by the Marine Force Commander, Lieutenant Meyer, to fill the position left vacant by the recent death of an Orderly; killed during their last boarding action.

When not otherwise involved in the usual Anti-piracy operations or Merchant Escort duty, Brigette’s day usually consisted of silently waiting at the skipper’s elbow; whether in the mess, during staff meetings, or in the skipper’s office itself; ready to dispense ice water, drinks (including the Lt’s favorite, the ‘Green Fairy’, Absinthe), a lit cigar, a small bowl of the skipper’s favorite fruit compote, or even the occasional ‘Everfresh’ sandwich (having already consulted with her Tarot deck earlier to help divine the skipper’s favorites from among the unmarked packages), at a moment’s notice.

Not having been aboard Tezcatlipoca very long, the skipper’s quiet new Orderly was soon propelled to uncomfortable notoriety among her comrades after having managed to successfully ambush and ‘kill’ Ship’s Sergeant Piper and his team representing the OpFor, an unheard of three consecutive times during tactical training exercises.

The day following the momentous killings, Brigette reported for duty as usual, to find the skipper wearing an almost irrepressible grin, and Ship’s Sgt Piper exuding a remoteness even more pronounced than usual.

At day’s end, as Brigette gathered the paraphernalia to administer the customary shots of Absinthe to the skipper and Piper, Lieutenant Meyer took the ancient, Moroccan glass decanter from the young Marine, and with an “Allow me, Marine”, poured three tiny glasses of the ‘Green Fairy’. When they each held one of the small, ornate glasses, the skipper offered a toast to the Corps, then congratulated Brigette with a simple “Well done, Marine!”

Finishing his drink, Piper took a long look at Brigette over his prominent salt-n-pepper cookie-duster; sizing her up before asking “Marine, am I to understand that you are, in fact, only 15 years old?” Brigette replied she was still only 15, but would be 15-and-a-half in four days; punctuated by a nervous smile. At this, the skipper doubled over with laughter, while Ship’s Sergeant Piper, showing the slightest of smiles himself, gave Brigette a firm handshake.

A few weeks later, Marine Maelcum was surprised to find she’d been promoted to Corporal.

Several years of Marine routine followed, with Maelcum receiving a number of citations for bravery and exemplary service; including more than a few wound badges, awarded for service in an assortment of Anti-piracy actions (both in Space and Planetside); rising first to the rank of Sergeant, then to Gunnery Sergeant over time.

Then came ‘Operation Rat Catcher’; a mission to both rescue Imperial Citizens (including one very unlucky Imperial Nephew who’d been on the wrong Liner at the wrong time) being held prisoner at a Deep Space, Pirate-operated fuel and supply depot, as well as the destruction of said station.

As ININT planners had learned from their sources (several captured Pirates intent on being helpful to avoid execution), that the station was essentially a large, fusion-hollowed asteroid; the surface covered with dozens of pressure domes and habitat modules, as well as a bewildering variety of Ship’s hulls that had been either simply crashed there, or cut-down and converted to permanent habitats; all being securely anchored to the rock. More layers, consisting of assorted modules, connecting access-ways, and ship’s hulls (some still functional), jutted outward; essentially ‘spokes’ serving as attachment and access points for even more modules and hulls, as well as visiting Corsairs, or recently stolen or hijacked Starships; the whole amalgam vaguely resembling a very large, very odd-looking bunch of grapes.

Following several long weeks of slow, deliberate maneuvering on exiting Jumpspace, the heavy hitters of the IN Squadron waited; powered down, big guns silent, hulls blackened, and at the proper IN doctrine-specified range to avoid long-range detection; while their smaller counterparts; including the Tezcatlipoca among them, scouted the approaches to the Objective; watching for signs of opposition, and relaying sensor data back to the Squadron’s Command Element.

A few days later, Brigette sat in the darkened compartment of Tezcatlipoca’s number 2 Away Boat, Little Eneri; sipping a cold Earth Cola and picking at the bowl of Poutine she’d been sharing with the Port door gunner, Sgt Kwon; watching the assault team preparing in the weird blue-green glow of several chemical lights, while the Boat slid along, powered down, hull blackened, toward its objective; Eneri’s EW suite aping the electronic signature of one of the many large, none-too-bright Robotic Mosquitoes that flitted from one icy-body to another in the station’s vicinity; draining away raw hydrogen to carry back to the station’s purification equipment.

The heavily-stealthed Eneri; one of several such craft on similar approaches to the station; stopped a short distance from its objective and opened its hatches; the armored and sealed troopers kicking off from the side of the hull to propel themselves toward the station’s surface, while door gunners waited, ready to provide cover-fire.

Once all teams were in place, they waited patiently for 0300 Hours Local Station Time; checking over their gear or weaponry one last time, or keying auto-injectors to provide performance enhancing stimulants (or in some cases, inappropriate use of the suit’s extensive selection of various pain killers) in these last few minutes before the fireworks started.

At 0300, some judicious use of heavy plasma cutters ensued, and the teams (made up of both Marines in Battle Dress, and Special Branch Operators in Combat Armor) were inside; entering the station a few seconds after 0300, to the sound of the Hull Breach claxon blaring, and facing an opposition of (for the most part) bleary-eyed and hastily armed Pirates.

Lieutenant Meyer’s Platoon, in support of a team from Special Branch Team Six, worked their way toward the station’s heart, to the ININT-assured point where the prisoners were supposed to be located; meeting only sparse resistance along the way. When they’d finally passed through the last of the outer structures, and entered the asteroid-proper, things changed.

The Platoon’s forward element (including a pair of Special Branch Operators), on entering a large, fusion-carved chamber, was investigating both the chamber itself, and a few small cave-mouths just off the main path, when they were suddenly taken under point-blank heavy laser, gauss and GL fire, and rushed by approximately 20 Pirates wearing Battle Dress; attacking from inside the caves and from other concealed positions; the scouts being struck down almost instantly by the Pirates’ deadly fire.

Having been ordered to take up position within 100m of the scouting party, G/Sgt. Maelcum and her squad advanced; standing guard while the scouts searched. Responding to the scouts’ sudden calls for help, the Marine squad deployed to engage the enemy; concentrating their heavy laser, gauss, and LAG fire into the outlaws at Maelcum’s direction, with heavy effect; destroying 7 of the Pirates’ powered suits outright; and routing several more. Aggressively charging the enemy under heavy fire, G/Sgt. Maelcum and her squad quickly closed to hand-to-hand range with the remaining Battle Dress-equipped Pirates.

When her laser rifle malfunctioned (after firing into an attacker’s faceplate), Brigette closed in with the rifle, using its Super-dense stock as a club on the head of the nearest Pirate; killing 4 more outlaws in this manner before finally shattering the make-shift bludgeon.

Still facing sporadic sniper and GL fire, G/Sgt. Maelcum and the squad’s Corpsman, Pharmicist’s Mate Jenkins, unhesitatingly exposed themselves as they worked on the stricken scouts; saving the lives of 3 who might otherwise have succumbed to their wounds; while the remaining squad-members attempted counter-sniper fire from whatever cover they could manage (some using the bulk of an armored corpse as a shield).

When troops from 2nd squad arrived on the scene, Brigette, drawing her heavy gauss SMG, started in pursuit of the fleeing outlaws. Entering a corridor which appeared to empty into a second large chamber, G/Sgt. Maelcum and her squad, with a team from 2nd squad in tow, were suddenly receiving intense plasma fire from a rapid-pulse high energy gun at the chamber’s entrance; immediately lighting up a pair of the Marine powered suits. While 2nd squad’s fire team laid down heavy VRF gauss fire, the remaining squad members, low-crawling and using the sparse cover available, slowly worked their way toward the gun emplacement.

Even prone, and gathered behind the protection from direct fire a slight rise in the ground provided, the plasma gun was still wreaking havoc with the advancing squad; quickly reducing G/Sgt. Maelcum’s 9 remaining troopers to only 4 effectives.

From a standing position, fully exposed to view, Brigette opened fire at once, killing one of the heavy-suited Pirate gunners. Failing to silence the gun, however, she rushed toward the emplacement; a point-blank plasma blast knocking her down within 3m of the gun; her powered suit wrecked, shoulder shattered, and her right arm cooked-through and nearly severed. Brigette continued to fire into the emplacement from the ground, killing 2 more of the enemy and dispersing the rest of the crew.

Having ordered Corpsman Jenkins (who applied a spray sealant to her wounds) to help her to her feet, she directed the VRF team and her remaining troopers to man the heavy plasma cannon; and, turning it to face inward, directed accurate, high energy fire onto enemy positions within the 2nd chamber; foregoing any further medical treatment until finally relieved by Ship’s Sergeant Piper.

Brigette spent the remainder of Rat Catcher (and some time beyond) in the infirmary aboard Tezcatlipoca, convalescing after her surgery, and getting used to her new right arm; a beautifully alien thing, Brigette had decided; with its smooth, brushed-pewter finish. She certainly was unable to tell that one of her lungs and her spleen had been replaced by bionic analogs, but that’s what the Navy surgeon had insisted.

Brigette, who’d only heard sometimes vague, disjointed and incomplete bits from the other patients in the infirmary, was happy to finally return to duty; figuring she’d get the straight skinny on Rat Catcher from the Lieutenant.

On reporting for duty that afternoon, Brigette found both the skipper and Ship’s Sgt Piper wearing huge smiles. It being lunch time, Brigette would ordinarily go to the Mess and bring lunch back; but in a surprising move, Piper decided that he’d go to the Mess instead, since Maelcum, having just returned , needed light duty.

Lieutenant Meyer looked over and motioned for Brigette to sit as she went over and picked the silver tray with the Moroccan glass decanter and small glasses, from the top of the filing cabinet and carried it back to her desk; pouring three tiny glasses of the ‘Green Fairy’ before sitting down again.

Piper returned a few minutes later, whistling the Corps’ Hymn, and carrying a tray; asking “Who wants TACOS?” as he set it down on the corner of his desk.

At a nod from the skipper, they each picked up one of the small, ornate glasses. The skipper offered the usual toast to the Corps, then congratulated Brigette with “Well done, Gunnery Sergeant Maelcum—Brigette. Well done!”.

Speaking around an overly-large bite of a taco (her favorite!), Brigette thanked them; attributing her actions during Rat Catcher to what anyone would’ve done in the situation. A little later, Brigette let on that she’d been out of the loop since the sedatives had first kicked in on the Dust Off ride back to Tezcatlipoca, and was wondering if the skipper could tell her what happened.

Washing her own overly-large mouthful of taco down with a sip of Absinthe, the skipper leaned forward over her desk, and told Brigette that the Pirates’ had been a particularly tough nut to crack, cornered in their Lair as they were; especially so when it was later learned that their ironmongery included most of the full stock of 80+ suits of Battle Dress, as well as whatever else had been aboard IN Corvette Angkor Watt at the time of its disappearance.

The prisoners had been located, and most made it out; Special Branch Operators and Marine marksmen dealing with the Pirate guardsmen before the outlaws had executed more than a handful of captives; Ship’s Sgt. Piper making a difficult shot with the old ‘Greene Rifle’ which put the brakes on the Pirate that’d been holding a razor to the squirming Imperial Nephew’s throat.

The freed prisoners, boarding a pair of docked IN Corvettes under heavy security (on the one hand to provide protection for scared Citizens, and on the other, to be prepared in the event Pirates had joined the ranks of the Citizenry in hopes of later escaping) were whisked away from the station toward the relative safety and protection offered by the larger ships of the Squadron.

One of these Corvettes, the Karlstad, pulled away only to be hit amidships by a station-launched Pirate thunderball; the stolen nuke instantly vaporizing most of Karlstad; the blast also wrecking many of the station’s outer components, and shaking the station to its core; the massive EMP having knocked its central computer and gravity controls offline.

The Squadron’s heavy hitters, which had been slowly advancing on the station since the Away Boats had departed with their assault teams, went into action; flooding the Pirates’ frequencies with the standard IN Warning on a continuous loop—“Cease hostilities and Disarm. Stand down and remain where you are. Comply or be destroyed!”; the crews of the big guns and missiles coolly waiting for orders to convert any non-Navy ships into tumbling slag, or listening for any calls for ‘Friends in High Places’ to deliver Ortillery support to Marines or Spec Ops Operators in a tight spot.

At some point, several dozen Corsairs had apparently decided to break-out; some individually, some in groups of various sizes; unaware that IN tacticians had already designated them as the fish in the well-known Fish in a Barrel scenario; and not able to see the barrel they were in, the Pirates tried anyway; with pretty obvious results.

A few of the Corsairs, hoping to play their Aces, fired off their share of the Angkor Watt’s stolen thunderballs while attempting to maneuver away; the atomics effective, but not terribly so against the larger Battleships of the Squadron.

By the end of the Local Day, the few surviving Pirates had been rounded up and transported off-station to an IN ship’s brig. The remaining ordnance or other gear of interest from the Angkor Watt or other sources had been cataloged and stored aboard IN transport. All Imperial assets, both living and dead, had been returned to their ships.

A few days later, following some fairly extensive repair work, the IN Squadron turned about; traveling (some still limping) back toward their entry coordinates. At the edge of their sensor range, the Squadron’s three largest Battleships, the Hammer and Anvil, Cleon I and Tecumseh each disgorged the entire contents of their missile bays at the corpse-filled, ruined station in a multi-megaton Coup de Gras.

Finished with the tale, the skipper informed Maelcum the paperwork recommending Brigette for the ‘Starburst for Extreme Heroism’ for actions during the assault on the Pirate station had already been sent in.

Brigette was among more than two dozen sophonts (three others being associated with Operation Rat Catcher) to be awarded the Starburst during a solemn ceremony at Capital; reverently receiving both the medal, and a congratulatory handshake from HRH the Emperor himself; a handshake and clap on the shoulder coming from IN CNO, Admiral Duchess Her Grace Alexandra Pham-Trask; as well as a promotion to Leading Sergeant.

With Leading Sergeant Piper already the highest ranking Marine NCO aboard Tezcatlipoca (hence the honorific Ship’s Sergeant), Brigette, newly promoted to that same rank, soon found herself transferred to the IN Cruiser Blue Mountain, filling one of many vacancies a pair of thunderballs had created during Operation Rat Catcher.

Brigette boarded Blue Mountain with a pair of grav-cases; the large, gray-black, pebble-finished cubic meter model holding her gear, with the smaller containing her meager collection of personal items acquired over the years—scented candles; a half-dozen books on religion and philosophy; copies of ancient Terran pulp adventures Starship Troopers and Treasure Island; her well-worn Ryder Tarot deck securely wrapped in a piece of silk and sitting within a small O’Reilly’s Mincemeat Wonder-cookies tin; a framed holo-pic of Tezcatlipoca’s Marines arrayed behind a small placard with Meyer’s Maniacs inscribed on it right above some 56 small skull-and-crossbone icons ; the ancient Moroccan decanter and glass set Lieutenant Meyer had given her in appreciation; the remnants of a very large batch of chocolate white-raisin oatmeal cookies Ship’s Sergeant Piper had baked for her himself; a case of her favorite Everfresh sandwich (Hard Salami, Swiss, bean sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes and hot mustard on a cheese roll—divined using her cards, and stashed away in the event the favorite sandwich aboard the Blue Mountain wasn’t to her liking); as well as the teddy bear she’d first boosted off of Aretius with; happy in the knowledge that she’d now have a room completely to herself on Blue Mountain. Stepping right into the job as 2nd Platoon’s top NCO; Maelcum served as the Lieutenant’s right hand; effectively running the Platoon for almost 8 years before being promoted to First Sergeant and joining Company Commander Captain Forester’s staff.
Eventually, through the cycle of accident, combat casualties, transfer (both desired and the utterly mysterious), and hoary old retirement, Brigette was promoted to Sergeant Major a few years later; at that point, being the senior NCO aboard, she became Ship’s Sergeant aboard IN Cruiser Blue Mountain.

Sometime later, Brigette was off-duty, sitting at her usual table in the portside Mess; playing Parcheesi, and discussing philosophy (but not politics, thank you) with the usual gang of off-duty cronies and subordinates (the irritating Spanachi brothers among them) and sharing the usual plate of whatever confection Mess Specialist Nguyen had brought along when he’d come off of Galley duty.

Maelcum; enjoying a mouthful of the Tiramisu, was listening to an exchange between Nguyen and Chaplain Charlie over just how Elvis; being a man by all accounts (well, more of a Man’s Man, actually), had somehow managed to ascend to Godhood; when a sudden explosion rocked Blue Mountain; the blast wave traveling through, flexing and warping the ship’s Superdense hull in a microsecond; pieces spinning off into the void as the Mountain, Hull Breach claxon blaring, was thrown from Jump Space back to normal space in an uncontrolled, 3 axis ‘Deadman’s’ tumble.

A few awful seconds being slammed from deck to bulkhead, to overhead, and back again in the dark followed; smashing into falling bodies, as well as both loose and securely-rooted furniture and assorted equipment along the way, before coming to rest again when ship’s emergency power flickered to life; the subdued lighting showing that the port bulkhead was now apparently being recognized as the deck. Looking around at the chaos of broken furniture and ruined and dead bodies, Brigette was relieved to find that, aside from the drubbing she’d just taken, her worst injury seemed to be a broken ankle; and, if her double-vision was any indication; a concussion as well; though feeling her aching jaw and subsequently spitting-out 3 teeth probably bothered her the most.

The Ship’s (or maybe just the part occupied by Brigette) gravity suddenly shifted again; back to the deck-proper; slamming everyone from the port bulkhead to the floor.

Maelcum, wincing, got to her feet; the starfield outside the viewport still spinning; indicating the Mountain, with its emergency power providing gravity and inertial compensation for the moment, was unable to alter or control its course.

With Engineering only a few compartments abaft of the Mess, Brigette; leaving behind enough of the less-injured crew to render first aid to the others; ordered volunteers to accompany her.

Leaving the Mess, they found that the short path down the accessway to Engineering was blocked; an iris valve squeezed tight automatically by the computer; the thing’s entire surface and surrounding wall now uncomfortably warm to the touch.

Popping an access panel besides the valve, Maelcum began working the heavy manual locking mechanism (ordinarily requiring heavy equipment to do so) with her powered arm. The lock opened, allowing Brigette to grab the edge of one of the valve plates, and, bracing her legs against the valve’s outer frame for leverage; Brigette, her right side slowly burning from contact with the hot metal for the duration; eventually pulled the iris wide enough to use as an entryway.

With clouds of scalding steam pouring from a burst line, Brigette wedged herself in the doorway; holding the iris back from repeated computer-ordered-directions to close again for a good five minutes; yelling to the Engineering crew inside to escape through the doorway she was holding, which three of them did; while two of her shipmates who had rushed into Engineering, drove more crew out, dragging some, and carrying others to the safer area of the Mess, where there was air to be breathed instead of steam.

Using her powered arm, Brigette eventually managed to bend one of the valve’s plates badly enough that the thing remained half-opened. Ship’s Sergeant Maelcum, accompanied this time by more of the less-injured from the Mess, entered the Engineering compartment several more times; some locating and rescuing injured shipmates, while others assisted the remaining gang of badly burned and irradiated Engineers with repairs.

During the entire time, Ship’s Sgt Maelcum remained cool and collected, offering encouragement, and showing an abundance of nerve under the most trying circumstances.

Brigette found she’d been recommended for the SEH by Commander Tanaka, Blue Mountain’s Master; as one of seven sophonts on Blue Mountain’s crew to be awarded the Starburst (four posthumously) during another solemn ceremony at Capital.

Brigette stood once again before HRH the Emperor; reverently receiving this 2nd medal and the Emperor’s congratulatory handshake. IN CNO, Admiral Duchess Her Grace Alexandra Pham-Trask, once more offering her firm handshake as well.

At the reception following, Brigette, who was leaning forward at an uncomfortable angle which allowed the consumption of her favorite little drunken weenies without getting the thick and volatile sauce in which they’d been simmering, all over the front of her seldom-worn Dress uniform; was accosted by yet one more person wanting to talk the minute she’d started working on a mouthful of food.

Turning towards the inconvenience, Sgt. Major Maelcum was stunned to find herself facing the somewhat flushed, and smelling of 100CR-a-shot Double Malt Whiskey and Jasmine, Empress Iolanthe, who was bent forward slightly, palms resting on knees and taking a few deep breaths, trying to regain her composure after executing a very spirited (and quite dangerous looking!) Highland Fling with a trio of her kilt-clad Household Troops (who, unlike The Emperor’s guard, wore as little as possible).

Brigette snapped to attention; dropping her cover and splashing the sauce she’d been trying to avoid, all across the front of her Dress uniform in the rush to salute HRH The Empress.

Iolanthe, finally getting her breath back, and straightening her hair somewhat, simply gave that lopsided, soothing Mona Lisa smile of hers, and asked Brigette to come along. Nervously walking along beside the tipsy Empress; a squad of the Household jogging along beside, Brigette didn’t have a clue.

Passing through a portal cut into the tall hedgerow bordering the reception area, and going down a several wide, ancient steps, they came to a wide lawn with a copse of young, easily-seen Terran Redwoods at the far end. A large Command Sled could be seen sitting in the shade the trees provided; a squad of ‘The Emperor’s Own’ in Battle Dress forming a perimeter around the heavily-armored grav vehicle. As the Empress’ party approached, Brigette noticed the sled’s turret tracking them.

Following HRH The Empress Iolanthe up the rear entry hatch, Brigette was surprised at the space of the thing; not having had to duck down to avoid banging her head on the APC’s low overhead. The interior was amazingly appointed; Brigette absently reminding herself that she wanted to get one for herself, while being directed to have a seat.

As Brigette sat, awaiting whatever; she watched as a fairly non-descript type in an IN Dress uniform lacking insignia or identification of any kind, leaned over and whispered something in The Emperor’s ear; HRH Emperor Strephon chuckling to himself as he made a few notes on some paperwork he’d been looking over.

“Brigette Maelcum, we are pleased we could tear you away from our buffet table.” Strephon said, smiling slightly, and looking at the front of Brigette’s uniform. Then, looking down at the front of his own tunic, which was similarly stained, he continued “Those little devils can be most tricky, can they not, Sergeant Major?”

At this, The Empress Iolanthe burst into her very-loud, snorting mule-bray of a laugh. Strephon sat, silent, allowing The Empress to wind-down a bit before he continued.

“A decade ago, while reading through dispatches, I ran across a Marine Lieutenant’s recommendation that a trooper in her Platoon be awarded the Starburst for Extreme Heroism for the then-Gunnery Sergeant’s actions during an operation to help free our beloved Imperium from the scourge of Piracy. On reading through the account a second time, I agreed with this Lt. Meyer’s recommendation completely, and looked forward to meeting this selfless and dedicated young Marine, and having the honor of shaking her hand in thanks. Which you’ll remember, I did at our first meeting.”

“Our second meeting a few hours ago during the ceremony got me to thinking…With the sheer number of sophonts living here in the Imperium (as well as our ever-growing number of Client States and Systems), for you to come before me a second time, Sergeant Major, I believe Blind Fate (or maybe not so blind, eh?) is clearly standing the laws of probability on their heads! A remarkable turn of events, to be sure…”

Strephon gave an almost imperceptible nod, and the gentleman with the eminently-forgettable face wearing the IN Dress uniform stepped forward from his place at HRH’s elbow; refilling HRH’s glass; then offering a full glass of the same to Brigette.

“Which leads us to this, our third meeting, Sergeant Major. The remarkable young Marine I first met is now not so young, maybe, but remains no less remarkable. The Empress Iolanthe and I were discussing just this with Admiral Duchess Her Grace Alexandra Pham-Trask at the buffet earlier, after a cursory checking of your service record, and We have decided that your long years of heroic and selfless service deserve something more from a grateful Imperium than that pittance of a pension you’ll be receiving on retirement next year.”.

A few minutes later, HRH The Emperor Strephon stood, and ordering Brigette to kneel before him, drew his blade; nonchalantly explaining to her that on completion of this simple and very ancient ritual, she’ll have received a Patent of Nobility; making her a Knight in the ‘Order of the Emperor’s Guard’, and giving her the privilege to use the honor-title of Imperial Dame. (While the title was more honorary than anything else, it had come with both a small stipend, and a TAS membership).

The ceremony completed, HRH The Emperor Strephon, instructed his newest Knight to rise, and welcomed her to the Order. Then, leaning conspiratorially-close to her, softly said “No my dear, I doubt you’d be able to afford this particular model.”, as he looked about the interior of the heavy APC, smiling.

On retiring from the Marines, former Sergeant Major Maelcum took some time out to just travel. Taking full advantage of her new TAS membership, Brigette traveled to, and spent a year back on Aretias; even traveling all the way to ‘Old Earth’, and staying there for a few years before again moving on.

Sitting there in the TAS Lounge in Tethis Highport, waiting on a ship—the Fisher King (or was it Kingfisher?) and eating an Everfresh sandwich (the Philly Cheesesteak, favorite of Marines aboard IN Cruiser Heracles, as it happened); her attention split between a Foozball game at a table a few meters away, and half-watching a transmission of ancient, Atomic Era 2D Terran Epic, Full Metal Jacket on the Imperial Forces History and News channel (IFHN) on the Tri-V (She’d seen the thing probably twenty times, over the years, but that demonic little Sergeant still never failed to make her laugh); Brigette wondered what else she could do. She supposed it would be possible to just travel forever; one ticket to the next—she was wealthy enough to become a professional ‘Traveller’, afterall. But she had already lived (and fought) aboard various ships for the past 25 years, and was beginning to feel that enough was enough! She needed to leave ships behind (for a while at least) and put down some roots!.

Brigette blew-off the Last Call for boarding the Fisher King, and instead decided to do a little walking to see what Tethis Highport was all about.

While her résumé could very easily have gotten her a position with the local Starport Authority, Brigette wanted to steer well away from a career spent handling cargo, policing drunks, and having to take or write reports.

Brigette decided that she’d probably do all right for herself running one of her favorite joints growing up; a Gea’s Sandwiches franchise. During a meeting with a functionary from the sandwich chain’s Corporate Masters, LeHatte Foods and Plastics (owned in turn by Stoker Laumb Ironmongery), the haughty middleman was unimpressed with Brigette’s business plan, and Brigette was having a hard time with both the high cost involved in acquiring the franchise, as well as the degree of control LeHatte insisted on having in entirely too many aspects of her shop.

At an impasse, Brigette and the factor went their separate ways.

Meditating on the problem for some time, Brigette decided the Next Right Thing for her to do was open her very own sandwich shop.

Brigette’s restaurant, The Ship’s Sergeant Sandwiches & Deli is located in a squat cylinder of a building; a distinctive placard hanging outside the front door above the street, and featuring an image a trooper in white Battle Dress , standing with his suit’s helmet under one arm. The trooper’s head remains either invisible or missing entirely; lending something of an ethereal air to the picture; a landing boat, its mass silhouetted in black behind the trooper, is in mid-flight—suspended halfway between earth and the sign’s large, glowing, crescent moon.

The interior walls are painted a vague blue-gray above the chair rail, and are mostly covered with a wide assortment of different images (both 2D and 3D), models, dioramas, a few dartboards, a chalkboard, and Imperial Marine (as well as some IN) memorabilia, including several of Brigette’s War Trophies (functional, but empty); while below, the walls are painted the same startling white as the chair rail, door jambs and moulding. The furniture consists of sturdy, white pine, so heavily-varnished as to be smooth as glass. Light fixtures, door and drawer handles, tankards, flatware and plates, vent covers, the restroom fixtures and all of the kitchen equipment have brushed pewter finishes.

A trio of Tri-V tanks are mounted on different walls; each set by Brigette to a specific channel; and only rarely ever being switched; the first is set to entertainment powerhouse, Imperium Tonight (IT), the 3I’s window to all things entertainments, and the producers of the immensely popular Vanguard Reaches; the 2nd is set to the Imperial Forces History and News channel (IFHN); and the 3rd is set to the The Imperial Explorer Network (IEN).

The restaurant does a brisk business, and is a popular eating and meeting establishment with both former and currently-serving IN and Marine personnel, as well as the plain Citizenry. The menu is made up of around 50 different sandwiches (the specific number at any given time depending on availability of ingredients), as well as a fair variety of side items. Every sandwich is served with a small bowl of pickled hot peppers, a ‘foot long’ extruded dill pickle, and a handful of Old Cleon’s olives. Use of the menu is encouraged, but the kitchen can pretty easily whip up any sandwich not on the menu.

Non-alcoholic drinks (and refills, naturally) are always free with the purchase of a side item or sandwich. The only alcoholic drink served there is a stout little Ale, which Brigette calls Old Rat Catcher. It is micro-brewed on the premises and sells pretty fast. However, when a batch is gone, it is gone, and alcohol is unavailable until the next batch matures; this production sometimes running like clockwork, and sometimes not.

A wide selection of ship and unit patches (and magnets) are kept behind the counter; as well as selected history books (including several copies of the massive Atomic Era Goddess: Betty Page, Pin-Up Queen of Terra) and several different ship models (the 1/72 scale ‘Imperial Marine Landing Boat’ being by far their best seller). Statues of The Goddess, encompassing several different styles, materials and Pantheons, as well as a mind-numbingly wide selection of incense and different crystals, are also available.

Over the last 6 years, the Ship’s Sergeant has done very well. So well, in fact, that 3 years ago, Brigette opened 2 more restaurants dirtside.

Dame Brigette “Alkithoe” Maelcum
Former highly-decorated Imperial Marine Sergeant Major
Currently owner of “Ship’s Sergeant’s Sandwiches”
Homeworld Aretias, but currently living and working at Tethis Highport.
UPP D9LECB* Age 48
DET 24
EXP 27
Lifeforce 42
Hits 6/9
AF 4 (on torso, if using hit locations)

* Her natural STR was 12 (C).The bionic limb provides a STR14 (E), and the rules I was using had you average the values if using one of each; hence 13 (D). Two of Brigette’s internal organs have been replaced by bionic analogs; providing a hearty +10 END; giving a total of END L(20). It also toughened her up with the equivalent of AF 4.

Skills: Combat Rifleman-4, Tactics-4, Brawling-3, Battle Dress-2, Leader-2, Philosophy-2, Survival-2, Zero-G Environ-2, Admin-1, Jump-1, Large Blade-1, Liason-1, Medical-1, Steward-1, Cargo Handling-0, Computer-0, Grav Vehicle-0, Handgun-0.

At a little shy of 1.5m tall, Brigette is an example of a very short human female. She is compact and muscular, with large, almost-black, deep brown eyes (the epicanthic folds pointing toward likely Asian descent at some point). Her shock of long, coarse red hair is usually kept in a pair of long, very thick, copper-wire-wrapped pigtails or braids; or sometimes in tight coils; one worn on each side of her head. Should her hair ever be released from its confines for any amount of time, it quickly becomes a wavy, tangled explosion of comb and brush-wrecking unmanageability. Brigette’s skin is light brown, with a scattering of freckles across her shoulders, arm, nose, and cheeks. When exposed to actual direct sunlight for an extended period, however, her skin will pretty quickly darken; tanning (not burning) to a very deep, slightly-reddish mahogany. People familiar with Brigette in only one environment are usually quite surprised to see her in the other.

Growing up in the Stead, tattooing was very common, with almost everyone having at least a few. Brigette is no exception; having a spidery, baroque design encircling her neck; “Love” in Greek letters across the back of her left hand; several bands of varying thickness, style and complexity encircling her left tricep; a small pentacle at the base of her spine, and ‘Aretius Forever!’ on her left shoulder.

Brigette’s right arm had been tattooed in a manner mirroring the left; but with ‘Death’ in Greek letters, with a lightning bolt beneath, across the back of her right hand; and the right shoulder having ‘Girl Power’ on it.

Soon after getting her new arm, Brigette had one of Tezcatlipoca’s Maintenance crew; a Machinist’s Mate who was also a fair hand at doing tattoos; inscribed the ‘missing tattoos’ right back where they ‘belonged’.

Brigette is both pleasant and patient; with a very high boiling point. She loves good conversation, good food, and is a good listener. She feels that everyone’s opinions have merit, and all are worth listening to (unless of course they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about).

As the proprietor of a popular gathering and eating spot; Brigette is privy, either through direct conversation, things overheard in passing , or even rumor, to a great deal of information; both military and mundane; often important, and other times not so. If befriended, she will make a knowledgeable,and very well-informed (though certainly not exhaustive) contact into the world of things Military. Note that, while the clientele of her establishment are, for the most part, honest. Should she be made aware of an obvious extra-legal scheme, or if someone is foolish or crazy enough to offer her a part in one they’re planning, Brigette will not hesitate to bring ININT or other agencies into the matter.

Growing up as a Steadchild, Brigette is in the habit of calling females younger than herself ‘Little Sister’, and those equal in age, or older than herself simply ‘Sister’; such titles being used instead of, or as an honorific before the person’s first name; males being addressed normally.

Brigette will usually be found wearing a long-sleeved shirt, or a roomy sweater; and either a pair of heavy-duty denim pants with bloused legs tucked down into a battered pair of knee-high leather boots, or an ankle-length skirt with combat boots beneath.

When she gets cold (and she always seems to be cold these days; halfway convinced she’s picked up ‘The Chill’ from too many years spent in space; the irony of her still being in space having not escaped her), she’ll wear her old chameleon-surfaced, Marine-issue field jacket, or one of those heavy, padded, multi-pocketed and hooded, chocolate-brown ballistic body suits popular with the ISS.

She carries a pair of heavy Electro-knucks; one in each pants or jacket pocket. A large-framed, snub barreled AutoMag pistol with built-in targeting-laser is carried in a shoulder-rig. Worn at her side is a heavy, Superdense Cutlass; the entire thing—guard, blade, etc, being a product of Nadjian artisans and craftsmen.

In addition to several different Registered War Trophies (as well as a few unregistered ones), Brigette owns a folding-stock Gauss Rifle with built-in targeting-laser which is kept on a shelf under the counter, sitting on a large folded bar towel, and blocked from view by another bar towel lying atop it; 3 extended magazines (86 rounds each) of gauss ammunition, as well as 4 magazines of 15mm ammunition for the pistol, kept in a wicker basket beside it.

Brigette speaks Anglic and Greek, as well as just enough Polish to be mistaken as a tourist.

While Brigette is a combat-hardened veteran, she is now at a stage in her life, she insists, where she shouldn’t have to deal with people by sticking the business-end of a rifle in their faces.

She’ll try to resolve any problems efficiently and diplomatically; though if the situation is particularly serious and it looks as if sophonts will be hurt, a quick, solid chop across the bridge of any miscreant’s nose with her sleek alloy arm aught to settle their hash right quick. If trouble makers are packing anything larger or more advanced than a knife or improvised cudgel, they’ll instead be dropped at range as quickly and efficiently as possible.