Author : Benjamin Fischer
The alert came abruptly.
“INCOMING INCOMING INCOMING!” blared the base PA speakers. Laeta was face-first in the damp, rich earth of the outpost’s central parade ground before the echoes of the announcement had died. The speakers squawked again, but they were drowned out by the earsplitting CRACKCRACKCRACK of the base defense lasers lighting up.
The rolling, popping detonations that followed a moment later were almost an anticlimax, the blasts resembling firecrackers compared to the thunderous report of the HEL. But Laeta still felt her back and sides peppered by dirt, wood chips and tiny stones. Some fraction of a rocket’s micromunition payload had penetrated.
The screaming started a few seconds later.
“Medic! Medic!” a man was shouting.
“Stay down!” someone else yelled.
Behind them came the labored, high-pitched squealing of someone stricken.
Laeta didn’t dare look. The forward operating base had taken a few bombardments in the three weeks she’d been stationed inside its walls, wires, moats and broad killzones, and she already knew that the locals liked to mix it up by throwing in a few more bombs after the initial chaos had died down. Hands over her head to protect her face, she cursed the fact that her helmet’s straps were digging into her chin.
The commotion continued for the few minutes it took for the satellites overhead to search the misty hills surrounding Procyon. Situated out on a low spread of farmland at the foot of the Cascades, the FOB typically had to rely on sky surveillance rather than line-of-sight from its spidery signal tower.
The all-clear finally sounded after what seemed like hours in the dirt.
The Ranger was soaked in blood, but he was making far too much noise for most of it to be his. The tall Lunie had been reporting in for a routine physical–Earth normal gravity was absolutely punishing to those who hadn’t been raised under its stresses–and he’d already loudly voiced his opinion that he was far safer out amongst the locals than in the squat concrete bunkers at Procyon.
He had evidently been proven correct.
“She’s dying, god damn it! Somebody get a medic!” he shouted, tears smearing the gore splattered across his face.
One of the medics–Marcus–was already on the scene, but it was painfully obvious that there was nothing he could do.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his arms dripping with viscera. His patient’s abdomen had been shredded, and barring the immediate attention of a surgical trauma unit, she was good as dead.
She whinnied softly, blood loss quickly sapping her strength.
“Please, do something, Marcus,” said Laeta. “She’s in pain.”
The medic caught the intel officer’s eyes.
He dug in his combat lifesaver kit, his fingers clumsy and wet.
“No,” said the Ranger. “I’ll do it.”
He wiped his hands on his backside, pulled his sidearm, and standing astride his comrade, shot her between the eyes.
His pistol brought base defense troops running.
The Ranger safed his weapon, holstered it, and bent down to kiss his horse goodbye.
He started sobbing again.
“You,” he cried into the mare’s lifeless muzzle, “were the best Earthling I ever met.”