The smell of rain shoved its way into the dropship as the loading ramp dropped. I was so happy to be back on Ascuncion after a rather dismal short term campaign taking on another little upstart would be ‘ruler of the world’ who should have known better, and I’d had enough. The leaden sky poured sheets of rain down on the tarmac as our Mech Wranglers came on-board and weary mechwarriors of the 7th Seraphim climbed down into the wet in the last legs of going home.
I saw the colonel with an aide de camp holding an umbrella as his former personal company came home. He looked relieved to see all the faces that he knew and cared for step down and into the tram back to the unit spaceport and then stared at me giving a little head nod beckoning me over to him.
Looking then over my shoulder onto the ramp, Colonel Reed shot the same look over to Selaa who gave his wife a kiss on the cheek and headed over as well. Apparently he had more energy than I did as he trotted to lessen the time in the rain.
“Get in fellahs” he said in his pleasant drawl. “We’ve got some stuff to talk about.” I had a feeling I knew what it was going to be about and was instantly glum. Selaa just politely agreed, and got into his car as I flopped into the front passenger seat next to Fairchild, his driver like an exhausted teenager ready to get yelled at by dad.
“What’s up, Colonel?” Selaa asked.
“It’ll keep for the moment. I can see you guys are worn out, so let’s go someplace nice to dry out and we can talk privately. Fairchild, get to the Spaceport Lounge. I suspect most of the 7th won’t be going there, and the 3rd isn’t shipping out till 1930 hours, so it should be empty for now. Gotta buy my boys some drinks and catch up a little.” His smile was warm and I could genuinely feel he missed me being around like a little brother.
The drive was short as we crossed over to the edge of the Seraphim’s private dropship pad to our more commercial terminal. I could see next to the building that a new annex had been built on in ‘early hurry-up-and-git-r-done’ style. It wasn’t that it was ugly as much as nearly featureless lacking any exterior charm or beauty. It was functional. With a tired groan, I pulled myself out of the front seat and followed the Colonel in after he shoed away his aide… whatsisname… anyway. As we walked in, Selaa finished a quick comm to his wife Nynieve and caught up.
“Sorry, Colonel, just had to let Nyn know I’d be a little later than expected.”
“That’s all right by me, Selaa. This may be a short meeting, who knows? We’ll see if we need to order dinner. They have a good steak there.”
Once we passed through the plain doors, the interior revealed itself to be quite a lovely spaceport lounge decorated in a traditional corporate style. Nothing too fancy, but dressy enough to make civilians want to be there and grungy mech pilots like myself uncomfortable. The place was almost completely empty.
“Uhhhh… when’d we build this bad boy,” I asked?
“Work started the day after you left. Lots of prefab of course. That’s why you couldn’t pick it out of a line up from any other spaceport lounge. I believe it’s decorated in style number five from the catalogue.” He chuckled at its pleasant banality.
“Okay, next question. Why?”
“You put the suggestion in my ear. I mulled it over and figured it was a good idea. It entertains the men and makes a little money off of civilian contractors and passing commercial crews that we have drop by from time to time. It’s a nice place to socialize too and meet some of the curious and help with outreach to the public.”
“Well, I find it very… yeah, pleasant is the right word for this place,” Selaa added.
We grabbed a table in front of the big windows and the bartender brought over a few drinks while the Colonel brought out the tablet he has to go over reports. I grabbed mine out of reflex.
“So I get this disturbing message from you, Kjudoon, a few days ago, requesting to step down as a battle caller and transfer into our Garrison forces. Care to explain this?”
There it was. My pain and anguish over calling battle, studying film hour after hour after hour of enemies, thinking and rethinking drop patterns, drop decks and other playbook garbage had come out right in front. It was like hearing the whistle from the light at the end of the tunnel knowing you were tragically wrong about your optimism.
“Yeah. I just can’t do it well enough. Look, I’m an indirect support pilot, but these units we’re taking on, they’re just swatting that whole system out of the sky. I can call the battle, but we’re wasting an entire unit slot on me because I cannot contribute fast enough and well enough to make my tonnage matter. I think it’s best for me to step back and find a better way to use my skills than in one of our deployed companies.”
“All right. I definitely get that from your message, but I did want to hear you say it to me to know you’re still feeling this way.”
He paused for a minute contemplating as a lance of mechs trundled past towards the maintenance bays, shaking the ice in our drinks musically.
“Well I suspect that I’m hear for the same reason, Sir.” Selaa looked a little glum. “I know that Nyn and I have been having similar problems, just not as intense as Kjudoon in some ways but worse in other because of… you know… family, it’s hard when you’re separated like this even though you’re serving together.”
The colonel smiled at that. The sympathy is deep in his eyes.
“Yeah, that’s why I brought you both here.” He sipped his sweetened iced tea as he considered and chose his words carefully.
“I want to make a deal with the two of you.”
“What kind of a deal?” I asked.
“You see, your talents are a little to strong to just leave sitting on the sidelines or just in a garrison lance, and I have some needs for the both of you. Kjudoon, you’re more of a go-getter. I’ve seen you hanging out with our intel guys and working with some of the PR people with some really good ideas. You’ve got some leadership skills and the men will follow you partially out of desire and part out of morbid curiosity. Heck, you even speak the lingo over at the FWLM.”
We all laughed.
“Selaa, you have the countenance and actions of a man I need in a position of trust who will do what the men need most and protect the Seraphim. I’ve heard it when you’ve been with others, and you provide a great deal of solid wisdom I can use around here.”
“Thank you for saying so sir, but I think you might be giving me too much credit.” You could hear the blush in Selaa’s voice.
“No, I’m talking to the right men. Both of you.”
“So what is it you need, Sir?”
“The Garrison forces are going to become more organized to handle the dramatic influx of troops. Since I left the Seventh to take care of this, I would like to bring you two in to help me with this. Kjudoon, I am going to promote you to Captain, and Selaa as Lieutenant Senior Grade of the Garrison forces here on Ascunsion. Nyn and your son will be placed under your command here and that will probably help with some of the family stress too. Kjudoon, you’re going to get some extra duties dealing mostly with community outreach, public affairs and our official press efforts. What do you two say about that?”
I think both our jaws dropped in unison. I never expected this to happen, and it was obvious Selaa didn’t either. A few seconds of sputtering in shock later, I was surprised to hear the words walk out of my mouth,
“I’d be very happy to do it, Colonel!” Wait… what? Did I say that? Oh merciful heavens what have I done!?
“Me as well, Sir.”
Colonel Reed beamed.
“With that, get out of here then unless you want to shoot the breeze and talk about how horrible that last mission was for an hour or two.”
“That sounds like a good way to spend the afternoon to me,” I said.
“Nyn’s expecting me back in our apartment, Sir, so I must be going. Can I get Fairchild to drop me off?”
“Sure thing. Just tell him to come back when he’s done.
The rain no longer depressed me as I sat, drying off in the empty lounge, drinking brandy and talking with my commanding officer about what we were going to do with the growing Garrison here on Ascuncion.