This part originally appeared in the May 2013 issue.
321st of 2024 (147-93): A field hospital on Alsuy
I woke, my head hurt, as did pretty much everything else. There was a dokhtor nearby; she whispered something to an orderly and came over. She smiled “I see you’ve returned to the land of the living, then. How are you feeling?”
I tried to move; I couldn’t, my arms were full of tubes. “I hurt.”
She chuckled, “Not surprised.” She picked up a glass jar of metal fragments from the bedside. “We dug this out of you. It’s a miracle you could move at all, let alone drag two grown adults across three kilometres of rain soaked battlefield.”
“How is she?”
The dokhtor grinned “She’ll be fine; we’re bringing her out of her slow coma23 in a day or two. She’ll need a few weeks, but should make a full recovery.”
I suddenly realised, which one. “Melissa?”
the dokhtor looked grave now. “She’ll live. She’s lost both legs and an arm, but she will live. We’ll be shipping her back home for facial reconstruction next week. She should be awake by then, though, if you’d like to see her first.”
I nodded, “Yes, very much, I would.”
She smiled again. “I’ll arrange it. But in the meantime, you should get out of bed. It’ll do you good to get some air and your kolant wants to see you. I’ll have the orderly fetch a chair.”
“Why can’t I just walk?” I didn’t understand the need for a chair.
She looked me up and down. “Take a look at that jar of shrapnel again; you’re in a chair for at least the next week, dokhtor’s orders.”
It was spring and the flowers were in bloom, the hospital gardens were awash with colour. It had been the estate of the Baron of Alsuy before the war. But he’d bolted when we arrived, left on one of the few transports that got out. But the Imperial defence had been rallied by a crusty old knight. Seems she’d sent the Geenal commanding our forces a note, very specifically suggesting we requisitioned this place, for the duration. Apparently, she did not appreciate the baron’s unseemly departure. I sat in my chair looking at the blooms, thinking what I could do with them. Sheska had been right—kulfi was relaxing. There were quite a few Imperial patients here, too, and a few guards posted discreetly around. I could see our kumpanee commander, Dteruaa Majkor, approaching and he had the batalian CO Elkes Kolant and Kirsov Mrigadeer with him. Elkes Kolant was in her mid-fifties, she’d been a Guard all her adult life and she had a reputation as being very fierce. And Kirsov, well, he served in the Verasosal, that’s how he lost his eye and he was just plain frightening.
I saluted as they drew near, they both returned mine. The majkor spoke first “Colin Gakharii Kirsov Kirsov Mrigadeer and Liadtee Renal Jkiadt Riaal Elkes Kolant, may I introduce Ariaryn Despi Ora Mman Mman Piaviadt.”
The Mrigadeer smiled and stroked my cheek24 “It's an honour to meet you, Piaviadt; you’re quite the hero.”
I was lost for words, didn’t know what to say. All I could manage was, “Thank you, sir.”
He roared with laughter. “You know, that’s the second time this Guard
has called me ‘sir’; I’m not sure how I should take it.”
Elkes Kolant laughed along with him. “He obviously knows you, Colin.” She turned to me. “Well, Piaviadt, quite a perfomance, two wounded colleagues and three Imperial marines, you’re up for a medal, an SV if I have anything to do with it.”
There was only one thing I could think of, though. “Kolant, Barii?”
Her voice changed. “We think we’ve found him; we’re waiting for DNA confirmation. My deepest sympathy and sorrow at your loss, Piaviadt.”
It was war, I knew that; people die. But Barii, it just wasn’t fair “Thank you, Kolant.”
She could see how I felt. “It pays not to dwell on these things, Piaviadt, war is brutal and you’ll likely lose more friends. But anyway, I have something for you.” She pulled a box from her pocket. “I think we can return Osidt serganet to command.” She handed me the box, a single brass chevron. “Congratulations, Vebee Korpal, take good care of your squad for us.”
322nd of 2024 (148-93): A field hospital, Alsuy
I’d checked on Melissa, still in a coma, covered in bandages. The only thing that told you she was alive was the beeping of the monitors. I wondered if she’d thank me for saving her. I wheeled my chair towards Sheska’s bed, she was awake now, so I was told. She was sitting up, she smiled when she saw me. “My hero.” Her eyelids batted, I blushed. “Oh I still do so love it when you do that.”
“I'm just glad you’re okay, kucuin, I was worried.”
She laughed, “Yes, I’m fine, thanks to you, so I’m told.”
I froze again. “Uhmm… Err… I… I… I couldn’t leave you.”
She reached over and kissed me. “I knew kissing you was lucky.”
I liked when she kissed me. “So how long they keeping you here?”
“Couple of weeks, they say. Nothing too serious, though.” She lifted her shirt, there was a huge scar running from her breasts to her navel. “I doubt I’ll be wearing scanties any time soon.”
I reached over and took her hand. “Well, I think they look sexy, make you look exotic.” I kissed her.
It was her turn to blush. “Always the gentleman, aren’t you?” She looked down. “What happened? I remember Barii being hit, then nothing.”
“There was a bombardment, to clear a landing zone for some Impie marines. I… we were in the middle of it, so I took you back.”
She fixed on my eyes. “Melissa?”
I didn’t know what to tell her, they were friends. “I found her on the way back, I got her too.”
“Bad?” She already knew the answer.
“Yes, but she’s alive, they’re shipping her home soon.”
She smiled at me again. “Well, I think you deserve a medal for it, lover.”
I chuckled “Apparently, I’m getting one.”
326th of 2024 (152-93): A field hospital, Alsuy
I was walking again. I’d be back with the unit in a few days, but Melissa was being shipped out today. She’d come out of her coma yesterday. I’d wanted to see her then but they wouldn’t let me. I entered her room. She was laying there, tubes, wires, face covered in bandages. One arm was all I could see. I wheeled myself to her side and took her hand. I heard a voice, harsh and metallic, coming from her throat not her mouth “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Ariaryn.”
Silence, then just one word. “Why?”
“Why what, Melissa?” I already knew the answer.
“Save me. Why?”
I couldn’t answer, to me it seemed obvious. “I just couldn’t leave you there, you’d have died.”
“Look at me, better off dead.” There was no emotion in that artificial voice, but you could sense the anger and pain in her words.
“You don’t mean that Melissa, you can’t.”
“Yes I do! Hate you, should have left me to die.”
“Melissa, I couldn’t, just couldn’t!”
“Should have.” You could tell she wanted to cry. Worst thing, wanting to cry, but even that had been taken. “Hate you. Go! Never see you again.”
“Melissa… I couldn’t.”
“Go! Never see you again”
It hurt. I guess I didn’t understand how she could feel like that. “Melissa…”
I sighed and left her.
15th of 2025 (206-93): On Patrol, Alsuy
Melissa had been shipped home the next day. I’d told Sheska what she’d said. Sheska said I’d done the right thing, that she’d come to see it, but I didn’t think so. There’d been too much hurt in her. She was right; eighteen was too young to be a cripple. There were six of us now, no longer the green recruits we’d been just two months ago. Barri and Melissa had brought home reality to us and we were careful now. That, and we’d seen our fair share of action. The fighting had been hard, but we were mopping up now. Out on patrol, clearing out the last remnants of the Impie forces. I’d put Sharik and Renal out on point, the rest of us moving cautiously; it was getting on to dusk and ambushes were the Impies’ favourite thing. I heard Sharik on comms, “Hold up, think I saw movement in a house up ahead.” I held up my hand and we all went into a crouch.
I quietly responded, “Anything on thermal?”
A pause, then, “Not that I can see, Vebpail.”
I only just managed to suppress a chuckle. “Enough of the ‘Vebpail’, thank you, it’s Ariaryn. And hold tight, we’ll come up and check it out.”
The rest of us joined Sharik and Renal. I turned to them. “Anything?”
Renal whispered, “Nope, probably just Sharik seeing shadows.”
I wasn’t willing to take that chance. “James and I will check it out, rest of you cover us.”
We worked our way carefully forwards, the sun had set and it was hard to see in the half light. I raised my visor to feel the air, nothing. James whispered, “Looks clear, Ariaryn.” He stood, there was a stuttering of automatic fire and he fell. I threw myself down and returned fire, I heard the squad open up too. I turned to James, I could see blood but he was groaning, alive. Good. I called on the comms, “Despi, lay down cover with the SAW25, Sheska and Renal get up here.” I heard the stutter of Depsi’s SAW and heard the two of them join me. “Sheska, get James back and call in medevac; Renal, with me.”
I saw Sheska shoot me the dirtiest look, then she softened, lifted her visor and kissed me. “For luck, lover. Don’t get yourself killed now.” She grabbed James and started back.
I could hear the SAW and the sputtering of Sharik’s rifle giving us cover as we worked towards the house. Fire came back, there were bullets flying everywhere. We crawled on our bellies and slowly worked closer. I heard another rifle join in, Sheska, that gave us maybe five minutes before medevac arrived. We had to damp it down before then. We were fifteen, maybe twenty metres from the house. I whispered to Renal, “Grenades, then charge.” She nodded. We cycled our launchers under the barrel, aimed, and fired. Two grenades sailed through the windows. There was a flash and boom. We stood and rushed forward, yelling. One rifle as we got close, I threw myself on the wall by the door and looked at Renal on the other side. She pulled another grenade, I twisted, kicked the door and she threw. I felt the blast, we charged in and sprayed the room with fire.
There were three bodies, bent and broken. That didn't disturb me; I’d seen a lot in the last two months. It was the fourth that did. Maybe fifteen, just a boy. He lay there, insides hanging out. He looked at me soundlessly, eyes pleading. I hesitated, Renal just stood beside me. I glanced at her, she nodded again. I raised my rifle.
24th of 2025 (215-93): Rear areas, Alsuy
James’ wound had not been too bad, a week in hospital and two weeks light duties. But that put us down to five and out of the line. First week had been spent with us doing all those wonderful fun military things like whitewashing rocks, digging latrines, painting fences and polishing things. Now, with James back, we’d been assigned to ‘friendship’ duties, helping build a hospital for the locals, winning over native support. Wasn’t so bad, beat the hell out of being shot at, certainly. There were always kids around, Sheska loved kids, she was forever handing out candies and making little gifts for them, paper dolls, fluffy animals, balloons. The kids loved her. We were supposed to be putting up a new wall, but Sheska was with a bunch of kids, miming a story for them. Despi chuckled, “You're going to have to watch out, you know, she'll be wanting some of her own soon.”
I looked at him and laughed, “We’re just eeshren, not even started thinking of practising, let alone a match and children.”
I hadn’t seen Renal standing behind us, so I gave a tiny start when she spoke. “I would not be putting any money on that.” She looked at Despi. “Either of you. I’ve listened to Sharik and Sheska talking, practice is definitely on both their minds. And children not far behind, I’d wager.”
I turned to face her. “I'm only nineteen!” I spluttered. “She’s only nineteen! Who goes planning their match at nineteen?”
She slapped me playfully. “You really know nothing about women do you?” Then there was a sigh “And none of us know when it’s our time, or what this war will do to us.” She looked at the ground for a while, then spoke again “Melissa, she can’t have any now. Makes you think, Ariaryn, makes you think.”
I looked over at Sheska again, the joy in her eyes as the children mobbed her, the sound of her laughter as she started a tickle fight and I thought. Then I smiled, Renal was right, it made you think.
32nd of 2025 (223-92): Raid on Alsuy
It was over, Alsuy was secure. The 2DFR was scheduled for rotation out, back for refitting. We were supposed to pick up two new members to bring us back up to strength. We’d be shipping out tomorrow. We were all anxious to get off this world, due for leave. I was watching Sheska swimming, her hair flowing, limbs moving rhythmically, gracefully forcing her through the water. She smiled and called “Come on in pook face, it’s fine.” I smiled at her and started to remove my top. The sirens blared and looked up. I could see bright blue flashes, jump exits. I counted ten and still more. I looked at Sheska, she’d seen them too. I started to pull my shirt back on, she laughed “They’ll be hours lover, join me, ten minutes, plenty of time.” I smiled, pulled my shirt off, unbuckled my belt and joined her. Ten minutes, not too much to ask.
34th of 2025 (225-93): Raid on Alsuy.
It was just a raid. Land, do as much damage as you can, then get out. Well they’d done their damage and now they wanted to leave. Just, we had no intention of letting them. To get out, they’d have to take out at least one missile field. Of course we’d defend them but no way of knowing which field. That is, until they attacked. Now we knew, this field, held by one understrength battalion facing down an entire regiment of crack Imperial drop troops. Reinforcements were on the way, but they would take hours to get here. So, we had to hold. We’d been holding awhile, our ammunition was running short and they were still coming. Despi and Sharik were manning the central foxhole, keeping up an almost constant fire with the SAW. I heard him on the comms, “Down to four belts, then we’re over to mags, Ariaryn.”
James and Sheska were in a pit on the right flank, Renal and I on the left. She turned to me. “We have to pull back, we’re going to be overrun.”
I knew she was right; if we stayed any longer we’d all be dead. I looked around, I could see the other sektons of our patoon, they all looked in about the same situation. I switched my comms to HQ. “Lekhtenant, we can’t hold here any longer, ammunition’s just about out and we’re about to be overrun. We need to pull back.”
Her heard her voice, she was calm but you could hear the note of desperation “No, Vebpail, we have to hold. Use your damn bayonets if you have to.”
I turned to Renal. “Well, you heard the lady. We stay.”
She chuckled. “I’ll fix bayonets then.”
It was about five minutes after when Delta sekton off to our left collapsed. I heard Peter’s voice as he screamed they were coming, then nothing. We tried to shift our fire to cover the gap, but it was no good, they were through our line. The comms crackled again, Iyaiee Lekhtenant’s voice, “Patoon to all sektons pull back, all pull ba…” then her voice was silent, too.
I turned to Renal, she nodded. I looked around and hit my comms. “Sheska, James, rendezvous in the central pit, then we fall back as a unit.” We dashed along the narrow slit trench that connected our pits, the other two where already there.
Despi was still above the parapet, keeping up a steady fire “Last belt, Ariaryn,” still his calm, collected self. I smiled at that.
I took a breath and looked at the others. Muddy, exhausted, scared. “Right, Despi, one last burst to keep their heads down, then up, out, and back. Turns to cover, we’ll be fine.” I grinned, a false grin, but we’d all make it, I was sure of it.
Sharik turned to help Despi dismount the SAW. I'm not sure what happened, maybe she stood up a little too high, maybe just dumb bad luck. We knew she was dead before she hit the ground. Time seemed to freeze, Despi’s head turned as he saw his lover’s disappear. I'd seen that look before, steel eyed calm, focused on only the pain and anger. They tell you a Luriani who looses control is a danger to all around them. They’re right. Despi turned his attention to the SAW, a constant stream of bullets, aimed and focused, nothing else in the world for him other than that gun and the oncoming Imperials. I swung my rifle butt and caught him in the side of the head, hard. He fell, I hit him again, unconscious now. “James, help me with Despi; Sheska and Renal, cover us as we pull back.” I took one arm, James the other and we pulled him to his feet. “Okay, ready,” a pause, “Go!”
We scrambled over the parapet and dash as fast as we could to the rear. Bullets were flying everywhere, I could hear Sheska’s and Renal’s rifles crack as they fired. We ran, dodging, weaving, making our way through the storm. We found a shell hole and fell into it. We lay there breathless, panting. Sheska lifted her visor, I could hear the fear in her voice “We can’t stay, Ariaryn.”
I couldn’t help it, I smiled “You reckon. But we need to catch our breath, dumbarse.” A few moments, then, “Okay, again. Go!” Out into the tumult of fire again, running, trying just to stay alive in the hail of metal.
We ran, finding cover where we could, taking turns carrying Despi, he was coming round now, but still in a daze. I don’t know how long we ran. Seemed like forever but finally we made it to kumpanee HQ. A grizzled serganet met us; he barked “Report!”
I saluted and replied “Beta sekton, lan patoon, or what’s left of us.” He looked at Despi, I just replied, “His lover died.”
He nodded, then barked again, “Medic! You four reload and come with me.”
A medic came and took Despi from us. We watched as he gently lead him away. We grabbed some more ammunition, then followed the serganet back into the firing line.
The fighting went on for hours, back and forth, a confused mess as we tried to push them back. I watched as a battle erupted in the air above us. Our interceptors, their fighters, shuttles landing to take them away. We were losing, they were getting away. It stuck in my throat as a I thought of Sharik just laying there somewhere. I could feel the anger in me, I hated these people. It was near dusk when we were relieved. A kaptan told us to head to the rear and get some rest. None of argued, we were exhausted. We found some food and ate in silence, the battle draining from us as we sat. I turned to the others, “I’m going to check on Despi.” No one said a word.
I found the clearing station and searched. I couldn’t find him. I asked an orderly, she looked grave and lead me to a room. He looked so peaceful. The anger in me exploded. I grabbed her by the throat and forced her against a wall. I screamed, “How!? How!? He was fine. How?! Who?!”
She struggled against my grip, gasping as my hand squeezed. I heard a click. A soft voice “Let her go, and we’ll say no more about this, Vebpail.” I turned, a seror, his pistol drawn and pointed at me. He repeated softly, “I said, let her go, and we’ll say no more.”
I looked at him, the pistol and then her. I let my grip slip, she slumped down. I collapsed into a chair, my head in my hands and just mumbled, “How?”
He embraced me and spoke kindly, “It’s all right son, just sit a while.” He picked up Despi’s chart and studied it. He looked at the orderly. Again softly and kindly, “How did this happen?”
She was young, not much older than me. Her voice was still quaking with fear “He was only left alone a few minutes. There was so much chaos. We don’t know how he got the gun.”
He spoke, still soft and kind, “I understand; it’s not your fault, Piaviat, nobody’s fault.” He turned to me and took my hands “It’s tragic, Vebpail, but these thing happen.” He looked at Despi and shook his head “Tragic, just tragic.” He returned his focus to me “ID, please, Vebpail.” I presented my arm, he scanned it, his voice still soft and concerned “You’re on a week’s compassionate leave, Ariaryn,” he checked his reader, “all of your team. There’s a G-Carrier26 leaving for the rear in fifteen minutes. Take some time to grieve son.”
55th of 2025 (246-93): Protectorate Naval Base, Secord
Alsuy was finally behind us, back in the Protectorate for rest and refitting. We were due for a two week leave, but we’d all been summoned to see Elkes Kolant. To say we were nervous was an understatement. We sat outside fidgeting. James was the first to speak, “So Ariaryn, why are we here?”
I looked at him and sighed, “I know as much as you do. We’ll find out soon enough. And quit pacing.”
Renal chuckled slightly, “Yes, James dear, you’ll wear a hole the carpet.”
“Just want to know why we’re here, vusisti27.” I smiled at that; the two of them had decided to practice when we were on the transport back to Secord, got the chaplain to perform the ceremony the very same day.
Sheska gave me a dirty look. I knew why, too but I snapped, “What!?”
She kept looking, that ‘you know what’ look. “Vusisti, nice ring to it, you think?” I just kept my mouth shut. Not worth an argument.
Renal laughed and held up her left arm showing off the practice band28 James had bought her. “No, not a ring, dear, we can’t wear them; a bracelet.”
I was so glad the door opened and Tanaka Mmieret appeared right then. This was not an argument I was going to win. “The kolant will see you now.”
We stood, I took a breath “Right, here we go.” Sheska just glared at me.
Elkes Kolant’s office was spartan, one of the many on the base, pressed into service while Secord was the 2DFR’s temporary home. She was busy with some paper. We stood expectantly, then she looked up “Ah, Mman Vebpail, Yeenal, Eadaasa, and Dolman Piaviats, good of you to come.” I managed to suppress a smirk, not like we had a choice. “Firstly, congratulations Yeenal and Dolman on your practice, good to have some cheerful news,” she smiled at Renal and James, then continued, “I’ve been reviewing your performance on Alsuy,” we all took an anxious breath, “exemplary, I think,” and let it out, “yes, definitely. I’ve recommended you all for commendations, in fact, with luck, decorations.” She beamed at us, we all just stood there speechless, mouths open. “Mmmm, not exactly the reaction I was hoping for.”
I spoke, “Thank you, Kolant, its just,” I paused ,“well, Melissa, Barri, Sharik, Despi, half of us, Kolant.”
There was a soft, sad look in her eyes “Yes, I know. But this is a war, people die. You get used to it, sadly.” She beckoned us to sit. “There is another thing I wanted to discuss. Your futures.”
James spoke now. “Our futures, Kolant?”
“Yes, Piaviat, your futures. The 2DFR took heavy losses. Normally you’d all be up for leadership of your own sektons. But given,” a pause, “everything, I thought you might like to stay together. So I was wondering if you’d like me to also recommend you for Verasosal29 training?”
Again we just stood there, mouths hanging open. She was smirking. This reaction, she seemed to be expecting. Finally I spoke, “Thank you.” I looked at them, one by one they nodded, I turned to the kolant, “I think, yes, Kolant, we would like that.”
She smiled “I’ll arrange the paperwork, then. That’s all, dismissed.” She went back to her papers. We stood to leave when she added, “Oh, Mman Vebpail, if you’d be so kind as to stay a moment. A word in private.”
The others looked at me; I just shrugged, I had no idea what she wanted. They filed out and I sat. The kolant looked up “She’s a good woman, your Sheska don’t you think?”
I wasn’t sure what to say, all that came out was “Yes.”
Elkse Kolant smiled, “Yeenal and Dolman, they’re practicing now.”
I understood; I did want to, but Sharik and Despi, I didn’t want to leave her like that. “But… the war, Kolant. Who knows what might happen, and I don’t want to leave a widow. It wouldn’t be fair to her.”
She looked at me, an odd serious look, “Yes, Ariaryn, none of us know. Time is precious in a war. You might want to think on that.” She went back to her paperwork “That’s all, Vebpail, dismissed.”
Notes numbered 1 through 22 appeared in Part 1 of “For Luck”.
- A coma induced by medical slow drug. It speeds up the body’s natural healing rate by a factor of thirty.
- This is a normal Luriani gesture of greeting, stroking the right cheek with the back of your left hand. It is roughly the equivalent of the Terran shaking hands.
- S9a Squad Automatic Weapon, the fire base of a Protectorate infantry squad.
- A large general purpose contragravity vehicle. Frequently used for troop transport.
- Vusisti, term for a partner in a vusis or practice relationship.
- Luriani relationship status is marked by the wearing of a bracelet or wrist band. The precise nature can be determined by the specific type. A practice band would be silver with three red stones.
- The Protectorate’s most elite special forces formation. Its recruits were drawn from all branches of the Protectorate military.