I like quiet. Sometimes a man just needs quiet. It’s peaceful. Lets me clear my mind. Think if I want to. Or just sit and not think at all.
I don’t like quiet and civilian crowds. They don’t mix. It’s just not natural. I watched as the locals went about their business in the market place. Quietly went about their business.
It had been three days since the 3rd Space Marine Regiment had cleared the city. My Shore Patrol unit was attached to the 3rd. We were tasked with restoring and maintaining order in Gallantia.
I stood on the corner, about fifty meters from the checkpoint we’d been ordered to establish to control the flow of civilians in and out of the market and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Damage to the area wasn’t bad, limited to some marks from phase pulses, a few plasma burns and pockmarks from projectile weapons. Any rubble or broken glass had been cleaned up and removed. Shops of every kind lined the main street and cross streets of the town market area. Larger, two and three story buildings, occupied the street corners. Restaurants and service business were mixed in and kiosks lined the streets with street vendors selling food or goods of questionable origin.
Locals were busy getting ready for the mid-day lunch rush. Dressed in colorful clothes of just about every color in the spectrum, they made for an interesting bunch to watch. If I was in a mood to watch.
Still smarting from the exchange with my newly minted 2nd Lt, I surveyed the area, wondering why politicians and officers even bothered getting an education. What do they teach at the so-called institutions of higher learning the Alliance government runs?
Civil wars are nasty. The bad guys don’t care who they kill. Civilians, their enemy or the Alliance peacekeepers sent to put a halt to the fighting.
Just because the bad guys who wear uniforms had left town, that didn’t mean the insurgents, the stay-behinds were gone. If history teaches nothing, it should teach there is always an insurgency after the official fighting is over.
It was for that reason I had argued the checkpoint should be moved another fifty meters away from its present location. Provide some space in case of a bomb and to create a kill zone if someone is stupid enough to run. Lt. Kilgore, my still wet behind the ears junior officer I had been tasked with babysitting, refused to listen. He knew better than an NCO with experience.
Our orders it would seem were to rebuild trust with the locals. Gallantia was a decent sized city on Hofstra II, a world annexed only four years ago into the Alliance. The rebels were less than thrilled and had started an armed uprising six months ago.
Gallantia mattered because it had a spaceport and was a junction city for transportation routes. That made it important for every faction in the conflict. The politicians wanted the locals to look favorably on the Alliance’s heavy-handed intervention. So the Space Marines did the dying to clean out the rebels and then were unceremoniously pulled out, leaving a vacuum.
The Shore Patrol was tasked with the job of keeping the peace. We were left without sufficient manpower, weapons, and a Marine force looming in reserve. Oh, yeah, couple of more things. The politicians had tied our hands with impossible rules of engagement (ROE) and policing practices.
We were there to build friendships. Not to keep people from getting killed.
I’d learned long ago it’s all about what politicians and their handlers like to call optics, public relations, perception, that kind of stuff. Never mind it only exists in their minds and has nothing to do with the military personnel who do the fighting and the civilians who do the suffering.
The quiet was really starting to get to me. Something just wasn’t right.
I got on my helmet comm. “Hey, look sharp people. Lunch rush is about to start. Crowds will be moving in to eat and shop. Just because things look quiet, doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way.”
My SPs were tired, stressed out. Me riding them wasn’t helping with their dispositions. I was okay with that. Better they be alive and in bad moods than dead.
Ten minutes passed and the noise level was picking up a bit as the crowds grew thicker. I walked towards the checkpoint to look for rubble to move to place between the checkpoint and the market to act as a crude blast shield.
That was when I spotted him. I can always tell. It’s the look of desperation in the eyes. I raised my carbine to take him down. Problem was, he’d already pressed the detonator.
I’m not a morning person. Waking up with light in my eyes is never a good way to start my day.
Some deranged musician was playing the drums on my head. He didn’t even have the decency to play in the style of the great classic drummer Charlie Watts. It was a shame I thought. To have a headache like that and not remember tying one on.
I decided to get up, go to the head and find some hangover cure.
It was then that I noticed this cute blonde dressed in white hovering over me like some angel. I flashed her my best smile.
For some reason, it didn’t work the way I’d planned.
“Well, it’s nice to see you’re finally awake Sergeant Sullivan.”
That didn’t sound good.
“Did I sleep through roll call?” A bit of panic shot through me. The last thing I needed after my tiff with Kilgore was to report for duty late.
The cute blonde frowned for a second before shaking her head from side-to-side like I’d done something shameful. I felt a bit more panic as I wasn’t in my normal rack. I wondered if I’d pulled a one-nighter with her and had been so loaded I didn’t remember. It would explain her attitude.
“Yes, Sergeant, you slept through roll call for the past three days.”
Now I was certain I was headed for the brig. I struggled to sit up so I could get dressed and slink off. The reward for my effort was a cacophony of beeping sounds and a terrible burning pain in my hands.
“Don’t try to get up,” the blonde ordered. She pushed me back down and none too gently I might add. It was then I noticed the standard white skirt, stockings and footwear of an Alliance Navy female nurse.
“I’m in sick bay?”
Finally, my blonde tormentor smiled. She reached for a chair out of my range of vision and pulled it to my bedside.
“You were nearly killed in a massive bomb blast,” she informed me in a gentle voice.
“My hands hurt.” I don’t quite know why I told her that. Just seemed like something I needed to say.
She flashed me her killer sweet smile again. “I bet they do. You lost your fingers and most of your left hand in the blast. The surgeon gave you a new left hand and new fingers on your right. Cybernetic, latest technology. Stronger than what you were born with and when everything is healed, a better sense of touch.”
To make sure Blondie wasn’t joking, I slowly pulled my hands out from under the blanket. Sure enough, they were bandaged and I had a temporary braces immobilizing them.
I blinked my eyes to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Something about that didn’t feel quite right either. I guess the expression on my face told my caretaker it was time for more news.
She reached out and gently touched my left forearm. “There’s more.”
I braced myself, hoping all my key, important man parts were still attached.
“Your face sustained considerable damage on the right side.” She paused to let that bit of news sink in before continuing.
“There was nothing else the surgeons could do. You have a new right eye. It’s housed in a new titanium eye socket along with a new cheekbone and part of your upper jaw.” She smiled again. “Tough guy like you should appreciate that. You can lead with the right side of your face now in a fight and mess the up other guy’s hand.”
I know she was trying to make me feel better. Fighting was the last thing I had on my mind at the moment.
“Do I look…?”
“Not bad at all Sergeant,” Blondie answered as she stood up to leave. “I’d go out with you if you asked me. But then I’m a sucker for guys in uniform.”
I watched her walk away, hoping the extra roll in her stroll was for my benefit. It was the last thing I saw before I drifted back off to sleep.